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Except for monthly Vital Conversations convened by David Nelson, CRES programs arise by request. Our management principle is "management by opportunity." Every year we are delighted by the number of opportunties given to us, as, for example, last year's list demonstrates. (Of course we also provide free consulation to organizations and other services as requested, not listed on our public website.)
This page is continuously updated.
INDEX 600-10x2=580px 
Events listed by date, earlist first

General Announcements Link to eBlast Archive
1982 - 2012 Archive on request About CRES participation
On-line Archived Program Announcements and Reports
2022  2021   2020   2019   2018   2017   2016   2015   2014   2013

Transcendent meanings from COVID?
Essay for the Interfaith Council Newsletter 
also  yellow box on Vern's Sidebar page

About Vital ConversationsProgram 2d Wed 1-2:30 pm  Coffee 4th Mon 8 am
Photos and reports are arranged by month

On the Death of
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
1927 - 2022  ::  r. 2005-2013
     The efforts of Benedict XVI to repair and strengthen interfaith and inter-Christian cooperation call forth admiration and praise.
     His identification of secularism's evils and capitalistic excesses should not only to be recalled but heeded.
     While disagreements with any religious leader might always be possible, one could never doubt the good will and devotion of Pope Benedict XVI.
Vern Barnet, CRES minister emeritus
David Nelson, senior associate minister

Robert T Stephan, 1933-2023
Our friend, former four-term Kansas Attorney-General Bob Stephan, accepting the CRES award from Board president Joe Archias at the Rime Buddhist Center at the 2005 Annual Thanksgiving Sunday Ritual Meal. The award reads, "CRES gives thanks for Robert T Stephan who in public and private life has provided leadership and inspiration celebrating religious liberty and personal integrity."
     As a child, Bob experienced religious prejudice and worked endlessly as judge, as the longest- serving attorney-general in Kansas history, and as citizen to promote human dignity and justice, and to relieve suffering. He worked especially on consumer protection and the rights of victims. He was courageous as he answered political smears and in his repeated contests with painful cancer; and his amazing quick wit and humor brought perspective and delight to those around him. Our deepest condolences to his beloved wife, Marilynn, and family.

CRES supports Dr Erika López Prater, along with the Middle East Studies Association, the Medieval Academy, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and other organizations and (so far) over ten thousand knowledgeable academic and religious leaders -- and thanks Prof Christiane Gruber, PhD, for helping us to protest against Hamline University for dismissing Dr López Prater because of a complaint over the inclusion of an honored painting in her art history class. The action was not only based in ignorance of the subject and situation, the teacher was afforded no due process to respond.

Here is a link to the 2023 January 8 New York Times story, A Lecturer Showed a Painting of the Prophet Muhammad. She Lost Her Job.  After an outcry over the art history class by Muslim students, Hamline University officials said the incident was Islamophobic. But many scholars say the work is a masterpiece.

Here is a link to Prof Gruber's article about the dispute in New Lines Magazine. She is professor of Islamic art in the History of Art Department at the University of Michigan. Here is a link to the statement by Eboo Patel, one of America's most highly regarded Muslim and interfaith leaders, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Muslim Public Affairs Council has strongly supported the Dr López Prater. Even the statement in support of Dr López Prater by the more conservative Council on American-Islamic Relations, while it supports the right of students to raise the issue, notes that views about the depiction of the Prophet vary within Islam and that the circumstances of this cases make the charge of Islamophobia against Dr López Prater unfair.  

Here is a link to updates.

CRES condemns Islamophobia and, in this case, laments the student's ignorance of Islam and the student's shameful organization of other students who had no first-hand knowledge of the situation to pressure the school into an unexamined response.  by the The response from the Hamline administration is reprehensible. Here is an NBC News story.  Here is a story from Minnesota Public Radio. Here is a link to an article in the Atlantic. Here is a story from the Washington Post.

UPDATE, January 17-- "Hamline University officials made an about-face on Tuesday in its treatment of a lecturer who showed an image of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class, walking back one of their most controversial statements — that showing the image was Islamophobic. They also said that respect for Muslim students should not have superseded academic freedom." --NYTimes
      Dr López Prater's suit against the school continues because of devasting harm to her and her career. She plans to teach at Macalester College in the spring.
A compilation of comment at InterfaithAmeica.

Islamic Art . . . for understanding . . . the Muslim World

Historic debate over Christian images

Panelists discuss Hamline controversy


King Holiday Essay —  2023 January 16
     Download a PDF of Vern's 2-page summary of the genius of the spiritual approach of Martin Luther King Jr by clicking this link.
     You can also read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail here.
     Bill Tammeus writes about King's visits to Kansas City here.
     Vern writes:
     I remember meeting King in a church basement in Washington, DC, the year before he was assassinated. I remember his appearance was delayed quite a while as his team checked the church for threats and dangers, as those of us gathered to hear him hoped to see him alive. It was a dark time. I remember his brilliant analysis of Vietnam, and particularly its effect on young Black men.
     I was a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School when he was assassinated. The next Sunday was Palm Sunday, April 7, and I was to be a guest preacher. I remember struggling to find something uplifting to say, and thankfully, able to rely on King's teachings and his  public ministry in the context of the Christian story. I used a recording of the April 3 "Mountain Top" speech in many sermons in the following months.
     I remember studying the writings and speeches of King, with their eloquence and depth. Each year I continue to reread the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, which every year renews me with astonishment. I also especially cherish his last sermon, March 31, at the Washington National Cathedral, a few days before his assassination. And I claim King also as an exemplar of interfaith respect, which is why I wrote this essay.

February 1-7
To celebrate World Interfaith Harmony week, we offer one of our most cited essays, "Stealing Another's Faith." The question of honoring without misappropriating material from others is not so easy, and this essay raises awareness so faiths can be less in conflict and more in harmony. Read, download this PDF, and share this important essay by Vern -- with excerpts from Huston Smith and Harvey Cox.


CRES senior associate minister David Nelson enjoys the company of Alvin Brooks, the recipient of the Invictus Award for Social Justice at William Jewell College in a ceremony honoring Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. January 16 at the school's John Gano Memorial Chapel. The 39th annual King Celebration was sponsored by the Clay County African American Legacy and the Northland Martin Luther King, Jr. Program Committee.

February 22 Wednesday 4-6 pm, Al will be the featured guest during Black History Month at the observance of the 125th anniversary of the Westport Branch Library, which he mentions in the Acknowledgements in his memoir, Binding Us Together: A Civic Rights Activities Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service, copies of which will be available for purchase and signing. A video made in January with Al and CRES minister emeritus Vern Barnet will be screened during the celebration.

Sufi talisman (Louvre) and Dore's Dante Paradiso Canto 31
Islamic and Christian mysticism
Forrest Pierce and Kurt Knecht in Dialogue
new compositions for organ and voice by them both
w i t h s o p r a n o Sarah Tannehill Anderson
Pierce: Verses of Light Meditation on Qur'an 24:35 (ayat an-nur) by Neil Douglas-Klotz -- 20 minutes
Knecht: I am my beloved's (from The Song of Solomon) -- 12 minutes

St Paul's Episcopal Church, 11 E 40th, KCMO
2023 February 9 Thursday 7 pm, free    
YouTube recording - 1 hr 40 min

Forrest Farhad Pierce teaches composition at
the University of Kansas and is a practicing Sufi.
     Kurt Knecht is St Paul's organist and a composer with a long time interest in Christian mysticism and contemplative practices.


When Even Evil 
Will Ordain the Good 

2022: Mar 2, 9, 16, 23
Thursdays, 6 pm meal 
6:30 program

Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd 
4947 NE Chouteau Drive, 
Kansas City,  MO 64119 
(816) 452-0745  
Lenten Series:
Lent is a special time to explore the powerful mysteries of the crucified and resurrected love of the Christian Savior. As terrain for this exploration, the Reverend Vern Barnet, DMn, offers sonnets from the 
“Credo” section his book, Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire with art and music for discussion.
     Vern wrote the Wednesday "Faith and Beliefs" column 1994-2012 for The Kansas City Star and has written a dozen essays for the diocesan magazine, Spirit, 2015-2017. He is a layman at Saint Paul's Episcopal Church and he has served the Episcopal churches in many capacities, including on the diocesan Commission on Ministry. He is minister emeritus at CRES — the Center for Religious Experience and Study, a ministry to the interfaith community in the area. He founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989.
     Free copies of the book will be given to class members to celebrate the publication of the second edition if it is ready in March. Copies of the sonnets for the series will be supplied for each session.
Mar 2 - The Jesus of History or the Christ of Faith?
Mar 9 - A Paradox of Salvation
Mar 16 - The Gospel Theater
Mar 23 - The Mystic Vision

Download the 8-page study guide in PDF
Download the 8-page Sonnets booklet in PDF
Readings: Theme Sonnet 82
Mar 2: Sonnet 79  
Mar 9: Sonnet 80 (perhaps also 85
Mar 16: Sonnet 84  
Mar 23: Sonnet 86 (perhaps also 88)


Art to illustrate the themes below
theme music "Third Tune" by Thomas Tallis
an instrumental version  -  a choral version  -   Fantasia by RVW
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8oKEx1-J1w -    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD5TG8z3-SM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihx5LCF1yJY - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0AuHYNj8qQ

Two views of an icon of Christ teaching ("written" by Thomas J Dolphens)
and Diego Velázquez’s
"Christ after the Flagellation contemplated by the Christian Soul"

Mar 2 and Mar 9
theme music for Mar 9: Bernstein Candide "The Best Of All Possible Worlds"

A modern enactment of the crucifixion. Mar 16
theme music: John Tavener "The Lamb"

Dali's "Last Supper" Mar 23
theme music "Third Tune" by Thomas Tallis
an instrumental version  -  a choral version  -   Fantasia by RVW
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8oKEx1-J1w -    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD5TG8z3-SM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihx5LCF1yJY - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0AuHYNj8qQ

Book Banning
In response to a page 1, 2023 March 24 story in The Kansas City Star,
I wrote the reporter the following note. I sent the second paragraph
 with an introduction to the Superintendent of the School district,
and received a favorable reply.

Thank you for your story about books being pulled from library shelves. It is important that the public know about the power exercised by this one mom against the professional judgment of those charged with making reading materials available to growing human beings. Your article is a public service of importance.

I worry that parents who are concerned about certain books in school libraries fail to evaluate the context in which passages which trouble them appear, and do not understand the use students may make of such books as they further their education. Why do these parents not seek to ban the Bible, which contains disturbing accounts of masturbation, rape, incest, adultery, attempted filicide, wanton murder, destruction of property, homosexuality, abortion, advice to hate parents, polygamy, and human sacrifice? The Bible is an essential product of Western civilization, and Shakespeare's plays, including Romeo and Juliet are part of the literary canon, but newer books may more immediately and accessibly speak to a young person's growing awareness of oneself and the world. All sorts of professionally evaluated reading materials should be available on library shelves to illumine the lives and understandings of young people.
Vern Barnet


"Religion" Detail-mural-lunette-series Charles Sprague Pearce, 1897

Vern visits with Dr Rebecca Johnson's Central Seminary students
about "Worship" 2023 March 30 Thursday 6:15p 

     1. That which is always and everywhere true (God’s grace) must at some time and some place with some folks be noticed, accepted, and celebrated.

     2. That which is without form must be put into form (incarnation) in order to be known.

     3a. Only by separating ourselves from the world can we be united with it.
     3b. God veils himself in order to reveal himself.
     3c. A temple is sacred space reminding us that everywhere is sacred space.

     4a. The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. The liturgy "means foregoing maturity with all its purposefulness, and confining oneself to play, as David did when he danced before the Ark." —Romano Guardini
     4b. For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. . . .For we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance. —Thomas Merton
     4c. "The holy, or 'numinous,' to use the term Otto has coined, is something beyond rational and ethical conceptions." —Thomas F O'Dea
     4d. "In the form and function of play, itself an independent entity which is senseless and irrational, man’s consciousness that he is embedded in a sacred order of things finds its first, highest, and holiest expression." —Johan Huizinga
     4e. "Only when one is playing is one wholly human.” —Friedrich Schiller

     5a. Worship requires a playful “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge
     5b. “The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction, and that you believe it willingly.” —Wallace Stevens
     5c.  “It is as meaningless to ask whether one believes or disbelieves in Aphrodite or Ares as to ask whether one believes in a character in a novel; one can only say that one finds them true or untrue to life. To believe in Aphrodite and Ares merely means that one believes that the poetic myths about them do justice to the forces of sex and aggression as human beings experience them in nature and in their own lives.” —W H Auden
     5d. Vico's Verum factum principle — that truth is not observed but constructed.
     5e. "At the end of the Twelfth Century a Latin theologian, Berengarius of Tours, was condemned for his teaching on the Eucharist. He maintained that because the presence of Christ in the Eucharist elements is ‘mystical’ or ‘symbolic,’ it is not real. The Lateran Council . . . condemned him and . . . simply reversed the formula. It proclaimed that since Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is real, it is not ‘mystical.’ . . . Western theology thus declared that . . . [the] ‘mystical’ or ‘symbolic’ is not real, whereas . . . [the] ‘real’ is not symbolic. This was . . . the collapse of the fundamental Christian mysterion, the antinomical ‘holding together’ of the reality of the symbol and of the symbolism of reality, . . . a collapse of . . . Christian . . . ontological sacramentality." —Alexander Schmemann

6. Barnet’s Stages of Disclosure
adapting Merlin Donald’s Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition

     1. Episodic — unitive, concrete, immediate
     2. Mimetic — ritual, liturgy
     3. Narrative — myth, sacred story
     4. Cognitive — creed, theological formulations
     5. Modern — secularism equals literalism
     6. Postmodern — crypto-sacred cf ¶5

7. Basic Styles or Formats of Corporate Christian Worship
     1. altar-centered, sacramental: liturgical churches and Abraxas
     2. pulpit-centered, proclamatory: manline protestant and evangelical churches
     3. waiting on the spirit
            a. Pentecostal and charismatic churches (with witnessing)
            b. non-program Quaker
            c. Shaker

8. Adventure Liturgy Sequence (Abraxas)
     1. Separation 2. Assembly 3. Illumination, sacramental reception 4. Return

Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago


The themes help us focus on kindness in seven different ways, on seven different days.
2023 April 5-13

The SevenDays website gives you
the SevenDays story (with the horrific past
on April 14, 2014), the present, and the future,
the SevenDays events this year, how to get involved, resources, and an opportunity to shop and various sponsorship opportunities.


CRES is glad to have been involved from the very first year with an interfaith panel, and admires the folks and the organization involved for turning tragedy into continuing community benefit by advancing understanding and relationships.


Many faiths flourish in Kansas City

We reprint this column, in print on Easter Sunday in the Kansas City Star, because -- in such a small space -- it so well summarizes the opportunities for those of good will wishing and working for better understanding of the faiths and organizations that enrich our community, one of which, the Interfaith Council,
highlighted in red, was created as a program of CRES.

All of Kansas City must conquer hatred together

Last fall, vandals spray-painted the headquarters of the Dialogue Institute
in Kansas City, Kansas, with symbols including a swastika.  

When vandals ransacked and spray-painted swastikas and other hate symbols  on the headquarters of the Dialogue Institute of Kansas City last fall, people of faith responded quickly and with heart.
    First, they spread the word about what had happened to this Turkish-based Muslim group, which has promoted interfaith understanding here for years. Then they gathered at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood to hear speakers from various religious traditions pledge to stand with the institute and its shocked constituents.  
    That’s what Kansas City’s interfaith community does when slimy hate slides from under rocks to spread revolting messages of bigotry. And it’s been doing that for decades.
    So on this Easter Sunday, I give thanks for this important work symbolized by the overlapping of major religious observances of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam): Lent (Feb. 22-April 6), Passover (April 5-April 13) and Ramadan (March 22-April 20).
    Healthy, generative religion, it turns out, is still immensely important in Kansas City.
    Yes, Christianity still has the most followers here, but America’s changing religious landscape has affected the metro, too, as American Christianity suffers diminishment and as the number of religiously unaffiliated people (called the “nones”) grows.
    Religion’s fingerprints are all over Kansas City’s history. Sometimes in uplifting ways, sometimes far from it.
    That history includes everything from fights over biblical support for slavery to the founding here in the 1890s of Unity, a spiritualist movement, to construction in Independence of the world headquarters of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). As for theological seminaries and Bible colleges, we’ve got a handful of them.
    One organization that has done as much as any other to foster religious education and dialogue is the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, created in 1989 by the Rev. Vern Barnet, long an advocate for religious literacy and cooperation.
    Among other initiatives, the council sponsors the annual Table of Faiths dinner at which the area’s rich heritage of religious diversity is celebrated.
    All of these efforts reveal that the need for reasonable religious voices hasn’t disappeared and may be more necessary than ever as our profound political divisions get reflected in our religions and sometimes result in people of faith dehumanizing others.
    But as the Interfaith Council, the Dialogue Institute, the Good Faith Network of Johnson County and other risk-taking groups seek harmony, several agencies here are dedicated to working against the hatred displayed in racist, antisemitic and homophobic vandalism such as that found on Blue Valley High School’s football stadium press box in January. 
    Immediately after news of that hate crime broke, both the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee and SevenDays, an organization working to overcome hate through education and dialogue, issued not just condemnations of what happened but offers to help heal what was wounded.
    The SevenDays statement included words from Emma Sandler, a Jewish high school senior at Blue Valley. She serves on the SevenDays Kindness Youth Leadership Team, which helps teenagers promote acts of kindness, especially on social media.
    “I am both heartbroken and furious, but will move forward with kindness, not hate,” Sandler said then. (Disclosure: I serve on the boards of both SevenDays and the {Midwest Center for Holocaust Education}, an organization dedicated to teaching about the Holocaust to stop indifference, intolerance and genocide. The annual SevenDays “Kindness Walk” happens next Sunday.)
    This stuff is important to me. It’s why I’ve written about it in more than 5,000 posts on my “Faith Matters” blog since 2004 and in more recent years in my {monthly column for Flatland}, KCPT-TV’s online magazine.
    There I’ve described, among other things, the work of such Black pastors as the Rev. Darron Edwards to seek better police-community relations. Edwards, in fact, is representative of how important religion has been among people of color in Kansas City — and not just for Christians but for others, too, including Muslims, as represented by Imam Sulaiman Z. Salaam Jr. of the Al Haqq Islamic Center.
But whether it’s the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Crescent Peace Society or any other faith-based organization dedicated to making our area more welcoming, the bitter truth is that it’s not been enough. Religious, racial and other hatreds still stalk our sometimes-anarchistic streets. And each of us, whether religious adherents or not, must work to stop it. Today.

     Bill Tammeus is a former Kansas City Star columnist who now writes for Flatland, KCPT-TV’s online magazine. His latest book is “Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety.” Email him at wtammeus@gmail.com. Bill's Blog link appears on the CRES home page in the right-hand column.


Zen Buddhism by Joshua Paszkiewicz
   Zen Buddhism: Your Personal Guide to Practice and Tradition
ISBN 10: 1577153650 / ISBN 13: 9781577153658
Published by Wellfleet Press, 2023

Congratulations to our extraordinary friend Josh (the Most Ven. Joshua R. Paszkiewicz, DHA(c), D.Min, LPC, BCCC, Dipl.CPSP), on his newest publication! He writes: "When I was a kid, B&N was my Shangri-La, and having a book on their shelves was a wild dream of mine; that seems to have come to fruition." We celebrated his earlier book, Zen and Happiness, last year here and it was the subject of Vital Conversations in last December, with quotations and notes here.  
     Although Josh was a seminary student of mine five years ago, I learned more from him than he from me, as did the class. His depth of knowledge of several religious traditions is astonishing. His term paper compared how the koan is used in two distinctly different Buddhist traditions, which almost no one else has the background to do. Josh is not merely a brilliant and wide-ranging academic, he is also a practitioner of humane skill and wisdom.


No one in the Kansas City area has done more to promote interfaith understanding -- as well as addressing racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of prejudice keeping us from seeing one another as sacred children of the universe -- than our friend, Al Brooks. One of the greatest privileges of my life was to help Al with his powerful and fascinating memoir, and now I get to join with others on the planning committee in  inviting CRES friends to his 91st birthday celebration. As Al says, "Be Blessed!"

Please join the Brooks family, Vern, and other friends 
at an open house to celebrate the induction of Al Brooks into
the Black Archives of Mid-America Heritage Hall on his 91st Birthday.


1:00 - 6:00pm

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Black Archives of Mid-America

1722 E 17th Terrace, Kansas City, MO 64108

In lieu of gifts, donations can be made to www.blackarchives.org
The Black Archives is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization


Location: Black Archives of Mid-America Heritage Hall, 1722 E. 17th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64108. The  museum itself is featuring much to see about our friend. The Black Archives staff and volunteers will be help guest register when you arrive. The museum has a large parking lot.

Time: 1-6 pm, May 3 Wednesday, with remarks and the Historic Induction Ceremony at 4 p.m.

Dress: Business casual is preferred.

Food/Beverages: We will be serving hors d'oeuvres and dessert. Bottled water and punch available. Alcoholic drinks have been donated by Beam Suntory -- we will have a “signature cocktail” served during the event. Food and drink are allowed in designated areas.

Book Signing: If you have not had an opportunity to purchase Alvin Brooks’ book Binding Us Together, copies will be for sale in the Black Archives Gift Shop. Al would love to personally sign your book.

Support Alvin Brooks Charities:
     * Metropolitan Community College Penn Valley campus is home to the Brooks Institute. Established in 2000 and named in honor of Alvin Brooks, the Brooks Institute supports the Civil Rights Learning Community, Civil Rights Pilgrimage and Civil Rights/Social Justice Speakers Bureau.
     * Alvin Brooks Center for Faith-Justice at Rockhurst University. The center will house many of the university’s faith-justice related efforts, including a chapel, mission and ministry programs, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs.


On my 81st birthday

As you know, most of my career has been devoted to the question, "What is sacred?" I have sought to bring the various answers to this question from the world's religions to address the three great crises of our time -- environmental, personal, and social.

While I have sought substantial familiarity with the world's faiths, I also have immersed in one. Choosing one was not easy, but as my late friend Huston Smith said, you are more likely to get water by digging one 100-foot well than ten 10-foot wells. Still, the tools for such excavation can be, and in my case, are, the insights from the other traditions.

My 2015 book of 154 sonnets, Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire, arrayed both the splendor of wisdom from the universe of faiths and the treasures within one; and seven of the nine sonnets sonnets in the CREDO section of the book use Christian images to explore the most difficult questions of faith. In this and other sonnets, I suggest the old choices -- taking religion literally, or understanding religion symbolically (some might say "metaphysically"), or simply rejecting religion -- do not satisfy me. Rather for me, entering into the narrative, the myth, is life-giving and can guide me forward, even through my failures.

My friend Anton Jacobs wrote me, "The wealth of effort, insight, and erudition in your sonnets deserves serious attention." Like me, Anton has been both pastor and academic. Below is my Sonnet 84 with the glosses, followed by his "hermeneutic of a sonnet."

84. Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?
My God, is this a dagger that I see?
     Am I observing actors in a play?
     Is this a dream or film of tragedy?
     or just computer games where I’m to slay
     with it? Perhaps I’m high on LSD
     or wearing VR glasses that display
     an archetype if not a snickersnee.
     Is this getik, menok, or Judgment Day?
Oh no, no dagger but Christ’s cross, that tree
     which bares illusions in one Truth, one Yea!
     It tears and it repairs reality
     and wakes us to attend and watch and pray.
I know the Gospel is a pious tale,
     but who grabs facts when worship cannot fail?
Pilate put the question to Jesus; John 18:38. Perhaps anticipated by the ancient Jain teaching of anekantavada, the doctrine of multiple viewpoints, Jean-François Lyotard described Postmodernism as “incredulity toward meta-narratives” such as theological systems or myths regarded as literal reality. In the 1957 Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, Prose, p163, Wallace Stevens wrote, “The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction, and that you believe it willingly.” W H Auden wrote, “It is as meaningless to ask whether one believes or disbelieves in Aphrodite or Ares as to ask whether one believes in a character in a novel; one can only say that one finds them true or untrue to life. To believe in Aphrodite and Ares merely means that one believes that the poetic myths about them do justice to the forces of sex and aggression as human beings experience them in nature and in their own lives.” The client following a therapist’s suggestion to “place your father in this chair and tell him how you feel” may appear little different from one who prays. Religion is more about commitment than certainty. Perhaps Vico (1710) anticipated Postmodernism with his Verum factum principle: truth is not observed; it is  constructed. The first line derives from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, 2, 1, “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” An exquisite example of the problem of distinguishing dream from reality is portrayed in the Illustration to the Second Prose Poem on the Red Cliff by Qiao Zhongchang (Northern Song Dynasty, 960-1127) at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO. LSD is a psychedelic or entheogenic drug. VR is Virtual Reality. Key terms from pre-Islamic Iranian thought reinterpreted in the epistemology of Suhrawardi (1155-1191), “Sheikh al-Ishraq,” the Master of Illumination, are getik (the ordinary world) and menok (a heavenly realm, perhaps akin to Plato’s realm of forms, or archetypes as in the New Testament’s Hebrews). Judgment Day cf «Love Locket». The Christian Gospel includes the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, a figure paralleled in other religious traditions. A snickersnee is a large knife that can be used for fighting. Tree: cf «Barren Golgotha». Facts: “We are poor passing facts” —Robert Lowell, “Epilogue,” Day by Day, 1977. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1817 Biographia Literaria, XVI: wrote of the “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” This sonnet uses only three end-rimes.

On Knives: Vern Barnet’s ‘Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?’
By Anton K. Jacobs

    Knives…. Dr. Vern Barnet’s sonnet titled, “Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?” plays with metaphors of the knife. It begins with a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “My God, 'is this a dagger that I see?'” Raising questions pertinent to perception and conception, from LSD to VR (that might mirror archetypes), Barnet wonders if a snickersnee is displayed. Towards the conclusion of the sonnet, he takes us to “Christ’s cross” as no dagger but nevertheless as an instrument that “tears and…repairs reality,” thus waking “us to attend and watch and pray.”

    The cornerstone, still, of any discussion of postmodernism, and which Barnet cites in a footnote, is Jean-François Lyotard’s statement, “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.” However, the common core of postmodern sentiment is the insight that there really is no escape from an angle of seeing. Ironically or paradoxically, this insight at the center of postmodern thought is true of postmodernism itself. Defining postmodernism is near impossible, which the leading postmodern advocates acknowledge and probably embrace. Postmodernism is “contested terrain between moderate and extreme postmodernists,” notes Stephen Best and Douglas Kellner, referring to complete ultraskeptics and relativists, on the one hand, and, on the other, to those still in pursuit of constructs on which to do philosophy and social critique in light of that understanding that we cannot stand nowhere. Simply stated, there is no ultimately objective and infallible blueprint that can be imposed on reality or society without violence and atrocity.

    Every seeing is a seeing from some angle, and for human becomings, that is always and unavoidably conditioned by time and place in history and culture. One of postmodernism’s patron saints is Friedrich Nietzsche (Cahoone calls him “the godfather of postmodernism”), who argued that there are no facts, only interpretations, and that perspectivism is the only way to see. “Henceforth, my dear philosophers,” writes Nietzsche, “let us be on guard against the dangerous old conceptual fiction that posited a ‘pure, will-less, painless, timeless knowing subject’; let us guard against the snares of such contradictory concepts as ‘pure reason,’ ‘absolute spirituality,’ ‘knowledge in itself’: these always demand that we should think of an eye that is completely unthinkable, an eye turned in no particular direction, in which the active and interpreting forces, through which alone seeing becomes seeing something, are supposed to be lacking; these always demand of the eye an absurdity and a nonsense.” When we seek to freeze life in this manner, argues Nietzsche, it is a type of revenge on life.

    In other words, the quest for the one, pure, objective, correct, absolute, incontestable truth—metanarrative––a quest characterizing the history of much of Western philosophy, religion, and more—is a fool’s quest. Lyotard’s concern reflected the historical atrocities, which social critics from the Frankfurt School to postmodern thinkers saw as culturally rooted in the West’s drive for the one perfect, timeless, and unchallengeable truth, a drive that went on secular steroids during and after the Enlightenment in dialectical relationship with the priorities of capitalism’s instrumental reason. As Lyotard states, “The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have given us as much terror as we can take. We have paid a high enough price for the nostalgia of the whole and the one, for the reconciliation of the concept and the sensible, of the transparent and the communicable experience.” As I have written elsewhere, “Postmodernism is a highly varied movement of the last sixty years that promotes the idea that all human knowledge is relative to its historical and cultural context, and that modernism’s attempts to find the one true and rational blueprint for organizing human life has been misguided and contributed to some of the horrors of the twentieth century.”

    If I understand the argument of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, the dialectic of Enlightenment on the cultural level between secular reason, on the one hand, and religious faith and mythology, on the other, resulted in the demise of religious mythology and its bastardization into fundamentalism and consequently to the disenchantment of life, the world, and the universe. However, that very triumph of Enlightenment reason in service to the alienating structures of bourgeois priorities resulted in a new mythological faith with a legitimation of domination and alienation. This has resulted in a dehumanizing world in which individuals measure themselves according to their monetary worth, while feeling controlled by powers of which no one appears in charge. Among the results are increased vulnerability to the resentments thereof which make fertile ground for fascism.

    Another intellectual development of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with some likeness to postmodernism was carried, primarily first, by the pioneer anthropologists and then deeply cultivated by what I’d call the metamythologists. These are the likes of Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, William Irwin Thompson, to a lesser extent Carl Jung and followers, and many others. Their cross-cultural investigations and correlations of humanity’s mythologies have helped us get away from the narrow and sometimes violent provincialisms and dogmatisms of so much of the world’s religions to appreciate the challenging and liberating aspects of nature’s and culture’s marks of transcendence. “An experience of transcendence has always been part of the human experience,” writes Karen Armstrong, and she echoes Campbell when she writes, “A myth…is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information.” In a footnote for a different sonnet, Barnet writes that “a myth is a story that reveals the nature and structure of sacred reality.” It might not be wrong to suggest that the metamythologists and postmodernists, each in their way in their respective venues in modernity’s alienated cultural segmentations, have been doing much the same thing. They have sought to contribute to the liberation of souls and bodies from the unnecessary spiritual and material brutalities of the societies of human becomings. These are not minor objectives.

    Barnet has fruitfully mined the canons of the metamythologists, whom he cites regularly, even having studied under Eliade. They serve him well for his, if you will, sonnetical remythologizing of human desire, including its erotic and mystical drives that, I think he suggests and, if so, I agree, cannot be separated. They come to us as two-edged swords, though, as mystics and lovers have always discovered. The ecstasies of human love and of mystical union are always shadowed by their opposites—whatever you want to call them at any given time—heartbreak, tragedy, loss, alienation, dark night, fear, anxiety, terror. Which brings us back to the dagger of Christ’s cross. “Indeed,” writes the unknown author of the Christian epistle to the Hebrews, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” At their best, so it seems to me, that is the project of the metamythologists and postmodernists alike. They exegete and deconstruct and interrogate to tear and repair human existence and open up to us the authentic realities of the thoughts and intentions of our hearts; and, perhaps, in the process, alongside the Gospel’s “pious tale,” waking “us to attend and watch and pray.”

Armstrong, Karen. A Short History of Myth. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005.

Barnet, Vern. Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire. Kansas City, MO:
     La Vita Nuova Books, 2015.

Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner. The Postmodern Turn. New York & London:
     The Guilford Press, 1997.

Lawrence Cahoone, ed. From Modernism to Postmodernism. 2nd ed.
     (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2003).

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment.
     Translated by John Cumming. N.Y.: The Seabury Press, 1972 [1944].

Jacobs, Anton K. “Postmodernism.” In The Sage Encyclopedia of the Sociology of
, vol. 2. Edited by Adam Possamai and Anthony J. Blasi, 598-599.
     Los Angeles: Sage Reference, 2020.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
     Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Theory and History of Literature.
     Vol. 10. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984 [1979].

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ. Translated by
     R.J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 1968 [1889, 1895].

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals. Translated by Walter Kaufmann
     and R. J. Hollingdale. N.Y.: Vintage; Random House, 1967 [1887]), 119.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Translated by Walter Kaufmann and
     R. J. Hollingdale. N.Y.: Vintage; Random House, 1967 [1901].

     Radnitzky, Gerard. Contemporary Schools of Metascience. Chicago:
     Henry Regnery Co., 1973.
Anton K. Jacobs, Ph.D.
Instructor, Kansas City Art Institute 
Author of Religion and the Critical Mind; My Country, My Faith, & Me; and a few other things.

Our friend Steve Nicely alerts us to the Funeral Consumer Alliance spring newsletter containing updated funeral prices for 114 funeral homes in our area, with practical information for clergy, social workers, health care providers and others.

Here is the website: funeralskc.org  where you can read the articles and survey the research data.


A way of understanding 22 years since 9/11

While the 9/11 attacks 22 years ago opened the gates of hell, the way our government has responded has brought us inside hell's domain. The smoke from that day, the acrid fumes, amplified into war, brings us purblind to the charred and hobbled Body Politic. How do we understand what has happened? How do we move forward?

One way of understanding what happened, and is still happening, is by looking at the metaphors we use to explain things and which shape our responses.


1. Before 9/11, terrorism had been dealt with as a CRIME, internationally and at home. The violation of life and property in an otherwise orderly society makes the terrorist an especially despised outlaw. We employ a legal system to assure justice by punishing the criminal and removing the criminal from society. International courts have done the same.

2. But since September 11 we have used a WAR metaphor. Of course the metaphor is hardly new. We love war. We have fought the war against poverty and the war against drugs, though it is hard for us to admit defeat, even though Vietnam and Afghanistan are history now. We still fight the war against cancer, against crime, against . . . you name it.

But a war against terrorism was new. The metaphor had power because we struggled not just against isolated attack but against an organized force seeking not just advantage through harm of a target but rather destruction of a government or civilization. Though we ourselves use violence, we assumed our own righteousness would bring us victory over evil.

Both of the metaphors of crime and war too easily commend themselves because they are simple, and rest on the assumption that we are wholly good — and our opponents are completely evil.

3. A third metaphor might come closer to the complexity of the situation: DISEASE. Here the metaphor suggests not two separate, competing powers but of all humanity as a sick body, within the organs of communities, cities, and nations, afflicted in various ways, degrading or sustaining each other in different degrees, infected with individuals and groups poisoned (using Buddhist language) with greed, fear, and ignorance. Now, with COVID, we are learning that, as Martin Luther King said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Just so, CRES insists that the three great crises of our time, in the environment, in personhood, and in the social order, are all intertwined.

And that the world's Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic traditions, respectively, provide the therapy to heal the planet, revivify personhood, and restore social order.

Let us bring the healing powers of generosity, fellowship, and understanding to one another, expanding a circle of joy in service.


On the first anniversary of 9/11, CRES opened a day-long observance beginning with a water ceremony between City Hall and the Federal Justice Center, later shown on national CBS-TV. Click here to see a 3-minute excerpt from that ritual. 

TRANSCRIPT OF REMARKS: Today is an anniversary of a day of horror that somehow brings us together as members of this community, as Americans, and as citizens of the world. As a community of many faiths, we gather to honor those who perished and to work to comfort and save all others. * In the face of disasters, we yet proclaim hope. * Water in this pool, water in our containers -- water has many meanings in the religions of the world. To answer the fireball of a year ago, we make water an emblem of hope. Kansas City is the City of Fountains. Into this pool, members of the Interfaith Council will pour waters from fountains from Independence and Lenexa, Kansas City, Kansas, and Lee's Summit, all over the metro area, along with waters from the Ganges, the Nile, the Amazon, the  the Thames, the Yangtse -- and the Kaw and the Missouri -- to say that ultimately our lives flow together, from one source and to one source. These waters become the tears of Muslims, Jews, Christians, those of all faiths. These waters will be transformed from the waters of tears into the waters which purify, the waters which douse the fire of hatred, wash away our self-righteousness, and well up as healing fountains in the heart. As these waters join, so let us unite in proclaiming hope. * Any who have come and want to taake this mixed water to your own observance in your own place of worship later in the day are welcome to come to the spot where I am standing and take water from this wonderful rich mixture.


From Aporia to Praise:
(postponed from 2020 May 24)
A late observance of
the 50th anniversary of Vern Barnet's ordination
Aporia: "impasse, puzzlement, doubt."

      Vern offers his conclusions from over 50 years of experience and study: in a troubled world, what paths lie forward? and how can one dare offer praise for the intertwined mix of the horror and the beauty of existence?
* Doing theology is less like mathematics and more like expounding why you love someone.
* My passion for "world religions" in the context of the crises of secularism.
* The mystic's vision (amour fati - love of fate) and the public expression in worship. 

September 13 Tuesday  5:30-8:30pm
Fundraiser and Signature Event
Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center - Independence, MO
the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
now independent but originally a program of CRES.

The Council writes --
Interfaith cooperation is key to transforming this religiously diverse society into a more just, kind, and pluralistic nation, and world. We ask ourselves what it would look like if every American, regardless of their religion or no religion, or worldview, was inspired and equipped to:
  • Come together in a way that respects different religious identities?
  • Build mutually inspiring relationships across differences?
  • Engage in common action around issues of shared social concern?
2022 David Nelson, SevenDays



The first Table of Faiths event, with David Nelson as convener, was a luncheon at the Marriott Muehlebach Hotel downtown Nov 10, 2005. Alvin Brooks, one of the co-chairs (Gayle Krigel, Mahnaz Shabbir, and Chuck Stanford), welcomed guests. Mayor Kay Barnes was the keynote speaker and presented the first Table of Faiths Award to Vern Barnet.
     The second Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 14, 2006, honored Don and Adel Hall and Ed Chasteen.
     The third Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 7, 2007, honored Alvin L Brooks and The Kansas City Star.
     The fourth Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 13, 2008, included a presentation of Donna Ziegenhorn's play, The Hindu and the Cowboy. Honored were Robert Lee Hill and the Shawnee Mission Medical Center, and Steve Jeffers (1948-2008) was lovingly remembered.
     The fifth Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 12, 2009, introduced The Steve Jeffers Leadership Award, given to Ahmed El-Sherif. All Souls Unitarian Church was also recognized, and Allan Abrams (1939-2009) was lovingly remembered.
     The sixth Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 11, 2010, honored Notre Dame de Sion High School with the Table of Faiths Award and Queen Mother Maxie McFarlane with the Steve Jeffers Leadership Award.
     The seventh Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 10, 2011 honored the Kansas City Public Library with the Table of Faiths Award and Donna Ziegenhorn with the Steve Jeffers Leadership Award.
     The eighth and last Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 8, 2012, presented the theme of "Spirituality and the Environment: Caring for the Earth, Our Legacy." The Steve Jeffers Leadership Award was given to Mayor Sly James and the Table of Faiths Award went to Unity Church of Overland Park.
     There was no Table of Faiths event in 2013. Beginning in 2014, Table of Faiths events were no longer major downtown civic luncheons involving elected and cultural leaders. With a longer evening format, the first in the new Table of Faiths dinners was held May 8, 2014, at Unity Village. 

Vern Barnet founded the Council in 1989 as a program of CRES and is Council Convener Emeritus. The Council newsletter has published his brief notes about three milestones in the early history of the Council.

The Council's ancestry, in brief: the 1893 Chicago Parliament of World Religions; the interfaith gathering in Assisi, Italy, convened by Pope John Paul II, the first such gathering in North America since the 1893 Parliament, the "North American Assisi" held in Wichita, KS (Vern was on the planning committee), and with some from the Kansas City area and others who had been drawn into interfaith relations through CRES, the hosting organization, the members of 12 different faith traditions began their work to honor and learn from one another and encourage the community to celebrate the rich diversity available in the Kansas City area.


2023 TBA 2022 November 13 Sunday 5 pm CT
“Promoting Interfaith Peace, Renewal and Regrowth” 

FREE online interfaith gathering -- including interfaith prayers of gratitude.
Hosted by Heartland Chapter of the Alliance of Divine Love 
Co-sponsored by Greater KC Interfaith Council
Livestream on www.facebook.com/HeartLoveKC

The annual observance was sponsored by CRES for its first 25 years. 
This year, 2022, is the 376th year of the tradition and we are indeed grateful to the 
sponsors for perpetuating the recognition of the place of gratitude in every faith.


WEDDINGS of all kinds click for information

We can provide a customized ceremony. We regularly work with the great folks at Pilgrim Chapel and are happy to serve at any venue. 

THANKS to Robert and Shye Reynolds, a CRES fund to assist couples with fees for weddings  has been established, to celebrate their marriage June 19, 2002, on the occasion of their thirteenth anniverary.

see also
our publications page

in progress: KC Star, Many Paths columns and fresh essays:
The Three Families of Faith and the Three Crises of Secularism
     Many have asked for a compilation of columns Vern wrote for the KC Star, 1994-2012,  and the essays fatured in Many Paths. Here are tentative chapter headings for the selections:
      ? The Three Families of Faith ? Faith and the Arts  ? Science and Religion  ? Teachers of the Spirit ? Ritual and Worship ? Religion and Public Policy ? Specific Faiths (Buddhism, Islam, etc) ? Comparative topics (reincarnation, gods, water, prophets, etc) ? How the column began and ended


If you would
like to engage Vern 
or another member 
of the CRES staff
for a speech,
a wedding,
a baptism,
or other work
with your organization 
or personally, 
please visit 
www.cres.org/work/services.htmor email vern@cres.org

Having spawned several other organizations,
including the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council,
we continue to offer programs initiated by and through others
but we no longer create our own in order to focus on our unique work.
For interfaith and cultural calendars maintained by other groups, click here.


A Vital Conversation Coffee
Vital Conversations
monthly  hybrid  schedule  with
2nd Wedneday each month 
1-2:30 pm
MidContinent Public Library  Antioch Branch,
6060 N Chestnut Ave, Gladstone, MO
64119 and via Zoom
 (816) 454-1306   --   to receive the active zoom link, email

humanagenda@gmail.com -- or call David at (816) 453-3835

David answers questions about Vital Conversations

A 13-minute YouTube video with Vern
¶ What is VC? ¶ You initiated it. When and why? ¶ Who sponsors it? ¶ Give some examples of the range of topics. ¶ You have had a number of authors, local and national, participate. name some and talk about why you like to feature them. ¶ Who attends and who is welcome to attend? ¶ How can people prepare if they wish, even if they don't read the book? ¶ Where is VC held? Is there a dress code? ¶ What changes did COVID bring about? ¶  What is OWL? ¶ When have you done remote locations? ¶ How do people find announcements and the material to prepare?

You are welcome even if you have not read the book or seen the movie
A Free Monthly Discussion Group Led by David E Nelson
C R E S  senior  associate minister
president, The Human Agenda

“The purpose of a Vital Conversation is not to win an argument,
but to win a friend and advance civilization.”  Vern Barnet

"Listen with curiosity, not judgement.”  David Nelson

Vital Conversations are intentional gatherings of people to engage
in dialog that will add value to the participants and to the world. 
In Vital Conversations, we become co-creators of a better community. 
David Nelson

The discussions began May 24, 2002, at the CRES facility
 by examining Karen Armstrong’sThe Battle for God

Reading is magic and a mysterious activity that feeds the mind, transports the imagination, sooths the soul, and expands life.  It is most often done in solitude and yet connects us to so many others both near us and far from us.  Many readers enjoy the opportunity to share their reading discoveries and to expand from the sharing of others.  Reading is an important aspect of our common humanness.
David E. Nelson
Vital Conv. Coffee
an open exchange of ideas
with no preset agenda
 4th Monday monthly 8 am
Now on Zoom
311 NE Englewood Road
Kansas City, MO 64118

2023 Vital Conversations Schedule

To see last year's fascinating programs, click here.

2023 January 11 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. hybrid on Zoom  and in person
100 Views From This Seat by Leroy Seat
     Leroy and his wife June attended Vital Conversations from the time we started meeting at the MCPL – Antioch Branch over 10 years ago. He is clearly a “thinking friend” and remains persistent in sharing his reflections. Beginning in 2009 he has blogged on every day divisible by five. “Reflections about Life, Love, Light, and Liberty” have been both personal, light-hearted, religious, ethical, and political. I have appreciated these provocative reflections even though I have not responded to every one of them. This collection is an excellent representation of the delicious variety of subjects. I invite you buy his book, select one of your favorites and come on Zoom or at the library to thank Leroy and give some response.

The View from This Seat blog

 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links 

 This book consists of 100 blog postings selected from over 800 postings that the author, Leroy Seat, made at regular five day intervals between the years 2010 to 2020 on his blog, The View from this Seat.

On this date (January 9, 2023) as I write this review, I am anticipating that tomorrow Leroy will be posting his 1,000th blog post!. Then the following day he will be meeting with the Vital Conversations book group to discuss this book, and presumably there also will be some discussion of posts made since the era covered by this book including his 1,000th blog post.

His posts over these past twelve years have provided reflections on religious, ethical, and political issues as well as personal experiences and memories. His views come from eighty-four years of living, beginning in rural northern Missouri, then obtaining a PhD, and then working as a Baptist missionary to Japan and as full-time faculty member at Seinan Gakuin University (Fukuoka, Japan) from 1968 to 2004. Since his retirement he has continued to be active in many facets of life including the writing of the following books in addition to 100 Views from This Seat (links are to my reviews).

I have found Leroy's blog posts quite readable, partly because he conscientiously kept the word count per post below 700. Now that I've read this book I know of another reason seven hundred is a good word limit, it fits on two pages (front and back). Thus the one hundred posts fit neatly onto two hundred pages of this book. This word limit also allowed the inclusion of some of the comments left by readers on the blog. Those of you who are personally acquainted with Leroy will probably recognize some of the names of the comment writers. I was surprised to discover two comments written by me!

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2023 February 8 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. Hybrid on Zoom and in person.

100 The Way of Happiness by L. Ron Hubbard
    This is a non-religious moral code based on common sense distributed by the church of Scientology worldwide. “The Way to Happiness” and the program it inspired have helped millions around the world lead happier, more fulfilling lives.” Present for our Vital Conversation will be members of The Kansas City Church of Scientology. The booklets are free, and you can pick one up from me (David Nelson) or free online at www.thewaytohappiness.org.

We will have members of this "new" religion with us. You can visit their website, https://www.scientology.org, to view very professionally done videos. Remember to listen and watch with "curiosity not judgement" as we seek to understand others

[This program should not be construed as an endorsement or disparagement of Scientology or this booklet. This session of Vital Conversations is an opportunity to learn first-hand about Scientology and to share our varied perspectives about it, with the opportunity to pose questions and seek clarifications. -Vern]
Releasing Conversation: 
     Share your name, and your Star (*) and your arrow (»).
     Look over these 21 items from The Way to Happiness and select the ONE you are personally very efficient in doing, good enough to coach others in doing.  Put a Star (*) by it.
     Look over list again and put an arrow (») pointing to the one you personally need to work on to be more effective as a human being.
     Are there any on the list you do not understand, disagree with, or would like to discuss further?  If so put a question mark (?) by it.

⦁    Take Care of Yourself.
⦁    Be Temperate.
⦁    Don’t be Promiscuous.
⦁    Love and Help Children.
⦁    Honor and Help Your Parents.
⦁    Set A Good Example.
⦁    Seek To Live With the Truth.
⦁    Do Not Murder.
⦁    Don’t Do Anything Illegal.
⦁    Support A Government Designed and Run For All the People.
⦁    Do Not Harm A Person Of Good Will.
⦁    Safeguard and Improve Your Environment.
⦁    Do Not Steal.
⦁    Be Worthy of Trust.
⦁    Fulfill Your Obligations.
⦁    Be Industrious.
⦁    Be Competent.
⦁    Respect the Religious Beliefs of Others.
⦁    Try Not to do Things to Others that you Would Not Like them to Do to You.
⦁    Try To Treat Others As You Would Want Them to Treat You.
⦁    Flourish and Prosper.

Q: Using this “research program chart,” describe the “new religion” of
     Scientology.  Which of the three families of faith would you say
     Scientology fits best?
Q. If you could put the message of Scientology in a sentence parallel to
     the Four Wisdom Treasures, what would that sentence be?
Q. Describe the worship, education, evangelization, outreach, service,
     and other practices of Scientology.
Q. Are there sacred texts in Scientology?
Q. Are their core theological doctrines in Scientology?
Q. Who is L. Ron Hubbard? Do you worship or honor him?
Q. Does Scientology continue to adapt scientific findings into their practice?

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2023 March 8 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.
in person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

To Keep From Undressing by Aisha Sharif
     “From the intersection of Black culture and religion, to conversations with jinn, to motherhood, marriage and the meaning of hijab, Ms. Sharif beautifully melds private and public, interweaving bold and delicate themes into a one-of-kind tapestry of words and freeing truths.” --Nadirah Angail.
     Aisha Sharif shared an original poem at the last Tables of Faith gathering of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council and will be with us to share in our conversation. When I read her poems, I feel like I am eavesdropping into the personal journey of a sister I long to know better. We will meet two weeks before the beginning of Ramadan.

Aisha Sharif's website poetry:

Releasing Conversation:  Share your name and an opening line or sentence quote from a poem that says something about you.  It could be a lyric from a song, classic poetry, or personal poem.

Q.  Aisha, will you share the poem you wrote for and shared at The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council Table of Faiths Dinner?

Quotes and Questions
My Islam be black.
My Islam be Sister Clara Muhammad School
My Islam be the only Muslim girl at a public high school
My Islam don’t hate Christians
My Islam be just as good as any Arab’s.
My Islam be universal
My Islam just has to be. (p. 11-13)
Q. Why have you chosen poetry to tell your story, share your religion, and connect with world in such a personal and inviting way?

“To My Muslim Father”
     Q.  Reading this poem, I felt grief and joy.  What were you feeling when you wrote it?  How do you feel about it now?

“If My Parents Hadn’t Converted: Questions & Answers” Parts 1-5
“A very special thank you to my family: to my parents, you stepped out and spoke the truth of your belief and taught me that I can do the same, and through you, I learned how to own my background and create a path reflective of that…to my extended family, thank you for showing me how faith and love blend beyond religious line!” (p 95)
     Q. You keep coming back to your parents’ conversion.  “How They Remained” tells us a great deal about them. Was there a time when you were not Muslim? 

     Q. Would you read "Security" out loud while we listen?  Listening to an “art form” is important because what we hear, and experience is important.  Before you tell us about the poem, participants can share their feelings, thoughts, questions from listening with our ears, hearts and minds.
     Q.  "Iddah: Part I and Part II" tells a story of a period for waiting after a divorce.  Why did you choose a line from this poem for the title of your book?

     Q.  "Hijab Be" (p 89) When I read your poem out loud it felt like rap.  Is that your intention?

“The jinn are spiritual beings made of smokeless fire, neither angels nor devils.  They have free will and can inhabit the earth in a physical form, acting as somewhat of a trickster for the purposes of good or evil.  Every human is said to have a jinn. The Prophet Muhammad was said to have made his jinn Muslim.” (p 94
     Q.  Can you tell us more about a jinn?  Have you revealed your jinn in these poems and in this conversation?  Do other participants understand more about their jinn at this moment?

     Q. Do you have other books of your poetry? 

 Clif Hostetler's complete review on Goodreads.com

The author of this book of poetry identifies as Muslim, African American, and a woman. Thus, not only do I have very little in common with the author, I seldom read poetry and am not worthy to be writing a review of anything called poetry. By happy coincidence I happen to participate in a book group that met with the author, so I've been exposed to some additional commentary about the original writing of these poems.
The poems are mostly autobiographic in nature and divided into five segments that are roughly chronological in order. Issues of being black, muslim, and wearing a hijab are frequently addressed. The early poems address the author's experience of being identifiably different from her classmates. Also the fact that her parents were converts to the Muslim faith prior to the author's birth is repeatedly addressed. Each of the book's five sections contains a poem titled "If My Parents Hadn't Converted, Questions and Answers..."

Since most of the poems appear to be autobiographic, when I came to a poem toward the end of the book titled "Vanna White Reconsiders Her Pact with Her Jinn" I assumed that it must be a metaphor applicable to her own life in some way. The poem ends with the phrase, "I want to solve by own puzzle." I wondered if that meant she was rebelling against something in her life.

I asked the author to explain the Vanna poem during our group's meeting with her. She said the poem was simply a product of her interest in watching the TV show Wheel of Fortune. She imagined Vanna may have made a wish to her Jinn that she become a show business star, and subsequently it came true but not in the way she had hoped. Vanna's career ended up being one who obediently turned letters as requested by other people.

This collection of poems conveys truths and meaning beyond the finite collection of words. The insight into the author's life seems intimate and personal. I'm glad to have had an opportunity of read this book.

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April 12, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

Freshwater Road: A Novel by Denise Nicholas

     This book tells the story of one young woman’s coming-of-age in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964.
     Nineteen-year-old Celeste Tyree leaves Ann Arber to help register voters in Pineyville, a place best known for a notorious lynching that occurred a few years earlier.
     As the summer unfolds, Celeste confronts not only the political realities of race and poverty in this tiny town but also the deep truths about her family and herself. a summary of the book appears here.

Dear Friends,
     I am thrilled that Denise Nicholas has agreed to join our Vital Conversation on April 12th. Denise is an actor and writer who has starred in numerous films and TV shows, including "Room 22", for which she earned three Golden Globe nominations, and "In the Heat of the Night", for which she also wrote several episodes.  Freshwater Road, her novel, is our book for April 12, according to the Washington Post, "Surely the best work of fiction about the civil rights movement since Ernest J. Gaines's The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman."  I invite you to read her book and join us either at the library or on Zoom. "Quotes and Questions" will be sent the week before the gathering. All are welcome. --David
Please watch this interview and read
the most important book I have read in years. Denise Nicholas will be with us on Zoom on April 12th at 1 pm (CT)
for Vital Conversations. This book is disturbing and redeeming. It tells a
story we all need to hear again. --David
Here is her Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denise_Nicholas

Releasing Conversation: Share your name, your location and what you were doing during the summer of 1964.

Quotations and Questions

1. “Dear Daddy: By the time you read this, I’ll be in Mississippi volunteering for the Freedom Sumer project to help with voter registration. I know you know what’s been going on down there. Lots of kids from schools all over the country are going down. It’s a big thing. Maybe by the end of the summer, the whole racial thing will be different in the south, the rest of the country, too. This will be great if I go to law school, don’t you think? I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. You can leave a message from me at the One Man, One Vote office in Jackson, Mississippi. Will call as soon as I can. Love, Celeste.” (p 15) Think of a time you had hope to make a big difference in something. What drove Celeste and what drives you to follow your dream?

2. “The local newspaper carried stories about the invasion of northern ‘rabble-rousers.’ She never thought of herself as a rabble-rouser, and she didn’t think fo Pineyville’s Negroes as rabble. She saw the Freedom Summer volunteers as right up there with the great patriots, the idealistic founders, supporting the idea of one person, one vote, making America more true to itself.” (p109).
Celeste is experiencing large difference between Michigan and Mississippi. Compare and contrast these differences with the divides in today’s America.

3. “They grubbed an existence in the weather-beaten, no-industry towns of Southern Mississippi all week long. This church was theirs and they came to it for rest and reprieve. All Celeste could think was God bless Sophie Lewis. She reminded herself that it was 1964, that she wasn’t watching a film based on a history often distorted and mostly forgotten. This obsolete place lived, and it was like a movie. What might have been quaint looked dispossessed up close with living people. This wasn’t some anonymous village in Africa or South America where people washed their clothes in a stream, emptied their bowels just yards away, and drank the water from the same stream a few yards in the other direction...The sermons stoked the burn and led the way, and the way was nonviolence. The road was steep and hard, but no other road offered redemption to the oppressed and epiphany to the oppressors. The old way reiterated bad treatment, deception, and deprivation.” (p116-117).
Describe the many roles of the church in the deep south in 1964. How has religion been both a divisive and a healing factor in the civil rights movement? Read out loud p.117-118m.

4. “Pass it down.’ She handed the picture of Frederick Douglass to the boy sitting on the end of the row. ‘Stand and say your name.’ She asked them to stand and say their names before speaking when it became very clear that they seemed to feel more comfortable staring at the ground whey they spoke. It was a way of encouraging them to inhabit the space they lived in, a way for them to plant themselves in the earth and say, ‘I’m here and I matter.’” (p.156)
What was Freedom School teaching and why? Tell about the Freedom School at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, KS.

5. “The night heat spread the smell of their lovemaking all through the car. She imagined it smoothing out over Freshwater Road like the smell of night jasmine, like the faint scent surrounding the stands of long-needled pines.” (p191).
What role does Celeste’s love for Ed play in this story?

6. “Celeste had an urge to sit on the grass in the shade, lie down under the grand canopy of trees. Then she wondered which of the town’s old trees had suspended the dancing apoplectic feet of a bug-eyed Negro man who had laughed walking down the street or turned his head to a white woman whose sweat-wet dress clung to her body, or simply didn’t step off the pavement when a white person walked by. And the boys. What had been the last thing they heard or saw or thoughts? All of life ahead of them, all the good in the world in the to give.” (p.195).
When reality presses you down, how are you restored? Where do you find hope when you are experiencing nothing but dead ends?

After reading a letter from her birth mother Wilamena, informing her that her birth father was not Shuck, who had been her father all her life: “She’d never speak to Wilamena again. She’d never say a word about it. Do like the people in Mississippi do. It never happened. She’d throw the letter in the outhouse hole in the morning. For now, she put it back in its envelope and stuffed it into the pocket of her suitcase as if otherwise it might gather strength and run out into the world screaming.” (p 203). How do you deal with shocking news about your family, your community, your personal life? What are the ways you sooth your wounds? Are they adequate?

After little Sissy’s body was found, “She was child, like the children in the church in Birmingham, completely innocent, no threat to anyone for any of the well-known reasons. A child who wanted to dream herself out of this place.” (p231. “They mourned her as if by rote, as if mourning children compared to feeding chickens. The Negro community of Pineyville crying, sobbing really, but no one said a word.” ((p240). Are we getting used to mourning our children and accepting that it is inevitable, outside our control?

9. “Sissy had drawn Frederick Douglass with wings in the night sky and the north star up on the corner. The drawing vibrated with color. Douglass’s dark skin and beard and huge crinkled hair flowed back in a draft of flight.... Sissy’s self-portrait as Frederick Douglas reminded her that if she hadn’t come to Pineyville talking about freedom, north stars, and better places, Sissy would still be alive.” (p 310)
In the human drama sometimes death and life, captivity and liberation, despair and hope are so close they almost connect. Can you share a story when your life was renewed, turned around, or liberated through pain?

10. “Hard to summarize Pineyville, though. There were so many stories, burned-down churches and houses shot into and injuries and incarcerations, but she accepted the movement’s statistical version, its shorthand. Her truest life, she felt, had stretched out over her time on Freshwater Road. Sissy’s death. Ed’s birth in her life.” (p. 322)
Sometimes we do not recognize the mystery of the sacred in our lives until we have lived through it and beyond.


 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links 
bookshelves: historical-fiction  -- really liked it

This novel tells the story of the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi. The story is told from the viewpoint of a female African American college student from Detroit who spends the summer as a volunteer in the Black community of a small Mississippi town organizing a voter registration drive and leading a Freedom School for the children.
     The book provides a thorough description of life in a fictional small town typical for Mississippi at the time. This is a long book (16.5 hrs audio) that takes its time to fully recreate a historic time that compares the Black community of Detroit with that of rural Mississippi and provides a descriptive pass through Hattiesburg, Jackson, and New Orleans.
     Aside from the the historical outline the book fills the pages with a fictional cast of characters which illustrate the divisions between and within the Black and White communities as well as the variety of personalities involved. It's a story that explores issues of family loyalties and infidelities. The book includes elements of a romance, and it tells of a mysterious death of a child that may have been murder. These elements of the book conclude much the same as the historic summer of 1964—not all mysteries and problems have been solved.
     The book's narrative frequently reminds the reader that danger lurks from all directions, and the locals—including some of the Black population—don't appreciate the presence of these outsiders. This is the summer when James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered, and the mystery of their disappearance hangs heavily over the first half of this book's story. It doesn't take much imagination to fear that the same fate could happen to any of the other Freedom Summer volunteers.
     This book does strive to recreate a specific time and place in history. However, it is a work of fiction and it's interesting to note some of the obvious name changes of organizations that the book used. For example the organizing entity for Freedom Summer in this book was named "One Man One Vote" whereas in actual history it was COFO or SNCC. Also, there's an organization in this book's story that doesn't agree with the nonviolent approach that goes by the name "Deacons of Justice."—probably patterned after the "Black Panthers".
The following are some excerpts from the book I found of interest. I included my own introductory comments for context.

Early in the book the protagonist acknowledges her relatively privileged background, but understands that race in America transcends class.
... race in America lived outside the purview of class or privilege, out there in a world all its own, not tethered to anything except hatred. (p.23)
Near the end of the summer our protagonist considered staying in Mississippi, but she discerned the following message from the local community she had been serving.
... that the Negro people of Pineyville needed the best: no more half-educated teachers, no more zealous "would-be-if-onlys." (p.461)
In the near future I look forward to participating in a book group Zoom meeting that will also be attended by the author Denise Nicholas. The following is a link to an interview with her. She talks about writing this book from 22 to 25 minute point. https://www.youtube.com/
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May 10, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.  
David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

May 10, 2023, A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus
by George W. Baldwin
George Baldwin, who will be with us on May 10th, was a local pastor for twelve years and a seminary professor for fourteen years. He felt called to live in voluntary poverty and moved into a community in Kansas City.  

     From 1984 until 1996 he resided in Nicaragua and worked in both a religious and a political setting. 

     In this book he tells the story of Jesus and the Biblical theme of liberation, as seen through the eyes of the poor. He now lives here in the greater Kansas City area.

Releasing Conversation: Share your name, location, and briefly a time your theology and life were interwoven.

Quotations and Questions

1. “In 1984 I gave up my credentials to the United Methodist Church as a pastor, resigned from my position as a professor at the seminary, and went to live in voluntary poverty with the poor in Nicaragua.” (15). Why would you or anyone make such a radical move “downward”? What were you thinking at the time? Did you have a support system in place if your transition did not work out?

2. The Political Model of Jesus      VS.     The Political Model of the Powers
  The politics of Liberation and Freedom   vs.             The Politics of Power and Domination
  A Theology of Grace                             vs.             A Theology of Law and Judgement  
  A Methodology of Non-Violet Agape        vs.            A Methodology of Violence

                                                                                          (Pages 4-12)
Share quotations and conversation about these distinctions. Our first goal is to understand what George Baldwin is suggesting. Can you give illustrations in current life that help us understand these different models?

3. “A major shift in my Christology emerged while living and participating with pueblo (the people) in Nicaragua over a period of the next twelve years. Before going to Nicaragua, I would have expressed my Christology in a very orthodox manner. In other words, my belief was basically in agreement with the Biblical theme of salvation, which is the prevailing approach to understanding Christianity in our society. Drawing upon the background I would have written my Christology in three chapters: Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection.” (16) Would you agree with this orthodox view? Has this been your dominant view
as well?

4. “No universal doctrine of atonement has ever been adopted. However, linking personal salvation to the atonement is what we have inherited through orthodox Christian tradition.” (17) Which of these or other “theories” make the most sense to you? Why has “Atonement” continued to be part of Christian theology?

5. “Reflecting on the Biblical theme of liberation has led to some major changes in my Credo, especially withregard to my Christology. There is a wealth of scholarship identified as Liberation Theology.” (19). Read the letter written after 7 months back to friends and family in the US. (p.20-21). What stands out? Why does it end of Poverty, Peace, and Love?

6. “I have come to a better understanding of Jesus by including this major segment of his story in my Credo: Incarnation, Insurrection, Crucifixion, Re-Insurrection.” (22-23). Discuss INSURRECTION and RE-INSURRECTION. What do these words mean to you? Why is this important in your Christology? What is new for you? What questions remain for our conversation?

7. “The Biblical theme of liberation reveals that God does not require some kind of payment or ransom before being willing to engage in the pain and suffering of the human community.” (25) Do you agree that a doctrine of atonement is no longer necessary?

8. “The prophets (of the Hebrew scriptures) called for repentance and made it clear that the promotion of justice is the true expression of faithfulness in response to the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt.” (28)
“Through both preaching and offering the ritual of baptism John (the Baptist) was calling for repentance...repentance meant to engage in doing God’s will and so seek justice for both themselves and their oppressors...One possible explanation is that Jesus submitted to John’s baptism in order to identify himself totally with the struggle of el pueblo.” (28) Can you see the focus on liberation and justice especially for the oppressed as a theme of the Jesus movement? Illustrate from today’s news.

9. “To say that people were ‘converted’ on the day of Pentecost means they came to believe that the liberation of their Jewish homeland could be achieved in the manner which Jesus had taught, i.e., through non-violent insurrection. In that sense, Jesus becomes the hoped-for Messiah. This was not a conversion to save their souls; this was a conversion to engage in the re-insurrection...It meant turning around from cooperating with the Powers.” (31) “Adopting the Politics of Liberation and Freedom was a dangerous undertaking, so they had to conceal some of their activities.” (32) What would a commitment to the politics of liberation and freedom look like today? Where have you witnessed it? Where have you entertained the idea for yourself? How might issues of racism, gun violence, gender equity, classism, and peace building fit into the politics of liberation and

10. “It is not easy to be the re-insurrection body of Christ. The cost of  disciple- ship seems far too great. The Biblical theme of liberation calls us to expend the full extent of our energy and agape in the political task of creating the reign of God on this earth. It seems that as a society we prefer to adopt Salvation Theology and personalize our religion in the hope that we may go to heaven when we die.” (53) What steps can you take today, this week, this month to be part of the “re-insurrection of the body of Christ”? What can you do to stay
human by participating in liberating the human family from their bondage? Read out loud list on page 61.

11. “Expressing what I believe about God is a process of discovery as new levels of understanding about the Bible, tradition and my own experience take shape in and through reasoned expression and dialogue. Expressing my Credo is not simple an intellectual conclusion to which I come but an awareness that leads to
other levels of truth that continue to change and develop.” (72) “It is my sincere hope that you, the reader, will be motivated to reconsider your own Credo.” (74). Discuss the 9 “Credo to Credo” dialogues. Which one stands out for you. Can you share your current Credo? How has it evolved by reading and pondering this book?

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June 14, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.  
David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

June 14, 2023, Out of The Pews and Into Politics: Francis Schaeffer and the Evangelical Takeover of the Republican Party
by Charlie Broomfield  

Our friend Charles Broomfield, who will be with us, is a lifelong Missourian with 50 years of experience and involvement in politics, government, religion and business. He served in the Missouri House of Representatives for 8 years and came very close to being elected to the United States House of Representatives.  He has paid special attention and now published this book to explore the connections between religion and politics.  His friendship and partnership with Francis Schaeffer has assisted in Charlie’s deep conviction that “Right Wing Politics” is a threat to our democracy in the United States.


 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links 

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Titles below are subject to change. -----------------------------------------

July 12, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

United Sates Constitution

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August 9, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 pm.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

Wired For Love: A Neuroscientist’s Journey Through Romance, Loss, and the Essence of Human Connection
by Stephanie Cacioppo

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September 13, 2023,   

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October 11, 2023,

November 8, 2023, From Here to Eternity:  Traveling the World To Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

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December 13, 2023

Selections are subject to change.  For Zoom link and additional information,
contact David Nelson -- humanagenda@gmail.com or (816) 453-3835.

Click here for 2024 Vital Conversations.

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While I have sought substantial familiarity with the world's faiths, I have also pursued immersion in one.