|487. 031231 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sacred memories can't be digitized
The hunger we have in our digitized world
for the sacred is unsatisfied. The divine feast is always ready, though
petty distractions often keep us from taking a place at the table. Yet
there are moments when even a whiff of the holy meal sustains and nourishes.
Here are several that blessed me this year.
* Actually I caught quite
a few whiffs of the desire many Kansas City Muslims and Jews have to affirm
their kinship, sometimes with the support and participation of Christian
friends. Bruce Fieler, author of Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three
Faiths, came to town, and the astonishing turnout for him was a pretty
strong whiff. Young people in an interfaith group are now exploring each
other's traditions, and lay people are taking the initiative in a variety
of ways to build understanding.
* With Kansas City Hindu
friends mourning the death of Pandurang Athavale this year, I realize how
well I was nourished by the spiritual banquet of meeting him for the first
time in India in 1986. (Two years later he won the Gandhi Prize, and in
1997, he was recognized with the million-dollar Templeton Prize for Progress
in Religion.) For his life's work he took no salary, developed no formal
organization, constructed no monuments, required no rituals and claimed
no authority. But he created a movement that the United Nations has called
"one of the most significant developments in the world."
The key practice he promoted
is called swadhyaya, self-study. But his conception of the self was social;
understanding ourselves springs from understanding others; and as we understand
others better, we come to see our own true nature. He taught that "to be
is to be related." This means listening well to others is a spiritual opportunity
which begets service to them as a way of growing one's own faith. His uniting
of Asian and Western methods is itself inspiring evidence of such listening.
* The Kansas City Interfaith
Council recognized Congressman Dennis Moore (Kansas Third District) "for
his leadership in the community and Congress honoring the many paths of
faith and the American tradition of religious freedom" at its 19th annual
Thanksgiving Sunday Ritual Meal. The literal feast at St Andrew Christian
Church in Olathe was mirrored by the spiritual feast of Moore's acceptance
Ranging from the First Amendment to a
poem he wrote for his grandson, Moore reminded us how precious the right
of religious liberty is and how we as individuals and a community are nourished
as we seek its fulfillment.
And you, dear reader, as
this year ends, will you take an undigitized moment to praise yourself
for those public and private occasions when you resisted secular distractions,
dined at the sacred table and shared the endless supply of spiritual food
486. 031224 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Best present saves us from selfishness
Into the strife, into botched efforts at
personal and international peace-making, into the world of tragic misunderstanding
and mean power, into the pit of buying and selling and market indices,
is born the Son of God. This Christian story is often sweetened with candy-canes
and other comforts and distractions to obscure the homeless, the oppressed,
the victims of terror and the violence and injustice we ourselves perpetuate.
The ancient Romans had no
difficulty in imagining a mere mortal becoming a god. The Roman Senate
voted to make Caesar a god. What was amazing to them was the Christian
claim that God would leave the realm of perfection and take upon himself
the limits of the human form to suffer on behalf of others.
I love the silent night,
the holy quiet of Christmas. But we camouflage and cheapen the miracle
if we forget Herod's slaughter of the children of Bethlehem. It is a theme
found in other faiths as well. The Hindu god Krishna had to be hidden at
birth to escape the murders of infants by the king.
Religion is not a giddy excursion
into the realm of confection; it arises from our intimations of the sacred
while we struggle with the uncertainties of this world. The awe the shepherds
felt did not relieve them of their duties but rather placed them in the
cosmic story, giving to their lives a great meaning otherwise absent.
The birth of any child should
be an occasion of wonderment. The event is not a meteor from outer space
landing in our laps, but rather an emergence from amazing processes that
govern this world and unfold its grace. The realm of perfection is not
an abode in the sky. It is the openness of the heart.
So the Christ-child is not
the injection of the Word of God from a transcendent sphere into ours,
but the revelation of the power of love within this realm. It transforms
what seems ordinary with the promise of love's embrace, even though the
integrity love demands may lead to crucifixion.
Those of many faiths have
made such sacrifice. The Muslim Sadat. The Jew Rabin. The Hindu Gandhi.
The self-immolating Buddhist monks of Saigon. The Christian Martin Luther
And all of us are called
to that end metaphorically. Unless we give ourselves for others, the strife
will continue without abatement. It may seem at times that the path is
narrow, but as we travel it, sometimes trudging, sometimes dancing on the
way, we find it widens to all the world, the world whose every feature
is like the child in the manger, a treasure beyond measure in the most
The joy of Christmas is justified
by the presence of the divine awaiting to save us from our selfishness.
In the language of the tradition, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."
485. 031217 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Let menorah bring understanding
In the darkness of December, I await this
Friday evening when, with Jewish friends, I will light the first of the
candles for the eight-day Hanukkah festival.
Hanukkah is a minor holiday
that has gained disproportionate attention outside the Jewish faith for
several reasons. Christians, less informed about Passover, Rosh Hashanah,
Yom Kippur, caught up in seasonal good-will, want to acknowledge other
faiths. Since Hanukkah is observed around Christmas time, it becomes a
convenient way for Christians to honor Jewish friends.
Jewish families, pulled into
the commercialism of the dominant culture that overwhelm children and all
of us sometimes use Hanukkah to substitute for Christmas.
Some fear this distorts the
meaning of Hanukkah.
The holiday is actually a
commemoration of the triumph of religious liberty and the faithfulness
of ancient Jews. Antiochus Epiphanes tried to force religious conformity
throughout his empire which included Israel in the 2nd Century B.C.E. The
Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated and robbed. An idol to Zeus was placed
upon the altar and Jews were commanded to worship it or die.
Judah Maccabee and his brothers
of the priestly Hasmonean family led a tiny force into guerrilla warfare
against the great armies oppressing them. After three bloody years, in
164 B.C.E. they regained the freedom to worship according to their tradition.
The Temple was cleansed and
rededicated. Enough uncontaminated oil was found to light the temple menorah
for only one day, and it would take more than a week to prepare an additional
Miraculously, according to the Talmud,
the single cruse of oil lasted eight days, until the new supply was ready.
Although Hanukkah is a Jewish
tradition, all who love religious liberty can celebrate its meaning.
Ten years ago in Billings,
MT, a Jewish family was observing Hanukkah, with an image of the menorah
displayed. A brick was thrown through 5-year-old Isaac Schnitzer's bedroom
window, glass shards strewn on his bed.
Although only a few dozen
Jewish families lived in Billings, a week later, thousands of homes displayed
menorahs. Such displays led to a Catholic school, a Methodist Church, and
Christian homes being vandalized, but eventually the hate crimes ended.
And interfaith understanding blossomed.
Prejudice and religious presumption
persist. Whatever lights we revere in this cold and dark time of the year,
may we join together in igniting the lamps of understanding and good will
with our neighbors of all faiths.
484. 031210 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Prayer for partisans must look to both
I was asked to give the invocation at a
fund-raising luncheon with Senator Pat Roberts last April. I immediately
said yes because I don't turn down requests for prayer. But in these contentious
times, I didn't know how I would be able to pray at a partisan function
in a non-partisan way, especially in the context of a war that even then
So I prayed about the prayer.
My job was to voice the aspirations
of all those present. The prayer needed to recognize the occasion and place
it in a spiritual context.
It would violate my spiritual
role, my duty to the Sacred, to pray for the election of any particular
person, but I could pray for alignment with the process of democracy, including
subtly honoring Senator Roberts' responsibility as chair of the Senate
Intelligence Committee. So with a long breath, the prayer began:
"Spirit of Generations, we
gather to continue the great experiment of self-government begun by those
visionaries of 1776. We give thanks for the development of the basic
and enduring values and civil liberties which have guided us through the
ending of slavery, the enfranchisement of women, economic transformations,
personal freedoms, inclusion and respect for every faith and other challenges,
and the opportunities we now have to be a beacon throughout the world,
blessed by those who transform intelligence into wisdom."
With these words I also discharged
my duty to acknowledge the controversy then raging whether the Patriot
Act unreasonably curtails civil liberties.
While I could neither bless
nor question the war, I could pray this in April: "In the midst of tumult
and devastation in Iraq, we give thanks that losses were limited, that
those who served so well have enlarged our affirmation of your sway over
all peoples and all nations."
I added references to committees
dealing with agriculture, education and labor on which Senator Roberts
serves. And since he is famous both for his sense of humor and his fanatical
support of K-State, I found a way to combine the two in a light-hearted
phrase that gave some relief to the somber topics.
Dear readers, many of you
ask for guidance about how to offer public prayer. Perhaps seeing my effort
But the chief reason I write
about this now is because I am continuing to pray the last paragraph of
that prayer. I hope it is wide enough for people on both sides of
the war debate: "We pray that
misunderstandings between nations and
peoples will be healed, that our own intentions and actions may be purified,
and that the holy tussle of our political struggles may be like the wind
unfurling the flag of freedom in history's march to justice and human dignity
483. 031203 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Mystical and modern meet in artist's
Spiritual ideas are everywhere you look
at the Marsden Hartley show now at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. From
his early landscapes influenced by American Transcendentalism to one of
his late three portraits of Abraham Lincoln, which can be likened to Father,
Son and Holy Ghost, Hartley's religious preoccupations unify his work through
an astounding variety of styles.
Hartley himself speculated
that he was "probably the first (painter) to contribute (the) mystical
element to the modern movement." Paintings from 1913 inspired by Kandinsky's
essay "On the Spiritual in Art," include images of the cross, the Buddha,
a Hindu mudra, the American Indian 8-pointed star and symbols suggested
by Paracelsus and the Lutheran theosophist Jakob Boehme.
Hartley had been active in
the Episcopalian men's guild and even considered the ministry. But the
closed doors and shut windows of "The Church at Head Tide, No. 2" suggests
that Hartley came to see organized religion as antiquarian. Resident curator
Randall Griffey says Hartley's rejection of institutionalized faith arose
from Emersonian skepticism of conformity and from Hartley's sense of alienation
as he kept his homosexuality secret.
While "Christ Held by Half-Naked
Men," an all-male pieta, perhaps the most astonishingly overt-even bizarre-religious
painting in the show, was not shown during his life, other paintings with
similar hypermasculine figures were welcomed by the homophobic art world
of the 1940s as images projecting American strength in the context of war,
Griffey says. The eight figures, probably fishermen, recall both Christ
as a fisher of men.
The common man is an American
theme Hartley explored repeatedly. In the two paintings called "Fishermen's
Last Supper," Hartley mourns the death at sea of two adults sons of the
Farncis Mason family with whom he had lived by placing them in a biblical
context. One of the paintings includes the words ``mene mene'' from Belshazzar's
feast (Daniel 5:25). Griffey says in this case, as throughout his work,
Hartley took the common and the ordinary and shows them to us with an eternal
and cosmic intent.
My favorite painting is "Eight
Bells Folly, Memorial for Hart Crane." The poet and Hartley were friends.
Crane's suicide at sea at age 33, the age at which Christ is thought to
have died, is not only
recognized by a shark and the eyes of
the already-dead under the sea, but also transcended with cosmic promise
This week-end the Nelson
presents poetry, images and music to explore the times and work of Hartley.
Call 816.751.1ART for information.
482. 031126 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Thanksgiving works for all faiths
When I want to gauge my spiritual state,
I count the number of times I say or think uncharitable things about the
terrible drivers I encounter as I travel around town. People sometimes
see me as some kind of serene religious type; but when I'm in the car,
it's pretty clear I'm no saint.
The best quick method I've
discovered to improve my spiritual temper is to recall how many reasons
there are to be grateful.
It is a practice recommended
by every faith. "Thanksgiving is our way of life," says Kara Hawkins, a
teacher of American Indian spirituality. According to Daryoush Jahanian,
Zoroastrian thanksgiving includes gratitude for "the call to justice."
Pagan Caroline Baughman's list includes "herbs, cooking and healing." Barbara
McAtee says that the Baha'i faith teaches that better than verbal thanks
is action that shows "kindness to all creatures."
Giving thanks while driving,
and being a little more courteous myself to the other creatures also behind
the wheel, can be an everyday spiritual exercise.
But the annual Thanksgiving
holiday has special meaning to me because it works for all faiths. It is
a holy day owned by no one religion.
The American Thanksgiving
tradition begins with an interfaith feast between the Indians and the Pilgrims,
only half of whom survived that first harsh winter. It is right for us
to honor them.
While our ideals of religious
freedom and other liberties are part of that story, the prejudice that
still persists, the slaughter and oppression of the Indians, the slavery
that took centuries to end, the sexism that kept women from voting for
most of our history and other continuing injustices, should chasten us
and renew our resolve to transform gratitude into wider service to the
I'm not naming names, but
over the past quarter century I've come to give thanks for many religious
leaders, clergy and lay, in Kansas City. I've had the privilege of working
with men and women whose lives have made our community stronger and who
urge us toward a deeper life of the spirit. Some of these good folk are
now retired but are still engaged. Some are in full career. Some are just
Some are dead, but their contributions
are still vivid.
The cynicism of our age may
be often justified, but we can be genuine in gratitude for those who professional
and volunteer lives awaken in us the sense of the sacred, a sense of what
Their sacrifices are rewarded
by the joy of service we, too, can taste.
Whether driving or feasting
or falling asleep, it is a comfort to give thanks for the joy that rises
from doing our duty to the world. Happy Thanksgiving.
481. 031119 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Extremists need to find middle ground
With increasingly frequency, readers put
this question to me: Does religion do more harm than good?
Too many wicked acts are
perpetrated in the name of religion to dismiss this question. A fresh example
may be last Saturday's bombings of two synagogues in Turkey as worshippers
observed the sabbath.
With its Muslim heritage, Turkey has been
developing ties with Israel, and extremists don't like that. In Christian
Europe as well, anti-Semitism is reportedly growing.
Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally,
restricts the religious practice of American guests who happen to be Christian.
Presumably secular China has killed more than a million Tibetan Buddhists.
New violence between Hindus and Muslims in India and Kashmir could erupt
at any time. Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland have a terrorist
history that will not soon be healed.
In our own country, religious
extremism may be growing, often in a political environment. When ousted
from his court last week, Alabama "Ten Commandments" Judge Roy Moore said,
"The battle to acknowledge God is about to rage across the country."
Liberals can wring hands
and conservatives can offer prayers, but is there anything more we can
To liberal friends of wide
embrace I say, You are right to honor diversity as a blessing, but your
neglect of a sense of the sacred in public and private life has led to
the fragmentation of society, to the special interests which control our
politics and to the lack of a vision in which we all can share.
To conservative friends extolling
only their own traditions I say, You are wise to see that no arena of life
can be excluded from the demands of faith, but you fail to appreciate that
the Infinite is revealed in many colors, and the pure white light by which
we can see most clearly shines only when the colors are united together.
To both I say, Your religion
is no religion at all unless its fruits include a holy conviction that
we are all kin.
I worry that the secularism
of liberals and the exclusivity of conservatives leaves too little space
for the spirit. This vacuum can pervert faith into a justification of violence.
But if liberals and conservatives
can rediscover a moderate center which honors a healthy tension between
them, then religion can be a gift rather than a curse, and the distortions
and fears of the present may be transformed into reverence and good will.
480. 031112 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Author says understanding Bible erases
Why should "skeptics, seekers and religious
liberals" pay attention to the Bible? John A. Buehrens, former president
of the Unitarian Universalist Association, explores the question with his
Understanding the Bible.
Buehrens' first answer is
that in order to understand Western culture, one has to be familiar with
But, in Kansas City recently,
he told me that his book is designed for more than simply aiding a person
to make his way through the museum or appreciate significant literature
with the references and allusions to stories and ideas at the heart of
"American culture is being
is being torn apart by a narrow interpretation of our biblical heritage,
and this has political as well as cultural consequences,"
he said. He believes that the Bible has
been used "to legitimize such clear sins as economic and environmental
exploitation, racism, sexism, homophobia and more."
Skeptics and others have
neglected the Bible because it has been used in "simplistic and oppressive
ways." Progressives have thus lost sway in the cultural conversation. If
you don't know the Bible, you cede the power to interpret it to others,
Buehrens thinks that the
Bible is about "the ancient human struggle for freedom and liberation"
and its enduring wisdom speaks today to ``the human quest for wisdom, justice
But the deepest reason for
his book is neither cultural competence nor asserting political ground.
Buehrens began working with
the material which became his book in a series of lectures "in the very
secular city of New York" and was surprised by the strong interest from
people who had previously ignored the Scriptures. "These people responded
to the Bible" as a rich source of spiritual sustenance for their everyday
lives and their extraordinary moments.
Buehrens wants to help skeptics
grow past the "emotional reactions," formed often in childhood, when they
were told the Bible said something that did not make sense to them.
The 200-page book is deliberately
not a scholarly tome, though it is informed by scholarship. The reader
will learn how the Bible came to be composed. But I read it primarily as
a thoughtful tour of sacred texts whose meaning unfolds by clearing away
the fog of preconceptions about what is actually there.
Like the Jewish sage Martin
Buber, whose heritage he claims, Buehrens does more than guide. He illumines.
479. 031105 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Speaker sees hope in Abrahamic bond
When Abraham died, his "sons Isaac and
Ishmaiel buried him in the cave of Machpelah" (Genesis 25:9).
For Bruce Feiler, author of Abraham:
A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, this union of Abraham's rival sons
at their father's death presents hope that Jews and Muslims, who trace
their heritage to Abraham, can, along with Christians, find fruitful ways
of understanding their conflicts and move toward reconciliation.
Feiler will be in Kansas City as
part of the annual Jewish Book Fair and will speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 11 at
Villiage Presbyterian Church, 6641 Mission Road.
Responding to Feiler
will be an interfaith panel with Rabbi Alan Cohen of Beth Shalom Congregation,
Abdalla Idris Ali of the Center for Islamic Education in North America
and Presbyterian lay leader Bill Tammeus, columnist for The Kansas City
Scholars often call
the three great monotheistic faiths "Abrahamic" because all three of the
them see in Abraham the man God chose to further divine revelation.
Jews understand Abraham as the patriarch of the Israelites through Isaac.
For Christians, Abraham is an exemplar of one save by faith, without the
law. Called Ibrahim in Arabic, Abraham is revered by Muslims for
cleansing Mecca of idolatry and restoring worship of the one God.
"Abraham may hold the
key for us to communicate," says the Rev. Diane Quaintance, a minister
at Village Presbyterian Church, who has arranged otherinterfaith programs
open to the community. She said bringing Feiler here was "the logical
next step" in the conversation.
Quaintance teaches Bible study and
found that Feiler's book made it easy to connect our daily life with biblical
interests, whether one know nothing or a great deal about the Bible.
"All of us want to
belive there is hope for peace, but we don't hear about the threads of
hope in the news much," she said. She expects that the Fieler visit's
focus on Abraham will become a bridge between faith communities working
Feiler's Web site,
www.brucefeiler.com, is worth a visit.
Note: An area Jewish leader
wrote to complain that my column last week makes readers think "that the
American Jewish community doesn't question settlements and supports (Prime
Minister Ariel) Sharon in his desire to force Muslims to leave Israel so
they can take all the land."
The column actually
referred to Muslims leaving the "Palestinian territories" rather than Israel,
but I do apologize for failing to note that many people in the Jewish community
here do not support the
expansion of Israeli settlements.
478. 031029 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Huston Smith looks for commonality
Born in 1919 in China, no teacher of world
religions is regarded with greater affection than Huston Smith. Even before
the 1996 PBS series with Bill Moyers on what Smith calls "the wisdom traditions,"
Smith was widely known for his book, "The World's Religions," which has
sold millions of copies to several generations. His impeccable personal
relationships with many faiths, through family connections and travel,
make his scholarship a love affair with humanity as well as the divine.
Smith was in town last week-end
to honor his 1938-39 roommate at Central Methodist College, Elbert Cole,
on Cole's retirement as director of Shepherd's Centers of America. Cole
movement in 1972 to provide seniors with
new opportunities to learn and to enrich society.
Cole asked Smith to help
those at the conference to understand commonalities among Judaism, Christianity
and Islam. Smith said these faiths were revealed by the same God but took
different forms as appropriate to the language, culture, and times of those
to whom they were given.
He noted historical respect
between Muslims and Jews, but that the boundary between Christianity and
Islam has often been contested, which has led to persistent stereotypes,
one of which is that Islam is a violent religion. Smith presented a scholar's
view that Islam may have been less violent than Christianity, but recently
violence has been nurtured within Islam.
In an interview later, Smith said
resentment of the West in the Muslim world arises in part from the way
the West conquered it and chopped up it up into artificial states like
Iraq and Israel, and from the West's support for corrupt and oppressive
Smith complained that extremists
get the press and those seeking reconciliation are ignored.
As he spoke to me, Smith
seemed almost overwhelmed by sorrow over the Middle East where there is
"too little land and too much history." Where formerly the American Jewish
community questioned Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, "now
it is silent" as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "by his actions,
seems determined to force the Muslims into such a desperate situation that
they will leave and Israel will take all the land.''
These "shocking, disgusting,
and tragic developments" impede interfaith relations because those concerned
hesitate to speak for fear of being called anti-Semitic, he said.
477. 031022 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Nietzsche's relevance is in being all
Although Friedrich Nietzsche is out of
fashion in mainstream analytic philosophy, UMKC philosophy professor Clancy
Martin celebrated Nietzsche's 159th birthday last Wednesday by submitting
a paper about the German philosopher to a learned journal. Martin says
Nietzsche "has important things to say about what it is to be human."
Despite writing about a mad-man
who announces that "God is dead" and that we have killed Him, Nietzsche
may be better regarded in religious circles today than in technical philosophy
because of his assessment of the human predicament. Whether the field is
ethics, cultural diagnosis or the spiritual life -- what Nietzsche calls
"the life of the unseen" -- Nietzsche's influence on the writings of theologians
today is undiminished.
Martin thinks Nietzsche's
analysis of culture is meritorious. Like the Danish Christian existentialist
Soren Kierkegaard, the atheist Nietzsche finds society claiming to be Christian
while there is little evidence that people are practicing the teachings
of Jesus. Actual Christianity is a curse of guilt about our natural impulses
that deprives people of their capacities to experience life fully.
Saying "God is dead" is a
way of bursting through the hypocrisy, pretense and self-deception that
we are religious. Nietzsche argues that the lives of professed Christians
seem no different than the lives of those who make no such profession.
Martin asks Nietzsche’s question: Who is willing to change one's life to
live as Christ said we must live?
According to Martin, Nietzsche
says in killing God, we have cut the last tether to the past and now must
make decisions about our lives on our own. Without divine guidance we may
be in danger or we may have an unprecedented opportunity. The bow of the
future is tense, and who knows how far we may shoot the arrow?
Nietzsche, who was acquainted
with the early encounters of the West with Buddhism, considers that tradition
to be the closest to an "honest religion" because it offers a spirituality
without a Creator God and rejects the notion of a unified self.
The "unified self" is a construct
that disguises the many divergent impulses we have and contradictory actions
we take. This disguise keeps us from knowing who we are.
Martin says the basic injunction
of philosophy is to "Know thyself," and Nietzsche helps keep this imperative
alive in a culture that wants us to bury it.
476. 031015 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Jewish festival recalls wandering in
I asked Ken Sonnenschein, M.D., a child
and adolescent psychiatrist in private practice, about the Jewish festival
which ends Saturday. He writes:
With this month’s full moon
comes the Jewish festival of Sukkot (pronounced like sue-coat). Sukkot
is the third of the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, and
Sukkot) and begins on the fifteenth day after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish
New Year. During the pilgrimage festivals, Jews would go to Jerusalem to
make special sacrifices at the temple mount.
Each festival, which is still
celebrated by Jews today, has a special historical significance.
Passover is associated with the Exodus from Egypt. Shavuot is the
time Jews celebrate receiving the Ten Commandments and Torah (the first
five books of the Bible) at Mt. Sinai. Sukkot recalls the 40-year
wandering in the desert. Its name, "Feast of the Tabernacles," reminds
us of the temporary shelters used then.
Each festival also had a
direct link to the agricultural calendar. Passover was connected
with the early-ripening barley, Shavuot with the later-ripening wheat,
and Sukkot with the ingathering of many species of produce. In fact,
when the biblically-based pilgrims searched for an appropriate way to give
thanks for the bounty of the new world, they looked in Exodus 23:16 which
makes reference to ``the feast of the harvest.''
This is why the American
holiday of Thanksgiving shares an uncanny resemblance to Sukkot.
I've been working with a
group of dedicated volunteers at Village Shalom in Overland Park to develop
a gardening project which helps people today connect with this rich heritage
and symbolism of growth.
The garden is called the
Mitzvah Garden of Greater Kansas City. ("Mitzvah" means "commandment" but
has also come to mean "a charitable act.")
People of all ages, including
residents of the Village Shalom retirement center, plant, tend, and harvest
produce from ten handicapped-accessible beds. The produce is donated to
the residents, Yachad (the Jewish food pantry) and Harvesters.
The garden also yields spiritual
produce in its ability to provide an interactive, living experience of
how the Jewish calendar with its major festivals ties in with agriculture
and its fruits.
475. 031008 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The right to work has its religious
"God, how can I serve you today?" asks
Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks each morning. The Heartland has
many outstanding spiritual leaders, but none more inspiring and connected
across all social strata in the metro area than Brooks. He spoke Friday
at a breakfast meeting beginning the program year of the Cathedral Center
for Faith and Work.
Of a piece with his prayer
is his conviction that all of us are made in the image of God. This is
the spiritual basis for the ordinance he recently sponsored to give city
employees with domestic partners benefits such as time off when a partner
I've been attending events
sponsored by the Center for several years because the speakers provide
spiritual insights into community leadership from many angles. The breakfast
series this year includes president of DST Realty Vince Dasta, metro Arts
Council president Joan Israelite, Star publisher Art Brisbane and Leawood
Mayor Peggy Dunn.
The dinner series includes
Helzberg Diamonds president Jeffrey W. Comment, Muslim leader Mahnaz Shabbir,
Andrews and McMeel president Bob Duffy and yours truly quite a variety.
My talk next Wednesday at
the downtown Marriott, 'The Idea of Work in World Religions," is still
being written. And quite frankly, dear reader, I could use your help.
I will mention 'right livelihood,'
the Buddhist principle of doing honorable work, a similar a Catholic concept
of vocation, and the Shaker belief that to work is to worship. The Jewish
gift of the sabbath, the Protestant ``work ethic'' and the ancient Greek
valuation of play over work also deserve some discussion. I'll also try
to weave in the Muslim requirement to provide for the poor, the Hindu concept
of duty and the Taoist advice to let things happen, rather than over-managing.
I aim to be useful, practical
and relevant, to offer several spiritual perspectives on the social and
economic situations we are actually experiencing, locally and globally.
Whatever your tradition,
dear reader, what ideas in your faith would you suggest for my talk and
perhaps for a follow-up column? You can email your thoughts to me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Still, even with your help,
I wonder whether I will be able to do any better than to suggest that we
approach our jobs as well as free time by offering the prayer that Al Brooks
says every day.
474. 031001 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Common Meanings in Faith, Medicine
In ancient cultures, healing was a religious
activity, as it remains in primal societies today. One favorite image in
the East is the Medicine Buddha, and in the Gospels Jesus is presented
as a healer. In our culture, many faiths offer "ministries" to the sick,
ranging from "faith healers" to accredited parish nurses. Many liturgical
churches practice anointing the sick with oil.
Today our health care system
is "fragmented, dysfunctional and not compassionate,' according to Christina
M. Puchalski, MD, who will speak here as part of a conference, ``Bridging
Faith and Medicine,'' Oct 10. Puchalski is a professor at the George Washington
University Medical Center and has helped some 90 medical schools to integrate
spiritual care into their curricula.
Another speaker, the Rev.
Fred B. Craddock, professor emeritus at Emory University, appreciates the
historical developments which have distinguished faith from medicine. Their
separation ``helped to establish medicine free of superstition by the increasing
use of observation, reason and diagnosis,'' he says.
But he also believes religious
and health-care professionals need a much deeper conversation over turf
issues and decisions that affect the patient, such as whether to provide
relief from suffering when some believe that suffering is a character-building
gift from God.
Interest in spirituality
in medicine has grown from some studies which suggest that religious people
are more likely to regain health than others. Puchalski has reservations
about this theory; people involved in cultural activities also show high
rates of responsiveness to treatment.
But her own clinical experience
convinces her that sickness can lead people to explore the meaning of their
lives more deeply. She also says that research indicates that patients
who struggle to find or create purpose in their illness or loss do in fact
have improved quality of life.
Hospitalization can be a
time to ask the big questions. Spiritual beliefs can be very important.
Meaning can be found in work, family, faith or, as atheists sometimes say,
"in doing good for others."
Given a health-care system
that in some important ways is failing, she plans to address the question,
'What can be done to improve it?"
The conference is sponsored
by the Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Central Baptist Seminary and the
Nazarene Theological Seminary, where it will be held. For information,
call (913) 676.2097.
473. 030924 THE STAR'S
Same-sex arguments addressed
Over a dozen people contacted me about
my Sept. 10 column about same-sex relationships in religious history.
Many readers wanted sources.
Here are two of the best.
Yale historian John Boswell's
1994 book Same-Sex Unions in PreModern Europe details evidence within
Christianity. Boswell has attracted a number of critics, and his ground-breaking
book no doubt contains errors as any such first study would have. However,
I have not seen any substantial refutation of his major claims.
David F Greenberg's 1988
The Construction of Homosexuality includes a more comprehensive cultural
and religious survey, ancient and modern.
Other readers were disturbed
by my failure to support the idea of sexual orientation. Most cultures
have accepted same-sex relationships and several societies institutionalized
them in marriage and other forms of commitment. "Nevertheless," I wrote,
``same-sex unions do not prove that people are born with a controlling
Why, then, readers asked,
do so many in same-sex relationships believe they were "born that way"?
Religious history offers
no clear answer. However sexual behavior seems to be influenced by at least
four factors: genetic, imprinting, conditioning, and situations.
* In recent times, a genetic
explanation has been favored, particularly by liberal religious groups,
while conservatives have often argued that same-sex behavior is simply
* Imprinting is an explanation
derived from zoology which suggests that at a crucial age before one can
remember, one profoundly notices someone of the same or opposite gender
at the point of developing a sense of sexual identity or attraction.
* Conditioning refers to
social expectations. The universal male participation in same-sex relationships
in ancient Sparta, for example, can be explained this way.
* Situational sex includes
experimentation and behavior by cowboys, soldiers, inmates and others temporarily
deprived of opportunities with those of the opposite sex.
With few exceptions, religious
history does not weigh these factors. It does suggest that human sexuality
is more plastic than current debates recognize.
472. 030917 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Council achieves much
For the past three years, the Kansas City
Interfaith Council has gathered on Sept. 11.
In 2001, media were invited
to hear members of the council announce "The Gifts of Pluralism" conference
planned for that October. As events unfolded on the TV monitor in the room,
Council members expressed deep commitment to one another and to the city
to foster interfaith understanding, and the Muslims pointedly condemned
the hijacking of their faith.
The conference was held as
planned. Over 250 people from every faith group from A to Z -- American
Indian to Zoroastrian -- participated in the two-day assembly at Pembroke
Hill School. Many relationships were developed that have strengthened the
community, and new programs have emerged.
One of them is Mosaic, which
includes an interfaith book club, a "Passport" program for visiting houses
of worship of various faiths, and a "stories project."
This project involved interviewing
over 60 people, from a now-elderly Jewish survivor of a Nazi concentration
camp to a young Muslim. The interviews have been fashioned into a play,
tentatively called The Hindu and the Cowboy and Other Kansas City Stories,
with a staged reading Nov. 2 at the Bruce Watkins Center. Understanding
one another's lives in the context of our faiths is a way to liberate ourselves
from the fear the terrorists wished to instill within us.
In 2002, the Council observed
the first anniversary with a day-long schedule to place 9/11 in a spiritual
context. Members of the Council brought waters from their individual faith
communities, from water collected from KC area fountains, and from the
rivers and oceans of the world, to honor both the tears flowing from the
tragedy and the refreshment and cleansing power of our faiths. Network
CBS-TV broadcast these and other local efforts as model interfaith approaches
for the rest of the nation.
In 2003, last Thursday, the
Council members met and exchanged stories about how these two years affected
them and their communities. The reports were filled with emotion. The assessments
Pride in the area's residents' reaching
out to one another and learning about others' faiths was offset by the
corrosive impact of economic priorities and international concerns.
Muslim leaders have been especially vigorous in reaching out to Jewish,
Christian and other religious communities. Their strong allegience to American
democracy and ability to correct misrepresentations of their faith show
us that we are all together as we seek a world of mutual respect and promise.
We still have more
work to do. We must live our faith more deeply.
471. 030910 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Putting same-sex unions in historical
Today's controversies about gay bishops
and gay marriages lack historical context. We know much about same-sex
behavior, understood as a choice. But in the history of religions, little
can be found about orientation as an inborn characteristic until the idea
developed in the 19th Century.
While some faiths have condemned
same-sex behavior, others have accepted it and even given it special praise.
Most cultures have simply
assumed that everyone is capable of both same- and opposite-sex behavior.
Thus Caesar, who missed few sexual opportunities, was known as ``the husband
to every wife and the wife to every husband.''
Religions prohibiting homosexual
behavior usually did so because producing children was more important than
pleasure the same reason masturbation and coitus interruptus were condemned.
The ancient Hebrews exemplify this perspective. The Talmud condemns celibacy.
Religions favoring same-sex
relationships often did so as part of a conservative, age-structured educational
process, as in the military system of ancient Sparta. There same-sex relationships
and heterosexual marriage supplemented each other. The later Celtic warriors
also engaged in same-sex love. Some traditions expect all young men to
practice same-sex behavior as preparation for heterosexual marriage.
It is true that the Romans
honored same-sex marriages and that the Japanese samurai institutionalized
same-sex unions. The Chinese in the Ming dynasty, many Native American
and African tribes, and other European, Asian and South American cultures
accepted such relationships.
It is also true that well
into the modern era, same-sex unions were blessed within Christianity in
a ceremony celebrating love, with wine, a kiss, scripture readings and
joining of hands before the altar.
(Early Christian heterosexual
marriages were civil, not religious. They arranged property rights and
paternity. Unlike same-sex unions, they did not originate from affection.
Thus they were held outside the church. Heterosexual marriage was made
a sacrament in 1215.)
Nevertheless, same-sex unions
do not prove that people are born with a controlling sexual orientation,
any more than people who choose to join the Chamber of Commerce do so because
of their genes.
The term ``homosexual'' was not coined
until 1869 as the idea of orientation developed.
Historically, whether a religion
has condemned or supported same-sex behavior, it has generally been regarded
as a choice, whether despised or honored.
470. 030903 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Is Alabama judge 'editing' the Ten
Dear Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore:
Your effort to display the
Ten Commandments makes me wonder if you have read them.
Please study the versions
of the commandments as they appear in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Your
monument's text is edited. Do you have the right to alter scripture?
The children of Israel are
commanded to have no other gods before the Lord. This does not deny the
common belief at the time that other gods existed. Most scholars agree
the texts mean simply that the Israelites must worship only one particular
god out of the many gods. True monotheism may not have developed until
the prophet Isaiah wrote. Do you want to promote texts that imply there
are many gods?
Since no likeness is to be
made of anything in heaven or earth, are photos, paintings and statues
sinful? And should the government prohibit Kodak moments?
You have had the monument
on display two years. Was this display effective in eliminating the taking
of the Lord's name in vain?
If we honor the sabbath as
instructed, to do no work, our stores, theaters, police stations and hospitals
would have to be closed. Have you considered whether our society might
be more complex than the society to which the commandments were presented?
Sometimes our economy seems
geared to encourage us to covet what our neighbor has. Are we required
to eliminate advertising which creates desire for things others have?
As a general rule, honoring
one's parents is a fine sentiment. But what about the girl who has been
repeatedly raped by her father? Should we demand that he be honored or
While you are searching the
scriptures, please note that the phrase ``Ten Commandments'' cannot be
found in the passages with the list of commandments on your monument. If
you count them in the
scripture, there are actually 12 or 13.
Jews, Catholics and Presbyterians combine them differently to come up with
a total of 10.
The phrase "ten commandments"
does appear in the list in Exodus 34, where one of the commandments is
not to boil a kid in its mother's milk. Why was this commandment omitted
from your monument?
469. 030827 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
An Uncommon Denomination
Last Wednesday five area Unitarian Universalist
congregations sponsored an advertising supplement in The Star to promote
their faith as ''the Uncommon Denomination.'' The 8-page supplement concluded
a “campaign to raise awareness of (the) historic, distinctive religion''
earlier this year.” The denomination is unusual in eschewing any creed
and any single scripture and in embracing believer and atheist alike.
To support the campaign,
the president of the Boston-based denomination, William Sinkford, visited
Kansas City this spring. Sinkford is the first black president of a predominantly
white denomination which often prides itself as a leader in social change.
For example, decades ago, Unitarian Universalists
welcomed gays and lesbians into their ministry. The denomination also confronted
racial, gender and economic justice questions before most other churches
dealt with them.
In an interview, Sinkford
said that 30 years ago, the denomination understood itself as on the ``cutting
edge, so far ahead our voice was not welcome. We withdrew from engagement
with other religious groups.
``Now we have come in from
the margins. The majority in America has decided we were right on many
of these issues.''
The advertising campaign was inspired
in part by Sinkford's concern that ``the religious voice in public discourse
is the Religious Right,'' which he said was often ``mean-spirited.''
Sinkford noted that the promotional
effort followed the unusual experience Unitarian Universalist congregations
had following 9/11. The attendance surge most denominations had immediately
after the 2001 terrorist attacks dissipated in the following months, but
the ``trailing off'' phenomenon did not affect his denomination.
This and other indicators
suggest to Sinkford that people are looking more for religious community
rather than for the ``shallow consumerism'' advocated after 9/11 to keep
the country going. Instead of the thousand or so Unitarian Universalists
now in the area, ``Kansas City has a potential for 70,000'' if people become
aware of this religious option, Sinkford said. Beyond membership growth,
he believes that the conviction and experience that Unitarian Universalists
can offer to the broader culture is that ``religious pluralism is not a
curse but rather a blessing.''
468. 030820 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Building a community in remembrance
of tragic day
How should the second anniversary of the
9/11 events be marked? In 2001, the nation was shaken, lives were taken,
bravery was discovered and pain endures. lIn 2002, the Kansas City Interfaith
Council offered a day-long observance and 50-some individual congregations
held services to place remembrances and hopes in a spiritual context.
This year the Council has
endorsed an interfaith program Sept. 9 with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim
speakers, featuring Imam Hassan Qazwini of Detroit, originally from Iraq.
A panel moderated by Star columnist Bill Tammeus includes Rabbi Neal Schuster
of Temple B'nai Jehudah and the Rev Robert Lee Hill, senior pastor of the
hosting congregation, Community Christian Church.
The event was initiated by
the Kansas City International Visitors Council under the U.S. State Department
and has been planned with the aid of Harmony, the Rabbinical Association,
the National Conference for Community and Justice and the Crescent Peace
Barbara Dolci, head of the
Visitors Council, says that since 9/11, ``we have seen how religion has
been used to distort the goodness of these religions and divide those who
need to work together for a positive resolution of conflicts in our communities.
By focusing on that which unites us as children of Abraham, perhaps we
can learn to respect our differences and build peace one community at a
Hill is enthusiastic about
hosting this event. ``We our honored to live out the meaning of our church's
name--'Community.' The subject of this gathering is of utmost importance
not only to our local metroplex but also to the nation and the world,''
Those able to be there at
5:30 pm can join with those of other faiths in silent prayer for peace.
At 6, a light dinner is served. Qazwini and the panel begin at 6:45, and
the program ends at 8 so Muslims can perform maghrib, evening prayer.
The fall offers other opportunities
to explore our neighbors' faiths. The Interfaith Council's Oct. 1
conference for clergy and lay leaders is ``Introducing World Religions
and the Faiths of Kansas City.''
Bruce Fieler, author of Abraham: A Journey
to the Heart of Three Faiths, speaks here Nov. 11, the annual Harmony Concert
is Nov. 16, the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Sunday Ritual Meal is Nov
While awaiting details, you may want to
get these dates on your calendar.
467. 030813 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sounding the alarm on divisive issues
A recent study says violence, discrimination
and harassment against Muslims in the U.S. increased 15% last year. Protestant
Senators have accused Catholic Senators of being anti-Catholic because
they oppose the nomination of a Catholic to a federal judgeship. Christian
conservatives complain about court rulings that "under God" does not belong
in the Pledge of Allegiance. In Europe, anti-Semitism seems to be growing.
Religion, which should bring
us together, too often sets us against one another. While it is easy to
see someone else's religious prejudice, it is hard to see our own.
This may be the case with
Mel Gibson. His forthcoming film about the death of Jesus has aroused Christian
and Jewish concern that relations between the two faiths will be damaged
by its portrayal of Jews.
From articles and websites,
friends in Kansas City have contacted me with alarm. The Star's movie critic,
Bob Bulter, is following the controversy.
The film, The Passion, may
be released next spring on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
One may wonder whether the
controversy has been created to publicize the movie, but all the articles
I have read suggest serious problems with the film. Scholars who have seen
a script are dismayed by it.
The New York Times quoted Sister Mary
C. Boys, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, as saying,
"We're really concerned that this could be one of the great crises in Christian-Jewish
On the other hand, those
who appear to have been predisposed toward Gibson's efforts, including
those from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives,
reportedly found a preview inspiring.
Perhaps identifying the problems
will cause Gibson to change the final version.
Christian history includes
violent images of both Jews and Muslims, as well as others. In the last
century, Christians have worked hard to purge their liturgies and teachings
of bias. But a popular movie which could renew the old "Christ killer"
charge against Jews and reinforce persistent stereotypes will divide us,
not bring us together. National leaders and local people of faith are right
to sound an alert.
466. 030806 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Don't discount influence of faith on
The impact of various religions on their
societies can be profound, and the influence one religion has on subsequent
civilizations can be unacknowledged except by the scholars.
The ancient religion of Zoroastrianism
is an example, sometimes thought to be the first faith to proclaim that
there is but one God.
Other religions may have
their influence overestimated, as Christianity is sometimes cited as the
basis of Constitutional government in the United States, a judgment most
And the heritage of some
faiths in some cultures may be so pervasive that it is difficult to assess.
The development of Judaism in the last 2000 years is a fascinating story,
too little known. But Jewish themes in the West, embedded in the majority
Christian faith, are so much a part of the culture that we easily assume
all faiths share a similar orientation.
Here are some of those themes.
While God is the Creator
of all things, including the world of nature, he is revealed primarily
through inspired Scripture. This "mediated" revelation contrasts with the
"immediate" revelation in primal faiths, where the sacred is found primarily
in nature, and with some Asian faiths, where the divine must be apprehended
The Scriptures show God acting
in the realm of human relations and the history of community. God is a
power working through the social order toward the establishment of peace
and justice, often seen in the fair distribution of wealth and special
concern for the poor. While some faiths see time as circular and the notion
of progress is irrelevant, the Jewish tradition presents a hope for the
future; there is a divine purpose to our lives.
In some faiths, recurring
events like the daily rising of the sun are the keys to finding sacred
meaning. In Judaism, singular, unrepeated events like the Exodus and the
Holocaust are central occasions which arouse the questions about God, justice
Some faiths have little interest
in land or national identity. Zen Buddhists, for example, say that wherever
you are is holy space. For several reasons, modern Judaism has come to
place considerable emphasis upon Israel as a legal and geographical reality,
not simply a spiritual notion.
465. 030730 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Palestinian Christian favors two states
A Palestinian Christian, the Rev. Fahed
Abu-Akel, served this past year as moderator of the Presbyterian Church
(USA). He speaks next Sunday at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie
In a telephone interview,
he said that one hundred years ago, 35% of the Palestinians were Christian.
"As a result of war, occupation and economic hardship, today less than
3% are Christian. Still, about 15 million Arabs in over a dozen countries
are Christian. Yassir Arafat's wife is Christian." He cited Acts 2:11 as
evidence that Christianity began among the Arabs as early as Pentecost.
To explain his concern about
the Middle East, he said people of faith "need to know how the word of
God becomes alive locally, nationally and globally, not just in evangelism
or medical missions, but also in issues of justice, to give credibility
to the Gospel."
His perspective is shaped
by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when he was 4 years old, living in the Galilean
village of Kuffer-Yassif. Israeli troops drove his family from their home.
For safety, his father led him and his seven siblings to a mountain refugee
camp. But his mother refused to go. "This is our home, our land and our
church. If they want to kill me, they will need to kill me in my own home,"
He outlined four options
for the future of the Israelis and Palestinians. The first is a continuation
of the status quo. He describes this as the longest occupation by one people
over another in recent history, which brutalizes both the Israelis and
the 3.4 million Palestinians.
A second proposal is a transfer
policy, which he called "ethnic cleansing," the removal of Palestinians
from their homes to other counties.
A third possibility is one
state for all people in the area. This would mean abandoning the religious
character of Israel as a Jewish homeland and the end of the Palestinian
hope of a state of their own. A single secular, democratic republic would
not be controlled by either religion or ethnicity.
He favors a fourth path,
a two-state solution, which is the goal of President Bush's "road map"
for peace, and is envisioned by United Nations resolutions as early as
1947. "Christians must love both
peoples. Both need to live in peace,"
464. 030723 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Local Jews, Muslims build bridges
Within each faith, disagreements and sometimes
hostilities arise. Christianity is divided on issues like abortion, homosexuality
and the war with Iraq, as well as by denominational loyalties. Other faiths
are similarly fractured.
And sometimes the problems
are between those of different faiths. With friends and families in the
Middle East, Jews and Muslims here have to work extra hard not to associate
the deaths and indignities both sides abroad have suffered with their neighbors
of the other faith here, as many local Christians have deliberately educated
themselves about not only Arab Muslims but the other 80% of the world's
Muslims who are not Arab.
Some disagreements are not
theological or political, but primarily personal. Every faith has its troublesome
But relations between the
faiths are too important to let all these factors rule. That is why Kansas
City can celebrate the many and varied efforts by local Jews and Muslims
to build and repair bridges between the two communities and live together
Here are some examples. The
leader of a medical practice is Muslim; his staff of physicians is overwhelmingly
Jewish. Jewish businessmen have made substantial donations, and a Jewish
educator has assisted Muslims in obtaining grants, for Islamic education.
A mosque, synagogue and church
formed a congregational partnership under the auspices of Kansas City Harmony.
With the services of the National Conference for Community and Justice,
young people from Jewish, Muslim and Christian schools have learned from
each other in day-long experiences at the Kauffman Foundation.
At last year's anniversary
of 9/11, Jewish and Muslim children performed a song including both the
Hebrew and Arabic terms for peace, shalom and salam, in a community-wide
When the mayor of Romle,
Israel, visited Kansas City, a Leawood Muslim hosted a reception for him.
Two women, Muslim and Jewish, Mahnaz Shabbir and Sheila Sonnenschein, have
written joint articles for several local publications.
These are just a few examples
of the dozens on my list. So when you hear about "tensions and suspicions"
between Kansas City Jews and Muslims, keep all that in perspective.
463. 030716 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Faiths share sensibility of surrender
To the casual observer, no two religions
might seem more different than Buddhism and Islam.
Buddhism is non-theistic;
most Buddhist pictures of reality contain no Creator God. Islam, on the
other hand, rigorously proclaims the majesty and mercy of single Creator
God, on whom all creatures depend.
For Buddhists without God,
no aspect of the universe is more fundamental than any other because everything
is intertwined, with multiple reference points. For Muslims, God is the
original and fundamental reality. He is the sole and ultimate reference
Buddhists see morality as
part of the impersonal nature of the universe. The consequences of our
acts are explained by karma, a law of cause and effect which operates without
any divine supervision. For Muslims, God is the source of morality. God
has provided instructions for regulating our behavior. God will be the
judge of our acts and dispense the consequences.
The Buddha taught that the
illusion of separateness causes suffering. Buddhism denies an eternal,
unchanging, individual soul. Salvation or enlightenment comes not through
any person, book or institution, but by direct, immediate experience. Buddhism
is sometimes called a psychology because of its emphasis on meditation
and internal experience over behavior.
In Islam, each of us has
a separate and distinct soul. Salvation is mediated through the Qur'an
and the tradition. Islam emphasizes social relationships and behaviors
through extensive legal codes. Islam is often considered a more external
religion than Buddhism, and its ideals of consensus suggest a public, democratic
focus. If inward meditation might characterize Buddhism, Friday prayer,
which is a social configuration, might represent Islam on this point.
And yet, underlying both
of these great faiths is a common sensibility: surrender.
In Buddhism, the surrender
is an absorption into the flow of the universe, as a drop of water unites
by yielding to the ocean in which it falls. Through acute attention focused
in meditation, the Buddhist becomes one with the flow of events rather
than obstructing them.
The very word Islam means
submission and the peace that arises from submission to the will of God.
The prostrations of prayer emphasize the utter surrender in Islam, placing
one's very body in God's service.
Beyond beliefs, is there
a parallel sensibility in your faith?
462. 030709 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Scouting for a path between faiths
Last month I attended an Eagle Scout Court
of Honor for three remarkable boys--one wants to say "young men." The ceremony,
held at St Peter's Episcopal Church, began with a Christian prayer by the
rector. As each of the candidates spoke, it was clear how much their families,
their friends, the scouting program and their faiths meant to them.
The featured speaker was
Terry Dunn, president and CEO of J. E. Dunn Construction, himself a nationally
prominent Scout leader. Dunn believes that more important than building
buildings is "building people."
One of the Scouts was Muslim.
The event ended with a recitation from the Qur'an.
What seemed remarkable was
that no one seemed to think this was remarkable. The Boy Scouts have long
welcomed boys of most spiritual paths as part of their Scouting experience.
Recently at Village Presbyterian
Church, Jewish leader Alan Edelman, and Muslim leader Ahmed El-Sherif hugged
each other as they greeted each other before speaking about the Abrahamic
faiths, and as they departed. Whether this was remarkable or not, such
a sign of amity between those of faiths too often portrayed as in conflict
is always welcome.
Our religious liberty as
Americans becomes even more precious as we build communities of regard
for differences while understanding our human kinship. Getting to know
one another as spiritual beings does far more than even the most brilliant
column in this space to create a safe, respectful and generous Kansas City.
Former Mayor Emanuel Cleaver's
"Under the Clock" program on KCUR this Friday is billed as a "town hall
public forum" on the relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities
here. The producer's announcement says that "There is an undercurrent of
suspicion and tension between some members of each community; we hope giving
voice to some of those feelings will give us the opportunity to promote
All of us, regardless of
our faiths, may hope that "giving voice" to family-like squabbles on a
radio program will build upon, rather than damage, the many sincere private
efforts of leaders of both
communities to build bridges between them.
May we some day soon remark
on how unremarkable it is that we enjoy one another's faiths because we
are secure in our own.
461. 030702 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The Supreme Court can decide only what
The Supreme Court has affirmed the Constitution's
protection of private, non-commercial love-making by consenting adults
of the same sex. This may have changed the legal situation, but the Court
cannot compel people of faith to think any differently about sexual morality.
Homosexuality is a contentious
issue among many Christians. Some cite Biblical passages such as Lev. 18:22
and Rom. 1:27 as proof of God's displeasure with homosexual activity. Others
say ancient and modern contexts require reinterpretation of these texts.
But the government cannot decide what is sin. It can only decide what is
The role of women in Christianity
also is disputed. Passages such as 1 Cor. 14:34-5 might seem to prohibit
female Sunday school teachers, but such matters are for churches, not the
Supreme Court, to interpret.
For hundreds of years, Christians
believed charging interest on loans was immoral. It has since become legal.
Laws prohibiting trade on
the sabbath have been struck down or removed, but those faithful to the
commandment in Ex. 20:9-11 may still observe it.
Ex. 20:17 may condemn our
desire for what our neighbor has, but the economic life of our nation is
not inhibited by this religious perspective, though we may voluntarily
seek a spare life-style.
In Mark 10:4-12, Jesus seems
to say that a divorced person should not remarry, but our legal codes permit
In Matt. 5:34, Jesus condemns
swearing, but the President swears an oath prescribed by the Constitution
when he is inaugurated into office. Ironically, the custom has been to
swear on a Bible. Witnesses in court are also asked to swear. However,
in recognition of those who follow the teachings of Jesus, the law also
permits affirmation instead of swearing.
Slaves were freed despite
Paul's exhortation in 1 Tim. 6:1-2 that slaves should obey their Christian
Government is prohibited
from enforcing or prohibiting any religious opinion. It is not always obvious
how to practice our own faith while respecting the freedom of others. Our
legal system is often in tension with expectations from citizens with religious
views. Keeping that tension creative may be a continuing challenge as we
celebrate the birth of freedom on July 4, 1776.
460. 030625 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Best health care treats the whole person
Many Kansas City area hospital staffs are
now aware of the religious diversity of their patients. The chaplains seek
to provide appropriate and specific spiritual attention to patients who
wish companionship or guidance with the spiritual dimensions of their hospitalizations.
The Institute for Spirituality
in Health at the Shawnee Mission Medical Center brings a wholistic approach
to medical care. Spirituality may be expressed in a particular religious
tradition or simply in a sense of meaning and direction for life.
At a recent meeting of the
Institute's board, Dr Andrew Schwartz discussed a difficult case and praised
the support the Institute is providing as he seeks to give his patients
and their families not only the most skillful technical care but to be
understanding of spiritual needs as well. Here is some of what he said:
"Recently, I evaluated a
patient in the office with abnormal changes in the chest and neck thought
to represent cancer that was highly aggressive, that had already spread.
Even with aggressive therapy, survival would probably be poor."
"I was honest and forthright,
which the patient wanted. With his head half cocked to the side, he looked
at me and asked: 'What do I do now?'"
"I had not anticipated his
question. I paused. Then I said:
1. Allow family, friends and neighbors
to help you, to support you and your family.
2. Make every day, every
hour, every moment count.
3. Do the things you always wanted
4. You will be most remembered
during this time of illness in your life; ensure as many good memories
as you can!
5. Be sure your questions and those
of your family are clearly answered by your healthcare providers.
6. Get your affairs in order: financial,
end of life care decisions, funeral arrangements.
"As the patient and family
left, the daughter-in-law said to me, 'You did good.' I realized then that
the Institute for Spirituality in Health had successfully taken root in
me; the spirituality in this physician was being harnessed to better serve.
May God bless our mission."
Dr Schwartz, like an increasing
number of health care workers, recognizes that medicine is more treating
the patient than just the disease.
Like an increasing number
of health care workers, Dr. Schwartz recognizes that medicine is more than
just treating a disease. It is treating the whole patient.
459. 030618 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Faiths must give up roles and take
up being human
Studying the three major monotheistic faiths
using a psychological model called the Karpman drama triangle may be illuminating.
Each player in the drama has one of three typical opening positions.
Christians have at times
taken the aggressor role. For example, in 1492, when King Ferdinand of
Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile united Spain under Christian rule,
Jews and Muslims were forced to convert or be expelled. That same year,
the "discovery" of the New World led to the forced conversion, subjugation
or extermination of many native peoples.
Jews often see themselves
as victims. Muslims frequently understand their history as that of protector.
For example, Muslim countries welcomed Jews when they were expelled from
In the Karpman drama, a "game"
is played when the players switch positions, as when the victim becomes
the aggressor. The game arises from distorted perceptions of reality.
It is chilling to apply this
theory to what has been happening in the Middle East. Jews, recalling the
Nazi Holocaust, resolve never again to play the role of victim, and respond
to what they see as an Arab threat against their nation by switching to
the attack mode while still thinking of themselves [and portraying themselves]
Palestinians, most of whom
are Muslim and who have historically thought of themselves as welcoming
Jews as cousins, now see their land occupied rather than shared, and switch
from the rescuer to the victim position and become so confused in this
new role that some become aggressive.
The United States, with many
Christians repenting how Christians have oppressed others in the past,
wants to help. The danger is that in playing rescuer, those we seek
to help will see us, accurately or not, tilting toward one side, and thus
see us as persecutor.
The game continues until
the players give up their roles and see themselves and others as human
beings apart from the roles in which they are cast.
All faiths have great strengths
and insights, and all have perverted manifestations. The genius of the
monotheistic traditions is in understanding that human community is the
realm in which God moves toward justice. But this insight can be perverted
into self-righteousness, where each side projects its own evil on the other.
458. 030611 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
L'Arche has message for becoming human
In what vessel was Noah and his passengers
protected from the Deluge? What contained the Ten Commandments and eventually
rested in Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem? When Muslims depart on the hajj,
the pilgrimage, to what vessel do they refer in saying "Board; in God's
name be its course and mooring"? The architectural form of the church is
sometimes thought of as an upside-down version of what? The Torah scrolls
in the modern synagogue are contained in what?
As these questions suggest,
the ark has been an instrument and symbol for salvation in the three monotheistic
faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But the ark also appears in other
traditions. The Dogon of Africa believe that a primal spirit escaped from
heaven and came to earth on a rainbow with an ark he had stolen. The ark
contained the essences of all creatures to populate the planet. In several
Mesopotamian texts, the most famous of which is the Epic of Gilgamesh,
a god instructs a human to build an ark to save living things from an overwhelming
flood. The ark is part of a similar story in Mongolia.
When Cyprian (205-258 C.E.)
insisted Salus extra ecclesiam non est, outside the church there is no
salvation, he identified the church metaphorically with Noah's ark to say
that we will perish in the flood without the safety of the church.
So in many cultures and in
many ways, the ark has been a symbol of the holy, of how to live, of preservation
and refuge, of rebirth, of salvation.
The ark has also become a
symbol of a kind of community where "ordinary" people live with those with
developmental disabilities. It is called L'Arche, French for "the ark."
Local L'Arche board founder George Harris, who has worked with the organization
twenty years, says that in L'Arche communities, the abled and the disabled
learn to be with each other for mutual spiritual growth.
The international founder
of L'Arche, Jean Vanier, ranks with Mother Teresa as a spiritual guide,
Harris says. Our community has a chance to hear this amazing man tonight,
6:45-8 pm, when he receives the International Peace Award at the Community
of Christ Auditorium in Independence where he speaks on "Becoming human:
the weak can be a sign of hope." The event is free.
If the human race could realize
we are all in the same boat, then the fighting might cease and we might
learn from one another. We might be saved.
457. 030604 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Faiths can grow in America
Although Jews sailed with Columbus to the
New World, and a few Jews from Brazil began a community when they resettled
in what became New York, it was not until two hundred years later that
the first synagogue in North America was established.
After 1820, a new wave of
Jewish immigration made it possible for Jews to begin to distinguish themselves
not only from Christians but also from one another. In 1889 Reform rabbis
organized themselves, and the Conservative movement and Orthodoxy also
emerged as identifiable forms of the faith. In addition to these different
expressions of Judaism in Kansas City today, Traditionalist and Hasidic
forms of Judaism are also practiced. Judaism in America has developed as
Jews from many countries met each other in the unique setting of American
Islam is now following a
similar trajectory. In 1539 a Muslim arrived in what became the United
States, and a government reference to Muslims appears in South Carolina
in 1790. Today African
Americans, Asians, Arabs, Africans, and
those of European descent are participating in a dynamic which pulls on
one hand toward particular cultural allegiances and on the other, toward
a universal Islam, with America the proving grounds for a fresh discovery
of the ancient faith.
In America, Christianity
has also taken new forms, from the Black Church to Christian Science, from
the Mormons to the Adventists, from the Shakers to the Disciples. Even
Catholicism has its own American complexion.
Buddhism, which was imported
in the Nineteenth Century and became a significant religious force here
after the Second World War, now has a rich array of schools and practices.
Until the late 80s, local
Buddhist groups were not even aware of each other. But since March this
year, members of ten groups have met to form a Buddhist Council. The Council
includes those with
Tibetan, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese,
Laotian and Korean lineages. American-formed groups are also represented.
The Council wants to raise
the visibility Buddhism in general while also promoting awareness of the
choices possible within Buddhism. It is developing a "master calendar"
of Buddhist events in Kansas City as one way of demonstrating a cooperative
and supportive spirit.
America provides the environment
in which faiths can stimulate and purify each other and the larger culture.
456. 030528 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Islamic Society seeks faiths' common
A plaintive letter from a reader listing
charges against Islam, and particularly the Qur'an, asks me to reassure
him that his concerns are unfounded. He is right to question material from
an unreliable source, and right to suspect the charges are inaccurate.
There is a lot of bigotry these days.
I wish the reader could have
met with some 1600 Muslims and guests at the Central Zone Conference of
the Islamic Society of North America last weekend in Overland Park. Not
only would he have heard Muslims deal straightforwardly with misrepresentations
of Islam, but Jewish and Christian leaders were there as well to make common
cause and to learn from each other.
Mary Cohen, a life-long educator
and now the US Secretary of Education's regional representative, began
a panel discussion on "Shared Values." Cohen is Jewish. Judaism values
learning so much that its clergy are called "rabbis," which means "teachers."
She gave examples of how both Judaism and Christianity are indebted to
Islamic scholarship. The Rev. Robert Lee Hill, the Protestant panelist,
amplified the importance of education by quoting Isaiah 1:18, "Come now
and let us reason together," and Romans 12:2, "Be ye transformed by the
renewing of your mind." George Noonan, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese
of Kansas City-St. Joseph, spoke about the schools and universities Catholics
(Other conference speakers
also addressed education, including Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat
Stevens, the British pop singer.)
The panelists identified
many other shared values. Noonan drew parallels between Catholic social
teaching and the Islamic approach to peace and justice. Hill focused
on the ineffable nature of God, and invited the members of the audience
to turn to neighbors and say, "God loves you and there's nothing you can
do about it."
Cohen said, "We don't have
to agree but we do have to make room for all of us to stand in the light
One member of the audience
who recognized the divergences among Judaism, Christianity and Islam but
found the commonalities overwhelming, proposed a shared holy day, such
as a "Children of Abraham Day."
Such a holiday might not
make the prejudice which troubled the man who wrote me disappear, but it
might strengthen interfaith relationships which are yet too fragile.
455. 030521 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Sharing Emerson's birthday is a joy
Ralph Waldo Emerson was born 200 years
ago this Sunday. Sharing his birthday has shadowed me most of my life.
We both were parish ministers
in the same denomination, made critical assessments of that faith, left
parish work, wrote poetry and essays, continued to preach and lecture when
invited to do so and found other ways to manifest an interest in the life
of the spirit.
Emerson was one of the first
Americans to study Asian religions seriously. He was labeled a "Yankee
Hindoo." His idea of an "Oversoul" seems to have been derived from the
Hindu conception of the Brahman, an all-pervading divinity in which every
human soul partakes. The American movement for interfaith understanding
is indebted to Emerson for his initial explorations.
But more importantly, Emerson
insisted that religion should not be focused on the past. He criticized
those who "see God in Judea and in Egypt, in Moses and in Jesus, but not
around them." He wanted "a living religion," not a mere routine. "As the
faith was alive in the hearts of Abraham and Paul, so I would have it in
mine. I want a religion not recorded in a book, but flowing from all things.
When we have broken our God of tradition and ceased from our God of rhetoric,
then may God fire the heart with his presence."
Instead of a personal God
revealed in history, Emerson's God was the power in nature. In his
vision, unity within nature was glorious. He could not see such interdependence
as clearly in society.
In our self-centered culture,
Emerson is sometimes read as an apostle of narcissism. He praised the non-conformist
in his famous essay, "Self-Reliance," and said, "Do your own thing." His
mystical counsel may have been appropriate to his stiff society. But later
Emerson came to place morality at the core of spiritual life; and thoughtful
readers today may recognize the truth that Emerson neglected, that we are
connected, involved with one another in
ways we seldom recognize.
Although Emerson did not
believe in life behind the grave, his admonition to "hitch your wagon to
a star" has the ring of immortality to it. His observation that "a foolish
consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" similarly invites us to think
"outside the box."
Rather than regarding Emerson's
birthday as a shadow, perhaps I should think of it as a great light. Happy
454. 030514 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Religion has much to say about sexuality
Kansas state Sen. Susan Wagle has criticized
Dennis Dailey, an award-winning University of Kansas professor, for materials
used in his popular class on human sexuality. Wagle's efforts have been
applauded by some religious conservatives.
Religious perspectives on
sexuality have varied greatly. St Augustine taught that sex for pleasure
must be avoided, while sex for procreation, though still sinful, is pardonable.
Many Christian thinkers nowadays justify sex as a form of intimate communication.
Traditional Jewish, Muslim and Hindu perspectives have embraced responsible
sex as a holy pleasure.
Here are some suggestions
for further reading.
Theologian James B. Nelson's
Body Theology (1992) presents sexuality as central to the mystery of one's
relationship with God. Particularly interesting is Nelson's assessment
as a heterosexual of the lessons heterosexuals can learn from homosexuals.
Two chapters in the Rick
Fields classic, Chop Wood, Carry Water (1984), "Intimate Relationships"'
and "Sex," provide excellent guidance especially for young people.
Both chapters draw upon Western and Eastern faith traditions.
Theodore Zeldin's Intimate
History of Humanity (1994) makes religious and social contexts vivid in
his chapters "How new forms of love have been invented" and "Why there
has been more progress in cooking than in sex." The facts set forth in
his chapter, "How the desire that men feel for women has altered," might
clear up some disputes about same-sex behavior.
Georg Feuerstein's Sacred
Sexuality (1992) documents why so many in our culture cannot connect sex
with spirituality, shows how they have been united in many of the world's
faiths, and envisions a world where eroticism is sanctified.
Clifford Bishop's Sex and
Spirit (1996) covers sexuality as a spiritual matter in ancient and modern
faiths. Through beautiful pictures and concise writing, he exhibits the
variety of the world's faiths as they deal with topics from circumcision
to techniques for ecstasy.
David Friedman's A Mind of
Its Own (2001) is full of surprising, even shocking, religious references
as he presents a cultural history of the penis.
Just a few pages long, Depak
Chopra's essay, "Does God Have Orgasms?" in the Nov. 1996 issue of Playboy
might be especially helpful to our lawmakers.
453. 030507 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Let's talk about the elephant in the
"The dark side of religion is like an elephant
in the room that we can’t talk about," says Dr. Richard Childs, clinical
professor of psychiatry at UMKC. Nonetheless, he plans to talk about this
elephant at a free Friends of Jung program Friday at 7:15 pm at Unity Temple
on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th.
Childs, a Presbyterian layman,
became interested in the topic from some of the clients he saw in his psychiatric
practice. He says they "seemed burdened with unnecessary guilt and were
vulnerable to depression because of religious conflicts and uncertainties.
Their religion made it difficult for them to live a full life and use all
of their intellectual capacities. Some gave away large sums of money they
could ill afford to exploitative religious groups."
Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss
psychiatrist who developed the discipline of Analytical Psychology, had
a positive view of spirituality. In this he differed from his older contemporary
Sigmund Freud. But Jung was not always sanguine about the current state
of Western religion. In his 1952 essay "Answer to Job," Jung argued
that religion, like an individual person, has a negative, shadow side.
Childs will show slides to
illustrate both the shadow and the persona that operate in various religions.
He says these functions must be acknowledged before a religion can be considered
"safe" for its adherents. "The shadow can be recognized in the naive acceptance
of authority and violence."
Childs says that "skepticism
is a component of any healthy faith. Skepticism is open-minded, asks questions
and does not accept answers simply because an authority said so. Skepticism
cynicism, which is negative, quarrelsome
The news media provide many
examples of the dark side of religion. Childs will show images to illustrate
this. "The negative way that some Americans view Islam is often as much
a projection of the shadow side of their own religion as it is defects
in the faith they condemn," he says. "The lecture will describe numerous
reactionary Christian groups whose beliefs differ radically, yet each claims
to have the only true faith."
Childs believes that talking
about this usually-ignored elephant in the room can promote healthier and
safer religious views. Openness can provide a truer moral compass than
groups that despise those who will not accept their dogmas. "There are
many different stories and rituals that can provide a satisfying meaning
and give purpose and beauty to our lives," he says.
452. 030430 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Recipe for love from 13th-century Sufi
When one falls in love, the whole world
changes. It's a spiritual event. Life has fresh meaning. The sacred is
everywhere. Even the ordinary becomes holy.
No one has written about
such love with greater surprise and religious fervor than Jelaluddin Rumi,
the 13th Century Sufi who lived in Konya, in what is now Turkey. His love
for Shams, a man his elder by a generation, seems to have been sparked
as they met when Sham asked Rumi a question about Muhammad and Bestami.
Rumi fainted, literally falling to the floor in love.
Rumi insists on the centrality
of love in the life of the spirit. He writes of "the spreading union of
lover and beloved," and calls it "the true religion. All others are thrown
away bandages beside it." Theological speculations are not nearly as important
as the power of love, which brings us to life: "If anyone wonders how Jesus
raised the dead, don't try to explain the miracle. Kiss me on the lips."
Rumi writes of longing for
the beloved, and finding the beloved wherever one looks, as in our search
for God. The act of surrender to God in faith is like surrendering to the
uncertainties of love through which we live a life beyond mere expectations.
Like the English poet and cleric, John Donne who asks God to "ravish" him,
Rumi shocks us with sexual allusions to awaken us to the adventure of faith:
"I used to be respectable and chaste and stable, but who can stand in this
strong wind (of love) and remember those things?"
The commonplace becomes the
theater of faith. Eating, drinking, cooking, cups, plates, bread, drink,
chickpeas--Rumi reveals from the daily need for nourishment ways we can
be spiritually seasoned.
Perhaps the most popular
edition of his poetry is The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks
with John Moyne. The book concludes with a feature seldom found in
books of poems: recipes.
The chickpea recipe is featured
at the new Rumi restaurant at 39th and Wyoming. The owner, Bassam Helwani,
says his purpose in opening the restaurant is to provide the experience
of the spirit which Rumi's words express.
On one wall of the restaurant
is a painting with Rumi's words: "Like the ground turning green in a spring
wind, like birdsong beginning inside the egg, like this universe coming
into existence, the lover wakes and whirls in a dancing joy, then kneels
down in praise."
451. 030423 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Faith should promote understanding,
not lead to mistrust, prejudice
Remarks by Franklin Graham and other Christian
leaders calling Islam an evil religion are dangerous, according to John
L. Esposito, interviewed following his recent appearance at Rockhurst University.
He was especially concerned at the Pentagon's invitation to Graham to preside
over Good Friday observances at the Pentagon.
Esposito is a professor of
religion and international affairs at Georgetown University and author
of What everyone needs to know about Islam and editor in chief of the Oxford
Encyclopedia of the
Modern Islamic World.
Comments by Graham and others
"do disservice to the President, to the image of America abroad and to
American Muslims," he said. "President Bush backed away from his initial
use of the word 'crusade' and has tried to make it clear that America is
not fighting Islam, but rather extremists." But comments like Graham's
are confusing to Europeans and Arabs who know that much of Bush's support
comes from the Christian Right. When federal agents conducted raids as
part of Operation Green Quest, some interpreted the color in the name as
part of a Christian effort against Islam because green is often associated
Esposito noted that Graham
offered a prayer at Bush's inauguration ceremony, and such associations
reinforce the concern that the Religious Right influences U.S. foreign
policy. They perpetuate prejudice
among us against American citizens who
Readers of this column have
repeatedly asked me about "Dhimmitude," a term coined by Bat Ye'or, a writer
who insists that Christians and Jews were systematically mistreated throughout
history under Muslim rule. She has appeared before Congress. Her speech
last fall at Georgetown University caused a campus uproar reported in many
journals. Readers may recall I recently asked Cornell University Jewish
scholar Ross Brann about the term, and he declined to use it because he
says it distorts history.
When I put the term to Esposito,
whose campus was affected by Ye'or's visit, he noted that "she does not
have a major academic record in either teaching or research, and her conclusions
go against established scholars, including Jewish scholars."
Locally and globally, prejudice
persists on many sides. It endangers our sense of community and threatens
us internationally. Rather than mistrust, our faiths should engender understanding.
450. 030416 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Art shows don't contradict each other
Two art shows using religious themes could
hardly be more different. Robin Bernat's American Pastoral, a video installation
which just closed at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, is personal
and appropriates her own Jewish background with Buddhist, Christian and
other materials as a therapy for dealing with the loss of her boyfriend,
Daniel Zalik, drowned in a river.
Dylan Mortimer's current
installation has transformed the Epsten Gallery at the Kansas City Jewish
Museum at Village Shalom into a fictional Museum of Faith Analysis. The
signage, x-ray photographs, diagrams and "findings" suggest an instructional
science display, objective rather than personal.
Where the Bernat show pulls
us through the universal experience of guilt and grief with the rediscovery
and deepening of faith, the Mortimer show seems to eschew such emotions
and instead uses metaphors of bone, brain, lungs and stomach to present
an analysis of faith without any real experience of faith.
Bernat shares her agonizing
and messy search for redemption through landscape, ritual, song, quotation
and even fireworks.
Mortimer reveals what religion
might look like to those who had no inner acquaintance with it but who
were determined to study it. The neat categories of learning, community,
worship, service, healing and prayer reduce faith to the shallowest possible
observations. The quest for evidence ironically leads us to ask, "Where
is the mystery and suffering and wonder from which religion arises?"
Indeed, the imaginary scientists,
whose interim results are the inconclusive reports on the gallery walls
and the screens of the interactive computers, are afflicted with that peculiarly
Western approach to religion as a matter of belief, evidence and proof.
The question which opens the show "Who is right about Religion?" is utterly
irrelevant to Bernat's spiritual journey. And as local sage Ed Chasteen
reminds us, "Who's right is the wrong question."
Mortimer's work demonstrates
the vacuity of those who make religion an argument instead of a sense of
the sacred, a statistic instead of an encounter with ultimate mystery.
Though contrasting, these
two shows are not contrary. Both beckon our secularist culture beyond easy
answers and convenient categories. Faith is less calculation or a decoded
message than it is simple surrender to the infinite. Looking at a menu
is not the same as the satisfaction of a meal. It is not a proof but rather
the presence of the holy which heals and liberates the spirit.
449. 030409 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Author collects arguments on tough
topic of abortion
Abortion is one of the most difficult and
divisive topics in interfaith conversations. But in the view of Daniel
C. Maguire, who teaches Moral Theology and Ethics at Marquette University,
the argument is not so much between religions as it is within them.
After consulting with scholars
within Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Native American,
and other traditions, he wrote Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception
and Abortion in Ten World Religions. He gives a free lecture on the subject
Thursday at the Folly Theater at 7:30 pm.
In a phone interview, he
said that early in his study, he contacted a Taipei Buddhist from whom
he learned that many Buddhists who believe in reincarnation regard abortion
as the killing of a being who has already existed and is ready for another
life. The matter is serious, far beyond simply ending the life of a fertilized
But he learned from a Thai
Buddhist that abortion can also be regarded as the deferral of the arrival
of that being's reincarnation for more favorable circumstances. If the
reasons for the abortion are serious and unselfish, then the good karma
would far outweigh the negative karma generated by the abortion.
Maquire, who trained at Gregorian
University in Rome, is particularly familiar with his own Catholic tradition.
He said that while the Vatican II Council called abortion an "unspeakable
crime," previous theologians had various views, as do others today. St
Thomas Aquinas, for example, held that the early fetus is not "ensouled"--the
early fetus is not a person. Some identified the moment of ensoulment with
"quickening." McGuire noted that Aquinas followed Aristotle in thinking
that a fetus becomes human after 40 days in the case of a male and about
three months in the case of a female.
Within Judaism, opinions
also vary. Scholars often note Exodus 21:22, which describes a situation
in which a pregnant woman is struck as men are fighting. If the fetus is
killed, a fine must be levied against the attacker; but because the fetus
is not a person, this is not murder.
Mcguire's latest book is
Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions,
published in March by the Oxford University Press and is based on interfaith
research funded by the Packard and Ford foundations. With Mcguire's introduction,
the book collects in-depth papers by scholars from many faith traditions
on these difficult theological and pastoral issues.
448. 030402 THE STAR'S HEADLINE
Learning about Western and Muslim nations
Since 9/11, many Americans have become
aware of how ignorant we are about Islamic culture. And many Americans
have yet to become aware of our ignorance about the rich Jewish history
that unfolded after the Bible was compiled. Despite the fact that Kansas
City's first sister city is Seville, most of us know little about how Jews
and Muslims lived together in Spain's golden age of Islam before the Christians
expelled the Jews and Muslims in 1492.
But we should know. And care.
Ross Brann, the Milton R.
Konvitz Professor of Judeo-Islamic Studies at Cornell University, offers
insights from history to illumine the present in a lecture this Sunday
at 4 pm at the Hall Student Center at Pembroke Hill School, 5121 State
Line Road. His topic is "Religion, Politics and Peace in the Middle East."
In a telephone interview,
I asked Brann about the frequent claim that "Jews and Muslims have been
fighting for thousands of years, and nothing can change that." Brann said
that it is useful to include the history of Christianity with Judaism and
Islam in considering such views.
"The past may be more positive
and tolerant--less hegemonic--than most people think. The idea that Jews
and Muslims have been fighting since Isaac and Ishmael is false. We are
not consigned to an eternal conflict. Medieval Islam was far more tolerant
than the Christianity of that era."
Under Muslim rule, a Dhimmi
was a non-Muslim whose right to practice his or her own faith was protected.
Recently a derivative term, "dhimmitude," has been used to argue that Muslims
demeaned or oppressed those with Dhimmi status. Brann is not in favor of
this term because it is used polemically to "grossly oversimplify and distort"
the historical context of the privileges and disabilities of the Dhimmi.
Brann suggests that looking
at interactions from the past might point us in fruitful directions for
the future. One of his special interests is Samuel Ha-Nagid, a Jew who
rose to became vizier in Muslim-ruled Granada. "But he is not the only
such figure" to illustrate the complicated relationships those of different
faiths have had in mixed cultures, Brann said.
Brann's talk Sunday will
move from such history to look at events of 1917 and 1967 and at current
issues between the West and Muslim nations.
The lecture is sponsored
by the Cornell Club, the International Relations Council, the Plaza Rotary
Club and several other groups.
447. 030326 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Worship space reminds us of the omnipresence
God is often understood to be present everywhere,
yet we sometimes refer to places of worship as "God's house." If God is
omnipresent, why do we need sites specifically designated to point us to
As Bishop Raymond Boland
of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph dedicated the renovated
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception last month, he said that the cathedral's
"gold dome (proclaims) the transcendency of eternity amid the secular towers
of trade and commerce." While God may be everywhere, we need particular
places to remind us of that truth.
In a later interview, Boland
identified four ways of thinking about God's presence. First, he said,
there is the universal presence, which can be sensed anywhere. Some people
especially enjoy feeling God in nature, as in walking along a river bank.
Second, God is present in
people. Boland cited the conclusion of President Kennedy's Inaugural Address
in which he said, "here on earth God's work must truly be our own." God
in our hearts can make our hands useful.
Third, God is present in
special places such as temples. The cathedral is a place of beauty, uplifting
the spirit. It is also a place of service to the entire city, not only
to Catholics but to city residents in many ways, such as through its social
service programs and its use as a facility for great music.
Of course its primary function
is worship. Boland described it as a sort of "spiritual filling station,"
where people can be refreshed to take God's spirit back into their daily
lives in a deepened way. The week becomes the fulfillment of the worship
Fourth, Boland identified
the "real presence" of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine in the
sacrament of the Eucharist. The Catholic doctrine that the bread and wine
become the very body and blood of Christ is called transubstantiation.
Scriptural support for this teaching can be found in John 6:50-55, which
includes the statement of Jesus identifying himself as the living bread,
"Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have
no life in you."
While Protestants typically
interpret this passage differently, most Christians recognize the Eucharistic
meal as a reminder of God's sacrificial presence in the world.
The sites, rituals and people
of faith are all signs of God's pervasive grace available everywhere, throughout
the entire world.
446. 030319 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Partnership program makes friends of
Can people of various faiths learn to share
their perspectives and come to love each other?
One of several Kansas City
area efforts that has provided a resounding "yes" to this question is the
Congregational Partners program run by Kansas City Harmony. Begun in 1997,
the program is about to celebrate its five years of success.
Janet Moss, who coordinates
the program, last month visited Johannesburg, South Africa, where she piloted
a "faiths in harmony" institute for people of different religious backgrounds.
While skills developed here
are being shared elsewhere, many people in our own community have yet to
learn about the 33 congregations in 16 partnerships and how they operate.
Usually once a month members of partnering congregations get together for
an activity that develops mutual apprecation and enhances their relationships.
With the oldest partnership
still vibrant, Moss is eager to assist additional congregations to form
She says one exciting result
of this program is "hearing people of different religions being transparent
to one another, authentic with each another in their moments of joy and
laughter and sadness and vulnerablity."
And from her trip she has
a deepened appreciation for ways that enable people to express sorrow for
the suffering they have caused others, and for others to respond with forgiveness,
for mutual reconcilliation. South Africa's "Truth and Reconcilliation"
commission dealt with abuses under apartheid and provided legal amnesty.
Although the US situation
is very different, we are too often estranged from each other, or at least
not knowledgeable enough to be comfortable with one another. While the
opportunities for understanding offered by Congregational Partners are
less formal than those of South Africa, they can still be quite meaningful
to the participants.
Sunday 4-6 pm you can join
in celebrating the partnership process in a free program at the Heart of
America Indian Center, 600 W. 39 St. Moss says this is an opportunity to
"listen in on a dialogue about the power of authentic reconciliation, experience
the healing sound of the drum and learn how a person of faith can cross
lines of ethnic, racial and religions differences." RSVP (816) 531-6577.
445. 030312 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Fast brings duty to world into focus
In 1983, on Ash Wednesday, the first day
of the Christian pre-Easter season of Lent, I began a fast from solid food.
My purpose was to purify myself as the spiritual leader of the congregation
I then served. Bellicose statements about the "evil empire" of the Soviet
Union alarmed many of my parishioners. I wanted to know my responsibilities
to them and my duties as a citizen more clearly.
Every meal time was a reminder
of the goal, a renewal of effort to be cleansed of prejudice and predispositions
so that I might see through the haze in which I felt engulfed.
I intended to break the fast
with Easter Eucharist, but I did not feel I had learned enough to do so.
I continued the fast until Wesak in May, a festival marking the Buddha's
birthday, enlightenment and death.
I seldom talk about these
ten weeks, and I've never written about this before. But with a war apparently
near, perhaps you, dear reader, may find my surprise discovery near the
end of the fast a stimulus to your own contemplation.
The concerns I had were deepened
first by the Christian calendar which framed the fast. The story of Jesus'
unmerited suffering and death is often minimized these days, but you cannot
get to Easter without it. Then the weeks before the Buddhist observance
beckoned toward universal compassion within the question of why life so
often is unfair.
I contemplated "a worst case
scenario," where all human life would be agonizingly ended in nuclear disasters.
How would that affect my faith?
Having worked with families
with loved ones in the process of dying and their deep sorrow even before
death actually occurred, I learned about "anticipatory grief." Sometimes
people stopped eating.
The surprise for me near
the end of the 72 days was the realization that the discipline of the fast
had become a form of anticipatory grief--for the end of the world. That
perhaps sounds grandiose, but it was actually the opposite: a profound
recognition that my powers are infinitesimal. With that revelation came
a sense of freedom. The haze disappeared.
The freedom did not mean
I cared any less, but instead of clinging to an outcome no human could
manage to bring about, I could find joy in duty to the world.
Now, our best gifts to one
another may be to do our duty joyfully as we best understand it, and to
hold each other dearly through the unfolding events in an embrace as large
444. 030305 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Dance can build a haven for the spirit
How does one live with an open heart in
a world where fear, misunderstanding, schedules, selfishness and other
poisons abound? Marcus Borg, the famous scholar visiting Village Presbyterian
Church last month, named activities that can help us, including communing
with nature, regular worship and the arts.
The question is raised also
by William Whitener's dance, "Haven," premiered in February by the Kansas
With images that could be
interpreted as priestesses in ceremonial garments at a temple entrance,
a renewal or resurrection of a pile of bodies and quite ordinary, everyday
movements as people go about their business, "Haven" was a testimony to
centeredness in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. The dancers were sometimes
hidden or framed by scenic elements created by Buddhist fiber artist Jason
Pollen of the Kansas City Art Institute, by the lighting of Kirk Bookman
and by the musical cosmos of the Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu.
Perhaps Whitener is suggesting
that faith more than an MTV event. Moments when the dancers moved in silence
and times when dancers deliberated in slow, ritual modulations invite us
to an awareness far deeper than a succession of scenes so forgettable that
they can hold our attention for only a few seconds. Thus the utopian section
of the piece ends in silence. Paradoxically, the silence, the sustained,
can make us vividly aware of how transient our lives are and direct us
toward that which is permanent or renewing or healing.
It is then that the heart
The heart does not open to
a world without pain and struggle. The haven is in the midst of the crammed,
bustling, confusing rush all around us and into which we are drawn. The
heart opens as our numbness to all of this is broken. The arts have the
power to reawaken us to the joy and woe of our own lives and the lives
This is not the first time
the ballet has presented works which open the heart to the world of the
spirit. Gloria, Carmina Burana, Prodigal Son, Arena, Holberg Suite and
Feast of Ashes are on my list from previous seasons. The next performances,
Apr. 10-13, include The Still Point, with the title from the profoundly
religious poet, T S Eliot. Another offering, Canzone, is choreographed
by Paula Weber who created Carmina Burana.
Kansas City is fortunate
to have a dance company that can not only entertain but also inform and
lift the spirit.
UU World March/April 2003
City UU minister builds interfaith bridges
Donald E. Skinner
It is 6 a.m. on the
last day of the year, and 250 people of different faiths have gathered
at a Buddhist center in Kansas City, Missouri, for the seventeenth annual
World Peace Meditation. They have come to witness and participate in Native
American prayers, Tibetan Buddhist chants and meditations, Sufi dancing,
and a Muslim call to prayer. And, of course, to hear the Rev. Vern Barnet
speak about "The Path of Peace in World Religions."
Rev. Barnet has been
a Unitarian Universalist minister since 1970. In 1984 he left his last
parish, in a Kansas City suburb, to take up what had become his passion
— the study of world religions and the promotion of interfaith understanding.
He founded the Center for Religious Experience and Study in 1982 (www.cres.org)
and since then has gone on to help create or to inspire a broad array of
multifaith programs, resources, and organizations that have helped make
Kansas City a national model.
When CBS went looking
last summer for a city actively involved in multifaith work, it selected
Kansas City in large part because of Barnet's work — and because after
9/11 Kansas City experienced little of the aggression against Muslims that
other cities reported. A film crew spent a week in Kansas City filming
what would become a half-hour documentary, "Open Hearts, Open Minds," which
was shown in October 2002.
The intro to the
film went as follows: "A growing number of people in this heartland city
are trying to send a message to the rest of America — Let's celebrate our
diversity, let's get to know people of different religions and different
backgrounds, respect them, maybe even love them. It's a simple message,
and an old one, but since 9/11, the idea of brotherhood has gained new
CBS was initially
attracted by a program that one of Barnet's groups launched last year.
It printed thousands of thirty-two-page passport-size booklets and distributed
them to congregations to hand out. Holders of these "interfaith passports"
are encouraged to visit other religious groups and in the process collect
a stamp, sticker, or signature just as they would in crossing international
borders. The program, and other initiatives that Barnet helped create,
are helping Kansas City-area residents appreciate each other's religious
diversity in several ways:
* Since 1994 Barnet has written a weekly "Faiths and Beliefs" column in
the Kansas City Star about the value of diversity. The column appears
to have changed people's attitudes. "In the beginning," he says, "I'd get
calls and letters about how I was sending people to hell and why was I
diverting people from the one true religion? But the responses I get now
are more focused on trying to understand something I've written. That's
one way I know we're making a difference here."
* MOSAIC, a newly formed group that Barnet helped organize, is, in addition
to developing the passport project, collecting "life stories" of religious
involvement and plans to dramatize them this year as a way of expanding
appreciation of various faiths. It also sponsors a book club. One of the
first titles discussed was Why Religion Matters, by Huston Smith.
The Rev. Kathy Riegelman, a Unitarian Universalist community minister,
is helping with that work.
* Hospitals and schools
increasingly call Barnet for interfaith resources. Prayers at his Rotary
club no longer end "in Jesus' name."
Barnet's days are
a round of speaking engagements, organizational meetings, teaching, and
writing. His appointments for a recent two-week period included speaking
to students at Unity School of Religious Studies on "The Various Forms
of Prayer," at a Roman Catholic church on "How Other Faiths Respond to
the Scripture for the Day," and on "Religious Stereotypes" at a PeaceJam
youth workshop at a Roman Catholic university. He also gave "A Brief History
of the Christian Denominations" to an interdenominational marriage group
at a Roman Catholic church, spoke on "The Heart of Every Faith" to a Baptist
men's group, and discussed interfaith topics on a local National Public
Radio station talk show.
Barnet had always
intended to be a parish minister. And he was for fourteen years. But he
noticed that whenever he talked about world religions "there was great
resonance in my congregations. I got a very noticeable response." That
encouraged him to learn more about world religions and to explore his own
community. As he became aware of the broad array of religious groups in
Kansas City he decided to take up interfaith work. "I saw this as a mission
field," he says. "And it's every bit as demanding as parish work."
He lives simply,
or as he says, "low to the ground." He receives no salary for his interfaith
work. Last year he earned about $5,000 from teaching at local colleges.
He supplements that income with early withdrawals from his pension. Friends
help with living expenses, including donating clothing and an occasional
automobile. "It's a quasi-monastic model," he says. "I have learned what
it is like to live under the poverty level. I am very aware of economic
Barnet is often called
on to give inclusive prayers at public events and he has developed a guide
for that purpose. He has also developed Earth Day resources that explain
the ways in which various faiths regard the Earth. Both are available on
the CRES Web site.
One of the first
things Barnet did when he began his interfaith work was to help organize
a comprehensive metro interfaith council, giving not only Christians, Jews,
and Muslims a way to talk together, but also Baha'is, Sufis, Wiccans, Zoroastrians,
Native Americans, and others. A multifaith speaker's bureau has also been
created, and it has been much in demand since 9/11. An annual interfaith
dinner is held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, placing Thanksgiving
in a worldwide religious context and celebrating the many ways that various
religions express gratitude. More than 150 were in attendance at last November's
The interfaith council
was instrumental in organizing multifaith memorial services after September
11, 2001, and its one-year anniversary, and also organized Kansas City's
first interfaith conference, "The Gifts of Pluralism," in October 2001.
More than 250 people from fifteen faith groups attended.
One of Barnet's close
associates in interfaith work is Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks.
"Vern has taken interfaith work to a new level," says Brooks. "He reaches
out not only to the major faiths, but to others. He helps keep them all
connected, and he provides a great service for the metro area."
Barnet is heartened
by the growing interest that he sees in learning about other religions.
"People are hungry for knowledge about other peoples' faiths," he says.
"And they end up deepening their own faith when they have encounters with
other faiths. This is what has to happen if the human race is going to
443. 030226 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sense of community preferred to conversion
The Rev. Thomas Johnson, the Methodist
slave-holder for whom the Kansas county was named, constructed the Shawnee
Mission in 1839 to encourage American Indians to become Christians. His
injurious and deadly practices to force conversions are not what we hope
for when traditions of faith meet today.
Evelyn Wasserstrom, the Jewish
leader of the local office of the National Conference of Christians and
Jews from 1981 to 1988, helped to make interfaith understanding a priority
in human relations. (NCCJ is now the National Conference for Community
and Justice.) David Goldstein, executive director of the Jewish Community
Relations Bureau from 1972 to 1999, worked tirelessly to support interfaith
In 1989 the Kansas City Interfaith
Council was formed. Later that year, Harmony in a World of Difference developed
a "Covenant" signed by leaders of many faiths. In 2001, the area's first
interfaith conference, "The Gifts of Pluralism," was attended by 250 people
from 15 faiths--American Indian to Zoroastrian, with NCCJ and Harmony consponsoring
the 3-day event with the Interfaith Council.
Especially since Sept. 11,
2001, the Christian community has used the Interfaith Council Speakers
Bureau for programs on world religions practiced here. Islam is the most
frequently requested topic.
The Muslim community has
responded repeatedly to condemn terrorism and reach out to others. When
Mahnaz Shabbir learned about the murder of Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl
about a year ago, she organized an opportunity for Muslims, Jews, Christians
and others to pray together for peace to coincide with the sixth month
"anniversary" of 9/11, and similar observances have been held subsequently
at three-month intervals.
The next "Community Praying
for Peace" event is this Sunday from 2 to 3 pm at two locations, the Rime
Buddhist Center, 700 W. Pennway, and Inshirah Mosque, 3664 Troost.
Earlier this month, to celebrate
Eid al-Adha, the festival ending the time of the Hajj, the Pilgrimage in
Islam, a house-full of Muslim leaders and friends hosted a number of Jewish
leaders and friends for dinner and conversation.
We've come a long way from
a government supporting Johnson's removal of Indian children from their
families, forcing them into labor and accepting White ways and the "White
religion." But bias, fear and hatred persist. We've a long, long way to
442. 030219 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Scholar presents Christianity in a
If Jesus were born today in the midst of
urban life, it is unlikely that we would use the "lamb of God"' metaphor
to describe him. For most of us, lambs are not every-day companions, and
their ritual sacrifice, important in ancient Israel, is more a literary
and theological tradition than a palpable experience. Apart from this tradition,
the Protestant hymn, "Washed in the blood of the lamb," sounds bizarre
to those of other cultures.
But how much of our understanding
of Jesus is clouded by failure to appreciate the images, metaphors, language
and cultural context of the early Christian community and its texts? According
to many scholars, the gospels were developed in layers, from oral sources,
and it is not always easy to distinguish the voice of Jesus from the voice
of the several communities talking about Jesus.
One person especially skilled
at this is Marcus Borg, described by the New York Times as "a leading figure
among the new generation of Jesus scholars." Borg is the Hundere Distinguished
Professor of Religion and Culture in the Philosophy Department at Oregon
He comes to Village Presbyterian
Church Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is a rare opportunity to hear one
of the world's great figures in contemporary religious conversation. Borg
is entertaining, crisp, insightful--and talks about the important stuff.
This is why he appears not only in the classroom but also on network TV
and two dozen lecture tours this year. Among his seven books is Meeting
Jesus Again for the First Time.
His theme is "Seeing Christianity
again: Why it matters for the 21st century." Specific talks include "Seeing
the Bible again: Why it matters." For a schedule of talks and fees, call
(913) 262-4200, extension 281, or email email@example.com.
Of course Borg is controversial.
He is a leading member of the Jesus Seminar, the group of scholars whose
search for the historical Jesus was begun in 1985 and attained notoriety
through their color-coded method of designating portions of the gospels
they thought were more or less authentic sayings of Jesus.
Opening the Bible and letting
God speak to you through the English translation may be one way of deepening
one's spiritual life. Scholarship--seeking to understand the original meaning
of the text and how that meaning can reveal the divine to us today--is
For an internet preview of
Borg's approach, visit www.united.edu/portrait.
441. 030212 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Different faiths an opportunity for
Love can be a path of spiritual discovery.
Some have observed that marriage or holy union is just as much a religious
discipline as monasticism. Both monks and committed folk take vows, but
the rules by which marriages run are perhaps less clear than for celibacy.
Learning to live with someone
else who shares one's deepest values is an adventure of many rewards, but
not always easy. If one's partner's religious tradition is different, a
special problem--and opportunity--is encountered.
Jeanne Finger, a leader of
the Interdenominational Marriage Group hosted by St Thomas More Catholic
Church in south Kansas City, emphasizes the opportunity. She is Presbyterian
and her husband is Catholic. Together they attend each other's churches
"I experience ritual and
reverence in his Catholic church. My Presbyterian church emphases teaching
from the bible and fellowship. Attending both churches completes my spiritual
"Being in this marriage has
forced me to notice the differences in our traditions, and this has led
to learning the theological and historical reasons for why each church
does what it does."
She says her young children
have learned to love Jesus from both faiths. For her and her family, the
two-church solution is twice as good as selecting just her own faith or
that of her husband.
Other parents who have older
children tell them they are lucky that they get to go to two churches each
The group, now almost six
years old, is open to those contemplating marriage who have different backgrounds,
as well as to married couples, with or without children. The group's purposes
include fellowship, informational exchange and spiritual support. Meetings
are free and those unable to attend regularly are welcome when they are
able to come. The group offers prayer, guest speakers, scripture study,
testimony and holiday workshops as way to understand differences and celebrate
what is common.
The group meets next on Feb.
20 from 7 to 9 pm, when a panel of Catholic and Protestant pastors will
discuss theological concepts and current topics for the group. A
question and answer session follows the discussion. Childcare will be available.
For more information, call Donna or Russ, 816-246-5187.
440. 030205 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
New seminary seeks to embody church
founder's early vision
The early insights of a religious founder
may grow toward fulfillment through denominational embodiment.
From his religious experiences
as a teenager, Joseph Smith Jr, founded a church in 1830 in Fayette, NY.
Soon he and others moved to Kirtland, OH, where the experiment of the Saints,
as they were known, grew. An outreach to Jackson County, MO, understood
as the center of God's earthly work, was met with prejudice, and the church
The Saints founded Nauvoo,
IL, but in 1844 Smith was killed. A large group led by Brigham Young settled
in Utah as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often known
Reorganized under Smith's
eldest son, the original church's understanding of its mission deepened.
Its Graceland University was founded in 1895 in Lamoni. IA. Since 1920
its corporate headquarters has been in Independence. The church's auditorium
was constructed 1926-1960. In 1968 president Wallace Smith presented instruction
to begin a temple, though its purpose, "the pursuit of peace," was not
revealed until 1984. The building came into use in 1994.
In 2001 the church adopted
its new name, the Community of Christ. Graceland developed a seminary at
the Independence World Headquarters campus.
In his address at the seminary's
first convocation in January, church President Grant McMurray noted his
own ministry began more from relationships than academic study, and that
the church has honored the call to God's service regardless of scholarly
Nonetheless, the seminary
will not only prepare its ministers, but also help the church develop its
theology in areas such as Christian ethics, with respect for individual
voices within the conversation.
From a teenager's quest for
God, a new center of learning and service has been given to Kansas City
439. 030129 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
"Out of many, one," in Latin, E Pluribus
Unum, was the first motto of the United States. With "plural" religions,
can we be one people?
Earlier this month, Adam
Hamilton, senior minister at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection,
began a world religions series. Hamilton is using local leaders of these
faiths to help introduce his mega-church to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and
Judaism. He says that "our aim is to gain a deeper understanding of our
own (Christian) faith even as we come to appreciate and understand the
faith of our neighbors." Paradoxically, only when we appreciate our diversity
can we be one community.
The annual Martin Luther
King Jr observances this year began with an interfaith service at Community
Christian Church, with Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Christian Protestant and
Christian Catholic recognition, a gathering the pastor, Robert Lee Hill,
Two hours before she became
Governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius attended an Inaugural Interfaith
Service at her own church, Assumption Catholic, across the street from
the Capitol. From the Kansas City area, Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation
Beth Torah and A. M. "Art Chaudry," president of the American Muslim Council
Heartland Chapter and chairman of the Urban League, participated. No longer
can any government official be respected who does not respect America's
diversity of faiths.
Sebelius follows Bill Graves,
apparently the first governor in the nation to issue a proclamation recognizing
the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in 1997.
While some mayors still tolerate
mayors' prayer breakfasts with exclusively Christian prayers, Mayor Kay
Barnes has aimed to honor people of all faiths.
From the stands of
many faiths we become one community.
438. 030122 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Muslims should not bear blame
After the 9/11 attacks, two classmates
called the 14-year old son of Mahnaz Shabbir of Stillwell, KS, a "terrorist."
The Shabbirs are Muslim. She is vice-president of the Crescent Peace Society,
one of many Muslim organizations in the area.
Shabbir, born in Philadelphia,
a born American citizen, spoke last Saturday to the Kansas City Press Club.
She teared up as she concluded, telling how her Boy Scout son was taunted
because of his faith. She worries about his future.
Responding to a report first
given to me on Jan. 3 that a local Muslim last October claimed that Israel
and Jews were responsible for the terrorism of 9/11, she condemned such
anti-Semitic remarks. Other Muslims had also vigorously condemned the alleged
All Christians are not held
accountable when Christian ministers are arrested for killing their son,
she said, referring to the local case of 9-year old Brian Edgar.
Yet whenever an individual
Muslim makes an offensive remark, or remarks are recycled, Muslims are
asked to respond, though leading Muslims, locally and around the world,
have repeatedly condemned terrorism.
She is dismayed about biased
press coverage. She warned the Press Club about writers like Steve Emerson
and Daniel Pipes who "aggressively spread negative messages about Muslims."
She also mentioned the continuing
burden Muslims are asked to bear. Travel, and particularly KCI, is now
more difficult for Muslims than for others, she said.
When people tell her, "If
your don't like our government policies, go back to your own country,"
she responds proudly. "Excuse me, this is my country."
437. 030115 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Birmingham letter still should be read
In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr was thrown
in jail for "nonviolent direct action" against segregation in Birmingham,
AL. Clergymen had joined others to criticize King for stirring up trouble.
From his cell, King wrote them a 46-paragraph letter which has become a
I re-read the letter every
year. To me it is sacred scripture, and I must listen anew to its call.
Just as in the letters of Paul addressed to the churches of his day there
is transcendent truth for our own era, so the changes in America are not
yet so fundamental that the words of King have become obsolete.
This year I got as far as
the third paragraph before weeping.
King begins by explaining
why he is even bothering to respond to the criticism -- he perceives the
pastors to be of good will, even if mistaken. He then answers the complaint
that he is from out of town by noting that he heads the Southern Christian
Leadership Conferences with 85 affiliates, including one in Birmingham,
which requested his help.
Then paragraph 3. King, who
was able to transform abstruse theology into the power of simplicity, writes,
"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here." He reminds his colleagues
of the 8th Century prophets and of Paul's journeys to carry forth "the
gospel of freedom."
I weep not because of King
but because of my own shamefully hesitant and imperfect response to the
call for peace and justice.
This year I also recall the
delayed entry King made into the Washington, DC auditorium where the rumors
that he was about to condemn the Vietnam War proved true. He was urged
not to confound civil rights with the Vietnam controversy for fear this
would weaken his civil rights witness. I watched his bodyguards, clearly
worried, as they finally admitted him to the room to speak.
King understood that oppressions
are linked, that war arises from injustice. Are we still so indolent that
we will not figure this out?
The Kansas City
Star Wed Jan 4, 2003
gives out peace, community service awards
Peace Society's 2002 Eid Celebration and Annual Peace Award Dinner took
place recently at Pierson Hall, the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Awards for peace, community service and journalism were given out. Speakers
addressed the crowd, and a children's ensemble performed at the event.
[CRES photo] At right (from left) Akhtar Chaudry of Overland Park, Crescent
Peace Society board member; Javid Talib of Leawood, CPS president; Mayor
Kay Barnes of Kansas City, recipient of the 2002 Peace Award; and Mahnaz
Shabbir of Stilwell, vice president of CPS, were at the dinner.
[CRES photo] Below, Katheryn Shields of Kansas City, Jackson County executive,
was a guest speaker.
[photo by Fatimah El-Sherif] Above, (from left) Iftekhar Ahmed of Leawood,
past president of CPS; Talibm CPS president, the Rev, Vern Barnet, recipient
of Community Service Award; and Mahnaz Shabbir, vice president of
[CRES photo] Above, Elizabeth Alex, KSHB 41 news anchor, was recognized
for her humanitarian work with baby Doa'a Alda;ou and her family, who live
in the Gaza Strip. Alex helped the family get visas, so they could bring
their child to Kansas CIty for medical treatment. Doa'a has since had surgery
and returned home.
[CRES photo] At right, Muslim and Jewish children sang "America,
the Beautiful" and "Od Yavo" (world prace) songs as part of the Children's
Photos submitted by Javid Talib
The Kansas City
Star Wed Jan 1, 2003
Muslims stand up for faith and country
By LEWIS W. DIUGUID
wedding made a powerful statement about the faith the newlyweds have in
the new year and in America.
That same indomitable
spirit filled Shalom House in Kansas City, Kan., on Christmas Eve. Adults
and children with the Crescent Peace Society and the American Muslim Council-Heartland
Chapter donated and served holiday dinners to men at the homeless shelter.
The wedding and community
involvement show that many area Muslims are standing up instead of hunkering
down even as bigotry against them has increased since the Sept. 11, 2001,
The FBI reported
last month that hate crimes and similar acts against Muslims and other
immigrants from the Middle East have soared nationwide after the tragedy.
Muslims in 2000 reported 28 hate crimes; this rose to 481 in 2001.
The Jackson County
Diversity Task Force [chaired by Vern Barnet] in September reported
similar findings. "There can be no doubt that Kansas City's Muslim community
has been the most vulnerable to deplorable acts of ignorance and hatred
in the days since Sept. 11, 2001," the report said.
"In spite of their
condemnation of the terrorist acts, in spite of their loyalty as American
citizens, in spite of their desire to live peaceful and productive lives
and in spite of their extensive efforts to reach out to the wider community
with educational programs about their faith, Muslims have been threatened
and attacked in the metropolitan area. Simultaneously, their friends and
neighbors have offered support and encouragement."
Muslims have been
our neighbors for centuries. Faiz Rehman, communications director of the
American Muslim Council in Washington, said 40 percent of the millions
of Africans brought to America as slaves were Muslims.
Jason Erb, director
of government affairs with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said
at least 30 percent of America's 7 million Muslims today are African-Americans.
They're "happy to be here and are impressed by the general tolerance of
American society," he said.
Bilal Muhammed, an
Olathe firefighter and imam of Al-Inshirah Islamic Center in midtown, said
in his speech at the Crescent Peace Society Eid Celebration Dinner: "We
should feel all of us that we can contribute to a better America.
"We have much to
love about our history and contributions to America. We have earned our
right to share in the shaping of America."
But their struggles
against bigotry threaten to continue into the new year because of the U.S.
war against terrorism and a possible war in Iraq. Erb said the hate was
changing from physical and verbal abuse to cases of discrimination and
child custody disputes.
Muslims also face
racial profiling and visa restrictions. In Los Angeles last month, thousands
of people protested and filed suit against the arrests of Middle Easterners
who felt entrapped by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The men
had voluntarily gone to register with the federal government under a new
Also, several Middle
Eastern students in Colorado were jailed recently for not taking enough
college classes as required by their student visas.
Such endless incidents
are causing many Muslims to withdraw because of a "sense of siege," Erb
said. "There is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for a lot of people
in terms of public activity."
council wants Muslims to go public to dispel myths and share their perspective
about their faith. The council also is sending books, DVDs and videotapes
to 16,000 libraries to help educate people about Muslims.
"You can't hide from
the problem," Erb said. "The only way is to encourage greater participation
in public and civic life."
Thank goodness many
area Muslims are doing that and proudly showing they're Americans, too.
436. 030108 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
New movements keep questions fresh
The Raelians claim to have cloned a human.
They call themselves a religion. This prompts a reader to ask, "When is
something a religion?"
"Religion" is notoriously
difficult to define. I like what Rufus M. Jones says: "Religion is an experience
which no definition exhausts." Some scholarly books on religion don't even
try; instead they offer descriptions.
Nonetheless, I've collected
50-some definitions which you can explore at www.cres.org/define.
The Raelians, founded
in 1973 and headquartered in Canada, believe that the human race was created
Scholars classify the Raelians
with NRMs -- the New Religious Movements, along with Scientology, Brahma
Kumaris, Hare Krishna, Rastafarianism, Cao Dai and many more.
America has been an especially
fertile place for NRMs, some of which have entered the mainstream, like
the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Christian Scientists. Others have
been less successful: the Shakers, Oneida Perfectionists and Branch Davidians.
Despite the dangers, one
of the benefits of NRMs for those whose faith has become routine is that
NRMs raise and refresh basic religious questions: What is our place in
the universe? What is human nature? How can we best live together? How
to we explain the mystery of existence? What does the future hold? What
is sacred? The Raelian perspective on these questions is certainly unusual,
but no less religious than those of traditional faiths.
Religiously, today is much
like the period of the Roman Empire around the time of the birth of Jesus.
Few could have predicted that the early Christian sects, with continuing
mutations, would eventually crowd out the cults of Mithra, Cybele, Isis,
Dionysus and others.
NRMs are an accelerating
response to secular, materialistic culture which cannot give satisfying
answers to the most important questions we can ask.
435. 030101 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
KC can be an interfaith role model
In the year just ended, metro Kansas City
made some progress in interfaith understanding -- though much work remains
to be done.
Some Christians joined members
of the Jewish community here in signing a May 12 ad supporting Israeli
policies. Others invited to sign declined to do so because they felt the
ad needed to recognize the calamity of a situation which produces both
Israeli and Palestinian victims.
Muslim leaders here condemned
all terrorism, including suicide-bombing, and the loss of life on all sides.
In June, UMKC was the site of a conference of the Islamic Society of North
America with the theme, "Muslims for Peace and Justice."
The Interfaith Council led
a day-long observance of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Over 50 other religious groups registered with the Council to focus the
day on spiritual kinship within our diversity.
The Jackson County Diversity
Task Force, organized by County Executive Katheryn Shields, following reports
of continuing harassment of Muslims, drew together Jewish, Sikh, Protestant,
Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist and secular leaders to "promote understanding
of our differences." On Sept. 10, the panel detailed troubling and persistent
prejudice in a 77-page report, with three major recommendations to secure
the American ideal of religious freedom, which Shields is working to implement.
This year Shields and Kansas
City Mayor Kay Barnes and Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks received awards for
their energetic support of religious diversity.
Concern about a war with
Iraq reawakened the interfaith peace movement.
Kansas City interfaith efforts
were recognized in a story in the National Catholic Reporter and a half-hour
CBS network religious special. We may yet become a model interfaith community.