279. 991229 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Weighing gains and losses as the year 2000 nears
A thousand years ago Islam was the dominant religion
on the planet, and remained so through half of the millennium.
When Christians discovered ancient
learning enhanced by the Muslims, Christianity was renewed. The Renaissance
gave people a new way of thinking about themselves. The printing press,
the rise of science and the development of democratic ideals of government,
inspired in various ways by faith, in turn reshaped Christianity and other
religions, and the idea of individual religious liberty developed.
Of the largest four religions with
over 70% of the world's population, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism,
all began before the current millennium. Sikhism, Unitarian Universalism,
Baha'i and the Asian "New Religions" have all emerged since 1000, but they
total less than 5%.
While Jews are less than half a per
cent of the world's population, Jews and Muslims number about 6 million
each in America today.
From Marco Polo's travels to the East
to today's electronic communication and images of the earth from space,
a new global awareness raises questions about whether faiths are independent
of the cultures in which they arose.
From the Crusades to the Holocaust,
and even more recently, persons of faith have perpetrated and suffered
from violence. As the millennium nears an end, perhaps we are learning
to appreciate, rather than be threatened by, diversity. This lesson is
But perhaps the greatest loss of the
millennium for most religions has been the fading of a pervasive sense
of the holy into the vapors of secularism.
278. 991222 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Celebrate Christmas without the Santa Conspiracy
My teen-age son warns me not to write about Santa
Claus: "You'll really get slammed." How welcome are words against the overwhelmingly
secular distortions of Christmas all around us?
The first problem with Santa is the
conspiracy--I will not call it harmless--that causes trusting children
to believe a fantasy is a reality. While many favor the Ten Commandments
in the school and courthouse, somehow lying to children at Christmas is
Some parents tell me they feel the
culture forces them into the Santa conspiracy. But there is another way.
From his first Christmas, my son's mother and I told him that we were
Santa, so he came to understand Santa as a cultural role, not a
person. We never lied to him. What kind of model for children are
parents who lie?
Secondly, Santa distracts us from
the core Christian message of God's incarnation as hope for a corrupt world.
Santa sometimes becomes part of the corruption. We think messages like
this are cute: "Dear Santa, Please give me a tank, a jet fighter, 20 green
soldiers, and a bazooka gun. I'm planning a surprise attack on my brother.
So don't tell anyone. Thanks, Danny."
Such gifts encourage greed and violence
at the celebration of the birth of one called the "Prince of Peace."
Many of non-Christian faiths are quite
aware of these blemishes within the standard observance of Christmas. My
son also knows this is why, in my interfaith work, I sometimes blush to
be identified with such a heritage.
If you celebrate Christmas, may it
277. 991215 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Kansas City influences institute's global
Growing out of the World Council of Churches in
the 1950s, the Chicago-based Ecumenical Institute in turn developed into
the Institute of Cultural Affairs. Its mission was to bring spiritual values
to global development.
From Brussels, Richard H.T. Alton,
its secretary general, came to Kansas City last week, he said, "to meet
with people at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, the Kauffman
Foundation and others to learn about innovative approaches to social change
developed here, especially with a focus on youth."
Alton serves on a team planning the
Institute's next global conference, July 30 - Aug. 5, 2000, in Denver.
Donna Ziegenhorn, Kansas City marketing consultant and writer, says this
is the first time the Institute's quadrennial meeting will bring participants
from around the world to North America since the series began in 1984 in
Ziegenhorn, who persuaded Alton to
visit Kansas City, has been a volunteer with the Institute for 25 years.
She is eager to bring the Institute's global experience to America. "The
Institute began with an American Christian perspective. As we have worked
in other countries, we have incorporated the spiritual wisdom of other
faiths. We find ourselves enriched and expanded. The meeting next summer
brings back to our own country some of what we have gained elsewhere."
"Using a millennium theme," Alton
said, "the conference is an opportunity for those involved in changing
the world to share with each other what they have learned is successful"
in community youth development, environmental sustainability, lifelong
learning, philanthropy, the arts, decision-making processes and spirituality
of proselytizing accompany faiths
By HELEN T.
GRAY - The Kansas City Star
- "Pope calls for missionaries
to spread Catholicism throughout Asia."
- "Buddhist and Hindu
priests unite against missionaries."
- "Southern Baptists pray
for Jewish conversions."
Recent headlines have compelled
the public to talk about religious tolerance and proselytizing. The question
of whether religious tolerance negates the right to make converts is a
bound by their religion's mandates to spread their faith while others say
proselytizing implies a presumption by one religion that it is superior
Baptist prayer guide recently was aimed at Hindus as they celebrated Diwali,
stating that "more than 900 million people are lost in the hopeless darkness
Baptist pastor Robert Collins of Plaza Heights Baptist Church in Blue Springs
said the Bible commands Christians to proselytize. "We would be disobeying
(God) not to convert people."
But Marvin Szneler, the executive
director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee,
has a problem with the practice. "Proselytizing assumes that someone is
right and someone has a wrong religion."
"Many Christians feel that
salvation is impossible except through explicit acceptance of Christ,"
said the Rev. Vern Barnet, an expert in world religions. "In various periods
of the faith, though often mixed with political and social intent, this
led to forced conversions.
Muslims have been required to make others aware of God's will, but the
Qur'an specifically prohibits forced conversions. Hindus have no need to
convert anyone. This is because many Hindus believe that there are many
paths to God.
like most Asian faiths, is based more on inner experience and social relationships
rather than on explicit creeds. With the exception of some Nichiren schools,
Buddhism is more likely to assimilate and accommodate than seek conversion."
Interviews with Kansas City
area Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Hindus revealed a wide range
of attitudes toward proselytizing. Their views often reflected their faiths'
approach to conversion.
McCormally, pastoral associate at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, agrees
with the pope's call to spread Catholicism throughout Asia.
with St. Francis of Assisi that we should spread the Good News of Jesus
Christ everywhere and always, but use words only when necessary," she said.
"That means we should bring a Catholic Christian presence to all corners
of the world, including Asia, in ways that build up the human family, not
fill our pews. I believe we need to spread mercy and love and forgiveness
said she believes in the God of her faith, "but I'm not worried or concerned
that someone who believes differently from me is going to hell."
Collins said Jesus Christ
is the only way to salvation. "God's desire is that we all come to know
him. And it comes back to the central issue, how many ways are there to
know God, and I go back to John 14:6 -- `No one comes to the Father but
by me.' So for me, it is laid out in Scripture.
would say I'm not respecting other faiths. But I am respecting their right
to disagree without being disagreeable."
Muslims also believe it is
important to tell people about their faith, said Syed Hasan, a University
of Missouri-Kansas City professor.
it is wrong to ask others to become a part of my faith without having first
given them the opportunity learn about it," he said. "The best way to do
so is to set the example from one's personal code of conduct that Islam
requires all Muslims to follow in every walk of their lives."
Frank Loeffler, an employee
benefits specialist, said he has no problem explaining his Jewish faith
to non-Jews. "Historically Christianity has made a life peril of Jews talking
about their religion to others so the rabbis made it difficult for non-Jews
believes that proselytizing is a function of freedom as long as it doesn't
infringe on the rights of others.
"All religions in their own
ways point to the spiritual goal of bringing their followers closer to
God," said Anand Bhattacharyya, retired engineer and former president of
the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Kansas City. "There may not be
anything wrong with telling other people how good my religion is, but it
is wrong to try to convert other people to my religion.
wrong because it implies that my religion is superior to yours. Let us
not forget that `my religion is superior' mentality has caused a lot of
conflicts and bloodshed throughout human history. It is time to learn from
In addition to differences
on proselytizing, many people of various faiths define religious tolerance
and freedom of religion differently.
tolerance isn't being wishy-washy about what I believe, but it's about
respecting the other and his/her search for a belief and value system that
works for them," McCormally said.
like Szneler, preferred to focus on diversity. "Tolerance can mean to endure
something that is painful or disgusting, so to tolerate someone who is
different means that there is a prejudice there.
tolerance sometimes means almost something bad. `I think the other person
is bad; I'm prejudiced against him, but I'm willing to tolerate that person.'
But diversity is enriching: `It's great to be with someone who is different.'
Thomas Roberts, managing editor
of The National Catholic Reporter, was pleased that his youngest son's
best friends in New Jersey were a Hindu boy from India and a Muslim boy
kids gained anything, it was a sense of what faith gave to people and the
deep meaning that faith has for others," he said. "They knew Catholics
who took their faith seriously, and it was good to see people of other
faiths who took their faith seriously. Did that make for some interesting
Hill, a Methodist and retired teacher, the concept of freedom of religion
"means having the right to worship my God as I want to without pressure
from anyone or anything."
tolerance, she said, "means my religion is right for me, and I want it,
and if you have a belief that satisfies you, we are all happy."
Gregory Parr, director of a homeless ministry, religious tolerance is "three
or four individuals from different denominations not flattening either
of the other's car tires after a group Bible study."
More than one way
Opinions varied as to whether
religious prejudice is a problem in the Kansas City area. More agreed it's
a problem in the country at large. Some pointed as examples to the burning
of churches in the South and the shooting at the Jewish Community Center
in Los Angeles.
A. Ghosheh, a Muslim who runs a home-based business, criticized the way
some in the news media rushed to conclude that Muslims were responsible
for the Oklahoma City bombing. Such statements "resulted in burning mosques
in Oklahoma City and in many other American cities," he said.
was critical of the entertainment media's bias against Christians, with
the current film Dogma as an example.
is Hollywood's attempt to make God seem like a silly creature who has human
flaws." A bias also exists against conservative Christians among some segments
of society, he said.
intolerance and prejudice are also tied to racial prejudice and intolerance,"
said Elaine Solheim, a Methodist and data entry clerk.
a handyman, recalled being picked on as a boy and getting into fights because
he is Catholic. Religious prejudice seemed to fade by the mid-'60s, but
it appears to have made a comeback in the last 15 years, he said.
directed at myself or others, I still feel the same response to it as I
did in my youth," he said. "Only now I'd be arrested for mayhem."
Following are suggestions
on how to foster more understanding between faiths:
people of other faiths in open discussions, said Gouri Chaudhuri, a Hindu
and loan processor.
diversity training, promoting awareness and integration rather than assimilation,
said Dilip K. Das, a Hindu and chemical engineer.
a religion course in schools that incorporates the salient features of
all faiths, Das said.
opportunities for people of all faiths to come together to learn about
each other, Hasan said. The Center for Religious
Experience and Study is an example of a group
that proides some opportunities, he said.
people, Szneler said. His mother and father were the only survivors in
their respective families of Nazi concentration camps. Jews were killed
only because they were Jews and certain people hated Jews, he said.
this type of thing is going on around the world; there's terrible religious
intolerance," he said. One solution is to sensitize people through education.
talking and keep learning the skills and tools for dialogue, McCormally
to learn that there is more than one right way to do just about everything,
whether it's raising a family or running a school system or leading a life
Helen T. Gray, religion editor at The Star, call (816) 234-4446 or send
e-mail to email@example.com
1999 The Kansas City Star
276. 991208 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Be thankful for the faiths of the world
Jews are now celebrating Hanukkah, tonight Muslims
look for the new moon that begins the month of Ramadan and for over a week
Christians have been observing Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas.
Dec. 18 Jains commemorate the five kinds of holy beings: monks, teachers,
religious leaders, enlightened masters and liberated souls.
Zoroastrians mark the death of the
prophet Zarathustra Dec 26. Wiccans celebrate Yule at the solstice. And
Kwanzaa, originated in 1966 as an African-American cultural festival, is
now included on some calendars as a religious holiday, Dec. 26-Jan. 1.
What holidays will be on the calendar
in the year 2999?
Zoroastrians are heirs of a tradition
that originates in Iran before recorded history. Their faith has influenced
Judaism, Christianity and Islam profoundly, though seldom is the debt acknowledged.
But those who cherish religious diversity worry that in the next 1000 years
Zoroastrians, now not much more than 100,000 world-wide, with a few families
in Kansas City, will disappear.
Will Jews fade from intermarriage
or face new genocidal threat? Our own nation only recently protected practices
of American Indian tribal religions, decimated by conquest. Will Tibetan
Buddhists, exiled from their own country, succeed in maintaining their
identity in the future?
As this century began, Buddhism seemed
about to disappear. It now enjoys new vigor. As the millennium began, Islam
seemed the dominant world faith. Is the rise of Christianity only temporary?
Let us not take the precious holidays
of our own -- or others' -- faiths for granted.
275. 991201 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Imam inspired by interfaith edict
We must move beyond dialogue to living with each
other without labels," says Imam Bilal Muhammed, returning from an interfaith
conference at the Vatican. Muhammed, leader of Kansas City's Inshirah Mosque,
is inspired both by the joint declaration concluding the meeting and the
relationships growing between Islam, the Catholic Church and other faith
This does not mean we all become alike,
says Muhammed, as he points to a passage in the declaration: "We are all
aware that interreligious collaboration does not imply giving up our own
religious identity but is rather a journey of discovery. We learn to respect
one another as members of the one human family. We learn to appreciate
both our differences and the common values that bind us to one another."
Muhammed also emphasizes the declaration's
refusal to allow religion to justify hatred, violence, discrimination and
The 230 delegates from 20 faiths met
under the auspices of Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze's Pontifical Council
for Interreligious Dialogue Oct. 24-28 with the participation of the Pope.
Imam W. Deen Muhammad of Chicago,
who since 1975 has led Black Muslims into greater inclusivity, and helped
to dedicate Inshirah Mosque in 1997, also spoke at the Rome event and embraced
not only other Muslims but those of all faiths.
Bilal Muhammed is especially grateful
for the hospitality of a world-wide Catholic group, the Focolare, which
practices establishing the bonds of unity in acts of love with everyone
one meets, regardless of religious background.
274. 991124 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Giving praise best way to give thanks
The impulse to give thanks is universal among the
world's religions. Even in suffering, when one feels least like singing,
faith offers a wider perspective from which to view and balance the immediate
distress. "Count your blessings" is an old prescription; no drug can improve
The Pilgrims lost half of their company
their first winter in this land. Of the original hundred and so, at one
point only about half a dozen were well. For the sick they did the cooking,
the washing and -- in the words of William Bradford's
History of the
Plymouth Plantation -- [[ FOLO ]] "all the homly and necessarie offices
. . . which dainty and quesie stomacks cannot endure to hear named."
Bradford adds that they did not complain
but served "cheerfully."
What is the vision which enables cheer
and service to others?
The world's religions use different
words to point to the Ultimate, but they all remind us that life is an
awesome gift. Experiences of awe, for which worship readies us, are the
very fires of faith. Without being consumed, we burn with the holy.
But when such experiences pass, we
can honor them even in the most desperate circumstances by igniting the
flame of gratitude and passing it on through service to others. Even in
accepting the flare from others, we help to expel the darkness.
The Thanksgiving feast of 1621 is
enlarged by our remembrance of the Pilgrims. To their light we must add
the holiness of repentance for the violence brought to this land and its
native peoples, for importing slaves and denying their freedom and for
the prejudices which still mar America.
More than by turkey or pumpkin pie,
we are nourished by rendering praise.
273. 991117 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Interfaith talk starts with own faith
Opinions differed about last Wednesday's column
reporting the friendship developing between members of the Hindu Temple
and the Full Faith Church of Love West in Shawnee.
A gentlemen who has been phoning me
for years and never identified himself commanded me to speak with the pastor
of the church because he was sure I was misrepresenting it.
I talked with Pastor Hal Linhardt.
He had read the column and said that what I quoted from the missionary
and the young people in his congregation "expressed the Lord's attitude."
Another caller said that Christians
did not commit atrocities against Hindus nowadays. He did not offer any
disapproval of the practices some Hindus, especially in rural areas in
India, claim are forced conversions to Christianity.
The column quoted a Southern Baptist
statement, "Hindus have no concept of sin or personal responsibility."
I can understand why a caller questioned whether this was taken out of
context. It is hard to believe those acquainted with Hindus could write
such a statement, or this, also in the Baptist document: "Mumbai is a city
of spiritual darkness. Eight out of every 10 people are Hindu, slaves bound
by fear and tradition to false gods."
The denomination, which selected the
Jewish High Holy Days to pray for the conversion of the Jews, chose Divali,
a Hindu festival, for converting Hindus.
A Jewish caller, like most readers,
liked the column because it offered hope that here in Kansas City people
of various faiths can be more accepting of others.
Most religions do not encourage conversion.
The Dalai Lama, for example, rather than asking people to become Buddhists,
suggests that Christians become better Christians, Muslims become better
Muslims and so forth. It is a bold suggestion.
272. 991110 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Christians, Hindus in harmony
Radical Hindus in India, some of whom have committed
atrocities against Christians, used the visit of Pope Paul II earlier this
week to protest attempts to convert them to Christianity. In this country,
Southern Baptists have added Hindus to Jews on their list of those to proselytize,
especially during last week-end's celebrations of Divali, the Hindu festival
But here in the Kansas City area last
Saturday, Hindus welcomed Christians to their Divali festival as the fourth
event in a developing relationship between the Full Faith Church of Love
West and the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center a quarter mile north on Lackman
Mindy Peterson, one of a dozen young
people from the church, said she made the visit to the Hindu site because
she "wants to learn" about her neighbors. Jean Haley thinks it is important
"to develop friendships with people from other cultures." Susan Blake said
"We need to see that not everyone is the same. We need to get out of our
Pratibha Trivedi, president of the
Hindu group, had visited the church some months ago with other Hindus.
"The Christians were very friendly. I enjoyed myself," she said.
Previous exchanges have included a
lecture, a play and two meals shared together. Both Hindus and Christians
said no one was trying to convert anyone else.
Gene Flanery, a missionary with the
church, disagrees with the Baptist statement that "Hindus have no concept
of sin or personal responsibility." "Hindus are very responsible, very
conscientious," he said.
Replacing fear with friendship, transforming
suspicion into mutual enjoyment and trading condemnation for knowledge
may be a holier path than insisting others must practice our own faith.
271. 991103 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Creation stories combine in Genesis
According to most scholars, embedded in the two
creation stories in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, are materials
far older than the Hebrew text.
The first story parallels a creation
myth of the earlier Babylonians. In the Enuma Elish, darkness envelops
the primordial deep, personified by Tiamat. Tehom, the Hebrew word
for what the darkness envelops, is a linguistic relative.
The subsequent events in the Enuma
Elish are light emanating from the gods, the creation of the firmament,
then dry land, then luminaries, then humans. The gods rested. This order
of creation is echoed in Gen. 1:1 to Gen. 2:3.
Some later theologians decided that
God created the world from nothing, but the Genesis story tells of a God
who creates the heaven and the earth out of watery chaos.
The second creation story, in
Gen. 2 and 3, varies from the first and appears to have been written as
much as 500 years earlier. Animals are created before humans in Gen. 1,
but animals are created after Adam in Gen. 2. The word for God in Gen.
2 is Yahweh, while in Gen. 1 it is Elohim. While Elohim seems to be a spirit,
Yahweh, like the talking serpent, is more human-like.
Blaming a woman for trouble, the serpent
and improvising a way to cover nakedness are three details that can be
traced to another ancient writing, the Epic of Gilgamesh. The great theme
they share is the loss of immortality and the wisdom gained by the loss.
The Gospel of John contains a third
way of talking about creation, transforming language similar to the much
older Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Differences between earlier and later
texts reveal developing understandings of the divine.
270. 991027 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
-- Reader, please note: a headline
writer, not author, is responsible for titles.
Reverend upholds U.N. mission
For the Rev. Robert H. Meneilly, supporting the
United Nations is a religious duty. As he accepted the 1999 World Citizen
of the Year award at the Mayor's United Nations Day Dinner last Wednesday
at UMKC, he pledged to explain the UN to those who do not understand its
mission and who fail to support its funding.
Meneilly is pastor emeritus of Village
Presbyterian Church which he founded in 1947 in Prairie Village.
He said the church "in which I was
nurtured from my earliest childhood taught me that God loves the world
very much, that every person in the world bears the image of God and is
to be respected as a child of God. I was taught that the only way one has
of loving God is by loving our neighbor, and that every person in the world
is my neighbor."
Meneilly completed his theological
training as the United Nations was being created. "I was proud that my
own country was promoting a new world organization based on the sovereign
equality of all peace loving states. I reveled in the birth of the United
Modern transportation and communication
suddenly made us "world neighbors before we knew how to live together as
neighbors," he said. But in the UN he saw a way "to carry out the very
social tenets of my faith as well as those of the other historic religions.
I saw the possibility of a secular organization carrying out the will of
a Sovereign God that our exclusive ecclesiastical bodies were not doing
Those presenting the award to Meneilly
noted his many local efforts, such as work with Partnership for Children
and Harvesters, as well as his international concerns, which included participation
in the Paris Peace Talks on Viet Nam.
269. 991020 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Interfaith leader leaves liberation legacy
A leader in interfaith cooperation, Nikkyo Niwano
died Oct 4, at age 92. Long before I first met him in 1984 in Tokyo, his
work inspired my own interest in opportunities for dialogue among the world's
Niwano and Myoko Naganuma founded
Rissho Koseikai, now a major branch of Japanese Buddhism, in 1938. He taught
that true liberation is to be rid of greed, aggression and self-delusion,
and that all things are interrelated.
Discovering this in one's own
life is possible through the hoza, a lay-led counseling circle.
Using the Lotus Sutra as a guide, the group members come to understand
their own difficulties by hearing and helping with others' problems. The
is sometimes compared with self-help groups in the U.S. and with the early
Buddhist community, the sangha.
Niwano believed that only when we
realize that we are not separate from others can we discover our own true
Pope John Paul II and other religious
leaders honored him. In 1979 he was awarded the Templeton Foundation Prize
for Progress in Religion. He had enormous impact on post-war religion in
Japan. He established the World Conference on Religion and Peace and served
as president of the International Association for Religious Freedom.
I cherish a gift from Niwano, a hanging
with his calligraphy representing "the spirit of a new community." Though
Buddhist in idiom, it moves beyond particularity to recall his world-wide
labors and his message of global kinship. It points to the service we must
offer one another to be free.
268. 991013 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Community that prays together lives longer
"Research shows that people who participate in religious
communities live 7 to 14 years longer than those who do not," says Harold
G. Koenig, MD, director of Duke University's Program on Religion, Aging
In a telephone interview I asked him
if it makes any difference what you believe. "Yes," he responded. While
most of the research has been within the Christian setting and studies
comparing different religions are just beginning, he says that people are
"more likely to do better with illness if they believe in a loving, caring,
compassionate God, one who is for you, rather than a punishing God, watching
you to catch you making mistakes."
His findings include reduced risk
of cardiovascular disease and cancer, stronger immune systems, lower stress
and quicker recoveries from surgeries for people of faith.
The author of over 100 articles, 22
book chapters and 7 books, Koenig says that interest in the relationship
between medicine and spirituality "goes back thousands of years." Nevertheless,
connecting religion with physical and mental health is "a rapidly developing
area of medicine with increasingly credible research."
Koenig is interested
in both outright healing and in better results for those with chronic problems
like Alzheimer's. He also studies how those who care for the sick benefit
from religious support.
Koenig will be in Kansas City Oct.
23 to discuss "The Effects of Religion on Physical and Mental Health" in
a morning seminar sponsored by the South Central Region of the Association
for Clinical Pastoral Education. For information about attending, call
the Pastoral Care Department at Health Midwest, 276 4120.
267. 991006 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Emptiness becomes positive in 'Heart Sutra'
The "Heart Sutra" is perhaps the most commonly chanted
of all Buddhist scriptures. One sense of "heart" is gist or core; "heart"
also refers to the compassion the sutra intends to engender.
Summarizing an earlier sutra of 8000
lines, it is only 262 words in Chinese. Dated variously between 150 and
350 C.E., it sets forth a key Buddhist view of emptiness.
What is emptiness? The sutra says
that everything is empty, and the sutra seems full of denials and contradictions,
even as it claims to soothe.
In fact, Najarjuna, a 2nd Century
logician some think wrote the sutra, used the problem of talking about
everything to show the limits of language. We cannot speak of the infinite
with words that apply to parts, distinguishing one thing from another.
He anticipated the analysis of language by 20th Century philosophers like
Wittgenstein. Both suggested that nothing whatsoever can be affirmed of
"Emptiness" thus becomes a therapeutic
method to see that nothing exists as an independent entity. Ultimately
everything is related. Everything is in process. Nothing is permanent.
No Absolute exists. The Western conception of individual identity or soul
is rejected. We are who we are because of our parents, because of air to
breathe, because of the domestication of fire. Our origins and shapers
are infinite and we are fuzzy.
Even the Buddha's famous Four Noble
Truths are denied in this classic Buddhist scripture because clinging to
anything, even the doctrine, leads to suffering.
This may seem negative, but for Buddhists
emptiness makes possible the world of changing appearances and our full
and compassionate participation in it.
266. 990929 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Action leads way in Jewish practice
The Jewish tradition, according to Michael Zedek,
senior rabbi at B'nai Jehudah Congregation, says that one "acts one's way
into right thinking, rather than thinking one's way into right acting."
This helps to explain the Jewish use of ritual, which requires people to
do things even when they do not feel like it.
For example, tradition requires that
families in grief stay at home for seven days following the funeral. They
are excused from ordinary concerns. During this week, they are to wear
torn clothing and sit on the floor or on a couch with cushions removed.
The externals express the loss. It is the time to grieve.
But when the time is up, they must
resume regular routines. They may not say, "I will go back to work when
I'm feeling better." By doing, rather than just thinking, they learn to
live again, even with inner grief.
Zedek says this challenges the American
style of "When I get my act together, then I will do the right thing."
It is doing the right thing that leads us to "get our act together."
On this point, the Jewish tradition
aligns with Buddhism. While popularizations teach that we must first think
correctly before we know how to act, the Buddha made a responsible life
a prerequisite for deeper spiritual quest. His Eight-Fold Path does include
meditation, but it also requires compassionate action and moral means of
livelihood. Waiting until we figure out everything is an impermissible
Zedek spoke last week at a 'break-out"
session at the Midwest Bioethics Center's "Compassion Sabbath" program
to assist clergy dealing with end-of-life issues. [[ The next session is
Oct 16 and 17; call 221-1100.]]
265. 990922 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Preserving Sabbath not easy in secular
In the Jewish tradition, "sabbath" originally
refered to the seventh day of the week, a day of rest. It became a sign
of Israel's consecration to God.
Emerging from Jewish backgrounds,
the early Christian church did not recognize the sabbath. By the 4th Century
Sunday was designated for worship, but not as an imitation of the sabbath.
The phrase "Christian sabbath" dates from the 12th Century.
The modern Christian idea of the sabbath
arose from Puritanism, but nowadays few Christians observe Sunday with
Puritan rigor; our Sunday entertainment and shopping are quite unlike the
sabbath intended by the Ten Commandments.
Today the Midwest Bioethics Center
begins "Compassion Sabbath" series to address the needs of dying people.
Earlier this month a "United Sabbath" was begun to acquaint congregations
about United Way services. Both embrace people of all faiths.
But trying to create "sabbaths" for
other faiths is a problem.
Hindu worship is likely to be an individual
or family event and no day of the week is favored over another -- except
that in America, for convenience, Hindus may avail themselves of Sunday's
different pace for temple exercises.
Muslims pray five times each day.
Muslims unite for midday prayer on Fridays, but Muslims may work before
and after the assembly.
Despite the best of intentions, "sabbath,"
like "sabbatical," may become a secular term to mean a time set aside for
Just as "Tao" and "Zen" have been
trivialized by all the books on the Tao of This and the
That, will "sabbath" also lose its history and power?
264. 990915 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Jewish High Holy Days carry social dimension,
The Jewish High Holy Days began Friday evening with
Rosh Hashanah. As Yom Harat Olam, the birthday of the World, Rosh Hashanah
is a joyous New Year's commemoration of creation. However, it is also a
Day of Judgment, a time for personal introspection, reconciliation and
Reform Rabbi Mark Levin of Beth Torah
in Overland Park finds a social -- even global -- dimension in the season
as well. His Rosh Hashanah sermon focused on what "multinational companies
do to real people's lives." For him, the holy days must include concern
He told the story of a man "living
the good life in Johnson County" who was "downsized" by an international
firm and like Job, lost it all. Living out of a car and ready to kill himself,
he "used one of his last quarters to call the mental health hot line, which
told him about the reStart Shelter, offering hot meals, a warm bed and
counseling." He eventually found work, became active in his church and
now owns his own company.
But Levin contrasted him with Job's
story from riches to ruin to restoration: "It was downsizing that destroyed
his life, not Satan; and reStart and the United Way that restored him to
humanity, rather than God's supernatural intervention."
Levin warns against us judging others
by their circumstances and says that nowadays we must be "the extensions
of God's arms."
Last weekend began a "United Sabbath,"
an interfaith effort to build awareness about United Way services.
In every religion, if we are doing
well, sharing wealth is an obligation. Levin puts it this way: "If you
are not giving, then you are stealing from the poor."
263. 990908 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The debate over creation and evolution
Can a person of faith embrace evolution?
Dr Eugenie Scott, executive director
of the National Center for Science Education in Berkeley, Calif., addesses
the question at 7:30 tonight at the Plymouth Congregation Church, 925 Vermont
St. in Lawrence and tomorrow at the Jewish Community Center
Park, 5801 W. 115th St.
In a telephone interview, she said
her talk, "Creation? Evolution? Both? Neither?" will sketch the history
and the current shape of the dispute. The effects of the recent Kansas
Board of Education decision to minimize evolutionary theory in state standards
"could have nationwide impact."
America is home to many religions,
and most of them embrace evolution. "Catholic, mainline Protestant, and
most Jewish thought says that the way God works is through evolution. They
oppose 'creation science.'
"(Baptist) Baylor, (Mormon) Brigham
Young and (Roman Catholic) Notre Dame universities teach evolution, and
your Kansas university presidents support teaching it."
Scott believes the issue arises from
religious views, not from scientific questions. "The idea that evolution
is losing favor in the scientific community is nonsense. The Religious
Right is really more concerned with abortion and gays, but when the occasion
for reexamining science curriculum presents itself, as it did recently
in Kansas, then evolution becomes a focus."
The problem then becomes how one presents
science to students who may feel their sincerely held religious views may
be threatened by evolution. Is it possible to respect the families comfortable
only with a literal reading of the Bible and still "teach evolution with
integrity"? She promises her talk will explore how to do this from kindergarten
to 12th grade.
262. 990901 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Ecumenical events falling your way
Here's a fall roundup on interfaith activity in
the metro area and a method of contact for more information.
The Kansas City Interfaith Council
issues its latest revision of its Speakers Bureau this month and is planning
a 3-day conference for the year 2000. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Council of Congregations now has
29 member groups and hope to reach 100 by the end of the year. Phone Connie
Congregational Partners now has four
pairs of churches who visit each other and join in programs promoting friendships
among racially and religiously diverse groups. Phone Janet Moss, 531-6577.
The Christian Jewish Muslim Dialogue
Group begins the fall with a program on mysticism in the three faiths.
For the schedule, email Allan Abrams, email@example.com. ARC Trialogue
meets Sept. 26 at the Baha'i Center. Phone Virgil Moccia, 331-5995.
The Midwest Bioethics Center offers
a multifaith approach to issues of death and dying with a Sept. 22 all-day
conference at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, with a follow-up workshop
Oct. 16 and 17. Materials from Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and
other faiths will be available. Call Linda Johnson, 221-1100.
Kansas City Harmony's 10th annual
mass choir concert led by Charles Bruffy is set for Nov. 21 at Beth Shalom
Synagogue. Singers of all faiths can join before Sept. 28 for the rehearsals.
Call Ellen Miles, 444 2459.
My own organization's annual Thanksgiving
Sunday Interfaith Family Ritual Meal follows the concert at Beth Shalom.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
261. 990825 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Osiris was key to life for ancient Egyptians
"Who was Osiris and how does he relate to Christ?"
ask viewers of an Egyptian mummy and coffin in a current exhibition at
the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
In one version of the story, Osiris,
the mythical first pharoah of Egypt and its culture-bringer, was tricked
into a coffin by his jealous brother Seth who killed him and threw the
coffin into the Nile. Because of the queen's devotion, Osiris was eventually
The coffin served as "a resurrection
machine," according to curator Robert Cohen. By recalling Osiris in the
form of the coffin, the deceased was assimilated into Osiris. In fact,
said Cohen, "Osiris" would be appended to the name of the deceased, such
Portrayed inside the coffin is the
sky goddess Nut, the mother of Osiris. Egyptians understood her to consume
the dead body and then give new birth to it.
Images on the outside of the coffin
assure that the deceased will enter the Field of Reeds and thus be immortal.
For the Egyptians, "portraying something means it happens," said Cohen.
"The solar disk is important because
after day is done, it lights the underworld. When the sun's rays shine
on the dead, the dead live a lifetime, and the next night, another full
life, and so forth," Cohen said.
Identification with a murdered and
resurrected diety was common in the ancient world. St. Paul writes "I am
crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live." Osiris was worshipped from
at least 5000 years ago to 400 years after Jesus. By then Egyptian, Hellenistic
and Jewish experience had shaped Christianity.
260. 990818 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Egyptian universe unvarying
Many readers know the term "anthropomorphic," used
in religious studies to refer to a god imagined in human form. Less
familiar is the term "theriomorphic," which refers to divinities with animal
Excellent examples of theriomorphism
can be found on the painted coffin at the current Nelson-Atkins Museum
exhibition, "Echoes of Eternity: The Egyptian Mummy and the Afterlife."
On the top register, for example,
one finds the jackal-headed mortuary god Anubis who weighs the heart of
the deceased. Since it is lighter than a feather, the dead is judged morally
upright and granted eternal life. In the same register are the ibis-headed
god Thoth and the goddess Hathor with horns. She is often represented as
Why did ancient Egyptians represent
eternal powers with animal images?
One reason is easy to understand.
Just as we associate certain human qualities with certain animals--courage
with the lion, temperance with the camel, peace with the dove, fecundity
with the rabbit--so the Egyptians matched certain traits or functions with
But a second reason
is more profound. Unlike us, the Egyptians were not much interested in
the individual, the unusual, the new. What mattered was the regular rising
and setting of the sun, the yearly flooding of the Nile. This static order
Since individuality is
less easy to discern in animals than people (frankly, dear readers, I can't
tell one ibis from another), animals, rather than human shapes, are better
carriers of the sense of stability at the core of Egyptian spirituality.
Death was the major challenge
to their view of an unvarying cosmos. More about that next week.
259. 990811 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Burning question has spiritual answers
Your house is burning and you have time to save
just one object. What would you rescue?
This is the question put to 31 high
school juniors one day last week as part of a leadership development institute
at Johnson County Community College sponsored by the Overland Park Rotary
The students responded the next day
by bringing scrapbooks, soccer shoes, the first Beatles record album from
dad, a golf ball, a Tae Kwon Do belt, a bowl purchased in Spain, a watch
found on a difficult day, a thimble from a grandmother and other symbols
of adversity and triumph, of family ties and friendship, of personal values
Allan Schmidt, institute chairman
and director of outpatient behavioral health services for Crittenton, says
that the young people are asked to bring their "treasured objects" as they
begin to work in teams to help them become more aware of themselves and
learn about each other.
With tears, laughter, wistfulness,
pride, regret and excitement, they unwrapped their treasures, told their
stories and placed the objects in the middle of the circle they had formed.
Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Christian, they listened to each other with respect.
"The popular notion that young people
are superficial, detached and frivolous is refuted by this exercise," says
David Adkins, institute facilitator and special counsel for the Greater
Kansas City Community Foundation. "They are passionate, caring and character-driven."
This exercise is a way of discovering
what is sacred, what gives deepest meaning to our lives. In this secular
age, when we are apt to feel fragmented and untethered to core values,
such questions can restore direction for our lives and bring into focus
the power of faith.
258. 990804 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Religious discrimination supplies challenge
Religion has sometimes been used as an excuse to
persecute or slight persons of other faiths, races or gender. But for the
Rev. Kirk Perucca, faith is the source of passion for ending prejudice.
He works from a "fundamental spiritual conviction that we are all unique
children of God. Whenever we devalue others individually or socially, we
go against God's intent."
Perucca is president/CEO of Project
Equality, a national program headquartered in Kansas City, which helps
member organizations and employers with their commitments to "persons of
color, women, persons who are differently abled, older adults and others
who encounter discrimination, regardless of sexual orientation."
Although the religious groups sponsoring
the 34-year old Project Equality are Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist,
Perucca says it is committed to working with "absolutely any religious
"We began from the religious community,
and there is a lot more the religions can do. In fact, today there is more
diversity in most corporations than in many religious organizations," he
While Perucca sees significant progress
in the last 30 years, he laments that as the millennium ends, so much remains
to be done. "Many white people think the playing field is level. But a
chronic pattern of discrimination persists from sometimes unintentional
acts, often without malice, but also without awareness." He cited the recent
local Dillards case as an example.
He hears the question, "Why is it
taking so long to chip away the boulder blocking the road to full equality?"
He answers, "Discrimination is a sin, and we haven't solved the sin problem
in thousands of years. But that is the reason we must continue to work."
257. 990728 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sikhs share belief in the one true God
In the last thousand years, several religions have
arisen with the desire to recognize the virtues of existing faiths. Sikhism,
for example, grew out of the meeting of Hinduism and Islam in the Punjab
about 500 years ago.
Today Geet Duggal, a 16-year old Sikh
who will be a junior this fall at Oak Park High School, proudly speaks
about his faith in the context of a culture dominated by Christianity.
"Both Christians and Sikhs have a
holy book. We Sikhs don't celebrate Christmas or think that Jesus is coming
back, but we all believe in the one God."
Geet gets questions often because
he covers his uncut hair with a patka, a square piece of cloth tied tightly
around his head. When he is older, he will wear a turban.
"The patka was actually developed
by a cricket player in India," he said, "because it is easier to manage
than a turban."
As part of his work to attain the
rank of Eagle Scout, he discovered that the Scouts had no Sikh material
for him as he prepared for the "God and Country" award. So he wrote an
article on his faith. Geet's work is now posed on the internet at http://members.tripod.com/Sikhs.
Geet wants people to know that "Sikhs
do not seek converts. We believe in treating everyone equally. We are loyal
He welcomes learning about his own
and other faiths. He says he has never encountered prejudice.
Religious bigotry persists, but our
opportunities for understanding multiply. In America, even in Kansas City,
world faiths are meeting each other, usually with respect.
256. 990721 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
'Tis better to give and receive
While many of us make contributions to organizations
or causes because they need our support, area religious leaders recommended
a different approach at last week's breakfast meeting of the Greater Kansas
City Council on Philanthropy.
"We have a spiritual need to give,"
according to the Rev. Harry Foockle, senior pastor of Platte Woods United
Methodist Church. "Rather than giving to a need, we should to honor our
need to give," agreed Tom Severino, director of stewardship for the Roman
Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Too often we focus on a budget, Foockle
said, rather than on immersing ourselves in spiritual life, discovering
our spiritual gifts as part of the ministry of a religious community.
Severino criticized advertising which
turns our attention away from exercising our spiritual natures on behalf
of others. "The $120 pair of sneakers has been transformed from something
we want into something we need, something we must have to be cool," he
said. Working a 60-hour week for a boat while neglecting time with my family
does not represent a wise spiritual choice.
What we are and what we have is a
trust, Severino said, "to be used to make others' lives better." When we
turn from "sacrificial giving" to "sacrificial living," our orientation
changes from merely helping to pay the bills of charities to finding ways
to make our whole lives benefit our brothers and sisters.
Contributions can be well-intended
acts which are nevertheless isolated from decisions about what we hold
sacred. Or they can be paths which develop our awareness of ourselves and
others as spiritual beings.
255. 990714 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Our universe raises some universal questions
Was the universe created by a supreme being who
intelligently designed its beauty and intricacies? Most of us might answer,
Yet some religions, both ancient and
modern, have seen the world as the result of bungling, conflict or undirected
evolution, as I wrote in a recent column.
Some who called me were eager to dismiss
such ideas or asked "what possible justification" could there be for such
The awesome beauty of the Grand Canyon,
the complexity of the human eye, the moral sense each person carries may
seem strong arguments for intelligent design.
But the disasters of tornado and flood,
the fragility of the skin and the spine, the pages of history filled with
greed, oppression and war are arguments against it.
The doctrine of original sin says
that the turmoil within human relationships arises from disobedience to
the Creator's command.
But it does not explain why, for example,
the universe was designed in such a way that many animals eat by eating
others, sometimes ferociously, inflicting pain, tearing the body of the
victim apart. The amount of suffering in the food chain is so staggering
it is difficult to honor.
Would it not have been more intelligent
to design a universe with life given necessary nutrients, say, from deposits
in the soil, or dissolved in accessible pond water?
Such questions are not easy. While
we may have our own answers, respecting others' faith responses is surely
intelligent as we remember that all faiths contemplate the mysteries of
254. 990707 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sometimes a tree's just beautiful
In school I had studied the "cosmic tree" in its
many manifestations--the tree of paradise, of crucifixion and resurrection,
of mystical genealogy and emanations, Jove's oak and Woden's ash, the tree
that became the phallic May pole on the Palatine Hill, the burning of logs
at Yule, the pagan evergreen which became the Christmas tree and the language
taken to describe Jesus as "a rod out of the stem of Jesse, a branch growing
out of his roots."
But it was climbing Shankaracharya
Hill in Kashmir some years ago that instructed me most directly about trees.
"I am heat for your hearth, shade from the summer sun. I give fruit to
quench your thirst," said one of many notices posted on a path, all
signed simply, "Tree." Another notice read, "I am a gift of God. Do not
Ironically it was in New York a short
time later that I saw my first tree-worshiper, honoring a tree which had
unaccountably pushed its way up through a barren plot of cement. I laughed
On a short summer camping trip with
no tent, from fallen branches I kept warm with fire and fashioned a lean-to
when an unexpected and terrible storm arose, in which others in town died.
I love the tree on my front yard.
Yes, I recall the tree as an emblem of creation, knowledge, fecudity and
redemption. I know that the pillars of the temple arise from tree trunks
and that the Egyptian journey to immortality, like commerce on the Nile,
was made possible with a bark. Growing skyward from the ground below, the
tree nourishes our aspirations.
But when I forget all this, and the
poems of Ridgely Torrence and Joyce Kilmer, and look at my tree, I am still
left to marvel.
253. 990630 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Tree symbol sprouts in every culture
By 1775 at least three American flags portrayed
a tree as part of their design. The Liberty Tree flag was inscribed as
"an appeal to God."
Begun in 1990, the many trees shaped
into the symbol of the Heart Forest near Kansas City International Airport
is intended by its environmentalist organizers to show that Kansas City
has "a global heart."
The Bible begins with the tree of
Eden. It is sometimes contrasted with the tree on which Christ was crucified.
In Jewish mysticism, God's emanations are often represented as the "Tree
of the Sefiroth."
Gautama found enlightenment as he
sat under a tree.
The body of the Egyptian god Osiris
was enclosed in a coffin and later a tree grew around it, prefiguring his
The Phoenician god Adonis was born
of a tree. The first dying-and-rising god in religious history, the Sumerian
Dumuzi, called Tammuz in the Bible, was associated with the date palm.
The Greek god Attis died under a pine
tree. His death was observed each spring when his cult became popular in
Rome. The date was overtaken by Easter as Christianity supplanted earlier
In Scandinavian mythology, Yggdrasil
is the name of the "world tree," a giant ash always green, from which a
future human race would emerge. The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art has a rare
example of the "Tree of Life and Knowledge" in its Indian Temple Room.
Both are instances of the cosmic tree, what scholars call the axis mundi,
around which everything revolves.
Why have patriots of the Revolution,
promoters of Kansas City and so many faiths used the tree to express spiritual
aspiration? I'll try to answer next week.
252. 990623 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Children to play in sand for purpose
What has happened in Kansas City since two Tibetan
monks constructed a sand mandala at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art four
People still talking about it. Several
workshops on making mandalas have been offered for adults. And now Nancy
Chambers, who just earned a masters degree in art education, wants to help
an interfaith group of children to make their own mandala.
Nancy says her spiritual life was
deepened by watching the monks dribbling colored sand into a meditative
diagram of what is sacred.
But watching the deliberate destruction
of what took a month to produce was hard for her. "Seeing the monks scoop
up the sand and pour it into Brush Creek caused me to wrestle with the
impermanance of life. Coming to understand life more as a process than
a product has given me comfort," she says.
Nancy's efforts here are informed
by Barry Bryant's work with ethnically diverse children in Los Angeles.
(Bryant brought the mandala project to the Nelson.)
Because Kansas City's Congregational
Partners brings people from different racial and spiritual backgounds together,
Nancy is working with this organization and hopes for a rich mix of children
who will share their ideas about how to represent sacred things in the
embrace of a mandala.
"We want kids to discuss their own
spiritual paths without feeling either inhibited or that they need to convert
others," she said. "Connecting at this deep level is a path to compassion
and a more wholesome community."
The mandala will be part of a "Children's
Interactive, Interfaith Celebration and Arts Festival" October 17. To be
part of the planning, call Janet Moss at Congregational Partners, 531.6577.
251. 990616 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Theology and science can fill in secular gaps
Most biologists embrace the theory of evolution
as a way of making sense out of an enormous collection of facts. Why, then,
has "creation science" appeared as an alternative?
Shaped largely by the Protestant Reformation,
our culture separates the sacred from the secular. The gap between God's
will and human pursuits is profound.
Most cultures have not made this sharp
distinction. American Indian tribes, medieval Catholicism and Islam, for
example, have discerned more connection than conflict between the divine
and the mundane. For primal peoples, every detail of ordinary life is full
of transcendent meaning. The sacraments of the Roman Church disclosed
the holy through material signs. In the age of great Muslim science, all
learning was understood as the study of God.
Most of us may want to claim that
religion speaks to all arenas of life, but our culture is so specialized
-- fragmented -- that a vision of the whole is difficult. The words "whole"
and "holy" derive from the same root.
The theory of evolution does unite
data from fields as diverse as geology and genetics, but in most forms
it does not address the question of whether a divine power is at work.
Because science in the last two centuries has generally limited itself
to the natural world, some feel, fairly or not, that this exclusion amounts
to a denial of God.
This feeling parallels the assessment,
fair or not, that the rule against advocating a specific religion in public
schools is a denial of faith.
Some theologians and scientists now
suggest that God works through evolution. Is this a way the gaps of secularism
can be healed?
250. 990609 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Homosexuality influences many faiths
Whether you applaud or deplore this week's Gay Pride
observance in Kansas City, take this quiz. Answers below. More than three
right is excellent.
1. What Roman emperor had Antinous,
his partner, declared a god?
2. What country identified with a
specific religion accepts openly gay and lesbian people into its army?
3. What great modern spiritual leader
tried to eradicate homosexuality in India?
4. What English translation of the
Bible is named for a homosexual?
5. What Jesuit's spiritual sonnets
are famous for sensuality, and rhymed "divine" with "chastity in mansex
6. What Greek god wore women's clothes,
was patron of same-sex lovers and had at least a dozen male liaisons?
7. What homosexual writer translated
the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, into English?
8. Saints and soldier-lovers Serge
and Bacchus were invoked in same-sex union ceremonies in what faith?
9. Rumi, whose love for Shams inspired
his poetry, was a scholar of what religion?
10. The relationship between what
religious founder and his disciple Ananda is sometimes presented homoerotically?
ANSWERS. 1. Hadrian. 2. Israel. 3.
Gandhi. 4. The King James Version. 5. Gerard Manley Hopkins. 6. Heracles
(Roman Hercules). 7. Christopher Isherwood. 8. Medieval Christian Orthodoxy.
9. Islam. 10. The Buddha.
249. 990602 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Meeting shows importance of dialogue
Just a few minutes into the program, guests and--not
long thereafter--even the speaker stormed out of last Thursday's meeting
of the Kansas City Christian Jewish Muslim Dialogue Group.
But the group's most dramatic meeting,
at least of those I've attended, occurred in 1987. A member of one faith
praised an official of his faith in a foreign country. "Nothing good should
be said about that man," responded a member of another faith. "He separated
my grandmother's head from her body."
Despite the emotion, these two joined
with others in a unanimous statement about next steps for peace for the
Israelis and Palestinians. The spirit of unity was all the more awesome
because it transcended the intense personal agonies.
Last week's drama was different. The
speaker invited challenge. Those who lived through the events she described
questioned her historical account. Rather than seeking to understand
these folk, or finding a larger perspective which could contain both perceived
truths, she belittled them and packed up.
Many of those who remained after the
meeting have developed friendships which make frank but respectful exchanges
possible. Good will is assumed. They are not so much interested in proving
who is right as in seeking ways Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle
East can redeem the past with a peaceful and just future.
The group agreed that inviting a self-described
extremist with a local following to address the group was a learning experience,
that extremism in all faiths must be exposed, and that relationships across
faith lines are precious.
248. 990526 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Creativity abounds in creation stories
Is the universe the result of intelligent design?
Religions of the world approach this question differently.
An East African tribe believes that
God's good wishes were interfered with by his half-witted brother, which
explains the turmoil in the world. In an American Indian version, God oversees
the creation of land from water but cannot figure out how to make mountains.
He sends a bee to eavesdrop on a trickster who rehearses the instructions
to himself as he muses about God's stupidity.
In many religions, from ancient Greek
stories to those of India, creation arises from desire rather than intelligence.
One Egyptian myth explains the world as the result of the first deity's
The story in the first chapter of
Genesis repeats the order of creation of the much earlier Mesopotamian
Elish myth which concludes with the gods resting and celebrating their
work. But in the Mesopotamian account creation is the result of conflict
between the gods, rather than singular intelligence. This divine disorder
produces flawed human beings.
Classical Christianity, on the other
hand, assigns human defects not to the Creator but to Adam's willful disobedience,
told in Genesis 2, parts of which parallel another early Mesopotamian text,
the Epic of Gilgamesh. While in Genesis 6 God regrets his creation, many
theologians teach that from the beginning God foresaw the Fall and prepared
for the world's redemption.
Buddhists, Taoists and others avoid
or minimize creation stories because they understand the world as an ongoing
process which has no beginning. The world was not planned so much as it
247. 990519 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Seminar about Jesus goes on the road
"For people in a democratic society to be religiously
illiterate is dangerous," Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, said
as he explained why Biblical scholars like him are bringing their work
to the laity.
As part of a "Jesus Seminar On the
Road" team, Funk was in Kansas City to lead a workshop last week-end on
the differences between the historical Jesus revealed through careful examination
of the texts and the Jesus taught by the church.
A campus minister here from Denton,
TX, John William Adams, disagrees with some of the conclusions of the Seminar
but appreciates its methods and its fostering of discourse.
He says the Seminar's work is important
for two kinds of young people. "Those who have no religious background
can come to faith by learning about Jesus through historical-critical studies.
And those raised in Christianity who were never given the right to look
at the Bible for themselves, who were told what the Bible says, now have
tools to read the texts afresh."
Funk said that Biblical scholarship
"hasn't affected the churches much. We want to recover the original Christian
impulse. Jesus would be horrified at what Christianity has become."
According to the Seminar, the authentic
Jesus challenged the authorities of his time, embraced those rejected by
society and taught a present rather than a future Kingdom of God.
The planning committee for the Seminar's
Kansas City appearance included Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Roman
Catholic, and Unitarian Universalist representation.
246. 990512 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sikhs seek discipline of the faith
"A Sikh seeks to understand and appreciate all paths
to God, even unto death," says Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Sikh representative
on the Kansas City Interfaith Council.
This year Sikhs observe the 300th
anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa, a voluntary order for those
who agree to rules of pure living including "defense of the defenseless."
The Sikh faith itself began 500 years ago in northern India.
In 1675 a ruler was forcing Hindus
to abandon their faith. The Sikh leader Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded
for standing with the Hindus. The Sikhs present were so terrorized that
none claimed his body for burial.
In 1699 Bahadur's son, Guru Gobind
Rai, decided that the continuing persecutions required that Sikhs "be readily
He asked his followers if any of them
would give his head for the faith. "One at a time, five stepped forward.
The Guru took each into his tent and returned for the next with a bloody
sword. After escorting the last one, he retured with all five, now transformed
and clothed with five marks of the Sikh faith." Khalsa said.
The marks include unshorn hair covered
with a turban and a steel braclet.
He called the brave disciples Khalsa,
or Pure Ones.
The initiation ceremony included drinking
sweetened water from a common bowl, significant because the five came from
different castes, and the Khalsa meant equality.
The Guru himself was then initiated,
and took the name Khalsa with the others. Women were named Kaur, which
245. 990505 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Three themes tout many faiths
From the five years I've been writing this column,
here are three things that cheer.
1. Religious leaders. Most
clergy and lay spiritual leaders in the area seek to serve more than to
convince. This means that love, understanding and support are more important
than gaining agreement on theological doctrine.
This assessment arises from listening
to leaders as they help me prepare these columns and as they comment on
them. While ideas about the ultimate mysteries of life are quite important,
most bring a humility about their own answers that makes them open to other
2. Reader response. When this
column began, I could only guess whether readers would appreciate this
way of learning about the many faiths practiced in Kansas City. While I
have been faithful to you, dear reader, in reporting the criticism I've
received, most of you welcome the perspectives found in this space.
Of 14 calls last Wednesday and Thursday,
only one gentleman accused me of leading people down the "path to destruction."
An 18-year-old Jewish woman who lives in a small town of Christians said
the message of acceptance was life-giving. Most of you are Christians who
feel enriched, not threatened, by learning about the heritage of others.
3. Interfaith programming.
Each year more and more interfaith programs occur, in churches, hospitals,
schools and in business and civic associations. This has to be a good sign,
don't you think?
Thank you, dear reader, for letting
me be a part of your spiritual explorations.
244. 990428 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Column isn't invoking the Fifth
This column first appeared April 27, 1994. A caller
said last week's piece was "pitiful, pusillanimous pabulum," and he's hardly
the first in these five years to find this space disagreeable. But most
of you appreciate these attempts to affirm our spiritual kinship with those
of other faiths.
This column has appeared from many
places, from Amman, Jordan, to Washington, D.C. Still, from American Indian
spirituality to Zoroastrianism, the focus is most often on how we in the
Kansas City area can understand our neighbors' faiths--and our own--more
It has never been to convert. This
is why a few readers remain quite angry with me. They feel that I, a minister,
should "show the true way." In their view, I am failing your soul, dear
reader, because I seek to broaden understanding rather than to narrow your
Some are confused when I present several
sides of an issue. One column listed reasons for believing in reincarnation
and another column outlined why others doubt. I should have written only
"the truth" on the subject, I was told.
This column has essayed eternal questions
like the meaning of suffering and the nature of God. We have also looked
at how faith intersects with political issues, such as gambling, same-sex
marriages and the proposed amendment to the Constitution to ban "desecration"
of the flag. We've discovered the spirit in sports, ballet, opera, film,
theater and the museum as well as in church, mosque, synagogue, temple,
gurdwara and shrine.
I've learned a lot in these five years.
Next week I'll specify three things I've learned from you that make me
243. 990421 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Buddhist espouses non-creation
"Infinity is not just for one Being. We are all
infinite, and thus connnected to one another," Buddhist scholar and Columbia
University professor Robert Thurman said to a sell-out crowd of over 400
at the Johnson County Community College theater earlier this month.
"Finitude is a pretense. Who ever
found a beginning or an end?" Thurman asked his audience. What we call
a beginning is simply a point in an on-going process.
Unlike many other religions, Buddhism
has no creation or final judgment stories. Instead of ideas about the world
coming into existence, Buddhists talk about evolution and transformation,
the "very no-beginning" and the "very no-ending."
Thurman cited a myth in which the
Buddha meets the "Creator god" who ultimately confesses he didn't create
a thing -- he was simply the first to show up, so those who followed thought
he made them. The "Creator god" had no idea what the world was about.
For Thurman, this evolutionary process
is important because it means that "we have all already been each other's
mothers many times." Unlike some Buddhists who deny the existence of a
soul, Thurman believes that differentiated individuality, though fuzzy,
persists for eternity.
But pursuit of our own happiness ignores
how we are endlessly entwined with others. We become happy only when we
focus on helping to make others happy, for our involvement with others
Thurman was brought to town by the
Mindfulness Meditation Foundation to launch its $1,000,000 capital campaign
to built the Rime Buddhist Center and Monastery in the Kansas City area.
242. 990414 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
During grief, tears of God are needed
"Pluralism is our future," scholar Martin E Marty
told a crowd of about 650 last week at the Midwest Bioethics Center annual
dinner. Marty is professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity
School and author of some 50 books and countless articles.
His lecture helped to inaugurate "Compassion
Sabbath," an interfaith initiative of MBC to help religious leaders and
communities address issues of death and dying and to improve end-of-life
care in the Kansas City area.
Those who grieve often ask, "Why?"
Marty said answers such as "You'll understand later" are blasphemous, more
dismissive than comforting. "We need the tears of God, not words" at such
times, he said.
"Compassion is not a softie thing.
Love is action: facing harsh misfortunes and offering the support of the
community" with a "theology of presence."
Marty told stories to show that new
medical and financial issues require increasing involvement of faith communities
in providing comprehensive health care.
He applauded MBC's multi-faith approach
to creating public space where we are enriched by learning about each other's
"stories" and create a stronger community through our diversity.
At the dinner, the Rev Robert L. Hill,
senior minister of Community Christian Church in Kansas City, and the Rev
Kelvin T. Calloway, pastor of Trinity AME Church in Kansas City, KS, announced
that the program is funded as a pilot project for implementation throughout
The Kansas City program begins with
a Sept 22 conference for religious leaders and culminates with Compassion
Sabbath Weekend Feb 4-6, 2000.
241. 990407 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The medium has an inspiring message
This Saturday at 11 am and 1 pm, Father Paul Turner
leads a "Gallery Walk" at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to talk about
the variety of Marian iconography found in the current exhibition, "Copper
as Canvas: Two Centuries of Masterpiece Paintings on Copper, 1575-1775."
I asked Turner, pastor of St John Francis Regis Parish, to introduce his
"Mary, the mother of Jesus, has drawn
the devotion of Christians in every generation. As representational art
served to honor great secular and religious figures, Mary became a favorite
subject for artists who sought to demonstrate their skill in recognition
of its divine origins.
"Consequently, any collection of art
covering a spread of two centuries is bound to include religious images,
and those of Mary will predominate. "Copper as Canvas" is no exception.
Although the unifying element of the exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins is the
medium -- paint on copper -- the viewer whose heart ponders the fundamentals
of faith will find inspiration.
"For example, the show includes a
collector's cabinet by an unknown German artist in 1603. As carpentry,
the cabinet is a prodigious puzzle of hidden drawers and hinges. The front
panels open to reveal a triptych painted on copper. There one finds scenes
from the life of Mary as recorded in the opening chapters of Luke's gospel:
the angel's annunciation to Mary, the visitation of Mary to her kinswoman
Elizabeth, and the adoration of the shepherds in the presence of Mary at
the birth of Jesus. These scenes became the first of the fifteen mysteries
of the rosary in Catholic piety."
Museum admission is free Saturdays
and there is no charge for the "Gallery Walk."
240. 990331 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Passover is not Jewish Easter
Tonight the Jewish festival of Passover begins.
"What is most important for non-Jews to know about this festival?" I asked
Rabbi Daniel Horwitz of Congregation Ohev Sholom.
"Passover is not Easter," he
replied. He said that Jews are frequently asked about festivals that relate
to the Christian calendar. Hanukkah, for example, is a minor holiday, not
mentioned in the Bible, but which receives attention from Christians because
it occurs near Christmas.
"Passover is one of three pilgrimage
festivals in Judaism," he said. Passover celebrates the exodus of the Israelites
from Egypt. Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah, God's teaching, to Moses
on Mount Sinai. Sukkot, the festival of "booths," commemorates the sojurn
in the wilderness and their "declaration of dependence" on God.
Christians who extract Passover
from this pilgrimage framework and place it as a precursor to Easter understand
Passover imperfectly, Horwitz said.
Futher, Passover is not just
the story of the Exodus but is embellished with the understandings of deliverance
that have developed thoughout subsequent Jewish history.
"I once had a call from someone
wanting to know when we 'do the sacrifices,'" Rabbi Horwitz said, "as if
Judaism today has remained unchanged from Biblical times." Jews have not
offered animal sacrifices since the destruction of the Temple in the year
"Non-Christians should know
that Jews have an evolving understanding of Torah, and our tradition continues
to grow as we discern new meanings in God's interaction with history,"
239. 990324 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Is God redeemed by the human condition?
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City could not have chosen
a more intriguing meditation for Lent than Benjamin Britten's "Billy Budd"
which ended March 21. [[ With allusions to Christian theology and Greek
mythology, ]] the opera explores the virtue of unmerited suffering.
In both Herman Melville's story and
the opera's libretto by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier, Billy is a type
of Christ. As the opera concludes, Captain Vere admits he could have saved
Billy from hanging, but it was Billy who "has saved me, and blessed me,
and the love that passes understanding has come to me."
Billy, whose purity attracts everyone,
is destroyed by the Satan-figure, master-at-arms Claggart. By falsely calling
Billy mutinous, Claggart fulfills that "depravity" which "established an
order such as reigns in hell."
Billy cries to Vere, who knows the
truth, to save him. When Vere does not, Billy recalls the "story of the
good boy hung and gone to glory," and counsels his shipmates to put aside
thoughts of rescuing him.
While Billy has inadvertently rid
the ship of Claggart and saved Vere from the wrath of the crew, the redemption
suggested is larger than this. The crew itself -- that is, humanity --
is saved from the derangement Claggart would have caused, and Vere's own
soul is led to love.
But what if Vere is not Pilate but
God? The crew he fathers repeatedly names him "Starry Vere," identifying
a celestial role. As Christ obeys his father's will, Billy embraces Vere's.
Except for the situation of the enemy's threat and the rules of war, Vere
would be a monster, condemning his innocent son to death. Is God himself
redeemed from monstrosity by a parallel human condition?
238. 990317 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
We're a nation of many but members of
"One of the greatest threats that sits on the horizon
now is the movement toward a civil religion," said Kansas City Mayor Emanuel
Cleaver at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast last month.
The term "civil religion" enjoyed
a popularity for about 15 years after Robert Bellah began using it in 1967,
but it does not appear in his enormously influential Habits of the Heart,
first published in 1985.
When I showed the Mayor's statement
to Bellah, in town to address a conference of sociologists of religion
at the Nazarene Theological Seminary last week, he said "That's why I've
stopped using the term."
Bellah, professor at the University
of California, Berkeley, in the tradition of earlier scholars like Sidney
Mead, argued that America's religious shape is unique, that from the beginning
of the Republic, religious values, often expressed in non-specific ways,
has helped the nation to sense its oneness out of many:
E pluribus unum.
Bellah's career has focused on what
he regards as the excesses of individualism and the loss of community.
"We still have the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King's speech,"
he said, and other utterances which invoke a national commitment of individuals
to one another without advancing any particular faith.
But "civil religion," as used by the
Mayor and others, now sometimes suggests the idolatrous worship of the
state or the domination of one tradition over others through government,
instead of the community observing its unity while embracing diversity
in a common life.
Bellah, unlike other scholars, has
abandoned his own term, but he continues to say, "We are members of one
237. 990310 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The cross represents the human and the
The cross is probably the most familiar symbol of
Christianity. During Lent its significance is heightened as believers contemplate
the sacrifice of Jesus, though the cross on which he died may have looked
like a "T."
The earliest Christian cross actually
had three lines, two like an "X" over a vertical line, combining the Greek
letters chi and rho in the monogram of Constantine the Great,
the first Christian Roman emperor. This form had been used earlier as a
symbol of a Chaldean sun-god. After the 4th Century, the cross gradually
became an emblem of the new faith.
The earliest use of the familiar equilateral
cross (in which all arms are equal) may have been to designate the four
cardinal directions and the four winds, and hence, in ancient Mesopotamia,
weather and sky gods like Shamash and Anu.
St. Andrew's cross is an "X" and the
Lorraine or double cross has two horizontal bars, the top shorter than
the other. The simple Latin cross extends the lower leg longer than the
In early times two crossed lines represented
two sticks for kindling fire, with subsequent meanings of suffering (as
in a martyr's burning at the stake) and transformation.
As world-axis, around which everything
revolves for people of faith, the cross recalls not only the tree of Golgotha
but also the tree of Paradise.
But the basic meaning of the cross
in all cultures seems to be conjunction. In Christianity, this means the
joining of divine and human natures in the Christ, of his death paradoxically
leading to eternal life, of the union of the ordinary with the transcendent.
For those observing Lent, it suggests
that less is more.
236. 990303 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Invocators include everyone
While it is easy to enjoy friends of many religions
in our neighborhoods and workplaces, we are just beginning to learn how
to honor diversity at moments of reverence together.
We don't want to offend those of different
faiths by offering invocations or blessings that exclude them, but ways
of embracing everyone are not always obvious.
Three methods seem most common. The
first is to eliminate prayers altogether. While no one is offended, neither
is anyone blessed.
A second way is being developed by
Jim Abbott, executive director of the Minority Supplier Council, for its
annual luncheon and trade-fair breakfasts and lunches. Abbott encourages
guest invocators to pray in the style of their own faiths, Christian, Jewish,
Muslim, American Indian and so forth.
A pastor himself, Abbott has no difficulty
in "celebrating the differences and the passionate expression of various
faiths" because building relationships is important to him and his work.
A third way is followed by the Overland
Park Rotary Club, where members take turns offering the invocations at
the weekly meetings. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and those unaffiliated
with any faith participate.
The invocator is asked to reach for
language large enough to include everyone in the club. Because members
want to join in the prayer and not be spectators of someone else's prayer,
terms specific to any one faith are avoided.
"Jesus is my Lord and Savior," says
Steve Hoffman, club president. "For me as a Christian, hearing fellow members
offer words of aspiration respecting our diversity deepens our appreciation
for one another."
235. 990224 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Love isn't just a Christian aspect
A frequent caller who does not leave his name or
phone number has identified himself as a minister. He alone found my recent
comments about love disagreeable:
"When you connect Valentine's Day
with the Muslim and Hindu faiths, you have a massive non-sequitur. You
do a tremendous disservice to our city. The idea of mixing the Christian
scriptures with these other, happy pagan ideas is just absolutely anathema
"You missed a wonderful opportunity
to talk about Christian love and the real origin of St Valentine's Day.
But of course I don't think your motivation is to exalt Christ or promote
the Christian faith or the truth of the Bible, but rather to make people
think that there's many roads that lead to God and any one of them is fine."
It is true I do not believe love is
confined to Christians. In Kansas City and elsewhere, I have found that
my Muslim and Hindu friends are just as capable of love as those who identify
themselves as Christians.
Learning their traditions helps me
understand my own more fully, just as I appreciate the character of Kansas
City better by having visited Omaha and New York, Seville and Kurashiki.
Scholars believe Valentine's Day actually
originated from a pre-Christian Roman festival, just as elements of Easter,
Christmas and other holidays have earlier sources.
I wrote of love as the desire to know
and be known in one's fullness. To the caller's complaint, I plead: If
you are trying to convert me or get me to do something without first beholding
me, knowing who I am, you are making a sales pitch rather than offering
234. 990217 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Life's a dance of salvation
"Football is the choreography everyone is looking
at," William Whitener told me after a rehearsal of "Gloria," which will
receive its world premiere tomorrow by the State Ballet of Missouri. Whitener
is the ballet's artistic director.
I had asked Whitener about the place
of dance in our society because of the irony of a secular ballet company
commissioning religious works like "Carmina Burana," and now "Gloria,"
while historically churches have sometimes eschewed dance.
"Gloria," choreographed by Lila York
to the music of Francis Poulenc, is intensely spiritual, often stated through
colloquial movements, with the agony and triumph one sees not only on the
football field but also in the larger landscape of human community and
in the interior arena of the individual soul.
For such scope, "Gloria," like "Carmina,"
uses orchestra and chorus and will "fill every inch of the theater," Whitener
The solo in the second movement of
"Gloria" took me through the gamut of emotions, from angst to zest. We
see a tortured soul, lost, moving toward redemption, guided by a hovering
Christians may see the man as Christ,
the woman as an angel or Mary. Perhaps the rest of the company is the Church.
But the dance is not specifically
Christian, even if "Gloria" comes from the Mass. The dance is about all
of us as we move from those moments of confusion, isolation and despair
toward a center in life's storms. There is something about the universe
that draws us together, and toward salvation. And offers ways by which
we can help to rescue others.
233. 990210 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Love and spirit go together
Valentine's Day seems to have originated from an
ancient Roman festival of accidental pairing. Does chance give birth to
A Muslim hadith, authoritative
tradition, reports these words of God: "I was a hidden treasure, and I
yearned to be known. Then I created creatures in order to be known by them."
This hadith can be compared
with a Hindu scripture that proclaims that the One conceived the universe
from kama, procreative desire.
Mystics like Ibn Arabi and Rumi cite
the hadith in their explanations of love. They argue that humans are created
in God's image, and our yearning to know another and be known in our fullness
leads us to create loving relationships.
While Cupid's arrow may seem to pierce
us by chance, enduring love is more than a feeling. It is a choice, a continuing
decision. It is the creative play of imagination, an act of faith. It is
up to us to imagine, and thus to see, the beauty of the soul of the beloved.
If we are passive, we will surely be distracted from always and steadily
seeing the divine in the beloved.
The mystical jihad strips away
every profane claim on our attention - jealousy, possessiveness, neediness.
When the ego is annihilated, then we can behold the one divine presence
Christian scripture (I John 4:16)
says that God is love. The Jewish theologian Martin Buber says that one
who loves "brings God and the world together."
The secular portrayal of love separates
our deepest personal love from our spiritual yearnings. But religious witnesses
say they are united.
232. 990203 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Not all religions creator-centered
"Don't all religions teach belief in God?"
No. All religions have some way of
talking about ultimate reality, but that may not mean a supreme being or
even a "higher power."
Buddhism, for example, is a non-theistic
religion. The Buddha did not consider himself a god. "Buddha" simply means
"one who has awakened" from the trance of separateness. He taught nothing
about God. The religion is based on personal insight and compassion.
Some popular forms of Buddhism include
what are translated as "deities." But the deities in Tibetan art, for example,
can be understood as representations of psychological or spiritual activities,
just as we understand the "ego" more as a label for ways a person functions
rather than as an actual entity.
Jainism, a faith originating in India,
also has no Creator God. And the Chinese religions of Taoism and Confucianism
affirm impersonal forces but not a Creator. "Tao" means "the Way" the universe
operates, and is not distinct from the cosmos itself. Confucius seems to
have honored the gods, but done so to acknowledge order and convention,
as we might salute the flag without believing the flag perceives the ritual
The Shinto term "kami" is curious,
neither male nor female, neither singular nor plural, though kami are thought
of as innumerable. The kami are powers or processes inspiring awe, but
not a Supreme Being.
For many primal religions, a sense
of sacredness suffuses the world of the senses, suggesting a holiness deeper
than we can fathom.
Each religion asks, "What makes life
meaningful?" God may or may not be part of the answer.
231. 990127 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
West owes a debt to Muslim society
This is the gist of remarks I gave last week at
a Crescent Peace Society dinner observing the end of Ramadan, the Muslim
month of fasting:
Culturally, the West is indebted to
Islam for advancing knowledge in many fields, from art to zoology. It preserved
and elaborated the texts of ancient Greece during the Dark Ages after Christianity
became the religion of the the West. Even the English language, from alcohol
reflects the scientific advances by Muslim scholars.
The West is beginning to remember
Personally, I am affected whenever
I have the privilege of lining up, shoulder to shoulder, with Muslims of
all ages and colors and accents, to pray. The bowing and prostrations,
the raising of the single finger as witness to one God, and the greetings,
left and right, which end the prayer, bring my very body into submission
to the Infinite and into the support of human community.
I admire the disciple of Ramadan.
Your fasting during daylight trains you in self-control. Your use of the
month as a special focus on the needy is an antidote to the self-centeredness
of our society.
Many of us not of your faith are taking
inspiration from it.
When I grew up, I was filled with
prejudices about your faith.
I remember this because recently I
heard from a minister who claimed to have studied many religions--it seemed
for the purpose of dismissing them.
Textbooks cannot adequately convey
the practice of a faith. But if he could make friends of the heart outside
his own tradition, as I have been fortunate to do, perhaps his understanding
of God's providence would be enlarged.
230. 990120 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Don't be blind to diversity
Jesus advised plucking of the beam from one's own
eye before casting out the mote from another's.
Andrew Bolton, born in England, learned
that the British empire was a glorious thing. But when he was 17, he read
the history of how Britian had invaded China to enforce the sale of opium.
He began to see his own heritage was not pure.
"Muslims frequently see Christianity
through the savagery of the Crusades and 'Christian' colonialism. Jews
often see Christianity through 1700 years of persecution that culminated
in the Holocaust in the 20th Century. Hindus and Sikhs suffered oppression
by the British at the same time these 'heathen' were urged to convert."
Bolton, now coordinator for Peace
and Justice Ministries at the International Headquarters for the RLDS Church
in Independence, asks "Can we Christians face the dark side of our faith
and repent of it?"
Bolton has lived in Germany and Japan,
and chose to spend the last 13 years in Leicester, the most pluralistic
city of its size in the United Kingdom. Not only do Scots, Irish and East
Europeans populate the city, but within a two mile radius one finds ten
Muslim mosques, five Sikh gurdwaras, several Hindu temples, one Jain temple,
and Christian churches from Serbian Orthodox to Quaker.
When riots tore other cities, Leicester's
deliberate embrace of diversity enabled it to florish.
Bolton, who also taught at Oxford,
and wrote the Christian response in Testing the Global Ethic, wants
to equip young people to deal with personal values and understand the faiths
of others. Removing the beam from one's own eye, as Jesus advised, may
be a good start for all of us.
Yet many aren't aware of
holidays celebrated by others
By: SHAWNA A. HAMEL The Kansas City Star
Diversity in matters of faith is widespread in the
Kansas City area. But those whose faiths fall outside
the Judeo-Christian tradition still face subtle
One problem is that their beliefs aren't quite
understood by mainstream society, and another is that
their traditions aren't quite honored.
"I think in past years there has been an increase in
understanding of other religions, and that's very
healthy,'' said the Rev. Vern Barnet, an expert in
"However, a case we still have is that dominant
religions don't necessarily recognize the importance
of other religions and their holidays that are
observed,'' he said.
One example, Barnet said, was the case of a Muslim
student at a local school who was all but forced to
eat lunch even though he was observing his religion's
The five-county Kansas City area is home to more
than 2,000 congregations and more than a dozen
religious faiths. In addition to the more familiar
Christian and Jewish faiths, there also are Hindu,
Buddhist, Sufi, Baha'i, pagan and Islamic groups.
"Although it is hard to pinpoint in numbers, the
largest faiths in Kansas City outside (Christianity)
are Jewish, Muslim and Hindu, and they're easily
recognized because they have a strong sense of
identity,'' Barnet said.
There are substantial Sikh and Buddhist communities
in the area, too, said Barnet, who is the founder and
minister-in-residence of the World Faiths Center for
Religious Experience and Study in Overland Park.
He is also active with the Kansas City Interfaith
Council, which works with about 11 different faiths.
"There's a Muslim population between 10,000 and
15,000 people in the Kansas City area, but most
people do not know about our religion and it is
sometimes a problem for us, taking off our holidays
from school or work,'' said Amjad Dalaq, manager
of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City.
The Muslim religion centers on the word "Islam,''
which means both "submission to the will of God in
all aspects of life'' and "peace. '' Muslims believe
that God, whom they call Allah, created human
beings and the world for the purpose of worshiping
him, Dalaq said.
"Our children who go to public schools, kids in their
classes sometimes don't understand what they
believe and make fun of them, and some teachers
don't like our children taking off school days for our
holidays,'' Dalaq said. "Some parents just take our
kids out of school for the day anyway. ''
Steve Klick, a spokesman for Buddhist Information
of America, said mainstream society knows little
about Buddhism, despite the growth of the faith in
America. Thousands of Buddhists live in Kansas
City, he said.
Buddhists celebrate mainstream holidays, such as
Hanukkah and Christmas, but the group's belief
system differs sharply from most Western religions,
"It's not that we don't have faith, it's just a different
kind of faith,'' Klick said.
"We're about proof and evidence, and we believe
you should doubt and question everything until it is
proven to you, which eventually it will be. We
believe in striving to help and benefit as many
people as possible. There is no heaven and hell in
our belief system, and we don't dwell on sins a lot.
We believe people are inherently good and pure.''
Mark Johnson, with the Spiritual Assembly of
Baha'is of Overland Park, said local Baha'is haven't
encountered much discrimination. There are between
200 and 300 members of the faith in the area, he
The Baha'i faith was founded more than 150 years
ago in Persia, now known as Iran.
"Unfortunately, our religion was seen in Persia as a
very big threat, and our people were persecuted very
severely and exiled numerous times because of it,''
Barnet said society is becoming much more
For instance, an increasing number of churches have
begun offering world religions series, he said. And
he has seen more awareness in civic organizations of
the need to be more inclusive of all faiths.
"I think, for the most part, people are pretty eager to
learn about other faiths without having to change
their own,'' Barnet said. "What I would like to see is
people visiting each other's places of worship, and
that doesn't happen very often. Also, I hope someday
people can start talking more openly about religious
and spiritual activities, like they talk about the
229. 990113 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Kwanzaa has grown beyond culture
A caller wants to know why I wrote about Kwanzaa.
"The holiday is cultural, not religious." Indeed, this is the way Maulana
Karenga, its creator, conceived of it in 1966. Even today it appears in
few books on religion.
However, when I researched Kwanzaa
in 1995 in Los Angeles where it originated, I learned that it had become
an important religious observance. The Rev. Cecil Murray of the Los Angeles
First AME Church justified this "because (Kwanzaa) deals with the totality
of human experience, and religion is what ties human experience together."
He called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, one of which is faith, "a supplement
to the Ten Commandments."
This year, according to Janet Moss,
executive director of Congregational Partners, members of the Leawood Cure
of Ars Roman Catholic Church explained how they observed the Christmas-Epiphany
holiday cycle with members of the Kansas City Metropolitan Missionary Baptist
Church, who in turn explained Kwanzaa.
The caller may be correct in thinking
the holiday does not belong to any particular religion, but it helps
to "tie human experience together" with religious power.
Another example. Martin Luther King
Jr was Christian, but his study, his work and his outreach was not confined
to one faith. Thus American Indian, Baha'i, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim
and Sikh representatives help to lead a celebration of his witness this
Sunday at 4 pm at Community Christian Church, 4601 Main.
Is the King holiday cultural or also
religious? Kwanzaa may be disputed, but the answer on King is increasingly
228. 990106 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Nothing but a burning light
Far more serious than the Y2K problem as we prepare
for the new millennium is the question asked by Job: "What is man . . .
From the domestication of fire and
the use of tools a million years ago, technology and science have changed
spiritual outlooks. The development of agriculture twelve thousand years
ago and the beginning of history a mere six thousand years ago radically
reshaped conceptions of the gods and spirits and how humans related to
In the last four hundred years, Western
religion has had to deal with
* Galileo's discovery that humans are not at the
center of the universe,
* Darwin's arguments that humans evolved from earlier
species rather than being specially created by God,
* Freud's demonstration that much of human behavior
originates from unconscious processes, and
* Einstein's and quantum mechanics' showing that
"objects" and "events" are influenced by our very perceiving them.
Now we learn that humans can be cloned.
How will those who believe "ensoulment" occurs at the moment of conception
deal with humans who have never been conceived? Will clones be owned by
those who paid for them?
Telomerase, the "immortality enzyme,"
and medical advances of biological and silicon replacement parts, offer
immortality, surely in the next millennium if not the next century, for
those who can afford and desire it. How will religions deal with deathlessness?
The completion of the Human Genome
Project in 2005 may make it possible to custom-design new humans and even
new human species.
How many answers to Job's question
can there be?