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

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

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

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


Last December 27 I discovered this and wrote:
An Impromptu Report on an
Unexpected Work of Public Art

Several times a week I walk through Mill Creek Park just east of the Country Club Plaza Shopping District with its famous (I think cruel) fountain which you can see in the background of the photo above. December 27 I was surprised to encounter what, from a distance, looked like a mandala. I returned the next day to study it more carefully and was pleased it did not appear to have been molested. I remain worried that this ephemeral, complicated, thoughtful public art at the southwest end of the park will be vandalized soon.

I wish I had a drone camera so I could get a better, higher view of what has obviously been constructed with great thoughtfulness and care. Careful to plant my feet not to disturb any part of the piece, I saw that a ring near the center were stones wrapped with white children's socks, and the yellow ring you can make out in the photo is made of pencils. In between are peppers. I saw other produce as well. 

I read the labels around the circle:
   23 hospitals
   100 journalists
   296 schools
   10305 children
   473 health staff
   52390 injured
   1900000 displaced
   26612 martyred

At the outside of the circle large stones near Mill Creek Parkway read "1 stone = 1 martyred in Gaza."

I do not know how accurate the statistics might be.

This closer look made clear that this is not a mandala except in the original Sanskrit sense of "circle." It reminded me not Buddhist or Hindu art but rather of  Picasso's Guernica which I first saw at the modern art museum in New York when I was young, before it was repatriated to Spain, where I saw it again more recently in Madrid.

Reading this Mill Creek art as a pro-Hamas statement, as I suppose is possible in our reactive, political environment, is as much a misinterpretation as viewing Guernica as a pro-Socialist statement. Though not composed of cloth and pigment, the ground itself becomes its canvass with materials like stones and socks and pencils and bits of food, transporting the rubble we see in the news from there to here, and from horror to art we can just barely endure*. Like Guernica, it is a statement about the violence and horror of war, and transcends the particular occasion which originated the artistic expression. Would that such art be heeded with compassion.  

Hatred does not cease by hatred but by love
 -- such statements are found throughout the religions of the world.


* “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure . . . ." --Rilke

A week later, except for the missing vegetables, this art seems unmolested:

January 7: small stones on the perimeter seem to have been added with words like prayers. Long-stem rosebuds, symmetrically placed, appear half way in to the center.

February 22: a couple pieces of fire wood have been added in the middle of the large circle -- is this a trivial addition by someone unaware of the symbolic meaning of the art, or does this represent the conflagration of the Middle East? -- or some other significance which escapes me?

Feb 27 -- Except for the firewood art is still mainly unmolested for two months in the park in the entire KC region best known for demonstrations of all sorts.

No layman in Kansas City has done more
to promote interfaith understanding and comity
than Al Brooks, so we are eager to share this announcement:

Kansas City’s cultural landscape is once again set to be illuminated on the silver screen, this time through the lens of Oscar-winning filmmaker and University of Kansas Professor Kevin Willmott. Known for his screenplay “BlacKkKlansman,” Willmott’s latest project promises to be a cinematic exploration of themes that resonate deeply within the heart of Kansas City through the life of Alvin Brooks.

In a city where the tapestry of history is rich with stories of civil rights battles and cultural evolution, Willmott’s film is expected to weave a narrative that not only honors this history but also reflects the ongoing journey of Kansas City’s diverse community. This new production comes at a time when the city’s civil rights stories, exemplified by local activists like Alvin Brooks, are increasingly gaining recognition.

Brooks, a civil rights icon whose memoir was released in 2021, represents the resilient spirit of KC. His decades-long fight for justice and equality echoes the sentiments that Willmott’s film aims to capture. Brooks’ story, from his time as a police officer to becoming a pivotal figure in the city’s civil rights movement, illustrates the complex layers of the city’s past, much like the narratives that Willmott has skillfully brought to life in his previous works.

Willmott’s approach to storytelling, often interlaced with profound social commentary, has the potential to spark conversations and reflections on issues that are as relevant today as they were in Brooks’ era.

The film is also a testament to the artistic and creative talents that thrive in KC. With a local luminary like Willmott at the helm, the production is set to showcase the city not just as a backdrop but as a character in its own right. It’s an opportunity to highlight the city’s landmarks, its unique vibe, and the stories of its people.

Moreover, Willmott’s involvement in this project reaffirms Kansas City’s position as a growing hub for arts and culture. The city’s evolving narrative is being shaped by those who know it best – its artists, activists and storytellers. As Willmott brings his cinematic vision to life, he also brings with him a spotlight that shines on the richness of Kansas City’s history and its potential future.

In anticipation of this film, Kansas City stands ready to see its stories told through the eyes of one of its own. Willmott’s film is not just a mirror held up to the city’s past; it’s a doorway into understanding the tapestry of experiences that make Kansas City what it is today. As audiences await its release, there’s a palpable excitement about how this film will contribute to the ongoing narrative of a city that continues to inspire and evolve.

Katie Baldwin

The filming is underway now. To complete the production costs of $110,000, your contribution is desired. Direct your 501(c)(3) tax-deductible gift to the Black Archives of Mid-America (Brooks Documentary), 1722 E 17th Terrace, Kansas City, MO 64108. Th
ose who help fund the project will be listed as producers in the film.


King Holiday Essay —  2023 January 16
     Download a PDF of Vern's 2-page summary of the genius of the spiritual approach of Martin Luther King Jr by clicking this link.
     You can also read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail here.
     Bill Tammeus writes about King's visits to Kansas City here.
     Vern writes:
     I remember meeting King in a church basement in Washington, DC, the year before he was assassinated. I remember his appearance was delayed quite a while as his team checked the church for threats and dangers, as those of us gathered to hear him hoped to see him alive. It was a dark time. I remember his brilliant analysis of Vietnam, and particularly its effect on young Black men.
I was a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School when he was assassinated. The next Sunday was Palm Sunday, April 7, and I was to be a guest preacher. I remember struggling to find something uplifting to say, and I was thankful to be able to rely on King's teachings and his public ministry in the context of the Christian story. I used a recording of the April 3 "Mountain Top" speech in many sermons in the following months.
I remember studying the writings and speeches of King, with their eloquence and depth. Each year I continue to reread the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, which every year renews me with astonishment. I also especially cherish his last sermon, March 31, at the Washington National Cathedral, a few days before his assassination. And I claim King also as an exemplar of interfaith respect, which is why I wrote this essay.     
     In a NYTimes column, David Brooks discusses Robert Thuman's summary of the principles of non-violence. (We can add that it was in meeting Thuman that Gandhi said, “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence [Gandhi's satyagrapha, or 'Truth-force'] will be delivered to the world.” Later King went to India himself, and kept a photo of Gandhi above his desk.)
     Here is a passage from Brooks which includes the summary: 
To be a good citizen, it is necessary to be warmhearted, but it is also necessary to master the disciplines, methods and techniques required to live well together: how to listen well, how to ask for and offer forgiveness, how not to misunderstand one another, how to converse in a way that reduces inequalities of respect. In a society with so much loneliness and distrust, we are failing at these social and moral disciplines.
     Similarly, to create social change, it is necessary to have good intentions, but it is also necessary to master the disciplines and techniques of effective social action. The people in the civil rights organizations in the 1950s and ’60s spent a lot of time rigorously thinking about which methods would work and which would backfire. Thurman’s emphasis on methodological rigor and technique influenced King’s brilliant and often counterintuitive principles of nonviolent resistance:

     1. It is not a method for cowards. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.
     2. It seeks not to defeat or humiliate the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding in order to move toward a beloved community.
     3. The attack is directed against the forces of evil rather than against the people who happen to be doing the evil.
     4. One must have a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from an opponent without striking back. Unearned suffering is redemptive.
     5. It avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of the spirit. It is a refusal to hate.
     6. Nonviolent resistance is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. It has a deep faith in the future.

There are obviously times when this nonviolent strategy is inappropriate — in a state of anarchy or war, when the very existence of your people is under threat. But these techniques did work in Birmingham, Selma, Chicago and beyond. Most important, they altered people’s souls, fortifying the state of consciousness of the disinherited, undermining the state of consciousness of the dominators and elevating the consciousness of those who looked on in awe and admiration.
     These thoughtful techniques are a long way from the tit-for-tat crudities that now often pass for public discourse, the tantrums of the merchants of rage, the 57 percent of Republicans and the 41 percent of Democrats who regard people in the other party as their enemies.
     As many have noted, we’re not going to solve our problems at the same level of consciousness on which we created them. If the national consciousness, the state of our national soul, is to repair, it will be because people begin to think as deeply as Thurman did and begin to be intolerant of the immoralities of their own side.

  Peter Jarosewycz, 1948-2024

We are greatly saddened by the death of our friend, Peter Jarosewycz. Throughout his own physical challenges, in so many ways in our community and beyond, he was a strong and faithful supporter of religious pluralism, and his constant underwriting of CRES efforts over the years must be acknowledged. He arranged many opportunities for CRES to present programs for various groups. His clear understanding of the profound and discriminating way CRES presents the special treasures of the Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic faiths, and the huge corpus of columns (947) CRES provided to The Kansas City Star, made him one of our chief advocates. The obituary appearing in the Star January 14, noted his extensive philanthropy, his study at the University of Chicago*, and support of Ukrainian causes. Although his presence was not commanding, there will be a huge gap in gatherings of interfaith organizations this year and forward. 

" . . . about my college, the University of Chicago.  They say that Chicago is a Baptist school where atheist professors teach Jewish students St. Thomas Aquinas. That’s your Interfaith America right there."  -- David Brooks

We are so proud of our former intern, Geneva Blackmer, MA, MESt, studying and working in Europe. She made many Kansas City friends and greatly enhanced the effectiveness of CRES in the community in the years she was here. She has now visited 26 countries is impressing her professors as she completes her PhD and her colleagues with her experience in electronic communications of many kinds and her work with numerous local and international interfaith organizations -- including CRES!

In fact, in discussing the project announced below, she bragged about the involvement CRES had with the formation of the North American Interfaith Network --  NAIN (in 1988 Vern was a member of the planning committee for its first conference, and this in turn, lead to CRES founding of the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989).

She currently works at the University of Bonn, Germany, in the field of Digital Religious Communication and holds a master’s degree in Religious and Ecumenical Studies. She has served as a Digital Literacy Instructor for Guiding Ohio Online, working to bridge the digital divide in rural, lower-income communities throughout that state. The discussion also addresses increasing technological hesitancy, social media awareness, and the discernment of misinformation in a digital space.

Below is a presentation she makes January 28 Sunday 2 pm Central Time in the US (CET=Central European Time).

The consequences of the Digital Divide are far-reaching, affecting education, employment, healthcare, and access to government assistance. Students without reliable internet access or necessary devices face significant barriers to online learning. Job seekers with limited digital skills may struggle to compete in the modern job market, perpetuating cycles of poverty. Inadequate access to technology can limit access to essential health information and services, exacerbating health disparities. Bridging the Digital Divide requires concerted efforts to ensure technology is more equitably distributed and that individuals of all backgrounds have the tools and knowledge to fully participate in the digital age.

Faith communities can play a crucial role in closing the digital divide by leveraging their resources to promote equitable access through actions like community technology centers, digital and media literacy programs, technology donations and drives, promoting affordable internet access, community empowerment and helping develop critical media literacy. By actively engaging in these initiatives faith leaders and congregations can contribute significantly to closing the digital divide and ensuring that all individuals have the opportunity to participate fully in the digital age.



Above is a screen shot from Geneva's Zoom lecture and discussion from Bonn, Germany, for dozens of American and Canadian friends involved with interfaith work. In addition to our very own favorite, Geneva, we reconnected with Betinna Gray, who with Vern, was on the planning committee in 1988 for the continent's first conference espressly for interfaith organizations, programs, and offices. You can read The New York Times report here. Betinna also remembered CRES arranging a continental NAIN-Connect in Kansas City some years back.

Using up-to-the-minute scholarship and published studies, made vivid by her own experiences, Geneva presented the surprisingly acute problem of inadequate access to critical digital information and opportunities and the alarming lack of digital content literacy, With so many occasions for religious ignorance and bias to shape our collective lives, this program made clear the harm from both mere misinformation and from pernicious disinformation. Acquainting digital users with such basic questions as the following would support more accurate information about various faiths and their adherents:
     * Where did you find this information?
     * Is this a reputable source?
     * Does your source of information have a particular bias?
     * What are the implications of posting this information?

Participants exchanged responses to this problem as well as how various groups employed digital media in their own religious organizations and in thinking about interfaith activities.
(CRES initiated our website in 1997 and has always managed it; so it is surprising how many faith groups are still wrestling with digital issues. We are grateful for the gifts of our friends who continue to make our digital work possible, as we are grateful for the opportunity to serve in so many ways since CRES was incorporated as a non-for-profit 501(c)3 in 1982, the oldest multi-faith civic formation, research, and educational institute in the area.)


February 1-7

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


The Ecumenical and Interfaith History of Greater Kansas City

This valuable resource for understanding interfaith work in Kansas City, linked from the CRES home page (right column) and directly available here
is now also available to researchers throughout the world through the ProQuest academic library database. Our former intern, Geneva Blackmer, prepared the history. The History includes both text and video. The website includes a page inviting additional contributions to further detail this critical, but often overlooked, dimension of religious and civic life in our region.

Discussion Notes

"Civil Religion"

“Civil Religion” has a bad name. Even sociologist Robert Bellah, who popularized the term in 1967, abandoned it because it has come to connote right-wing desires to fuse church and state as in the case of one proposed Constitutional amendment meant to recognize the “sovereignty of Christ.” But isn't citzenship -- beyond sectarian and partisan claims -- really a sacred gift and responsibility?

 --The first paragraph of Vern's essay, "Sacred Citizenship"
with (now-dated?) themes of Loyalty, Freedom, and American Greatness

Benjamin Franklin used the expression, "Public Religion." The term “Civil Religion” comes from Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

"Civil religion, also referred to as a civic religion, is the implicit religious values of a nation, as expressed through public rituals, symbols (such as the national flag), and ceremonies on sacred days and at sacred places (such as monuments, battlefields, or national cemeteries). It is distinct from churches, although church officials and ceremonies are sometimes incorporated into the practice of civil religion. Countries described as having a civil religion include France, the former Soviet Union, and the United States." -- Wikipedia

More simply, civil religion is interpreting civil places, persons, and events within the categories of faith.
Thus Donald Trump is seen by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others as a "King Cyrus of Persia" figure delivering America (Israel) from the bondage of wicked Democratic control of the United States.

"The Almighty has his own purposes.  "Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."  If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him?" --Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural

Here are images over several centuries to provoke consideration of the phenomenon scholars have studied, especially since the 1967 paper by Bellah

The round image and the detail below it is the oculus in the rodunda of the US Capital. The final image shown here needs no identification for Kansas Citians.



Because states had different established churches, the delegates at the1787 Constitutional Convention agreed that the national government should not establish any religion, with the the First Amendment ratified in 1791 which sspecified that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . " This did not, and has not, settled questions of the separation of chuch and state. 
* Can non-Christians be witnesses in federal courts? (settled)
* Federal support for missionaries to Indians continued. (ended)
* Paid Congressional chaplains continue, as well as in the armed forces.
* Should the postal service operate on Sundays?
* Should Christmas be a federal holiday (1870)? what about Columbus Day (1968) which some see as celebrating the genocide of American Indians?
* Can tax money be used to pay for playground equipment for parochial schools?
* Should students persuing theological studies have the same options for federal financial aid as students in engineering or music?
* Why was "Under God" added to the 1892 Pledge of Allegiance in 1954?
* Why did "In God We Trust" replace the original US motto of "E pluribus unum" in 1956?    
* Should we continue names of places that honor sectarian religious figures and places? -- St Louis (MO), San Francisco (CA), St Augustine (FL), the Vishnu Temple (Grand Canyon), Bethlehem (PA), Mount Zion (GA), and Mecca (CA)?
* Is a fetus a person? A fertilized egg? The Roman Catholic position holds that IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) is immoral for several reasons and the Alabama State Supreme Court has found IVF is illegal because a fertilized egg is a person.
Even after 1791, states continued to have established official and tax-supported churches. through gradually these practices ended. In 1833, Massachusetts became the last state to end its state religion.  But not until 1844 did New Jersey's constitution protect the right of anyone of any faith to be elected to office.


A Letter from the President
TO: The Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island
18 August 1790

.  .  . The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

. . . May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

Geo: Washington

Treaty of Tripoli
"The government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion." --negotiated under George Washington, approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed by President John Adams in 1797.


Please see  https://cres.org/pubs/InterfaithPray.htm  for discussion and examples.

An opportunity to understand better who we as a community are
     1. No prayer or respectful silence
     2. Traditional prayers in turn (at one gathering or rotating over time)
     3. Inclusive prayers using universal language ("Spirit of Generations," etc)

Here is a sample of a prayer/utterance/meditation/poem seeking to be inclusive:
     Spirit of Community,
     vivid expression of our lives together in this town,
     we gather as atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists,
          and those with no particular label for our faith or no faith;
     and we rejoice in our pluralism, not only about religion,
          but in the different colors of our skin, the heritage and backgrounds
          that are ours, our different styles of individual and family life,
          and the diversity of our occupations and pursuits --
     we gather that we may better understand one another
          as we prepare advice to send to the City Council
          on the priorities we wish expressed in the budget for the coming year.
     May we listen to one another attentively and with compassion;
          and, as we feel best, contribute to the conversation
          with the insights we offer to one another.
     And may we always remember and celebrate that we are part of one another
          as we particpate in our own ways with our sundry gifts
          to our Community Spirit.


The idea that the American colonies were established for religious freedom is misleading. New England settlers were largely Puritan and wanted religious freedom for themselves, but not others. Even New York (New Netherland) had to be forced by the Dutch West India Company to allow Jews to do business there. The colonies, especially the southern colonies, were chartered as commercial enterprises, not religious havens for al faiths.
     But a shout-out to Rhode Island, the 1663 charter for which did include the right for anyone to practice any religion, although there were some civic and political restrictions. And Pennsylvania, which at one time was the most diverse of the colonies, also welcomed folks of all faiths, though only Christians could vote.
Diana Eck, a distinguished researcher and scholar, made the claim in her day that the United States was the most religiously pluralistic country in the world. Now Great Britain has every right to challenge that, with the influx of immigrants from the former British Empire. The current (2024) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is Rishi Sunak, for example, is a Hindu. The city of Manchester, for example, can boast of pagans, Wiccans, Satanists, Zoroastrians, Taoists, Yazidis, Shamanists, Shintoists, followers of traditional African religions, Druids, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews. The King has embraced religious diversity.
     The United States, because of its size and the diversity of its immigrants, does offer a special environment for the world's faiths as they explore the core meaning of their faiths apart from the particular cultural inflections the immigrants associate with their faith. For example, Muslims from Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Egypt, Black communities in America, and other places have the opportunity to discover their faith expressed in different cultural contexts, and to uncover or develop a form of Islam apart from these particular cultural backgrounds, or one that fits best in a country, such as the United States, where the government welcomes the free practice of all faiths. Muslims, to continue this example, also have the opportunity to engage with other faiths, which they may not have been able to do in their native countries.


PRAYER.-- Whether shared silence or prayer or affirmation or poem or mission statement or other use of time is best depends on the nature of the occasion, the expectations of the group, and other such factors. For example, when invited specifically to give the prayer on a regular occasion for a legislative body, one does not simply ask the members of the body to stand in silence in their chamber, violating and insulting their expectations. The same was true in my Rotary Club where  my opening phrase, "O Spirit of Generations" was picked up by other members when it was their turn to offer the opening prayer.
     So much depends on the occasion and expectations. For example, I learned from offering prayers to begin meetings of the KC City Council. You'll find them here: where you'll also find my reflections on my mistakes --"Where was God" in my prayer?--expectations are so important! On one occasion -- the installation of a judge, I gave a "Prologue," (item #5) as I called it; I was asked to do something that functioned like a prayer, but was not a prayer. These things are tricky, but I was apparently successful since my text was published in a legal journal.
     Again, I do believe one must honor expectations and the nature of the occasion. Silence would have been insulting and an opportunity to articulate an important expression of values lost. 
IN GENERAL, I think the problem of church-state separation is insoluble. What with chaplains for the Congress and in the military? Do soldiers have a right to exercise their religion by consulting with spiritual advisors? Are prisoners rightly deprived of their First Amendment rights to exercise their faith if they are jailed for theft? To what extent are tax dollars to pay for such services justified?
     I will not criticize Abraham Lincoln for obvious "civil religion" in his Second Inaugural. It spoke to the occasion in a powerful way that a merely civil text could not have done. I do not want the ceiling of the Rotunda painted over.
     I think the path forward is through recognition of America's diversity, including (as with a recent state execution, an atheist chaplain). One of the issues included above is "* Is a fetus a person?" I do not think we are likely to have the Alabama Supreme Court in vitro fertilization decision here without a political and judicial recognition of religious diversity, which would be a strong argument against the state's use of a single faith, Chrristianity, and just a portion of that faith, with many other Christians in profound disagreement (and those of other faiths as well)  to define a fertilized human egg as a person. (Read this decision's use of the Bible and Christian theologians to justify this obvious violation of church-state limits.) My 2006 multifaith assessment of when a fertilized egg becomes a person is here.
     Above I listed other problems, a couple marked resolved, such as whether mail should be delivered on Sundays, and others unresolved. I do not like Christmas as a federal holiday, or Columbus day, either, which insultys American Indians. I think moving custom toward recognition of diversity is all we can hope for in the immediate future. I think the example of Judge Waxse (now of blessed memory), who was a vocal supporter of the ACLU and strongly in favor of church-state separation, charted that way forward.


Vern's essay, "Sacred Citizenship"  available in PDF (two pages)

  On-line text of "Civil Religion In America" by Robert N Bellah

originally publisjed in 
Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,
in the issue entitled, Religion in America, Winter 1967, Vol. 96, No. 1, p1-21.
It was reprinted with comments and a rejoinder in The Religious Situation: 1968, p331-356.

  An important contribution to the discussion:
"Divided We Fall: America's Two Civil Religions" by Robert Wuthnow

Christian Century 1988 April   20, p395-399

€  Two brilliant books on this topic by Forrest church:
     * The American Creed: A Spiritual and Patriotic Primer, 2002
     * The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's Founders, 2004.

€  A couple sites for images





Since 1982, CRES has promoted community and international understanding. Here are two events that demonstrate our commitment, especially in these recent extraordinarily difficult months for folks particularly attuned to the Holy Land and the increase in religious prejudice in our own nation.

Join a 1-hour gathering
to show care for each other
and all that's happening in our world today

Church of the Resurrection
February 25 Suday 2-3 pm

This Sunday, February 25th at 2:00pm an event titled "CREATE SHARED HOPE THROUGH PERSONAL CONNECTION" will be held in-person at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS at 13720 Roe in Building C Basement.

Dr. David E Nelson, president of the Human Agenda and CRES senior associate minister, is a key figure in this opportunity for Jews, Muslims, and Christians to share hope in the context of current events through personal connection.

From the event's description: "As we take in all that is happening in the world, we are tempted to retreat into our own safe tribes and families and yet our hearts long for a wider reach and a more inclusive sharing.Deep listening and strong sharing can allow us to find hope within our diverse paths and our individuals pains. As we listen to understand and share to be heard and understood, something special can happen. We together find strength to hope, ideas for action, and courage to stay human."

RSVP at bit.ly/sharedhope   (Advance contact information for the meeting was: Andy at campandy@me.com (913) 481-3738 or Ken at kensonnenscheinmd@gmail.com (913) 205-5962.)


UPDATE AND REPORT: By all accounts, the gathering was a successful, even moving opportunity for people to build relationships with each other. Activities included small group discussions.
     Folks particularly expressed gratitude for David Nelson's leadership. David is an expert on Appreciative inquiry and in designing interfaith encounters.

Here are two entries from https://mjsight.wordpress.com/  
February 26, 2024

The humble and amazing David Nelson, from The Human Agenda led us in the Appreciative Inquiry process. He asked each of us to “talk through one significant experience / personal story that shaped us – that gives hope in times of fear.” When I first read the question I couldn’t really balance the two parts of that question. Until we started talking.
     The magic happened when one at a time, as a pair we each interviewed the other. Six minutes to actively listen to the other person (no talking). After twelve undistracted minutes of listening, it’s incredible what we learned about our partner.
     Hope. It’s what I was looking for. My partner was articulate and insightful – a Turkish Muslim gentleman, Mehmed who came to the US from Turkey 30 days before September 11th. I listened to him explain how the events of 9/11 made him feel, his subsequent work at the Dialogue Center of Kansas City, and what he and his wife and family are now feeling – after October 7. I grew interested in knowing more. His recount of 9/11 and the days and months thereafter made me feel with 
him what it must have been like as a Muslim at that time in the United States.  His mother was fearful to go out wearing her hijab. I could feel it was a terrifying time for them.
     When it was my turn, I re-told my October 7th story, and my experience that day. The fear, the anger, and the heartbreak for my people. The fear that our children must have been feeling. But when we returned from Israel, somewhere inside of me was a desire/need to meet a Muslim. To put a face with a real person, and to hear the yin to the yang of all that I’ve been consuming as I learned more about Hamas for the past six months.
     Mehmed (a Turkish Muslim) spoke of 9/11. October 11 was Israel’s 9/11. A connection…shared empathy…a feeling of being heard.
     I have a feeling that everyone in that room connected with the other over a story, a relevant experience, and just listening to someone else’s challenge.
     I think can say with confidence that each of us in that room left different than when we walked in.

I thought the Shared Hope event was very good. How [David] facilitated us to open up to our partner of the day was excellent. I was able to connect with a young lady who was born in South Korea, raised in China and now has lived in the KC area for 10 years. Her viewpoints of America and American life were very interesting. I am inspired to reach out to others that I do not know currently and learn about their perspective of life and how to improve our shared time on earth. 

Below are the texts from the card everyone received at the meeting, and we are glad for permission to include it -- both sides -- here.

Gathering for Our Shared Hope for Humanity,  February 25, 2024

Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry 
* In every human being and organization something works.
* What we focus on becomes our reality.
* Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.
* Being present to another person influences the person in some way.
* People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward part of the past (the known.) 
* If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what are best about the past.
* It is important to value and celebrate differences.
* The language we use creates our reality.
Topic Statement: Our Hope for Today
* The human family in its delightful diversity shares a common creation and a common hope for community. 
* In times of division and war, as we take in all that is happening in the world, we are tempted to retreat into our own safe tribes and families and yet our hearts long for a wider reach and a more inclusive sharing. 
* Deep listening and strong sharing can allow us to find hope within our diverse paths and our individuals pains. As we listen to understand and share to be heard and understood, something special can happen. 
* Together we find strength to hope, ideas for action, and courage to stay human.

1. Why was it important for you to be here today?  What brought you to this gathering?
2. Tell me a story from your faith tradition or personal experience that gives hope in times of fear.  What does that story suggest about restoring, nurturing, and maintaining community?  What can your faith community contribute to a more peaceful world?
3. Do you have a suggestion for a next step from today's gathering?



Offering experience and study,
CRES promotes the wisdom of Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic faiths
to treat the crises of the environmental, personal, and social pandemics.
This was live-streamed on YouTube 2024 March 3 Sunday 2 pm CT,
co-moderated by CRES former intern Geneva Blackmer in Bonn
and including panelist, Kansas City's own Alan Edelman:

Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue:
Recentering Our Common Humanity Amidst Conflict

presented The Interfaith Center at Miami University, and cosponsored by CRES,
 the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, URI North America, and the Dialogue Institute of Kansas City.
PROGRAM THEME: As tensions continue to escalate around the globe in response to the war in Gaza, Antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents have reached alarmingly high rates in North America (with the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations reporting an increase of 200-300% since October 7th). As an interfaith community, this reality calls us to reflect upon how we can remain in relationship with one another, and maintain recognition of our common humanity, even when it feels like our lives are under attack. We invite you to join us in an honest and open dialogue which considers how the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths might guide us towards a path of reconciliation in our relationships with one another and the way we interact in the world.

RECORDING on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH1D92gLadg

With a series of questions led by the co-moderators and comments among themselves, the panelists faithfully spoke from the heart of their own traditions with respect and high regard for the faiths of the others. This meant perspectives were sometimes aligned, sometimes varied, but always in the service of understanding and justice.
     Among the many issues raised, particularly for interfaith organizations and individuals doing interfaith work, is the unfair expection that religious groups should solve what are political problems. The conflict in Gaza is not a Jewish-Muslim problem; it is a political problem. Yet the panelists agreed that identifying and uplifting the demands of justice is a religious obligation. It would be interesting to have additional conversation about this vexing dilemma.
     (A possibly relevant discussion, also available on YouTube, is "Interfaith Understanding is too Slight a Thing.")
     Perhaps not emphasized, but implicit in the panelists comments, I think, is the failure within communities identified with each tradition to uphold the morally urgent principles of justice. This is true not only in the Holy Land but also where we may be of most immediate service, in our own local communities.
     The entire conversation was important, useful, and at times, inspiring. Knowing that so many of us are suffering as we seek to fully understand the unfolding horrors of the news, and finding ways to recognize that suffering in one another and one another's communities, is surely a critical step toward the time envisioned in the closing prayer, offered by Alan Edelman:
A Prayer for Peace

May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease, when a great peace will embrace the whole world.
     Then nation will not threaten nation, and humankind will not again know war.
     For all who live on earth shall realize we have not come into being to hate or to destroy.
     We have come into being to praise, to labor and to love.
     Compassionate God, bless the leaders of all nations with the power of compassion.
     Fulfill the promise conveyed in Scripture: I will bring peace to the land, and you shall lie down and no one shall terrify you.
     I will rid the land of vicious beasts and it shall not be ravaged by war.
     Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream. Let peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea.

(from the liturgy of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, adapted and translated from the Hebrew of Rabbi Natan Sternhartz,
19th Century Ukraine)
Winter 2023/2024 Journal Edition:
"Solitude & Solidarity"

Vern read his entry below 2024 April 2 Tuesday 4:30-6:30 as part of a Read-Around, recorded here
beginning at about 43:45. In the Journal, it appears on page 66. Besides Vern, another alumnus from The Kansas City Star is George Gurley, who describes himself as a "professional octogenarian," another similarity the two share. His reading of his poem, "What You've Left Behind," is on page 69; and in the recording, at about 14:30
An in-person event celebrating the publication is April 27 Saturday 3:30-6:30 at the Watkins Museum, Lawrence, KS. Thanks to the  Anamcara Press staff led by Maureen (Micki) Carroll, "Editor, Photographer, cat-herder." The WINTER 2023/24 Journal is available in Kansas City at Prospero's, 1800 W 39, and on line.

Two details from the scroll -- (1) Su Shi alone, (2) the moonlight picnic
(The story moves from right to left. The entire scroll is on Wiki.)
In the left detail, Su Shi, facing right, is in the upper left corner.

An American Looks at Su Shi’s Night Portrayed in Qiao Zhongchang’s
"Illustration to the Second Prose Poem on the Red Cliff"

     You left your friends to be alone,
     unsettled into nature’s rocks and streams,
     familiar trees were changed as moonlight shown
     into mystery and history’s regimes.
     The overgrowth and tangles trip your voice
     to shout into the cliff which echoes out
     a question charged, Do we have fate or choice?
     With crane’s sharp cry your quiet boat marks doubt.

     I see you dream Immortals in your home, 
     but what is space and time and really real?
     How much environment, how much genome?
     Are choices freely made or by fate's wheel?

     So Han, or Gettysburg, or World Trade plots—
     In God’s great gambling house, are such just slots?

Qiao Zhongchang was active in the early 12th Century. The handscroll (629 cm -- 248 in -- 18 feet -- length) inspiring this sonnet was itself inspired by the earlier poem by Su Shi (late 11th Century), who was jailed for his political opinions. This world-famous work is in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO. Because of its age, it is rarely displayed. The Red Cliff was the site of a decisive battle in 208/9 at the end of the Han dynasty prior to the beginning of the Three Kingdoms.
     The story in brief: Su Shi and a couple buddies go for a midnight picnic with wine and fish. For a time Su Shi and his friends are separated. "And to climb up trees twisted like horned dragons, I pulled myself up to the precarious nests of falcons, and peered down at the hidden palace of the River God Pingh Yi. My two guests were unable to follow me this far. I suddenly let out a sharp cry. The plans and trees were startled and shook; mountains resounded, valleys echoed. Winds arose, and the water become agitated. For my part, I became hushed and 
melancholy, awed, and fearful. Then I began to tremble so that I could no longer remain there." As they returned by boat, a crane overhead let out a piecing cry. That night Su Shi dreamt of two Daoists who he thinks might have been the crane. Waking, he looks for the Daoists and wonders if the whole sequence was real.



The themes help us focus on kindness in seven different ways, on seven different days.
2024 April

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


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


The Future of Interfaith Work

Perhaps the most significant recent comment about interfaith work was just published by the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington, a critique of
the many shallow and self-defeating approaches to interfaith work I've seen in my 40-some years of labor in this area.

The commentary says that the over-emphasis on commonalities has undermined using the wisdom of the world's distinct traditions toward the "restoration of the environment,
the dignity of the human person,
and the healing of our broken community

This was written by our former intern, Geneva Blackmer, now in Germany where she is a research assistant at the University of Bonn. Because of her work with a dozen interfaith groups, we can hope her message will change things.
If you'd like to see what she wrote on the agency's website, click here. Or for conveneince, you'll find it right below the logo.  

But first, a "save the date" note: Above we show Geneva with Al Brooks in 2016 when none of us would have guessed that we are now ready to announce that the feature about Al by Oscar-winning Kevin Willmott premieres Wednesday, June 19 (Juneteen) at Screenland, 408 Armour Rd, North Kansas City. Since I was the developmental editor for Al's memoir, I was one of many people Kevin interviewed for this film. With two showings that evening, times and other information will be announced shortly.                                                                      --Vern

Here is Geneva's commentary:
What is the Future of Interfaith Work?

April 26, 2024

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the interfaith movement is headed towards a radical paradigm shift. As young people around the world exhibit a rapid decline in religious affiliation, important questions arise not only regarding the sustainability of the movement, but also its relevance in contemporary society. Authentic interfaith engagement is inherently advantageous and well positioned to address all the great crises of our time. It is a sacred space where we can behold the wisdom of our many beloved traditions, towards the restoration of the environment, the dignity of the human person, and the healing of our broken community. It is the place where we can arrive as our wholly authentic selves- where the complexity and intersectionality of our human identities are embraced and celebrated. And yet, contrary to common interfaith discourse, these aims prove to be largely aspirational.
Despite the interfaith movement’s vision to aspire towards justice, equity, unity, and peace, interfaith spaces have become remarkably fragmented. Our collective understanding of interfaith engagement is often quite superficial- satisfied with mere religious tolerance and an overemphasis on sameness rather than difference. This emphasis on commonality inadvertently encourages conformity with Western epistemology, and the perpetuation of colonialism and Christian privilege. In this context, the use of the word “colonial” aims to describe the academic discourse surrounding “the experience, knowledge, history, and dynamics which are the result of the process of colonization” (Crist 2021).
In effect, interfaith activity often inevitably serves as simply a more legitimate form of spiritual bypassing. In the face of systemic injustice, its allyship frequently equates to pleasing words and empty gestures that uphold the same oppressive structures it ideologically opposes. Often this is a consequence of our tendency to boast of religious diversity, while lacking any real racial, social, and cultural diversity. Attempts at radical inclusivity become limited when most participants are disproportionately white and demographically homogeneous.
The absence of youth in religious spaces also speaks to a larger problem regarding a lack of accountability. Young people will not tolerate our inefficacy, nor will they find safety in spaces that cater to the comfortability of their most privileged members. For the interfaith movement to effectively fulfill its mission, it seems inevitable that we must work towards pragmatic accountability for our historical relationship with, and legacy of, colonialism. Are we, as an interfaith community, brave enough to admit the ways in which individuals, religious organizations, and institutions, directly or indirectly contribute to the perpetuation of inequities?
My hope is that we will seize the opportunity to do better. That we will make the decisions now which set a new precedent for the future. That we can meet new voices with embrace, rather than resistance, and see to the allocation of our resources in ways which produce equity rather than uphold disparity. Perhaps then, future generations will return to a view of religion and spirituality as a means of transformation and transcendence, rather than an obstacle to progress, and we can collectively work together towards the restoration of environment, person, and community. After all, is there any option left for us?

By Geneva Blackmer
Interim Director
The Interfaith Center at Miami University
Barnet, Vern. “A View of Our Desacralized Society and the World’s Religions
     as a Whole System.” CRES. 2005. https://cres.org/
Crist, Teresa A. Decolonizing Interfaith Interaction: Common Humanity and
     Colonial Legacies.
ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2021.
Pew Research Center, June 13, 2018, “The Age Gap in Religion Around the World” 

#BrooksFilm   #Juneteenth

  Film About Al Brooks Premieres

No one in the Kansas City area has done more to promote interfaith understanding -- as well as addressing racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of prejudice keeping us from seeing one another as sacred children of the universe -- than our friend, AlvinBrooks. One of the greatest privileges of my life was to help Al with his powerful and fascinating memoir. Al is still is going  strong, recently winning a seat on the Hickman Mills School Board because he cares about kids. His heavy schedule of speaking and consultation continues apace. We are so blessed to have Al's healing energy given to us.

Now Kevin Willmott, the prize-winning filmmaker (with Spike Lee he shared an Academy Award for BlacKkKlansman), is premiering his film about Al's autobiography, Binding Us Together (for which I was developmental editor), premiering locally  on Juneteenth at the Screenland Armour theater. Here is an announcement (more below):


Black Archives of America presents
The Heroic True-Life Adventures of Alvin Brooks
Produced by Kenneth Wilmott
Based on the Book Binding Us Together written by Alvin Brooks
In conjunction with the Second Annual Juneteenth Film Festival

The Heroic True-Life Adventures of Alvin Brooks is based on Binding Us Together, the autobiography of Mr. Brooks, published by Andrews McMeel in 2021.  Binding Us Together is a unique personal story of character, activism, and perseverance -- and the public story of connection to city and national leaders during dramatic times. It offers a hands-on guide for future generations for vigilance against bias. Mr. Brooks is often called Kansas City's most beloved civil rights activist and public servant.        
     Few people have faced adversity like Alvin Brooks. He was born into an impoverished family, nearly lost his adoptive father to the justice system of the South, and narrowly survived a health crisis in infancy. All the while, he was learning how to navigate living in a racist society. Yet by rising to these challenges, Brooks turned into a lifelong leader and a servant of his community. He shares personal anecdotes over the years about caring for his family, supporting Black youth, and experiencing historic events like the 1968 riots through his eyes
Screenland Armour
408 North Armour Rd.
North Kansas City, MO 64116

#-Brooks_Willmott_Star  ---------------------------------------------------------

Oscar-winning filmmaker gives KC icon superhero treatment

CAPTION: Kansas City icon Alvin Brooks, 92, has yet to see "The Heroic True-Life Adventures of Alvin Brooks." He wants to watch it for the first time with an audience. (Tammy Ljungblad)

CAPTION: Kevin Willmott, who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay in 2019 for "BlacKkKlansman," says of his new documentary, "More than anything, it's Mr. Brooks telling his life story." (File photo)

Kevin Willmott has been breathing rarefied air in the world of film and television since winning an Oscar for best adapted screenplay in 2019 for "BlacKkKlansman."

"That opened the floodgates, really," the Junction City, Kansas, native and University of Kansas professor said. "I never worked so hard in my life."

Willmott said he is "juggling five or six projects right now,' including one with famed director Spike Lee, his partner on "BlacKkKlansman." Also in the works (with "Bridgerton" star Regé-Jean Page and Morgan Freeman) is an eight-part series for Peacock about Muhammad Ali and a project for Nettlix about Ebony magazine.

But Willmott has kept his roots firmly planted in Lawrence and the Kansas City area, carving out time in his schedule to make small-budget films of local interest. His nonprofit Do Good Productions has produced "Gordon Parks Elementary" (2016) and "No Place Like Home: The Struggle Against Hate in Kansas" (2022).

His most recent effort is "The Heroic True-Life Adventures of Alvin Brooks," about the Kansas City political and civil rights icon. Its world premiere will be June 19 — Juneteenth — at the Screenland Armour as part of the Juneteenth Film Festival.

The 90-minute documentary is a follow-up to Brooks' 2021 book "Binding Us Together. A Civil Rights Activist Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service."

"In many ways, it's an adaptation of the book," Willmott said. "But really, more than anything, it's Mr. Brooks telling his life story."

Yes, the 64-year-old writer-director always refers to the 92-year-old local legend as "Mr."

"That's Kevin," Brooks said. "I call him either Maestro or I call him Sir Sir Willmott."

Willmott opted not to keep Brooks' title "Binding Us Together" for the documentary, however.

"It's a great book title, but movies have to be a little more provocative," he said.

Brooks loves the name — ' 'It blew me out of the water," he said — and it's appropriate because "The Heroic True-Life Adventures of Alvin Brooks" has the flavor of a superhero comic book. Willmott describes Brooks' life as a "blues kind of almost folktale reality," and the documentary uses animation when illustrating some of Brooks' colorful stories.

"He made it incredibly easy because he has such a rich memory, and such a detailed memory," Willmott said. "He's 92, and it's just amazing the details that he knows about addresses from 1935 and what somebody was wearing in the 1950s."

Born in North Little Rock, Arkansas, Brooks was raised by a moonshiner who moved with his wife and young Alvin to Kansas City after killing a white  [
SEE BROOKS, 2C  | FROM PAGE 2C   BROOKS ] man in a bootlegging dispute. Alvin married as a senior in high school, worked as a janitor and became one of the few Black officers on the Kansas City police force before serving as human relations director, assistant city manager and mayor pro tem for Kansas City. Brooks launched the city's Ad Hoc Group Against Crime in 1977.

"It's a story that can never be told fully, except by those who lived it," he said.

"It's many different lives, and in that sense it makes you almost believe it's not true," Willmott said. "It's clearly all true."

Willmott said Brooks' origin story might surprise viewers. In the documentary, he returns to scenes from his past.

"A policeman put a gun to his head as a kid and told him to run up the hill or he was going to kill his ass," ' Willmott said. "And he ran up the hill.

"He was with some white buddies, and they laughed about it then. But afterwards he realized that was the moment he understood segregation and hate. And we go to that same spot 82 years later, and he tells that story."
Willmott, whose credits also include "Da 5 Bloods" (with Spike Lee), "Chi-Raq," "The Only Good Indian" and "C.S.A.: The Confederate States Of America," met Brooks and heard many of his stories about 20 years ago while he was making the film "From Separate to Equal, the Creation of Truman Medical Center. "

They reconnected when the filmmaker wrote a blurb for Brooks' 2021 book.

"It reminded me of how 20 years ago I said his stories would make a great film," Wilmott said. "And we finally got it together.

"I would consider him a historical figure. With people who have a real place in history, you don't often get a chance for them to tell their story first person. That was the other thing that really made me want to do it right now."

Brooks said he is in the process of setting up the Binding Us Together Foundation to use the film's proceeds to assist first-generation college students interested in writing and producing. He also is working on a children's book based on his life.

Meanwhile, he's looking forward to seeing "The Heroic True-Life Adventures of Alvin Brooks" for the first time.

"I don't want a preview of it," Brooks said. "1 just want to sit there with the rest of the audience and watch it and laugh.

"I know it's going to be good, it's going to be fun. There's probably going to be some sad moments. And the animation is going to be outstanding.

"I'm just thrilled and excited and thank God I've been able to stick around here long enough to do this."

• World premiere at Screenland Armour, 6 p.m. (sold out) and 8:30 p.m. June 19; showings followed by Q&A. screenland.com.
• Also, 6 p.m. June 30 at Lawrence Arts Center as part of Free State Festival. freestatefestival.org.
• A 46-minute version will be shown on Kansas City PBS, Channel 19.1, at 7 p.m. July 11 (followed by "Art House Live!" featuring Kevin Willmott at 8 p.m.) and 6 p.m. July 14. kansascitypbs.org.

• President George H.W. Bush named Alvin Brooks one of America's 1,000 Points of Light in 1989 and appointed him to the President's National Drug Advisory Council.
• Brooks received the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award in 2016.
• The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce named him Kansas Citian of the Year in 2019.

 Independence Day readings
     * Vern Barnet
     * Frederick Douglass 

Visit Sacred Citizenship for a 2-page PDF version of our June, 2001 Many Paths essay with themes of loyalty, freedom, greatness. Does this essay still work after September that year, and as we are continuing to come to a fuller appreciation of our history, from before 1619 to the present disfunction of much of government, local, state, federal -- as well as international agreements?


Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, NY
by Frederick Douglass
July 5th, 1852
Rochester: Lee, Mann & Co., 1852

[Frederick Douglass, 1817/1818--1895]

"The 4th of July Address, delivered [on the 5th] in Corinthian Hall, by Frederick Douglass, is published on good paper, and makes a neat pamphlet of forty pages. The 'Address' may be had at this office, price ten cents, a single copy, or six dollars per hundred."   {Visit oration for the text.}

#240911  #911


A way of understanding the years since 9/11

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Is the disease metaphor give us any insights into the war of Russia against Ukraine? I think this metaphor gives us an essential insight into debilitated world governance, enfeebled by the failure to place armaments under international control requiring some body (a strengthened United Nations) to manage conflict between states when states cannot resolve problems peacefully. One way of looking at this situation, using the disease metaphor, is the war as an auto-immune disease of the world body; Russia, which benefits from a peaceful world order, attacks that very order, and the body must address this illness by sending resources to return to homeostasis. Just as chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and other cures, can destroy healthy cells, so the body's response to Russian aggression requires the short-term sacrifice of some otherwise healthy parts for long-term health. Whether the expansion of NATO will inspire a true government of all nations is very unclear, and whether the many increasingly complex forces of civilization lead to planetary senescence and death, or to universal peace 

#Aporia200524  #Aporia
From Aporia to Praise:
(postponed from 2020 May 25)
A late observance of
the 50th anniversary of Vern Barnet's ordination
Aporia: "impasse, puzzlement, doubt."

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


Early announcement:

Answering Religious Extremism:
Two Creative Responses to Personal Violence

August 21 Wednesday 12 Noon CT | 1:00 pm ET

Speakers: Mindy Corporon and Bill Tammeus

Moderators: Geneva Blackmer and Vern Barnet

Register in advance for this meeting:


Program Outline:

Introduction of The Interfaith Center and the Speakers  <5 minutes

Each speaker will be invited to share their unique story and experience with religiously motivated violence. (5 minutes each, ~10 minutes total)

Each speaker will be invited to share their nonviolent response to personal tragedy (e.g., Bill’s book, and the founding of Mindy’s organization) (5 minutes each, ~10 minutes total)

Follow up questions:

How did you feel that you were effective? How much of this was due to your own personal engagement or the result of your organized efforts?  (3 minutes each, ~6 minutes total)

Is there something about religion that leads some people to violence? (3 minutes each, ~6 minutes total)

There are all kinds of violence (the violence of oppression [racism, etc.], the rule of your country by another power, etc.) Do you have any comment on how the methods of Gandhi and MLK, Jr. might serve as a model for other situations? [For reference, see R Thurman’s summary of principles of non-violence: https://cres.org/programs2024.htm#ThurmanInBrooks] (3 minutes each, ~6 minutes total)

Since white supremacy in the United States seems intrinsically linked with Christian nationalism, how do you tease apart the religious from the political and how do you fashion an effective response to preserve the peace? (3 minutes each, ~6 minutes total)

The discussion will be ~45 minutes
Q&A (~5-10 min)

Additional questions, if time permits:
Do you have suggestions for how to speak with a family member who has a different religious or political point of view?

#TableOfFaiths   TO UPDATE
CRES applauds the
Greater KC Interfaith Council's annual
Table of Faiths event - with awards to
our friend of many years, Karta Purkh Khalsa,
and a key organization seeking to cure prejudice,
MCHE, the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education,
and remembering CRES Amity Shaman Ed Chasteen



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

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

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



2024 TBA 2022 November 13 Sunday 5 pm CT
“Promoting Interfaith Peace, Renewal and Regrowth” 

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

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


WEDDINGS of all kinds click for information

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

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

see also
our publications page

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


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

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


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

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

David answers questions about Vital Conversations

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

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

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

"Listen with curiosity, not judgement.”  David Nelson

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

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

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

2024 Vital Conversations Schedule

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

2024 January 10 Wednesday 1-2:30 
pm.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com 
In person at the
library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

God Is Red: A Native View of Religion
50th anniversary and earier editions available
Vine Deloria,  Jr. 

The 50th Anniversary Edition and many copies of the original are in libraries and used book stores.  This book remains the seminal work on Native American religious views.  Deloria's classic work reminds us to understand that we are a part of nature, not a transcendent species with no responsibilities to the natural world.  Time magazine named Vine Deloria, Jr. as one of the greatest religious thinkers of the twentieth century.

1. “I have been gradually led to believe that the old stories must be taken literally, if at all possible, that deep secrets and a deeper awareness of the complexity of our universe was experienced by our ancestors, and that something of their beliefs and experiences can be ours once again.” (xvi)
Share your name and location. What do you now embrace from your ancestors that you once doubted or rejected?

2. “What we dealt with for the major portion of a decade was not American Indians, but conception of what Indians should be. While Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was selling nearly a thousand copies a week, the three hundred state game wardens and Tacoma city police were vandalizing the Indian fishing camp and threatening the lives of Indian women and children at Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River. It is said that people read and write history to learn from the mistakes of the past, but this could certainly not apply to histories of the American Indian, if it applies to history at all.” (30)
Why did romanticized views of historic Indians get respected even as contemporary acts of violence and plunder were common?

3.“When AIM (American Indian Movement) captured a dormitory at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and presented a set of demands carefully worked out by sympathetic Lutherans in secret sessions, the Lutheran churches eagerly embraced the Indian cause…In a real sense, Christian churches bought and paid for the Indian movement and its climactic destructions of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) headquarters as surely as if they had written out specific orders to sack the BIA on a contractual basis.” (41)
Why were Christian leaders eager to partner with AIM and address the evils done to Indian families and children?

4. Through nearly two decades while American Indians were rediscovering the integrity of their traditional religions, the rest of American society has torn itself and its religious traditions apart, substituting patriotism and hedonism for old values and behaviors.
Give illustrations of this and discuss why this happened.

5. Developing a sense of ourselves that would properly balance history and nature and space and time is a more difficult task than we would suspect and involves a radical reevaluation of the way we look at the world around us. Do we continue to exploit the earth, or do we preserve it and preserve life? (54)
Read chapter 4: THINKING IN TIME AND SPACE, and prepare to define history, nature, space, and time and discuss how different groups understand them.

6. Both religions (Christianity and Native) can be said to agree on the role and activity of a creator. Outside of that specific thing, there would appear to be little that the two views share. Tribal religions appear to be there-after confronted with the question of the interrelationship of all things. Christians see creation as the beginning event of a linear time sequence in which a divine plan is worked out, the conclusion of the sequence being an act of destruction bringing the world to an end. The beginning and end of time are of no apparent concern for many tribal religions. "The phrase 'all my relatives' is frequently invoked by Indians performing ceremonies and this phrase is used to invite all other forms of life to participate as well as to inform them that the ceremony is being done on their behalf." (76)
Discuss the consequences of this different belief. (Snake dance – Morning Prayer – January 20th)

7. Indian tribes combine history and geography so that they have a 'sacred geography,' that is to say, every location within their original homeland as a multitude of stories that recount the migrations, revelations, and particular historical incidents that cumulatively produced the tribe in its current condition. (110)
Share some of those stories from the book or your own history. Do you have some "sacred geography" in your life?

8. Tribal peoples, who had no difficulty with death, and saw it as part of a natural progression in the stages of life, seem to have no memory of promises of specific delights and rewards. However, they have a healthy attitude toward death that is a result of living completely within the normal earth cycles of life and death. (149)
Compare that to the common Christian idea of death as reward or punishment. Read out loud Chief Seattle's speech on page 159.

9. A substantial number of people believe that becoming a Christian involves a radical change in the human being's constitution. (repent, turn around, be born again, etc.) In contrast to this attitude, the Indian tribal religions do not necessarily involve any significant change in human personality but encompass within the tribal cultural context many of the behavioral patterns spoken about by Christians
(be human, kind, compassionate)." (169) What difference do you see in these contrasting ideas?

10. When we turn from Christian religious beliefs to Indian tribal beliefs, the contrast is remarkable. Religion is not conceived as a personal relationship between the deity and each individual. It is rather a covenant between a particular god and a particular community. The people of the community are the primary residue of the religion's legends, practices, and beliefs. Ceremonies of community-wide scope are the chief characteristic feature of religious activity. (178)
How do you feel about this difference? Do you prefer your religion/spirituality to be personal or community based? Read Chapter 12 THE GROUP and prepare to share your opinion.

11. The status of native peoples around the globe was firmly commented by the intervention of Christianity into the political affairs of exploration and colonization. They were regarded as not having ownership of their lands, but as merely existing on them at the pleasure of the Christian God who had now given them to the nations of Europe
(the doctrine of Discovery). (239-241) Discuss the doctrine of Discovery and it's current status in the world. Why have many Christian organizations taken a stand against it?

12. These crises point to Deloria's most significant contribution to humanity and the balance of life on this planet: a need to see the world—the cosmos—and our human place within it through a new lens… The non-alter-Native worldview Deloria offers essentially does the three things that are much needed. First, it suggests we return to an ancient kinship view of our relationship with the balance of life on this planet. Second, Deloria proposes that space and places should frame our understanding of history, not an abstract timeline view of history like that embodied in the US Manifest Destiny mythology. Finally, Deloria's commitment to human experience as the touchstone for what we think we know could reap tremendous rewards in this age of information and communication technology – driven nowhere spaces selling the Big Lie.” (306)
Do you agree with Daniel Wildcat in his statements offered in the afterword? What other learnings are you taking from this book and our Vital Conversation about the book?

30th anniversary PDF link

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2024 February 14 Wednesday 1-2:30 
pm.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

Postwar Journeys: American and Vietnamese Transnational Peace Efforts since 1975
by Hang Thi Thu Le-Tormala

Hang will be with us on Zoom and will share her rich insights into the relationship between these two nations and how human interaction can heal brokenness after war.  “Underscoring that premise, this study explores US-Vietnam postwar relations through the transnational peace endeavors of ordinary US and Vietnamese citizens.  In an attempt to understand how people transformed their negative emotions into positive actions, and how those acts helped reshape the relations between the two countries, the study choose as its subjects the lesser-known people who endured the effects of the Vietnam War.” (4)

     “The label ‘enemy’ that they had put on one another quickly dissolved, they were but men, women, and children who endured undeletable scars of a destructive violence.  The pains that they shared served as a foundation for their aspirations for peace.  This book presents a picture of vibrant interactions between the two countries in the postwar years.” (6). It has been almost 50 years since The Vietnam War ended.  Many citizens have learned the reality that “there are no human enemies”, we must be conditioned to engage in war.  How has your thinking and conditioning changed in the past 50 years in respect to Vietnam?
“Immediately after Hanoi took over Saigon and ended the war in April 1975, Washington extended the 1964 trade embargo on North Vietnam to all of Vietnam…the United States declined to recognize a reunified country renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV)…The War on Vietnam continued; only the weaponry had changed.” (10-11). Unlike the previous wars in the twentieth century, the United States did not see why it should help reconstruct the country that it had damaged, neither in terms of reparations nor humanitarian aid.” (15) In your opinion, why did the US continue hostile relationships with Vietnam? 

 “Individuals such as Martha Winnacker were groundbreakers for the postwar transnational network of US and Vietnamese citizens who worked for peace and the betterment of people’s lives.” (17)  March 16, 1977, Friendshipment had received donations from 12,852 American for the construction of a hospital on the My Lai massacre…The idea of turning a massacre site into a hospital vindicated a profound symbol of reconciliation…The My Lai hospital, founded on blood stains of a dishonorable past and built by the compassion of borderless hearts, upholds the ideal that reconciliation is always possible.” (21). Citizens, with compassion and courage, did what US as a nation was unable to do.  Men and women donated and dreamed and began nurturing the healing needed.  How can we promote more of these kinds of human responses?

     “The Los Angeles Times defined the boat people as follows: ‘They put to sea in small, overcrowded boats that are easy prey for storms, pirates, and the hostile naval forces of Vietnam and Cambodia.  If they survive – and many haven’t – to reach a foreign shore, they may be interned or turned away and forced to try their luck elsewhere.  These are the ‘boat people.’” (32) Tell some stories of the “boat people” and what happened to them.  Explain the role National Security Advisor Brzezinski, Senator Kennedy, and President Carter all played.

     “Amerasians, children of US personnel and Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War, underwent multilayered discrimination…considered bastard because of the absence of their fathers…Culturally, xenophobia caused many Vietnamese people to be racists against descendants of interracial parents.  Although Vietnam consists of more than fifty ethnicities, few interactions happened among them…’imprisoned in their own skin’”.
(42) Share stories about these children and what they have encountered.  What did reporter Bill Kurtis do?  What about the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, Vietnam Veterans of America, and other organizations?  “Despite the lack of love in their childhoods, many Amerasians nurtured the seeds of tolerance and compassion to effect change.  Born in circumstances of hostility and growing up with a plethora of hatred, they deeply understood the thirst for love.  Their experiences of animosity transformed them into peaceful, loving individuals.  Some even used their nationless states as an advantage to advocate borderless love.” (65)

 “Most noticeable was the participation of America’s Vietnam veterans.  In efforts to heal the wounds of war – for themselves and for Vietnamese people—many US veterans returned to Vietnam.  Together with their former enemies, they build schools, medical clinics, and houses for the disabled.  They organized cultural and academic exchanged, thus creating channels of communication that helped bring Vietnam out of isolation under the effects of the embargo” (76) “Stories of American and Vietnamese veterans working side by side to rebuild their shattered worlds remained little known…It was their shared pasts that drove the closer to one another.  In their postwar struggles to adjust to their societies and to redefine themselves, these former adversaries realized they had more in common than they did with some of their compatriots” (83). In reading these stories we realize that we can now see Vietnam as a country instead of a war.  Read out loud p. 93-94 “Larry Hlavaty…..felt at peace.”

     “At first glance, the bonds among American and Vietnamese people—the people on opposing sides of one of the most devastating conflicts in the twentieth century –may seem paradoxical and unfathomable.  A closer look at the nature of their relationships, however, revealed a logical explanation. The national, and perhaps political, boundaries imposed upon these people were social constructs.  Because they were social constructs, these boundaries were created and recreated over time.  They were but temporary labels.  The one thing that was permanent lay in their shared human emotions.  Despite the military uniforms that they had put on, or the flags that they had chosen to carry, they all want peace—peace of mind and peace for their living space.” (162)  Is war itself an “artificial construct” and can we nurture a global community that refuses to see war as an alternative?

     Tell us about your current research regarding indigenous schools.  How are your students being involved?  How can we learn more about Native American Exhibits?


Clif Hostetler's complete review on Goodreads.com

As indicated by the title and subtitle, this book is a history of postwar relations between the peoples of the two nations, United States and Vietnam. I very purposefully used the term "peoples" in the previous sentence to emphasize the nature of many of the initial actions taken to achieve peaceful reconciliation. In the early decades after 1975 many of these contacts were made in spite of embargoes and trade restrictions imposed at the national level.

I pause here to reflect on the use of the term "transnational" in the book's subtitle. I wondered how the meaning of this word differs from "international." They both refer to crossing national borders, but after reading this book I believe transnational is the appropriate term to use in this case because it has a connotation of somehow floating over national boundaries as if they didn't exist. Such was the case in this history because "individuals or groups of individuals in the United States and Vietnam contested their national boundaries as well as reshaped relations between former enemies."

War is a source of unpleasant memories, and one could at first think that reaching out to communicate to the other side would be painful. But the stories in this book indicate that it is those unpleasant memories of a brutal war and the consequential desire for peace that was the incentive which drove "the painstaking journeys of individuals from varied political, cultural, and social backgrounds" to put those old memories to rest.

To illustrate how people transformed their negative emotions into positive actions, and how those acts helped reshape the relations between the two countries, this "study chose as its subjects the lesser-known people who endured the effects of the Vietnam War. The subcategories of these
people included Vietnamese refugees, children of US personnel and Vietnamese women, US and Vietnamese veterans and their families, relatives of fallen soldiers on both sides, and other civilians who experienced the impacts of war one way or another. The study also highlights the roles of nongovernmental organizations and individuals who strove for peace and mutual understanding through transnational humanitarian and cultural activities."

This book contains four chapters. The following four paragraphs are short descriptions of their content.

The first chapter examines the initial turbulent years following the war. Vietnam was still listed as an "enemy country" by the US government in those years.

The second chapter is about Amerasians-children of mixed US and Vietnamese parentage. Amerasians had the double disadvantage of being ostracized by Vietnamese society and generally grew up in poverty with minimal education.

The third chapter describes the groundwork for normalization by ordinary citizens, with an emphasis on US veterans' contributions, from 1980 to 1994. This was the era in which USA policy inexplicably refused to label the Cambodian Pol Pot regime as "genocidal" because it would result in siding with the Vietnamese government.

The fourth chapter discusses peace efforts after the establishment of diplomatic normalization. This chapter contains some emotionally touching stories about returning keepsakes to families of fallen soldiers and reconnecting family members who had been separated for many years by the war.

I have a rule that I don't give five stars to a book unless I was so emotionally moved by its contents that it brought tears to my eyes—Chapter 4 did that.

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2024 March 13 Wednesday 1-2:30 
pm.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

Forgotten Founders: Black Patriots, Women Soldiers, and Other Thinkers and Heros Who Shaped Early America
by Mifflin Lowe
copies available at the library.
“The purpose of a Vital Conversation is not to win an argument, but to win a friend and advance civilization.” --Vern Barnet.

“Listen with curiosity not judgement.” --David Nelson

 We continue to prepare to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the United States independence in 2026. Never in my lifetime has awareness of the Constitution and the significance of this experiment in democracy seemed so essential. We are now in the midst of a presidential campaign, and we seem so divided.
     The two quotations in red at the top remain my deep desire for a Vital Conversation.  We each have wisdom to share, and we are all capable of listening with curiosity rather than judgment.  It is my hope that these conversations can become models for each of us as we live in a political world. 
     Rather than listing “quotes and questions” this month, I am asking you, the participants, to read and come prepared to share some of your insights and opinions. The book Forgotten Founders: Black Patriots, Women Soldiers, and Other Thinkers and Heros Who Shaped Early America by Mifflin Lowe and illustrated by William Luong, is available in most libraries. We have multiple copies at the front desk at the Antioch library which you can check out. There will be copies on Wednesday so you can come a few minutes early to read and prepare your comments. You could also pick some other resource to explore the women and men on whose shoulders we stand as citizens today.
     Each participant will be given time to share a story of a “forgotten founder” and then assist in a conversation about this ally. The following questions can influence your presentation, but feel free to develop your own way for sharing.
⦁    What impresses you about this person? What attracted you to his/her story? Tell the story in your own words if possible. Tell it as a story with characters, plot, situation, and resolution.
⦁    What can we learn to from this individual?  Why did this person make a difference in their world?
⦁    How can we be better citizens in today’s hotly divided world?
⦁    How can we better use this time from now through 2026 to increase our personal participation in the political world?  How can we lower the temperature in our interactions and increase the wisdom and enlightenment?
     I am requesting you to select one person from the list in the copy below and let me know by email, so we have a rich variety of people to converse about.  I will send out a list several times before Wednesday with the names already selected. --David

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2024 April 10 Wednesday 1-2:30 pm.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith and Citizenship by Diane Butler Bass

The relationship between Christian identity and secular citizenship has been a source of tension and conflict since the fourth century when Emperor Constantine "made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire."* The tragic events of September 11, 2001, renewed the ancient debate about the roles of church and state as people of faith have struggled with issues of war and peace, of terrorism and homeland security.
     Drawing on her personal experience as well as her knowledge of religious history, Diana Butler Bass examines the contour of the uniquely American relationship between church and state. Christian identity and patriotism, citizenship, and congregational life. This book attempts to answer the central question that many are struggling with in this age of terror: “To whom do Christians own their deepest allegiance? God or country?”
While Constantine did become a Christian and supported Christian causes (he convoked the Council of Nicea, 325), he continued the centuries of Roman toleration for a wide variety of religious practices. This wording above from the book cover contrasts with scholarship. For example, in Roland H Bainton's classic Christendom, vol 1, p103: "Theodosius . . . established what even Constantine had never envisaged: the Christian state." Many scholars point to the Edict of Thessalonica, 380, which seems to have decreed Nicene Christianity to be the official state religion of the Roman Empire, though local custom and variation persisted for some time.

Share your name and say something about religion and politics.


1. “President Lincoln knew terrorism and war; he knew about good and evil. Yet at this painful moment in American history, he chose not to invoke God on behalf of victory for his cause. Rather, President Lincoln mused upon the complexities of faith and nationhood for both the Union and confederacy: Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other . . . . The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. . . . With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” (6) What can these words continue to bring to our understanding of the role of politics and religion?

2. “Historian Martin Marty once grouped the two major traditions into the large categories of ‘priestly’ and ‘prophetic’ civic piety. Priestly civil religion tends to bless the established order that fuses a ‘historic faith’ with ‘national sentiments.’ Prophetic civil religion, on the other hand holds the nation accountable to God’s standards and judgement.” (8). Discuss how that distinction clarifies the political rhetoric in this year’s presidential campaign.

3. “To represent who we have become, civic faith needs to be deeply ecumenical and represent the faiths of the whole world.” (9) “I think Americans deserve the democratic process, as well as the spiritual practice, of forging a new sacred canopy of meaning together in community.” (10-11) Do you agree? What would that mean as you converse about politics and religion?
     VERN'S NOTE: A quibble.-- The word "ecumenical" properly used means the "household," the 'whole world" of Christianity, including Lutherans and Catholics, for example; "interfaith" is best used when referring to two or more different religions, such as in a "Christian-Muslim" dialogue. Other important related words are "multifath" and "intra-faith."

4. “The citizens of God’s city may be found in every earthly city. They are scattered among the nations. Their unity in Christ transcends the divisions of ethnicity, class, and nationhood and constitutes a new people who embody God’s reconciling peace. According to biblical witness, Christian citizenship is fundamentally at odds with violence on behalf of the state’s political, economic, and geographical division of humanity.” (28) What would it mean if we really believed that and lived it in our everyday thinking and living?

5. “Redemption is not a matter of human will, moral purity, or military might; redemption is the free gift of a suffering and bleeding God. In the Christian story everyone—and every nation—stands in need of God’s redemption. And the Bible itself teaches that no one, apart from God’s action, is holy.” (54). How can we authentically be both American citizens and baptized Christians? Discuss living our faith in our nation and in other nations.

6. “God changes us through the compassionate hospitality of love. Church is an encounter with a reality only distantly perceived in other parts of life, the place where the veil between earth and heaven is rent, and where through each other, we can finally touch God. Chapel is about controlling the disorder, about making religion easy. Church is never easy the way chapel can be. Church is about the kind of comfort that makes God’s people fearless comforters. Chapel is about what is. Church is about entering into divine chaos, trembling with fear and vulnerability, and finding—at the edges of the universe—God’s suffering, reconciling love.” (82) Say that in your own words and talk about what that means in your congregation or religious organization. What is the difference between being CHURCH and being CHAPEL?
     VERN'S NOTE: This may be misleading. Both church and chapel are Christian places for worship and other activities. (Some chapels may be designated "interfaith.") Generally a church usually has a regular congregation served by permanent clergy such as priest or minister. A chapel is often a part of a larger institution, such as a hospital, military base, or university, or palace, and may or may not have permanent clergy attached; if so, positions may be named dean or chaplain. Chapels may serve restricted groups, such as royal families, sailors, school bodies; and they may have specialized functions, such as memorials or for weddings. It is not unusual for a church to have one or more chapels within it for use for services that are attended by a portion of the congregation.

7. “From the very beginning, the majority of Jesus followers understood themselves to be citizens of God’s city, who repudiated the ‘militaristic nationalism’ of the surrounding culture.” (86) Why do you think that changed? Is it possible to reembrace that earlier understanding of what it meant to be Jesus’s followers?

8. “Christian empire is an oxymoron, fundamentally an earthly impossibility, despite what may seem to be manifestations of it. . . . As Richard Horsley points out, “Many Americans cannot avoid the awkward feeling that they are now more analogous to imperial Rome than they are to the ancient Middle Eastern people who celebrated their origins in God’s liberation . . . who lived in covenantal principles of justice.” (96) How do you sort out your faith and your place in America in 2024? Discuss the distinction God’s Liberation vs. Christian empire.

9. “The cross is our patris; God’s peace is our security. The goal of God’s people is shalom, dedication to a way of life that embodies peace – not security. Ours is a spirituality of exile, of quest for a homeland that remains elusive, and of trust that God’s love is our only true security.” (109) Discuss this vision that for so many seems beyond our current possibility. Should our “reach exceed our grasp” as visionaries have suggested or must we settle for less in our world?

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2024 May 8 Wednesday 1-2:30
pm.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

How to Know A Person: The Art
of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen
by David Brooks.
Video of Brooks speaking about his book.

“The way to heal these great divides in one person at a time.” David Brooks, the celebrated pundit, 62, has turned his gaze to America’s Divisions. “I think as a society we are over-politicized and under-moralized. We spend too much tie thinking about politics and not enough time on the things that really matter, which are having courage and honesty, being honorable and being capable of great love.

I have learned something profound along the way. Being openhearted is a prerequisite for being a full, kind, and wise human being. But it is not enough. People need social skills. The real process of, say, building friendship or creating a community involves performing a series of small, concrete actions well:

• Being curious about other people;
• Disagreeing without poisoning relationships;
• Revealing vulnerability at an appropriate pace;
• Being a good listener;
• Knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness;
• Knowing how to host a gathering where everyone feels embraced;
• Knowing how to see things from another’s point of view.”

Releasing Conversation: Share your name and your star and arrow.
Put star * by the one above you do best and could teach others.
Put an arrow > by the one above you need to develop more.

Read p. 16-17 out loud. Define “BEHOLDING” and share moments you have experienced it.

“Features of the Illuminator’s gaze:
1. Tenderness
2. Receptivity
3. Active Curiosity
4. Affection
5. Generosity
6. A Holistic Attitude

“Every man bears within him the germs of every human quality, and now manifests one, now another, and frequently he is quite unlike himself, while still remaining the same man.” (36) “Morality is mostlyabout how you pay attention to others. Moral behavior happens continuously throughout the day, even during the seemingly uneventful and everyday moments.” (38). As you continue to mature and grow in integrity describe how David Brooks reflections are helpful to you. Share illustrations from your own life.

Read page 64 out loud. “Constructionism is the recognition, backed up by the last half century of brain research, that people don’t passively take in reality. Each person actively constructs their own perception of reality.” (64) Discuss what this reality means to you and those your know and love.

Nonobvious ways to become a better conversationalist.

     1. Treat attention as an on/off switch, not a dimmer. SLANT method: sit up, lean forward, ask questions, nod your head, track the speaker. Listen with your eyes. That’s paying attention 100 percent.
     2. Be a loud listener. When another person is talking, you want to be listening so actively that you’re practically burning calories.
     3. Favor Familiarity. Find the thing the other person is most attached to. It’s your job to draw out what lessons they learned and how they changed as a result of what happened.
     4. Make them authors, not witnesses. They don’t only want to talk about what happened; they want to know how you experienced what happened.
     5. Don’t fear the pause. Because speaking and listening involve many of the same brain areas, so once your go into response mode, your ability to listen deteriorates.
     6. Do the looping. If you try this looping method, you realize often you are interpreting people incorrectly.
     7. The midwife model. A midwife is there not to give birth but simply to assist the other person in creation.
     8. Keep the gem statement at the center. This is the truth underneath the disagreement, something you both agree on.
     9. Find the disagreement under the disagreement. Being curious about your friend’s experience is more important than being right.
     10. Don’t be a topper. If you want to build a shared connection, try sitting with their experience before you start ladling our your own. (74-81)

“Life tasks: The Imperial Task (self-centered) > The Interpersonal Task (greater capacity to experience another person’s experience) > àCareer Consolidation
> The Generative Task > Integrity verses Despair. Wisdom at this phase of life is the ability to see the connections between things. It’s the ability to hold
opposite truths—contradictions and paradoxes—in the mind at the same time. . . . . It’s the ability to see things from multiple perspectives.” (190-211) Can you reflect on your life and how you have navigatedeach of the life tasks? Have some come more easily that others?

“There’s a certain spot on this earth that is somehow sacred, the place where you come from, the place your never quite leave.” (230) What is that place for you? It may be your hometown or a space you often visited, as a child and adult.

“What is culture? It’s a shared symbolic landscape that we use to construct our reality. People who grow up in a different culture see the world differently – sometimes on the most elemental level.” (237) “But people are not passive vessels into which culture is poured; each person is a cultural con-creator, embracing some bits of their culture, rejecting others – taking the stories of the past and transforming them with their own lives. To see a person well, you have to see them as culture inheritors and as culture creators.” (236). Describe cultures you have inherited, cultures you have encountered and cultures you have created.


Clif Hostetler's complete review on Goodreads.com

In this book the author David Brooks makes reference to an array of literary, scientific, and psychological sources using an engaging writing style that is easy to follow. He shares personal anecdotes as well as profile stories of others to illustrate his message. The title uses the term "how to know a person," which seems to me could be rephrased as "how to be a better friend."
     The book is divided into three parts, the first of which consists of seven chapters that describe various tools and techniques that can be used to aid in the process of getting to know another person. An example of one such tool is being self aware of functioning as a “diminisher” or “illuminator” during encounters with others. Brooks admits that this and other tips discussed in Part 1 assumes relationship occurring “as if we live in normal times.” But we don’t live in normal times with healthy cultural environments where “webs of friendship, trust, and belonging” can be counted on to foster positive relationships.
      Part 2 of the book addresses relationships within today's hostile environment, and is titled "I See You in Your Struggles." It explains how to know somebody within an “environment in which political animosities, technological dehumanization, and social breakdown undermine connection, strain friendships, erase intimacy, and foster distrust.” These obstacles as well as various human tendencies create obstacles to mutual understand in relationships. Many people are affected by experiences of trauma and depression which need to be recognized and acknowledged appropriately.
     And finally in the five chapters of Part 3 titled “I See You with Your Strengths” the book explores pockets of resilience that can usually be found in human relationships if one looks for and encourages them. The variety of energies found in human personalities as well as the healing properties of life tasks and stories are examined in this part of the book. It concludes with a discussion of “What is Wisdom?”
     I as a reader can hope some of the insights and wisdom presented in this book might rub off on me and make be a better friend, but I doubt it will turn me into an extrovert.

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2024 June 12, Wednesday 1-2:30 
pm. David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

The Education of Corporal John Musgrave: Vietnam and Its Aftermath by John Musgrave.

John Musgrave looked forward to the day he could serve his country as his father had done. He served in the Vietnam War until in the Vietnam jungle a chest injury nearly killed him. John vividly describes the difficulty of returning home to a society rife with antiwar sentiment, his own survivor’s guilt, and the slow realization that he and his fellow veterans had been betrayed by the government they served. I met John as he ultimately found peace working to end the war. Musgrave writes honestly about his struggle to balance his deep love for the Marine Corps against his responsibility as a citizen to protect the very troops asked to defend America at all costs. John will be with us to have a conversation about staying human during a time of deep divisions.

Friends: Below is a brief statement about "Patriotism - Needed in 2024." I am inviting all of us to engage in the conversation as we prepare to commemorate our 250th birthday in 2026, which I wrote to invite you to ponder what patriotism means to you and to share in a Vital Conversation in June.

Patriotism — Needed in 2024
David E. Nelson — The Human Agenda

Patriotism — noun, the quality of being patriotic; devotion to and vigorous support for one's country.

I am writing this on Memorial Day: 20242 a holiday celebrated since the end of The Civil War of remembering those who have served in the armed forces of the United States and have died. Originally it was called "Decoration Day": referring to the practice of decorating the graves of men and women who served in the military. Today: there is more talk of weather, travel: and the beginning of summer season. This moming: however: I am pondering something much more important: at least for me. This nation is just a few months away from our 250 birthday: July 42 2026. Many claim we are even more divided politically than any other time in our life. All three branches of the govemment of the United States are being criticized and attacked. The media is as divided as the nation: with the internet providing a platform where any story can be published and shared regardless of its basis in facts. Even current events are presented through different lenses that result in little consistency of understanding reality.

Patriotism to me means accepting that the United States of American is my country and I arn both devoted to it and responsible for it. This nation has made some serious mistakes: but it is not a rmstake: arid we can continue to leam from the past to nurture a continuing promise of the founding patriots. Patriotism takes many forms, including unifonned support and civil protest. Patriots can be men and women: old and young: gay and straight: rich and poor: white arid people of color: republican and democrat__ _ you get the idea. No one definition or action stands unique or alone in the behaviors of patriotism. I will illustrate my thinking with three vignettes from my current experiences.

The Vietnam War played a major role m the years of my education and early adulthood. I became involved in the movement to end the war I felt was a mistake. I had many allies in that movement. John Musgrave, also from Kansas, proudly served in the Marine Corps until a life changing Injury sent him home: where his welcome was less than gracious. We met at a rally, both protesting the war. John writes about his • 'survivor's guilt" and the slow realization that he arid his fellow veterans had been betrayed by the government they served in his book, The Education of Corporal John Musgrave: Vietnarn and Its Aftermath. John is a patriot and his actions as both a manne and a protester demonstrate his love for and devotion to his country

One of the worst mistakes we made in Vietnam xvas the tragic My Lal massacre. It is a stain on our nation's integrity. Our mutual fiend: Hang Thi Thu Le-Tormala: in her book, Postwar Journeys: American and Vietnamese Transnational Peace Efforts since 1975, shares an important story. By March 16, 1977, Friendshipmenthas received donations from 122852 Americarls for the constmction of a hospital on the My Lai massacre site. "The My Lai hospital, founded on the blood stains of a dishonorable past and built by the compassion of borderless hearts, uphold the ideal that 
reconciliation is always possible." America makes mistakes: but this nation is not a mistake. We learn from our mistakes arid reclaim compassion and action.

A second vignette involves The Haskell Indian University in Lawrence: Kansas. I attended the graduation ceremony May 3: 2024. This US government institution was part of a mistaken idea that the indigenous population of this land needed to be "civilized" and educated to be more like the European American population that continued to dominate the United Staes culturally. It is a sad and tragic chapter in our nation: and we clearly recognize now that it was a mistake. Graduation was a powerful and emotional gathering ofthousands to celebrate their sons and daughters: completion and reception of a variety of degrees. It was a celebration including tribal customs and rituals that embraced their rich culture and renewing it for this and fiture generations. America makes mistakes but it is not a mistake. We have learned about this past behavior and nurtured its trarlsformation_ Some of the students are being trained to interview former students to further document and address the past wrongs.

My final reference is a response to Peggy Noonan's column m last Saturday's Wall Street Joumal. She writes that we should 'Teach Your Children to Love America." I could not agree more However, when she suggests "We live in an age—I'll say this part quickly as we all know it — in which children are instructed in 100 different portals that America is and always was a dark and scheming place, that its history is the history of pushing people around, often in an amoral quest for wealth but also because we aren vepy nice. And we never meant it about the Declaration." I must take exception. I grew up m a W)rld where we learned about the past: mistakes and all: but was taught: we are not a mistake. We are a nation that is not afraid to study arid discover to the best of our ability's truth. But we are not stuck there.

Learning about past mistakes is an important exercise in patriotism. Our founding parents: our government through the almost 250 years have attempted to lead and nurture the habits of good citizens. The record is, of course, uneven. Even m our reading of history we will be divided as to what was good and what was not good or even evil. But we must continue the search for insights and nuggets of history that reveal the tmth most accurately. The temptation to change our narrative based on contemporary understandings is not healthy and will not bring greater unity. To attempt to rewrite the truth about history to pursue our current carldidate or policy IS: itself: a mistake. Yes: we make mistakes: but we are not a mistake. The United States is an exciting and noble effort at forming a nation: not based on geography but on an idea that the power belongs to the people: all the people. This nation will survive the current divisions and continue to be a message of hope to the W)rld community as we recognize that like all other countries: we make mistakes: and we learn from them to do better. We press on to form amore perfect union for all who live in this precious land.

Clif Hostetler's complete review on Goodreads.com

This memoir begins with the author's enthusiastic enlistment to join the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He was 17 years old, but was 18 by the time he reported for bootcamp training. He looked so young at the time that a reviewing officer asked to see his proof of age. He shares in considerable detail his experiences in bootcamp which to me seemed needlessly rough and overly focused on details of behavior and speech. Nevertheless as described here, the training seems to have resulted in strong identification and pride in being a Marine.

The next part of the book tells of his experiences in Vietnam. At first he was assigned to an infantry unit guarding a military police unit which didn't satisfy the author's desire to see combat action. So when the opportunity was available to transfer to an infantry unit near the DMZ he took it. He then tells in jarring detail the experiences of combat including killing another human at close range and physical discomforts of jungle warfare.

His combat deployment came to an end when he received a serious chest wound which once he reached medical care resulted in one doctor
calling for a chaplain because he couldn't do anything for such a serious wound. Fortunately another doctor saw things differently and saved his life. From there the author returned to the States and worked hard on rehabilitation hoping to be able to rejoin the war. But he was unable to pass the requited physical tests and was discharged from the Corps.

The author's disability benefits enabled him to attend college where he encountered considerable antiwar sentiment. At first he resisted the antiwar activities, but slowly his perceptions of the war changed. He began to see that he and his combat units were asked to fight under circumstances which made the war unwindable and thus futile. He joined a new organization called Vietnam Veterans Against the War and for a time became a spokesman for the group in the midwest region.

Today the author works with issues related to PTSD and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. He was interviewed in the documentary The Vietnam War produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

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2024 July 10, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 pm.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541 Passcode: 076621

  announcement pending

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2024 August 14 Wednesday 1-2:30 pmDavid Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

announcement pending

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2024 September 11 Wednesday 1-2:30 pmDavid Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

announcement pending


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2024 October 9 Wednesday 1-2:30 pmDavid Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

announcement pending

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2024 November 13 Wednesday 1-2:30 pmDavid Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

announcement pending

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2024 December 11 Wednesday 1-2:30 pmDavid Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

announcement pending

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

Click here for 2025 Vital Conversations.

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