— 2d Wednesday of the month 1-2:30 pm
Coffee — 4th Wednesday of the month
Bias — 2017 Oct 25 Wednesday 9-11 am
Has Science Eclipsed Religion?
details pending, but don't miss the Aug 21 eclipse!
2017 and 2018 PROGRAMS to be announced
Weekend 2018 Feb 9-11— details pending
a Pluralistic World —
2018 May 7 – July 27 —
Vern teaches the graduate
credit course C-RP511
Baptist Theological Seminary
years, click here TFN
book events, click here
— 2017 Feb 2 Thurs 7 pm
Religions Lectures — 2017 Feb 17-18 Fri-Sat
Even Evil Will Ordain the Good — 2017 Mar 8, 15, 22, 29
video from this Lenten series
Dialogue and Friendship Dinner — 2017 Apr 6
Anniversary of Church founding ] — 2017 Apr 6
This is the church from which CRES developed.
of Faiths ] - Interfaith Council
Annual Dinner — 2017 May 9
Intern Geneva Blackmer ] receives
degree — May 10
— the movie — May 18 Thurs 7 pm
[ A 75th Birthday
] a personal entry May 25
Pride Service — 2017 May 31 Wednesday 7 pm
Are Vital Conversations 2017 July 12 Wednesday 1-2:30 pm
of all kinds click for information
We can provide a customized
ceremony or direct you to a wedding chapel with low-cost package services
(flowers, photographer, etc.)
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.
our publications page
in progress: KC Star, Many Paths
columns and fresh essays:
Families of Faith and the Three Crises of Secularism
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,
or other work
with your organization
please visit www.cres.org/work/services.htm
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
IN LIGHT, MUSIC, POETRY
Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, 13th at Broadway,
Kansas City, MO
Our Feb 2 Thu 7pm was a highlight of the season.
Our reports of this successful and complex event
The original announcement included this information:
The Mass for Four Voices by William Byrd
The 13-member Sacred Arts Chorale directed by Dr
with music for lute and other instruments by Beau
and with readings by Matt Schwader from
Vern Barnet’s Thanks for Noticing
This observance of a traditional Christian
feast day is honored with references to many faiths around the world, from
the Paleolithic to the present, in the sonnets selected for the occasion,
embraced by music from Elizabethan times when the English sonnet was defined
by Shakespeare, the Quadricentennial of whose death we also mark.
on World Religions
2017 Februrary 17-18 Friday-Saturday
Vern lectures in Atchison on world religions for
students in the Benedictine Sister's Souljourners
spiritual formation program leading to spiritual direction ministry at
the Sophia Center, 751 South 8th Street, Atchison, Kansas 66002
Vernn described the three families of faith by stellinh
stories suggesting where they typically find the sacred; epitomizing texts
were studied; Buddhism and Islam were given special attention; and the
benefits of interfaith exchange were celebrated.
A LENTEN SERIES
Potluck at 6p, program 6:30-7:30.
Episcopal Church of the Redeemer
7110 N. State Route 9, KCMO 64152; (816) 741-1136
When Even Evil Will Ordain the
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD
THE 8-PAGE PDF
AVAILABLE THROUGH HOLY WEEK
Using themes from world religions to illumine our
own tradition, the Reverend Vern Barnet, DMn, explores the powerful mysteries
of the crucified and resurrected love of our Savior through the texts of
sonnets from the "Credo" section his new book, Thanks
for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire.
Vern wrote the Wednesday
"Faith and Beliefs" column 1994-2012 for The
Kansas City Star and now writes for each issue of the diocesan magazine,
Spirit. He founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989. He is a
very happy lay Episcopalian.
Mar 8 - The Jesus of History or the Christ
82; Mar 8 -79; Mar 15 - 80
(? 85); Mar 22 - 84; Mar 29 -
Mar 15 - A Paradox of Salvation
Mar 22 - The Gospel Theater
Mar 29 - The Mystic Vision
Through Eastertide, download
the 8-page study guide in PDF
video of the study group reading Sonnet 88
Art to illustrate the themes
Two views of an icon of Christ teaching and Vel?zquez’s
"Christ after the Flagellation contemplated by the Christian Soul" Mar
8 and Mar 15
A modern enactment of the crucifixion.
Dali's "Last Supper" Mar 29
The Dialogue Institute
Kansas City, UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion, and UMKC's International
Dialogue Student Ass'n cordially invite you to the
12th Annual Dialogue and Friendship
Members of different cultures join to enjoy cultural
Global Warming of Hearts: Love and Acceptance
2017 April 6 Thursday 6-9 pm
UMKC Student Union Multipurpose Room 401
5100 Cherry St, Kansas City, MO 64110
Invocation: The Reverend Vern Barnet,
Host Committee: Peggy Dunn,
Mayor of Leawood; Carl Gerlach, Mayor of Overland Park; Ron Slepitza, President
of Avila University; Marvin Szneler, Executive Director of JCRB - AJC;
Jeremiah Morgan, Stake President- the Church of Jesus-Christ of LDS; William
B. Rose-Heim, M.Div, Regional Minister and President Christian Church of
Greater Kansas City; Sheriff, Calvin H. Hayden, Sheriff, Johnson County
The evening featured Eve Levin, PhD, as Keynote
Speaker, chair, History Department, University of Kansas. Donna Ziegenhorn
presided over the evening with music by Cindy Novelo, remarks by
Slepitza, and awards given to Dr Jospeph Sopich, the Down
Syndrome Guild, and Cornerstones of Care. Music was provided
by Cindy Novelo
The Invocation by Vern, wearing a stole with symbols
of many world religions, appears below.
on the theme "Global Warming of Hearts:
Love and Aceptance"
SPIRIT OF UNDERSTANDING,
called by different divine names
in diverse languages and faiths,
You include us, you gather us together
a sundry concentration from many
our hearts seeking to warm the globe
SPIRIT OF UNDERSTANDING,
We are joined in our journey
As a flower is joined with earth,
As a river is joined with the ocean,
As a bird is joined with the sky.
SPIRIT OF UNDERSTANDING,
You have made us differently,
just as the stars and the waters,
and the land, and the air
are different elements of being,
though we are united without being
SPIRIT OF UNDERSTANDING,
You do not make us regimented, nor
copies of each other.
we are not given identical dispositions,
for we have different gifts, all
sacred, for one another,
no one of which alone adequately
points to your infinite and awesome glory.
For where there is no awe, there
will be disaster.
For where there is no gratitude,
there will be selfishness and self-deception.
For where there is no love of service,
there will be grasping and disintegration.
Save us, O SPIRIT OF UNDERSTANDING,
and may this inclusive evening together,
as we delight in conversation with
as we giver thanks for our food,
our cooks, and our servers,
as we learn from our speakers,
as we are cheered by our musician,
as we applaud the insights and labors
the Dialogue Institute, the sponsors,
and our honorees,
May you, O SPIRIT OF UNDERSTANDING,
dwell more fully within us
as we, in the splendor of the world's
celebrate love and acceptance in
a global warming of hearts.
--The Reverend Vern
Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist
Observes 50 years
Vern was the congregation's second minister, 1975-1984.
He appears in the middle of the top row of the church's archive wall of
photographs of former ministers, with the incumbent, Rose Schwab, shown
in the final picture, who graciously recognized her predecessor during
the celebration 2017 May 7. It was in the seventh year of Vern's ministry
that the congregation encouraged Vern to begin CRES.
TABLE OF FAITHS
The splendid annual event of the Greater Kansas City
Interfaith Council recognized the Dialogue
Institute KC with an award, accepted by Greg Reike and Eyyup
Esen, shown here on either side of the Council's founder, Vern Barnet,
who retired from the Council in 2005 and gives praise to his successors
for the enhancement of interfaith work in the region, who received the
first Table of Faiths award after his retirement from Mayor Kay Barnes
at the 2005 event. Other recipients include Donald and Adele Hall and Ed
Chasteen (2006), Alvin Brooks and The Kansas City Star (2007), The Rev
Robert Lee Hill (2008, Ahmed El-Sherif and All Souls Unitarian Universalist
Church (2009), Notre Dame de Sion High School (2010), The Kansas
City Public Libraries (2011), Unity Church of Overland Park (2012), The
Lisa Barth Interfaith Chapel, Childrens Mercy Hospital (2104), The Nelson-Atkins
Museum of Art (2015) and the Blue Valley School District (2016).
Sophia Kahn, MD, was this year's recipient
of the Steve Jeffers Leadership Award, shown here in the middle with some
of many friends and admirers. She was recognized for her efforts in many
fields, but on this occasion particularly for or inspiring leadership in
"KC for Refugees." Previous recipients include Queen Mother Maxine McFarlane
(2010), Donna Ziegenhorn (2011), Mayor Sly James (2012), Bambi Shen (2014),
the Rev Dr Wallace Hartsfield Sr (2015) and Shakil Haider (2016).
For the Cultural Crossroads report of the event,
Congratulations to CRES intern Geneva Blackmer
on completing her bachelors degree! Athens State University President Robert
K Glenn hands Geneva her diploma at the 2017 May 10 graduation ceremony.
And Geneva was inducted into Theta Alpha Kappa,
the National Honor Society for Religious Studies and Theology!
- The Movie
May 18 Thurs 7 pm Tivoli Theatre
Al Brooks, Donna Ziegenhorn, Sunyananda
discuss the movie afterwards with
Sacred immerses the
viewer in an exploration of spirituality across cultures and religions.
At a time when religious hatreds dominate the world’s headlines, this film,
sweeping in global reach and yet intensely intimate, explores faith as
primary human experience: how it is used to navigate the milestones and
crises of private life. Directed by Academy Award® winner Thomas Lennon
and shot around the globe by 40 filmmaking teams.
Presented with the cooperation of CRES
by Open Circle Spiritual Cinema Series
May 18 Thurs 7 pm
At a time when religious
hatreds dominate the world’s headlines Oscar-winning director Thomas Lennon
commissioned 40 independent filmmakers from more than 25 countries to explore
faith as a primary human experience and how people turn to sacred traditions
to navigate the milestones and crises of daily life.
The result is an immersive
exploration of spirituality across cultures and religions sweeping in global
reach and yet intensely intimate. Told without narration, without experts
and, for long stretches, without words at all, the film draws the viewer
into a string of private moments, sometimes for just seconds, at other
times in depth. Each filmmaking team contributed a single scene capturing
a unique moment in a key passages of life - from a young Muslim father
in Egypt chanting the call to prayer for his baby who is only minutes old
to coming of age moments in Spain, India and Israel,
The film arcs through
marriage and the trials of adulthood through to the rites to those ways
which we remember and treasure our dead. An epic and kaleidoscopic cinematic
As folks entered the theater, they were given a
Involving many faiths and cultures, a world-wide collaboration: "Sacred"
After the movie, Alvin Brooks, Donna Ziegenhorn, Sunyananda Dharma, and
Vern Barnet, moderator, join the audience in the discussion.
questions to explore:
1. What does “sacred” mean to you — before and after seeing the movie?
2. What delighted or challenged you unexpectedly?
3. What is “sacred” in your own life?
4. What would you ask the panelists?
Jamie Rich, who runs the Spiritual Cinema Series,
introduced Vern who named the panelists. Vern said that in his 47-year
career, no word has intrigued him more than "sacred" as a key to understanding
paradigmatic experiences for others as well as for himself. The film episodes
were organized into in three segments (initiation, practice, passage),
in each third, scenes from Mt Hiei, home of the "Marathon Monks," appear,
where Vern studied as a young man. Vern concluded, "What is sacred? --
Many answers are suggested by the multiple scenes we are about to witness.
You may find some puzzling; some may touch your heart."
Vern noted that since there movie offered no overarching
narration, the movie was an unusual approach for discussion. The movie
opened and closed with birthing scenes. In between, a Muslim father singing
the Call to Prayer to his newborn child, a Holi festival, a live crucifixion
with real nails during Holy Week, the Hajj, rewrapping of ancestral bones,
a bris, a boxing match and sermon in prison, group Tai Chi practice, various
forms of prayer (including one who methodically prayed for others), a Buddhist
initiation, a couple visiting a fertility shrine and on a porcelain phallus
writing their hope to see their first child soon before placing the object
on a prayer shelf, a half-sari ceremony, a baptism, workers in protective
gear removing dead bodies in the Ebola crisis who think that the disease
proves God is angry, an Apache dance, a wedding, a Muslim boy affirming
that suicide-bombers go to hell, and dozens of other largely unexplained
Some of the questions prepared for the
does "sacred" mean to you, or come to mean to you as you watch this movie?
episode or image in the movie best expressed what is sacred to you?
challenged you unexpectedly?
did you have your own most profound or beautiful experience of the sacred?
5. If you
could offer an experience of the sacred for others, what would it be?
prevents our society from accessing the sacred more often?
7. How might
sharing sacred experiences benefit us individually and as a culture?
What great panelists! -- Al Brooks, Donna Ziegenhorn,
and Sunyananda Dharma. Each had previewed the movie and responded to a
couple questions Vern asked to begin the discussion, and then to audience
responses. Examples: Al discussed the importance of faith for those in
prison and cited an innocent prisoner who waited thirty years for
freedom. Sunyananda explained why Buddhist boys had finery placed on them
as part of their initiation into monkshood before their heads were shaved,
and how mala beads are used and what they mean, demonstrating with his
as he spoke. Donna lamented that the movie did not display folks of many
faiths joining together, which let to a celebration of the opportunities
we have in Kansas City.
A member of the audience engages
the panel with his insight.
From his experiences in Africa and the Philippines,
an audience affirmed the sincerity of practices that may seem strange to
those of other cultures and called for our respect of them. The conversation
ranged from to comparing the crucifixion to the Sun Dance (quite a sophisticated
comment from an audience member). The last question led to a discussion
of what assimilation means, and Vern reminded the audience that free Kansas
City "Interfaith Passports" were available at the rear of the auditorium.
Perhaps this movie creates an appetite for a less
haphazard and more informed movie to explore how different folks and cultures
experience the sacred; and with the insights of the panelists, the audience
was enabled to envision both personal and social ways in which our lives
can be more frequently and more powerfully touched by the sacred.
Al, Vern, Sunyananda, and Donna after
Although expectations were for about 100, some estimated
the crowd at twice that size, most of whom remained after the movie for
A 75th Birthday
I stepped on the scales on my 75th birthday, I was delighted to have reached
my goal of weighing less than 130 pounds. This is down from a pudgy 154
a year or so ago. The day was off to a good start. (The new goal is 125.
I still want to fit into pants I found decades ago.) And I did my 30-minute
brisk walk in 28 minutes.
May 25 is also the birthday of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He would be 214 years old. Emerson lasted three years as a Unitarian parish
minister; I served fifteen, for which I am grateful; thereafter my career
status as a Unitarian Universalist minister changed from “parish” to “community”
minister, and now “retired.” Like Emerson, I have read beyond Christian
literature, with most of my work devoted to interfaith activities. I would
have argued with him about lots of things, including communion, which he
felt he could no longer administer with integrity. His doubts about Christian
beliefs were modern of the sort perverted by the Enlightenment. A Transcendentalist
and a Romantic, his individualistic themes have helped to bring us less
the development of character and more the Gospel of Greed and Ayn Rand
and now Donald Trump. If Emerson had understood the Eucharist better as
the loving and just sharing of divine grace, maybe the benefits of his
influence would have been less likely to have been ccorrupted. May his
birthday encourage me to be ever self-critical and benefit from learning
from others. My own sins should make me more understanding of others; and
even if God may have forgiven me, I need to be mindful of past and potential
wickedness lest I become untethered from the earthly realm in which the
joy of duty best fulfills.
Speaking of the Eucharist: my day’s highlight was
attending Mass at the church where I am a member, Grace and Holy Trinity
Cathedral (Episcopal). The liturgical calendar this year gave my birthday
the extra blessing of the Feast of the Ascension.(See
Acts 1:9, Mark 16:19--an appendix not in the oldest manuscripts, Hebrews
4:14, and an interpretation of Psalm 110 and Daniel 7:13; Luke 24:51-52
is doubtful; clearly the story is a later tradition influenced by cultural
patterns, and the feast developed even later.) The sixth of the
Cathedral chancel windows depicts this final episode in the story of the
earthly life of Jesus. I love the entire set. Christ, at last untethered
to the earthly realm, is that freedom in the mystics’ raptus beyond distinctions,
or, to use a Buddhist phrase, “entering the gate of the not-two doctrine,”
an ecstasy to be enjoyed but not possessed; as the disciples could not
cling to Jesus, the mystic may be changed by the experience, but must not
cling to it. One must let it go.
One of the 154 sonnets in my book, Thanks for
Noticing, is called “Ascension.” It refers to a painting by El
Greco, “The Holy Trinity.” It looks like an Ascension theme to me, but
it is unlike the typical magisterial portrayal of Christ ascending into
the heavens from the earth. Instead we see the dead-like body of Jesus
lovingly embraced by the Father in heaven, with the Holy Spirit hovering
as a dove. I think it is useful to look at the Ascension not only from
the human point of view, but also the divine, and surely one of the things
we can imagine the Father seeing at the moment of Ascension is the horrible
affliction wrought upon His Son, which is his very Being. (As a father,
I have an inkling of what it is like to see a son damaged.) And thus the
model and sacred story of redemption in compassion.
Ascensions, assumptions, and other risings (sometimes
with apotheosis) into heaven are common in Judaism, Egyptian, Greek, and
Roman ancient religions and of course the Hellenistic culture (my favorite
is, of course, Ganymede, but Hercules also deserves mention), alchemy,
shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Islam, Mesoamerican traditions, Daoism, and
other faiths. Two thousand years from the Christian story’s setting, we
know you can’t find God above the clouds anymore than you can find him
below; that above 30,000 feet, oxygen is pretty thin and you’ll shiver
and die; that we have airplanes and spacecraft of various sorts to leave
the ground; and the message of the Christian story may be less an astronomical
tale than a paradigm image of the exaltation of the Savior as divine, the
mystical union with God, and for us below to do the healing work of love
He has given us to do here right on earth.
Unannounced, Vern began the sweeping ceremony from
the front entrance of the church, sweeping up the central aisle, from the
back to the front of the pews, using the words below.
With this broom,
we sweep away the prejudice
that has infected every faith,
a prejudice that makes love a secret, or a scandal,
or a crime,
even a sin requiring damnation,
a bigotry that has damaged so many religions
and has even caused good folk to reject faith.
We sweep and sweep as we are cleaning our world
by restoring our community,
polishing the floors of understanding,
washing the windows of awareness,
scrubbing out the smudge of bias,
the blot of hatred, and stain of fear,
cleansing ourselves of internalized chauvinism.
We are sweeping the past into the waste pile of
that we may be fresh and natural in affirming all
celebrating the sacred power of affection and love,
sweeping us into the epoch of
Unity, Justice, and Faith,
Standing up, proud, in love.
Healing Religious Bias
October 25, 2017 Wednesday 8:30 /
engages with the Cultural Competency Collective of Greater Kansas City.
The group's mission is to create a sustainable community process to provide
culturally appropriate care and reduce disparities in service to clients,
students and peers. CCCofGKC members are largely human service providers
– mental health, behavioral health, social welfare, education and more.
an overview of world religions, discusses their representation in Kansas
City, offers a working definition of bias, and presents best practices
in providing culturally competent service. This program design offers great
Our community and the world can be healed from
its religious prejudice and fragmentation by learning how to talk with
others about their faith perspectives. This session includes information,
theory, and practice.
Learning Community Session Objectives:
At the end of this session, participants will
be able to:
1. Identify typical attitudes
toward other faiths and common misconceptions about religion such as "All
religions believe in God."
2. Appreciate where the
three families of world religions find the Sacred: nature (primal faiths),
personhood (Asian traditions), and the history of covenanted community
3. Practice interfaith
conversation skills for safe, meaningful, two-way discussions.
4. Identify basic local
* “The Three Crises of Our Time,” from Thanks for
Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire (1 page) download
* “Harmony in a World of Differences: Interfaith
Works” (3 pages) download
* Excerpt from The Essential Guide to Religious
Traditions and Spirituality for Health Care Providers (7x2 pages) download
A Vital Conversation Coffee
2nd Wedneday of the month
MidContinent Public Library
6060 N Chestnut Ave, Gladstone,
You are welcome even if you
have not read the book or seen the movie
A Free Monthly
Discussion Group Led by David E Nelson
C R E S senior associate
“The purpose of a Vital Conversation is not to
win an argument,
Vital Conversations are intentional gatherings
of people to engage in dialog
but to win a friend and advance civilization.”
that will add value to the participants and to
the world. In Vital Conversations,
we become co-creators of a better community. --David
The discussions began May 24, 2002,
at the CRES facility
by examining Karen Armstrong's
Battle for God
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.
Vital Conv. Coffee
an open exchange of ideas
with no preset agenda
4th Wednesday monthly
311 NE Englewood Road
2017 January 11
Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. According to the National Women's
History Museum, "Sarah Moore Grimke and Angelina Emily Grimke' were the
only white people of either gender who were born in the upper-class South,
but rejected that luxurious lifestyle to fight against slavery. They also
were among the very first to see the close connection between abolitionism
and women's rights." In this novel, based on their story, boundaries are
crossed, friendships are made, cruelty is revealed, and hope survives.
Seldom Seen: A Journey into The Great Plains by Patrick Dobson. In
May 1995, with nothing but a backpack and a vague sense of disquiet, the
author left his home and a steady deadening job in Kansas City. Over the
next two and a half months he made his way to Helena, Montana. He not only
meets a series of very interesting people and makes a difference in their
lives, but introduces the reader to a clearer understanding about the meaning
of relationships and life.
Canoeing the Great Plains: A Missouri River Summer is part two of this
adventure in our wonderful part of the country. This time Patrick travels
down the Missouri river and communes with nature and people. As the miles
float by and the distinctions blur between himself and what he formerly
called nature, Dobson comes to grips with his past, his fears, and his
life beyond the river.
Patrick Dobson joined us for this fascinating conversation.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Between 1854 and 1929, so-called
orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands
of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would
be determined by pure luck. The National Orphan Train Complex is located
in Concordia, Kansas. Several of you have visited this complex and others
could visit it soon. This book follows the story of several specific children.
You can explore and bring additional stories to the conversation. For NPR's
broadcast, go to http://www.tinyurl.com/hfs4ezn.
Silence by Shusaku
Endo. It is the story of a Jesuit missionary sent to 17th century Japan,
who endures persecution in the time of Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden Christians")
that followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion. The recipient of the
1966 Tanizaki Prize, it has been called "Endo's supreme achievement" and
"one of the twentieth century's finest novels." Written partly in the form
of a letter by its central character, the theme of a silent God who accompanies
a believer in adversity was greatly influenced by the Catholic End?'s experience
of religious discrimination in Japan, racism in France, and a debilitating
bout with tuberculosis. The movie based on this book was released
in January of 2017.
Six Degrees: Our Future
on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas. Six degrees may not sound like
much, but as this sobering, engrossing, up-to the minute book warns, a
six-degree rise in Earth’s average temperature would be enough to reshape
our world almost beyond recognition. Mark Lynas explains the processes
and examines the effects of this unprecedented phenomenon, drawing on the
full range of state-of-the-art research and sophisticated computer models
that show conclusively that today’s climate change is a new and different
The Wolf at Twilight:
An Indian Elder’s Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
by Kent Nerburn. Some journey's take a lifetime to complete, especially
when you are on another person's time. The author returns to visit an Elder
Indian friend who has a strange but delicious request. First is the burial
of his dog and second is to find out about a long-lost sister. Kent's commitment
to assist in the long search results in a deepening understand between
friends and a growing respect for another culture. Something’s we will
never understand, but lack of understanding need not hinder love and compassion.
|Click on this book cover to download an OCR'd
PDF of the final chapter with Vern's highlights in red.
In David's absence at Vital
Vern leads the discussion.
See the report
Chances Are… Adventures
in Probability by Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan.
fascinating layman's trek through probability theory, from its roots in
dice games in the seventeenth century to its role in modern-day thermodynamics,
tackles humanity's innate need to seek order in even the most chaotic phenomena.
The authors, a mother-and-son team, address simple problems (How many shuffles
make a deck of cards truly random? At least seven) and more complex ones
(Can time move backward? Yes, but it's unlikely).
They do not avoid mathematical equations, but both have backgrounds in
the humanities, and their sense of whimsy—"Once you know that daisies usually
have an odd number of petals, you can get anyone to love you"—allows them
to draw stimulating conclusions.
The New York Times
March 31, 2006
Books of The Times | 'Chances
Are . . . '
Wonders Are Possible. Alas,
the Odds Are Another Story.
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Life is a gamble, and the
English language reflects it. It's common to speak of betting the house,
rolling the dice or going for broke. The language of the roulette table
and the poker hand apply to all sorts of situations, because uncertainty
and risk haunt nearly every human decision, from crossing the street to
investing in the stock market.
In "Chances Are," Michael
Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan look at the role of chance in human affairs, and
the efforts of the best minds to measure and tame it by constructing a
science of probability. Their freewheeling tour takes them from the dice
tables of ancient Rome to the offices of maritime insurers in London, who,
like their predecessors in ancient China and Renaissance Italy, make their
living analyzing and managing uncertainty. So do military strategists,
weather forecasters, prosecuting lawyers and the fascinating Gordon Woo,
a terrorism expert at a risk-analysis company. All are united, as the authors
nicely put it, in a great human endeavor, "the endless struggle against
Who knew? Mr. Kaplan, a former
producer and director at WGBH television in Boston, and Ms. Kaplan, his
mother, an archaeologist who runs a foundation called the Math Circle,
have hit on a great subject, and they explore it, down through the centuries
and across the globe, with an enthusiasm that borders on glee. You can
almost hear the chalk on the blackboard as the equations and the word problems
fly by at top speed, and the action moves from the earliest attempts to
predict the odds of rolling certain numbers with a pair of dice to current
ideas about entropy. It's a dizzying, exhilarating ride.
The authors choose their examples
cleverly and explain them through arresting metaphors. Take Bayes' theorem,
a highly influential formula to measure confidence in the probability of
a single event based on the experience of many events (say, the probability
that the sun will rise tomorrow). Presenting the theorem entails a fair
amount of math, as do many of the ideas in the book, but after unloading
a page of equations, the authors explain the complexities of weighted probability
combinations this way: "Casanova's chance of seducing the countess depends
on how swayed she is by charm times the likelihood that he will be charming
plus how repelled she is by boorishness times the chance that he will be
Bayes' theorem, like the bell
curve, turns up in unexpected places, most strikingly the courtroom. "Chances
Are" includes a chapter on efforts to apply probabilistic reasoning to
legal argument and to the presentation of evidence to a jury. Many intriguing
case studies follow, most showing that lawyers cannot be trusted with numbers,
and that juries cannot understand them.
Doctors are not much better.
In a dismaying test of probabilistic reasoning, doctors and hospital administrators
were asked to grade four cancer-screening programs. Program A reduced the
death rate by 34 percent, Program B produced an absolute reduction in deaths
of 0.06 percent, and Program C increased the patient survival rate from
99.82 percent to 99.88 percent. Under Program D, 1,592 patients would have
to be screened to prevent one death. The doctors and administrators strongly
recommended Program A, but, in fact, the four sets of numbers describe
the same program.
Before scoffing, chew on the
now famous Monty Hall problem, named after the host of "Let's Make a Deal."
A contestant knows that concealed behind three doors there are two goats
and one new car. The contestant chooses Door No. 1. The beaming host opens
Door No. 3 to reveal a goat, and then asks the contestant if he would like
to change his choice to Door No. 2. Two doors add up to a 50-50 proposition,
obviously. So why bother? Because the odds have actually shifted. The chances
are now two out of three that changing to Door No. 2 will obtain the car.
In the 17th century, governments
took advantage of the average citizen's inability to assess probability
by selling annuities, a type of insurance policy in which the buyer, in
essence, bets that he will live longer than most other people. As with
all casino bets, the house held an edge. The government possessed mortality
statistics, regarded as state secrets, and used them to rig the odds. It
also relied on basic psychology, "the instinctive belief that everyone
dies at an average age — except me."
The Kaplans cover a lot of
ground very quickly, but they have a finely tuned sense of where the general
reader is likely to lose a grip on the math, or on the complexities of
an argument, and adjust accordingly. A timely example, or a well-placed
quotation, relieves undue pressure on the brain, and the fast pace helps
reinforce one of the book's central points, that questions of probability
surround nearly every aspect of our daily lives. A strategy of "calibrated
incoherence," for example, can lead to victory in a game of rock/paper/scissors,
and police departments are quite interested in probabilistic algorithms
that allow them to map crime patterns.
In the end, of course, virtually
nothing is certain. The best-formulated theorems of probability have failed
to pick winning stocks consistently. But, as the authors point out, "some
forms of uncertainty are better than others." That's probably true.
Copyright 2006 The New York
Report [the preview appears here]
Jerry Grabher makes a point as
Temp Sparkman and the group listen.
Vern began the session by
quoting Ecclesiastes 9:11–12: “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle
to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor
favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one
can anticipate the time of disaster.”
He then proposed that the book for this month's discussion is a book on
theology disguised as a history and exposition of statistics. After all,
Pascal (1623–62), the first to imagine that chance could be studied to
find patterns in chance, was concerned not only dice but also with saving
his soul, a concern which is now known as Pascal's Wager.
Then each person took a turn
responding to question A; then a second round with question B.
A. When in your life did
you take a chance, and how did it turn out?
B. About what are you
certain, and why are you certain?
Then, from a "deck of cards,"
each one of which contained one of the following quotations from the book,
each participant, in random fashion, took two cards which formed the basis
of the ensuing discussion.
search for certainty and call what we find destiny. p1
possible, yet only one thing happens—we live and die between these two
poles, under the rule of probability. p1
[Gorgias taught], since nothing actually existed; or if it did, it could
not be known; or if it could, it was inexpressible. p3
remarked that he did not believe God would play dice with the universe.
The probabilistic reply is that perhaps the universe is playing dice with
[believed] that staying in bed until noon [so he has become] the hero of
every well-read adolescent . . . p21
People not only
see patterns; they cannot resist them. p 80
De Moivre saw
God revealed in the pattern of randomness. p38
We need betting
to remind us of our habit of drawing conclusions from insufficient evidence;
we must remember that being too sure of anything is likely to end [poorly].
The law of averages
rules each play [in a game of chance] much as the Tsar of All the Russias
ruled any one village; absolutely, but at a distance. p63
. . . the golden
rule of religion, “Bear ye one another’s burdens. p86
is well-shuffled, there is no Probabilistic reason that any one pack of
cards should be in the same order as any other that has ever been dealt
in the entire history of card playing. p65
can never be achieved . . . ; the aim is what Bernoulli called “moral certainty,”—in
essence, being as sure of this as you can be of anything. p88
There were three
doors available; now there are two. I don’t know what’s behind either door,
so its an even split whether the [prize] is behind door 1 or 2. p72
[As forms of
insurance developed,] there was a general worry about what seemed like
betting on the will of God. p94
If you want to interest him, quote a statistic. p116 “What usually happens”
is a concept that slides all too easily into “what people like us usually
do.” Christ’s parables employed likelihood in the first sense . . . p179
eighteenth century, population and mortality were considered state secrets.
p128 Justinian had intended to give the world law; unintentionally, he
gave it lawyers. p 181
The true foundation
of theology is to ascertain the character of God. . . . . The study of
is thus a religious service. — Florence Nightengale, p 138
If, in the absence
of all other evidence, we agree to odds of 1 in 73 million against two
cases of SIDS in the same family, what . . . are the odds against two cases
of infanticide? p195
[T]he mean life
span of English monarchs was shorter than that of their gentry, indeed
so much shorter as to suggest the counter-efficacy of prayer. p141
We can continue
to err, as long as we err in ways we find familiar. p197
were baffled; a third of them decided the probability was 90 percent; a
sixth thought it was 1 percent. It would have made a big difference to
the [patient]. p 170
The great defender
Charles Darrow sought out Congregationalists and Jews, but strove to purge
his juries of Presbyterians. p204
. . . History’s
most dangerous men are those who believe they know how the game ends, whether
in earthly victory or in paradise. p276
Nothing in physics
requires that we live from past to future; its just a statistical likelihood.
What are we
doing when we describe the world — but creating an algorithm that will
generate those aspects if its consistency and variety that catch our imagination?
In the world’s
casino—this place of danger and pleasure we leave only at death—we
place our different wagers, each at his chosen table. p291
Our senses are
not wonderfully sharp; what’s remarkable is our ability to draw conclusions
from them. p294
Has it occurred
to you that the lust for certainty may be a sin? p300
Tribe: On Homecoming
and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. We have a strong instinct to belong
to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding -- "tribes."
This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining
it may be the key to our psychological survival.Combining history, psychology,
and anthropology, TRIBE explores what we can learn from tribal societies
about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains
the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better
than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are
sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. TRIBE
explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be
achieved even in today's divided world.
The Worst Hard Time
by Timothy Egan tells the story of those who survived the Great American
Dust Bowl. Some of our parents could be a part of these stories.
After reading the book, you can further prepare by interviewing some of
your elders who either remember or have stories they were told about this
period in the Great Plains between 1901-1939. Timothy Egan is the same
author who wrote The Big Burn which we discussed in Vital Conversations.
Islam and The Future of
Tolerance, A Dialogue Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz (respectively,
author of The End of Faith and author of Radical).
We have read and discussed both these authors in the past. In this short
book, you are invited to join an urgently needed conversation: Is Islam
a religion of peace or war? Is it amenable to reform? What do words like
Islamism, jihadism, and fundamentalism mean in today’s world?
One Hope: Re-Membering
the Body of Christ. 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning
of the Reformation. The split between Roman Catholics and Lutherans
played a major role in that series of events that changed the Church.
This is a resource for those interested in exploring greater cooperation
between part of “The Body of Christ.” The essays in One Hope are
the product of an intense collaborative process by six gifted scholars
and pastoral leaders, three Lutheran and three Catholic.
Appreciative Inquiry Evaluation
of Past Year and Planning for 2018
Selections are subject
to change. If you would like to be reminded and have additional information,
contact David Nelson at email@example.com or call (816) 453-3835
ABOUT CRES PARTICIPATION
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