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Faiths and Beliefs
a column by Vern Barnet every Wednesday in the FYI section of the Kansas City Star,
[printed and Star web versions versions and versions here may vary]
copyright The Kansas City Star.

correspondence with critics

2000



 

330. 001227 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Glory surrounds us in the everyday

NEW YORK -- Dec. 25, 26 and 27 in 1734, the musicians under the direction of J. S. Bach first performed Cantatas 1-3 of his ``Christmas Oratorio,'' recently offered here by the New York Philharmonic with the choir of the St. Thomas Church of Leipzig, where Bach served.
   Bach was a busy man, and when he was required to compose this sacred music for the 13-day span Lutherans recognized as the Feast of Christmas, he drew upon secular pieces he had written earlier that year, including one for a birthday party for an 11-year old prince and one to celebrate a real estate deal. The cradle song the shepherds sing to the Christ Child was originally about the temptation of Hercules.
   While this musical transformation from secular to sacred may say something about Bach's skill, it also suggests that perceiving the holy depends at least in part on our readiness to behold it in the ordinary. The Christmas story is about incarnation, the God beyond space and time taking on the frailties of human flesh. In a mere baby the shepherds saw hope for the world.
   Bach involves us in the sacred story in another way. The chorales in the oratorio were tunes familiar to his audience who might have sung along. Just as a Renaissance painting of the Nativity may collapse time by placing the donor in the ancient scene, so singing presently as if we were with the shepherds back then enables us to participate in the original wonder they saw.
   Or, if we really understand Bach's setting of the Christmas story, it may be that if our eyes are open, God's glory unfolds all around us every day.


329. 001220  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
   Time to build a spiritual skyline

NEW YORK -- When the Woolworth Building opened here in 1913, it was immediately called a "Cathedral of Commerce." Its wide bays inside and exterior grandeur seemed to sanctify the making of treasure. At 60 stories, 800 feet high, it was then by far the tallest building in the world. (The Empire State Building opened in 1931.)
   In its current exhibition, "Inventing the Skyline: The Architecture of Cass Gilbert," the New York Historical Society features the work of the man who designed the Woolworth Building. Gilbert (1859-1934) is credited with envisioning the "staccato skyline" of skyscrapers this city celebrates. The office records, contracts, sketches, photographs and other papers document his achievements.
   Throughout the ages, humans have sought to extend themselves beyond caves and huts. The biblical story of the tower of Babel suggests that we may sometimes overreach. Business and governments have constructed elaborate structures to trumpet their importance and power; religions as well have orchestrated talents, assets and labor into edifices of inspiration and beauty -- and prestige for those who claim them.
   This month's observances of Judaism, Christianity and Islam play a different tune. The insignificant band led by Judas Maccabee won religious freedom from an imperious Seleucid tyrant. The Christ Child was born not in a magnificent palace but a smelly stable. Ramadan is a month of daylight denial, of attention to the poor, not alliances with principalities.
   A skyscraper city reverberates in its praiseworthy concert of soaring inventiveness and resourcefulness. But these holy seasons remind us also to hear the simple beating of the heart.


328. 001213  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
  Enter the young of many faiths

The Kansas City Christian Jewish Muslim Dialogue Group, formed in 1987 and vigorous for some years, is now moribund. The violence and mistrust in the Middle East now makes it difficult to exchange views, especially between Jews and Muslims. Some Christians who fear their remarks might be regarded as biased also feel discomfort.
   But the problems of the adult world are not detering young people here from organizing a humanitarian campaign. Youth Helping Youth seeks to aid children in the Sinai, West Bank and Gaza regions with winter clothing and medical, dental and educational supplies.
   Organized last month, the group already has about 40 college and high school young people of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths throughout the metropolitan area. Using Shifa International, a relief agency that has worked in Bosnia, the Ukraine and elsewhere, they hope to take what they have collected to the Holy Land Dec. 27.
   Richard Thompson, a senior at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, said, "We feel that humanitarian aid is the mechanism through which the youth of Kansas City can promote peace in the world." Fatimeh El-Sherif, a student at UMKC, added, "We do this by reaching out to the children and students in areas of conflict."
   Some of the young people met through a Peace Jam week-end conference last October, sponsored by Rockhurst University, the RLDS Church and the YMCA. Sudents learn about peace-making through study, talking with a Nobel Peace Prize lauret, and working toward solutions in a year-long experience of inspiration and action.
   Perhaps the older folk can draw some insight from the practical and cooperative spirit at work with young people helping to shape tomorrow.


327. 001206  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Information superhighway gets to Gospel

Is God working through the internet? Walter P. Wilson, author of The Internet Church, thinks so. Just as Alexander the Great's spread of Greek throughout the world made possible the reading of the New Testament, and just as the extensive road system built by the Romans was later used for the spread of Christianity, so the gospel can be conveyed through the information superhighway which "eliminates time and space" impediments.
   Wilson spoke last week at a conference, "YourCongregation.Org," which demonstrated how the work of churches can be enhanced with the internet. The conference, held at Colonial Presbyterian Church, was organized by Spirit of Service, which can, of course, be found on the web at www.spiritofservice.org.
   But does the web really favor Christianity? One person expressed concern about unsavory materials found on the web. Another speaker noted that fraud is six times as likely on the web as in retail.
   Can a religion based on embodiment -- God's incarnation into this messy world, celebrated at this Advent season -- be conveyed in cyberspace pixels, independent of space and time?
   Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, is rooted in space and time; the conflict over Jerusalem illustrates the importance of place. Further, Christianity is hierarchical: God the Creator is supreme over God's creatures.
   But the web is not hierarchical; it is a network, and its structure is more akin to Buddhism which has no creator god in space or time; things are infinitely interrelated and develop from each other.
   Wilson called Buddhism a "developmental faith" particularly attractive in Silicon Valley. He said Christians, too, need to come to understand their spiritual life as developmental rather than as an achievement.
   Perhaps as religions appear in cyberspace, there will be lessons for all.


326. 001129  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 John the Baptist a man of the season

This Sunday at 2 p.m. Father Paul Turner will give a slide presentation on John the Baptist in the Atkins Auditorium at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Admission is free through the east door of the gallery. Turner, pastor of St. John Francis Regis Catholic Church, explains the theme of his talk:
   Every year as Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas, one of the biblical figures they hear most about is John the Baptist. John's command, "Prepare the way of the Lord" (Luke 3:4, borrowed from Isaiah 40:3), still strikes the heart of all Christian disciples.
   John is an important figure for Advent because he himself prepared the way for Jesus in two important manners. He was a spiritual leader who gathered a band of disciples, and he suffered martyrdom. In both life and in death John foreshadowed the coming of Christ.
   John the Baptist appears frequently in Christian art either as a solo figure or in groups of saints.  His image adorns many baptistries because he used a pre-Christian form of baptism to lead followers into conversion. Whether depicted as a child or an adult, he often carries a cruciform staff that ominously reminds the viewer of suffering.
   The museum's brooding image of "Saint John the Baptist" by Caravaggio especially captures his melancholy message.
   Although the message of Christmas is unbounded joy due to the birth of a savior, the message of John the Baptist reminds the Christian of the sadness of human life that the savior came to lift. The artistic depictions of John the Baptist reassures the believer that God understands human suffering, and prepares the believer to receive the joyful news of salvation in the birth of Jesus Christ.


325. 001122  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Dedication of Buddhist center brings faiths together

How do you dedicate a Buddhist institute here in Kansas City? Do you focus on Buddhism or the community? Lama Chuck Stanford, who founded the Rime (pronounced "Reemay") Buddhist Center and Monastery, did both in opening the facility at 700 W. Pennway earlier this month.
   Khamtrul Rinpoche, Tantric Master to Namgyal, the personal Monastery of the Dalai Lama, was brought here to join in the inaugural festivities by teaching and leading ceremonies.
   And representatives of other faiths came to welcome the new organization into the community. Participants included George Noonan, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Baha'i Kenyon Gross, Hindu Anand Bhattacharyya, Muslim Dr. A. Rauf Mir, Sikh Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa and Unitarian Universalist Ted Otteson.
   Like neighbors welcoming a new resident to their block, the speakers congratulated the Buddhists on their new home.
   This welcoming attitude by those of other faiths avoids three dangers to healthy relationships. One danger is ignoring significant events in each others' lives. Another danger is seeking to impose our views on others. A third danger is trying to meld all traditions into one.
   Instead, the welcoming attitude encourages the Buddhist to be a better Buddhist, the Hindu a better Hindu, the Christian a better Christian, by celebrating both our differences and our kinship.
   This Thanksgiving we can be grateful the American tradition of freedom of religion is being so powerfully and respectfully exercised in Kansas City.


324. 001115  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 People of other faiths are people, too

Why learn about other faiths? I asked Prof. Marla J. Selvidge, Director of the Center for Religious Studies at Central Missouri State University, whose most recent book is about the New Testament, for her answer.
   "Every time I open a window or crack a door to an unfamiliar religion or misunderstood religious practice, I hope that I am laying a foundation for peace. The exposure students gain from a world religions class may help to prevent another world war or a Columbine or even a Waco.
   "During my first year at Central, we watched a short clip of a Greek Orthodox service. Many Christian students were outraged by the ritual, complete with incense and holy water. They called it `Satanic' or anti-Christian. They had not known how other Christians worship. They reacted with fear and hate. I could tell hundreds of such stories.
   "Classes are different now. Most students expect the multi-cultural experience needed to understand other faiths. Students are required to attend a religious service other than their own or to interview someone of another faith. None complain. They tell stories of nervousness, light-headedness, trembling, and some have even taken their parents with them to a service. But the outcome is almost always the same.
   "They begin to realize that religious services are attended by people who look just like them. Most of the time the people of the unfamiliar religion welcome them with open arms. The fear begins to melt and many end up making friends. Once they cross the rigid and high fences between 'us' and 'them,' they begin to see that there are no real boundaries at all. We are all people of the world."


323. 001108  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Three faiths teach that God is one

Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Jews, informed Christians and Muslims say Yes, but a half dozen Christians called me to challenged this answer in a quiz which appeared in this space two weeks ago.
   They argued that Jews and Muslims do not believe in the God of Christians because Christians believe Jesus is one of the three persons in God.
   But does this mean that there are different gods for each faith or that each faith understands the same God differently?
   Even Christians have frequently understood God in varied ways. In 1054 Christianity split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, in part because they disagreed about how the persons in the Trinity are related. In the 16th Century, Reformers came to see God more in terms of purpose and will than the earlier Catholic ideas of truth and beauty. Today some Christians emphasize God as love and others see God mainly as judge.
   Judaism, Christianity and Islam all teach belief in one Creator. They have different conceptions of God, but they all claim their God is the God of Hebrew patriarch, Abraham. The New Testament contains many such references, including Acts 3:13 which says that the "the God of Abraham . . . hath glorified his Son Jesus." The Qur'an speaks of Islam as the religion of Abraham because of his recognition of God, called Allah in Arabic.
   Muslims do not believe Muhammad is God, as some callers asserted.
   Some religions teach belief in many gods, some in none; but these three faiths teach God is one, though they may understand God's nature differently.


322. 001101  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Kansas 3rd District candidates share their views

In separate interviews, both candidates for the Kansas Third Congressional District expressed strong views about the importance of the role of religion in American life.
   Both candidates base their positions on the work of our nation's founders. Incumbent Congressman Dennis Moore emphasizes the development of the tradition of religious liberty from the colonists and framers of the Constitution. Republican challenger Phill Kline believes all rights start with the individual; government's role is to intervene when those rights come in conflict.
   Moore is concerned about "well-intentioned people who would impose their religious beliefs and practices on others" and believes that religious minorities have an "absolute right" to be protected from governmental involvement for such ends.
   Kline opposes state-sponsored prayers, but he would let questions like student-led prayer at school football games be settled by local communities. Kline would also permit the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools as a "teaching tool" for the "respect for human over property rights" as long as belief is not compulsory. "The coercive power of government" should not be used to convert people from one faith to another, he says.
   While Moore supports the right of a woman to end pregnancy in consultation with her doctor and, if she wishes, with her religious advisor, Kline identifies the question of abortion, which he opposes even in cases of rape and incest, as a "political" rather than a "religious" issue. He would permit abortion to save the life of the mother.
   Both Moore and Kline oppose school vouchers. In some proposals, vouchers could be used to aid religious schools.


321. 001025 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 What is your faith quotient?

If you miss more than three on this True-False quiz, you'll want to brush up your knowledge of the world's three monotheistic faiths.
   1. Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
   2. In general, religious law covers more areas of personal and social life in Judaism and Islam than in Christianity.
   3. Most Muslims are Arabs.
   4. When King David united the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, he chose a neutral place claimed by neither for his capital, Jerusalem, and honored the sacred sites of its Jebusite inhabitants.
   5. Jerusalem had no special status within Christianity until 300 years after Christ.
   6. In the last three thousand years, Jerusalem has been under Muslim administration longer than either Jewish or Christian administration.
   7. While the Temple Mount is exceedingly important for Jews, some Jewish authorities believe Jews should not walk there until the Messiah arrives.
   8. The Dome of the Rock in the same area, called the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims, is the site associated with the ascension of Muhammad to heaven, commemorated every year.
   9. Many Jews and Muslims in Kansas City are directly or indirectly affected by the crisis in the Middle East.
   10. Local Jewish and Muslim leaders report that biases against their faiths have virtually disappeared.
   ANSWERS: Only items 3 and 10 are false.


320. 001018 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Library crosses mark the spines in fiction section

"A first impression is that Christianity has some sort of favored status," said Lama Chuck Standford, the Buddhist member of the Kansas City Interfaith Council, commenting on the practice of the Olathe Public Library to place blue stickers with large crosses atop the spines of selected books in its fiction department.
   The library does not mark books with Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or other religious symbols, according to Emily Baker, head librarian. "We have not had any requests to do so," she said.
   "The effect of the stickers, intended or not, is to send a message that Christian books are preferable to non-Christian books," says Dick Kurtenbach, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri.
   Some libraries place books in the science fiction and western genres on separate shelves. The books with the vivid cross stickers are shelved alphabetically with other fiction.
   The library began the labeling two years ago as a service to patrons. Many of the books receiving the cross stickers belong to the Christian fiction genre as identified by publishers. The books, many of which are romances, need not have religious themes to qualify for the sticker, but the content needs to be inoffensive to those with a "Christian" perspective.
   But what is a "Christian" perspective? The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, from which a controversial movie was made, is not designated as Christian fiction, though some consider it a powerful meditation on religious issues.
   Should librarians determine which books merit a sticker with a cross? Should public funds support decisions among competing visions of Christianity or any other faith?



319. 001011 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Religions have prayer in common

"Why can't religions just get along?" readers ask persistently. They are frustrated by what they consider minor quibbles because in their view religions all teach the same basic thing. I suppose the core teaching they identify can be summarized in secular language as "Be nice."
   Religions do not agree about God, an afterlife or the purpose of existence. They do agree on four moral principles. They teach not to murder, not to take what is not ours, not to misspeak, and not to misuse sexuality. But even within a single faith, believers may differ greatly about what these and other teachings mean.
   Is capital punishment state-sponsored murder or required to fulfill the demands of justice? Are the different roles assigned to men and women in many of the world's scriptures valid today? While some faiths honor same-sex relationships, others find them an abomination. Some believe that ensoulment occurs some time after conception, that a fetus does not become a person until viability or birth; others consider an abortion of any human embryo to be murder.
   But the issue that may be the most perplexing is peace itself. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, sometimes framed as a problem between Jews and Muslims, involves serious questions of justice. Neither party is disinterested, as the competing claims over Jerusalem painfully reveal. Such disputes cannot be dismissed with a simple "Be nice."
   I do not know whether God will answer prayers for peace, but I do know that prayer can help to quiet the mind and make one more receptive to hearing others, and thus advance the cause of peace and justice. We could do a lot worse now than praying.


318. 001004 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Word's meaning elusive as butterfly

The audiences for "Madama Butterfly" produced last month by the Lyric Opera heard the Japanese word kami repeatedly throughout the evening. What does this term mean?
   Kami, often translated "god," is singular and plural at the same time. Kami may be used for either masculine or feminine forces. kami may refer to personified deities or awesome impersonal powers.
   There are nature kami such as mountains, birds and trees. Extraodinary humans -- ancestors, the emperor, heroes -- may be regarded as kami. Japanese myths have their own kami. There are kami of the professions, of food and of productivity.
   Westerners are frustrated with the Shinto faith if they try to find a consistent statement about the kami. The religion is expressed more in dance and ritual than in theology.
    At the Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture some years ago, I came to understand what encountering kami might be like. After dressing in a white loincloth and headband, clapping and bowing, some physical exercises and a drink of sake with salt, I was placed under a waterfall so strong that I felt I merged with the stream, itself considered kami. My skin vibrated as much as the water, it seemed. This ritual cleansing is called misogi and aims to restore the union of kami and human.
   The rush of the water and the loss of my sense of personal identity in its flow helped me to sense why sometimes kami is considered more a verb than a noun. The divine is not so much a being as a process. Kami is less a way of saying that there are gods and more an affirmation that the universe is "god-ing."


317. 000927 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Red Cross ready to give aid to faiths

"Where is God in this tragedy?" asks Erin E. S. Lynch who has participated in disaster response for over ten years.
   Lynch is now assisting the American Red Cross prepare in case of an aviation disaster at Kansas City International Airport. She is working with people of many faiths.
   "A commercial aircraft may hold more than 200 passengers from different walks of life, cultures and religious beliefs. Family members traveling to the crash site may come from afar and may especially need religious leaders as bridges to their own communities of faith," she says. "Any aircraft may be carrying Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists -- or those of any religion."
   "We want to respond sensitively and in a coordinated manner to meet the spiritual needs arising from any mass casualty. The Red Cross is guided by values of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.
   "We are offering to train those interested within each of the diverse faiths communities to be able to serve if they are needed to respond in a disaster.
   "A airplane disaster differs from individual accidents in context, circumstance and magnitude, but the skills needed for effective response are the same skills spiritual care providers use in their daily work.
   "One of the greatest gifts they are able to offer is the gift of presence. As a good friend once told me, 'There are some rooms we can not walk into, but we can guard the door for those going through the tragedy.' I know God is present as we seek to serve those in need," she says.


316. 000920 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 KXTR-FM a spiritual loss

"I have no pleasure in any man who despises music. It is no invention of ours; it is the gift of God. I place it next to theology," said Martin Luther.
   Most religions find music an avenue of worship. In the concert hall, at the jazz club, on the dance floor, or even at those events called rock concerts and the like, music has the power, perhaps even better than theology, to express the spirit. Our annual Kansas City Spirit Festival is largely about music.
   In my youth, I decided to explore every possible arena of the soul. I found that Beethoven's Last Quartets could take me to realms so rich and profound that all these years later I am still rubbing my eyes in wonder. Is there offered anywhere a vision greater than the Quartet in C sharp minor? For the past year, I've been studying his rarely performed "Hammerklavier" Piano Sonata with its amazing juxtapositions within a structure so secure that it is like the inevitability of surprise in a life of faith.
    In my 1970 theological school dissertation, I wrote not only about Isaiah, the Buddha and Wittgenstein, but also The Who's rock opera, Tommy. But of course even all kinds of Western music do not complete the possibilities. Music of primal peoples and Asia give us additional paths and modes for religious insight.
   This is my response to a reader's question about KXTR. My family did not own a TV or a phonograph. We did have a radio, and that's how I learned about music. I saved money to buy an FM radio when classical music began to be broadcast on FM. I thought "FM" meant "fine music." The loss of KXTR FM is not just a cultural blow. It is a spiritual devastation.


315. 000913 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Religion has remained relevant

When I chose a career in religion 35 years ago in the wake of Harvey Cox's book, The Secular City, I was warned I was entering a field that would be increasingly irrelevant. Religion as we had known it was going to disappear.
   Two weeks ago at the United Nations, 800 spiritual leaders from many countries concluded their unprecedented meeting about world peace, poverty and the environment.
   Religious sites in Jerusalem may be the pivot of negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
   Last week's Vatican statement rejecting the equal validity of all religions and declaring the superiority of the Roman Catholic Church over all other faiths disappointed leaders of other traditions and some Catholics as well.
   George Bush's identification of Jesus as his favorite philosopher and Joseph Lieberman's advocacy of a greater place for religion in public discourse raise anew the old, difficult questions about the relationship of faith to public policy and the role of religion in our Constitutional system of government.
   In the courts are controversies regarding the posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings.  A "no pray, no play" movement, said to be student-led, has sprung up in response to rulings that schools may not support prayer before football games.
   In our own region, Shawnee County Treasurer Rita Cline's posting of "In God We Trust" is being tested in court. Religious interest was keen in last month's election for State Board of Education members because of the dispute over the teaching of evolution.
   Looks like religion hasn't quite disappeared yet.


314. 000906 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 United Sabbath seeks to unite ways

In Denver over a hundred years ago, two Protestant ministers, a rabbi and a Roman Catholic priest began what has become the United Way. Then it was a pioneering act of interfaith cooperation.
   The Kansas City area now also includes significant Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Baha'i, Wiccan, American Indian and Zoroastrian centers.
   Two years ago in Kansas City, community-minded religious leaders wanted to embrace the largest possible diversity here as part of a new United Way focus. They called it the "United Sabbath," scheduled for this week-end, Sep. 8-10. The goal is to widen participation in raising nearly $40 million this year to support over 150 local charities, like the American Red Cross, the Boys and Girls Clubs and Children's Mercy Hospital.
   "We believe people of faith want to express their gratitude for the gift of life through the moral exercise of helping others," says Al Sassone, Heart of American United Way president.
   However, as people of various faiths work together, they sometimes discover language problems arise. "Sabbath," for example, is a concept not found in all faiths.
   "We are re-examining the name for this initiative to find a term that would uplift our goal of people of all traditions joining together for the betterment of the community" says Sassone. "In reaching toward inclusiveness, we are learning about each other.
   "But the needs of the community mean we cannot wait until we know everything before we act. We hope our good will is clear. We are eager to find language we can use that people of all faiths can accept enthusiastically, but the act of giving is a universal response to need, in the faith community and through United Way."


313. 000830 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Rabbi wants to go beyond tolerance

Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, serving the New Reform Temple here since June, supports interfaith activities because he "opposes religious toleration."
   Originally from Brazil, Cukierkorn explains, "I am not intolerant--I just oppose tolerance. Tolerance for me is a tamed form of racism. When I deal with individuals of different traditions and religions I aim at acceptance. I do not want to be merely tolerated, I want to be accepted, respected and understood.
   "Conversely, I also seek to accept and understand others. Attempting to understand other people's faith is a way of reaching for the divine in them and becoming one with them just as God is one," he says.
   Rabbi Cukierkorn most recently served Temple Beth Israel in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and did his internship in Omaha. He has also served in Louisville, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.
   He is "absolutely puzzled" that Kansas City offers him "no active metro-wide ministerial alliance." He recalls his previous settlement where he was active in many interfaith pursuits including a Catholic-Jewish TV show and an interfaith study of Psalms.
   Rabbi Cukierkorn is not the only one amazed that a metropolitan area like ours has no organization open to all religious leaders. Nor do we have a functioning network of all congregations.
   We do have organizations like Kansas City Harmony, Spirit of Service, the Kansas City Interfaith Council and the National Conference for Community and Justice, which perform important roles in deepening religious understanding. But who can explain to the new rabbi why we do not have an area-wide alliance to move beyond mere religious tolerance?


312. 000823 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 The meaning in the apple of Magritte's eye

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jesus repeatedly called himself "Son of man," and a painting with that title is reproduced as the poster for the exhibition of works by Rene Magritte here at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
   Actually a self-portrait with an apple obscuring almost all of Magritte's face, the painting recalls the Hebrew origin of the phrase, ben 'adam, and the fruit of the Garden of Eden. Just as the expression, used over 90 times in Ezekiel, is problematic in the Gospels, so the painting raises questions it does not resolve.
   Magritte (1898-1967) wrote, "My painting is visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery. One asks, `What does that mean?' It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing; it is unknowable."
   Mysteries abound. Docent Sonia Marcus calls an apple nearly filling a room in another painting "an invader." Is this apple an obstruction to salvation or abundant nourishment?
   A painting of a tuba afire reminds her of Moses and the burning bush which burned but was not consumed. But why a tuba?
   Perhaps the most famous work is of a pipe with the sentence painted underneath, "This is not a pipe." But is it just a painting of a pipe? The French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote a whole book about the painting deconstructing the traditional understanding of words and to what they refer. The Gospel of John says, "In the beginning was the Word." Is the incarnation, the copy, just as real as the original? Are the mysteries of faith more life-giving than the dogmas?
   A good collection of the artist's paintings can be found at http://www.magritte.com.


311. 000816 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Profit margin vs. prophet margin

Our nation's triumph is indistinguishable from "spiritual death," writes Morris Berman, in his new book, The Twilight of American Culture. Like the masses of Rome "zoned out on bread and circuses," we are distracted from what is really going on by violent entertainment, medication and shopping malls ("to be is to buy").
   What is going on? Berman argues, as others do, that what passes for "spirituality" today is empty, feel-good platitudes, and that our lives are cheapened by religion that has become more entertainment than education.
   Perhaps he has a point. Religion is silent about the rapid changes in the distribution of wealth, for example, and what this portends for democracy. By 1998 one person, Bill Gates, had a net worth larger than the combined net worth of the bottom 40 per cent of American households, and the 447 richest people on the planet were worth more than the combined wealth of over half the world's population.
   Berman's depressing analysis is lifted by the encouraging stories of individuals who are living their lives in "renunciation" of mere profit and discovering deep meaning in service to others, a pattern he finds prefigured in the monks who preserved remnants of culture in the Dark Ages.
   While Berman studied many dimensions of our culture, he does not consider what may be happening to religions of the world as they seek to identify themselves and understand one another as they meet in earnest for the first time in America. If this process leads to mutual purification, then could the "spiritual death" Berman identifies instead be revealed as the ambiguous adolescence of an enlightened America?


310. 000809 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 In blessing the animals, we remember our responsibilities

Theologians may question whether pets are found in heaven, but for many people pets bring a taste of heaven to earth.
   Learning how to care for animals is also a way children can learn about being human and how to treat other people, according to Suzanne Dotson, who developed a curriculum on the subject for grade school children, now used in five metro school districts and several library systems.
   Already the Rev. Robert Lee Hill, minister at Community Christian Church, is planning the annual outdoor "Blessing of the Animals" ecumenical service for Oct. 8. Hill says "we affirm that God loves all creatures, not just humans. As we bless the animals, we recognize that they bless us, and we remember our responsibilities with and for creation."
   The observance, with over a dozen churches participating, falls near the Oct. 4 feast day of Francis of Assisi, named in 1979 by Pope John Paul II as the patron saint of ecology.
The words of Francis are found in the well-known hymn beginning, "All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and let us sing . . . ." Many stories describe the love Francis had for animals.
   Dotson quotes from Henry Beston's book, The Outermost House: "We need . . . a more mystical concept of animals. . . . They are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."
   Dotson volunteers in fund-raising efforts for Wayside Waifs, (816) 761-8151, an organization that educates young people and saves pets.
   St. Francis would surely approve these earthly devotions.


309. 000802 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Believers find renewal in waters of faith

Readers often ask me, "What is your own faith?" I usually avoid a direct answer because it is more important for the reader to focus on his or her religion, not mine. I hope I am an honest broker treating those of all traditions with respect even when I personally disagree with a particular belief or practice.
   So I sometimes say, "On Mondays I'm Sikh, on Tuesdays Buddhist, Wednesdays Hindu, Thursdays Wiccan, Fridays Muslim, Saturdays Jewish, Sundays Christian."
   "Oh, so you pick and choose what you like."
   I would like to think that 35 years of studying religions of the world is not a casual cafeteria approach to faith. A sage has said that when one needs water, it is better to dig one 100-foot well rather than a dozen 10-foot wells.
   Those who have failed to dig beneath the obstructing rocks in their own traditions
sometimes seek easier ground for their religious questions, but remain on the surface because they cannot turn the stones in the new plot, either.
   Still, it is possible to find fonts of spiritual refreshment in all faiths. I can drink from any well and quench my thirst.
   This is not to say that all religions are the same.
   To say the Kaw is the same as the Nile or the Ganges or the Amazon is to misunderstand the importance of geography, history and accessibility. The familiarity we have with one stream does not necessarily mean that a distant faith is less worthy to those whose waters it refreshes -- or that the powers of its waters will somehow bless us in ways that our own river cannot.


308. 000726 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 He wrote the manual of pastoral care

How do you -- as a friend, a clergyperson or a health care professional -- provide spiritual support to someone sick or dying whose faith is different than your own?
   Most pastoral care experts agree that attempting to use your own religious vocabulary, symbols, stories and beliefs is not nearly as effective as acknowledging the religious perspective of the person you want to help. Of course, simply being present can in itself be a powerful spiritual benefit, regardless of differences in faiths.
   We are just beginning to learn how to visit each other's places of worship, how to honor each other's holy days and how to relate in times of vulnerability to those whose religions we hardly understand.
   To assist both clergy and laity in offering spiritual support to the sick, community outreach chaplain Steven Jeffers has prepared a manual, Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century: Communicating God's Love to Hospitalized Persons. Jeffers says he consulted many sources in preparing the book: "healthcare professionals, educators -- and clergy and lay persons of differing religious traditions."
   The manual explains what a hospital environment is, how to view a patient's needs and how to use effective pastoral "strategies." It includes prayers from many faiths.
   Quentin Jones, Senior Pastor of Merriam Christian Church, found the book recently and says "I wish I would have had this document my first day in a clinical setting."
   The manual can be purchased for $40 through the Department of Spiritual Wellness at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, 9100 W. 74th Street, Shawnee Mission, KS 66204 or by phone at (913) 676-8104.


307. 000719 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 True or false, creation vs. evolution

Which of these statements about evolution and creation are true?
   1. For some religions, creation stories are unimportant because they regard the world as an ongoing evolution which has no beginning.
   2. In some religions the Creator is regarded as a bungler.
   3. The famous cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, never refers to God.
   4. At his death in 1883, Charles Darwin, who developed a theory of evolution, was eulogized at Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul's Cathedral in London.
   5. Darwin based much of his thinking about populations on the work of the Rev. Thomas Malthus.
   6. Most biblical scholars find two distinct stories of creation in Genesis, both echoing earlier Mesopotamian sources.
   7. Most biblical scholars say the Hebrew text of Genesis 1 does not support the idea that God created the world out of nothing.
   8. While we understand a "day" in terms of the rotation of the earth with respect to the sun, the Genesis 1 creation story says that God made the sun on the fourth day.
   9. In some creation stories, the world is made from the broken or sacrificed body of a god.
   10. The Thirteenth Century Muslim theologian and poet, Rumi, and the Twentieth Century Catholic scientist and poet, Teilhard de Chardin, both wrote about evolution as a spiritual process.
  11. Evolution is taught at (Baptist) Baylor, (Mormon) Brigham Young and (Roman Catholic) Notre Dame universities.
   Answers: All are true except #3.


306. 000712 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Life meanders by design, and so we meet

DES MOINES -- The chairs have been set up, it seems, for a lecture, but that's not the occasion. If I were showing overheads or using a flipchart, the arrangement might make sense, but I'm about to preside at a wedding, here under the dome at the Botanical Center.
   Except for the positioning of the chairs, I don't see any straight lines. Everything is organic. The Japanese koi do not swim directly. The finches do not rise and swoop according to compass alignment. The orchids and spider lilies are shaped by inner design, not forced rectilinear pattern. The fig tree and the coconut palm have bumps and bends, suggesting not so much a ruler as the moving sun and the changing wind.
   So I quickly put the chairs in meander mode. It seems so natural that no one notices as guests take their seats. The people now are participants in this lush environment, not intruders from a land of rigid pews.
   The groom and bride did not find each other by orthogonals or lime lines. Life is often haphazard and unexpected, beauty growing out of chance circumstance more than blueprint. The love we celebrate spills over boundaries, uniting two families as well as two persons, an enriched ecology, not a new wing to a building.
   It is an unexpected splendor. Who could have predicted it? The spirit, Jesus said, is like the wind: you don't know whence it comes and goes.
   Yes, we need straight lines, rules and plans, in their place; but on this occasion, in this space, to celebrate the spirit and ways of love, subverting the rows and files of chairs seems a better way to match this garden glory.


305. 000705 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Histories of religion expound on faiths

A reader asks me to recommend books on world religions.
   Better for a beginner than a lot of dates and institutional history, Huston Smith's The World's Religions takes the reader into the heart of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The selection of photos in his Illustrated World's Religions is disappointing and the text is reduced by half.
   Except for a brief chapter on primal religions, Smith's book is like most popular works in omitting ancient religions. Geoffrey Parrinder's World Religions from Ancient History to the Present and Ninian Smart's The Religious Experience are good remedies.
   The Complete Idiot's Guide to the World's Religions is generally reliable and full of facts, though it doesn't provide the inside feel of the different faiths. Peter Occhiogrosso's The Joy of Sects includes helpful glossaries for each faith.
   The three volume History of Religious Ideas by my teacher, Mircea Eliade, is a comprehensive interpretation of religion from the Stone Age through the Reformation and excels in showing how religions develop.
   Moojan Momen's The Phenomenon of Religion treats the world's faiths not one by one but comparatively by themes, such as suffering, gender, the nature of reality and ethics. It is an exciting approach.
   All of these are in paperback.
   For those who think nothing much happened in Jewish theology between the First and the Twentieth Centuries, I recommend the very readable Twenty Twenty: Jewish Visionaries Throughout Two Thousand Years by Kansas City's own Morris B. Margolies.
 


Midtown report
KYLE S. THOMAS - The Kansas City Star
Date: 08/08/00 22:30

   A Westport clergyman was recently praised for promoting religious unity. The Rev. Vern Barnet, convener of the Kansas City Interfaith Council, received the Pike's Peak "Interfaith Cooperation and Achievement" award from Pike's Peak Interfaith Council in Colorado Springs, Colo.
     The organization promotes better understanding and respect for different religions and cultures.
     "I really appreciate the people in Colorado recognizing the work in Kansas City," Barnet said.
     For the past 15 years, Barnet has been the founder and minister in residence at the Center for Religious Experience and Study in Overland Park. He also writes a weekly faith column in the FYI section of The Kansas City Star.
     "Barnet is one of the few community interfaith leaders in this country who has the patience and wisdom to bring people together in ways that affirm the distinctive character of each faith," said Pike's Peak chairman Dean Tollefson.
     Barnet has received numerous awards from Muslim, Christian and Jewish organizations in the Kansas City area.
     "It is a great satisfaction and thrill to be a part of a process that makes people aware of different spiritual religions," said Barnet.


304. 000628 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Being faithful to faith includes respect

Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and wife of James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, has responded to questions raised in this space last week from Colorado Springs.
   Members of a millennial commission there sought to include all faiths in the May 4 prayer observance as a way of bringing the entire community together. This effort failed and instead the major celebration in town was Christian.
   Dobson explains that ``according to the 1997 CIA World Fact Book,'' the Judeo-Christian heritage ``reflects the beliefs of 84 percent of the nation'' and ``the National Day of Prayer Task Force is an expression of the Judeo-Christian faith.''
   However, no Roman Catholic and Jewish speakers were included in the six-hour program. A rabbi there told me he was working toward embracing all who respected the Bible in the local observance. I asked him if this included Muslims who have historically protected Christians and Jews as ``people of the Book.'' He said his concern was getting his own faith as a full partner in the observance, as it is in Washington, D.C. When I asked about Hindus and Buddhists, he said that might be a long-term goal.
   Kansas City's style is more inclusive when city-wide efforts are planned, such as the yearly Martin Luther King, Jr, service and the Harmony Choir Concert. The Midwest Bioethics Center's ``Compassion Sabbath'' program involved Hindu, Muslim, American Indian and other faiths.
   An anonymous caller condemns me almost every week for even mentioning that non-Christian religions exist, but Kansas City seems to find that faithfulness to one's own tradition means respecting others as members of our community.


303. 000621 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Ideas differ about inclusive interfaith celebrations

COLORADO SPRINGS -- "Of all peoples, religious leaders should talk to each other," says the Rev. Richard Trussell, Lutheran minister and spokesperson of the Pikes [ folo ] Peak Interfaith Council. Trussell was disappointed in May when months of discussions had overcome most of the objections Christian evangelicals had to a community-wide observance of the National Day of Prayer and were ended "at the 11th hour by Shirley Dobson," wife of James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, headquartered here.
   As part of a city millennial commission, Trussell had worked toward a religiously inclusive event. Instead, separate celebrations were held.
   The largest gathering, in Memorial Park, was sponsored by Net, a group of evangelical churches, affiliated with a national network headed by Shirley Dobson.
   At Acacia Park, a smaller but more religiously diverse group was sponsored by the Interfaith Council.
   Jaan Heinmets, coordinator of Net, says that the plan was always for many events around the city at the same time. "How can a Christian and a Buddhist not feel awkward in praying together?" he asked.
   Trussell responded, "The Buddhist leader at Acacia led a mediation on kindness. I was not harmed. At first the Muslims were wary of inclusion because they don't do petitionary prayers like Christians. We asked them to show us what prayer was like in Islam and we learned about `throwing one's face before God.' We were enlarged, not compromised."
   Repeated attempts to reach Shirley Dobson for comment were unsuccessful, but others praised the Memorial Park event as a moving expression of Christian unity.


302. 000614 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Buddhist says, 'Hello pain, sit down'

"When you are strong, you can invite your pain to visit, like an old friend," says Kansas City Buddhist leader Bethany Freshnock. She advises knowing, not suppressing, one's  longstanding inner conflicts in order to reconcile them. This is a path to "understanding the past, with freedom and the ability to love yourself and others."
   Freshnock is an ordained member of the Tiep Hien Order of Interbeing founded by the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh in 1966. His students call him Thay.
   "Thay teaches that all of us have the seeds of every thought, word and deed in our store consciousness. Only the seeds that are watered bloom. Too many of us water the seeds of anger, fear and sorrow, often without even being aware of it. This was me ten years ago," Freshnock reports.
   "Thay teaches mindfulness to recognize the seeds within us and to practice watering the most wholesome seeds. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of the present moment. By practicing mindfulness, I learned there is much to be happy about right here and now.
   "This isn’t simply looking on the bright side or ignoring pain. My suffering was always present, yet I could not touch it without more pain. We have to build our strength first. Thay says the easiest way to do this by touching joy and peace. Calmly breathing in and out, we can look deeply at our pain.
   "Everyday I practice being happy, with mindfulness.  And when pain arises, I look deeply. I now have friends, the Community of Mindful Living, who support each other in living this way."
   For information, call the American Buddhist Center, (816) 561-4466 ext. 143.


301. 000607 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Buddhism takes shape of language

As religions expand from their countries of origin, they adapt in various ways to the new places in which they take root. Buddhism, for example, began in India 2500 years ago. About 500 years later Buddhism began to reach China, where it was transformed.
   One factor in its transformation was language. The Buddha spoke an Indo-European language which, like English, structures sentences out of nouns and verbs: things and what things do. Yet the Buddha taught that "things" have no existence distinct and separate from other things, an idea which the language made difficult to express.
   But the Chinese language more naturally structures thought around conditions and relationships than around "things." By its very syntax, Chinese was more congenial to the Buddhist understandings of reality. Buddhism flourished there while in India it all but disappeared or was reabsorbed into Hinduism.
   As Buddhism spread into many countries, it found hundreds of different expressions. Not even Christianity with its many denominations, is as varied.
   Today in America, different forms of Buddhism, shaped by various cultures, are encountering each other. What do Japanese Soka Gakkai, the Tibetan Nyingma lineage and the teachings of the Vietnamese leader, Thich Nhat Hahn -- all represented in Kansas City --  have in common?
   To answer this question, in cooperation with Buddhist groups here, my organization is bringing the remarkable Thai Buddhist monk, Santikaro Bhikkhu, to speak Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut. For information, call (913) 649 5114.


300. 000531 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Kansas City can learn from other cities

Last Wednesday's column drew an unusual number of responses. I wrote about the cancellation of an interfaith service planned to end the "peak week" of the KC150 celebrations. [Kansas City has perhaps a dozen interfaith organizations, but none of them were invited to lead such a project, and none are equiped to do so. Ad hoc efforts failed.]
   The Most Rev. Raymond Boland, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph, called to affirm his support for recognition of the role of religion in the life of the community. Others expressed frustration that Kansas City has no effective vehicle through which religious groups can cooperate.
   Why doesn't Kansas City have a metro-wide religious alliance?
   Answers are complex. Past efforts have failed because of geographic, racial and socio-economic factors. Some groups of ministers worry that citywide efforts will rob them of resources they need for their own efforts. They fear top-down decision-making.
   In addition, we have no consensus on the mission of a metro alliance. Should its function be mainly communication? Should it also educate? Should it address social distress through relief programs or issue statements on abortion or capital punishment?
   A few in almost every faith worry about being compromised or swallowed up by a larger, diverse organization. Every religious group faces the challenge of distinguishing itself from others on one hand, and finding ways to participate in the life of the larger community, on the other.
   With varying degrees of success, other cities have found ways to recognize the integrity of each faith while cooperating toward mutual goals. Kansas City can learn from the experience of others while forging our own solutions.


299. 000524 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Religion's role needs city recognition

Despite the best efforts of some extraordinarily talented religious leaders, the June 4 interfaith service originally planned to conclude the Kansas City sesquicentennial "peak week" has been cancelled.
   Why? Why cannot Kansas City recognize the role religion has played in the development of civic life, from our sense of morality to the founding of hospitals? Why are we unable to celebrate with each other in our rich diversity?
   Of course we can, we do, often, in small ways -- but not as part of the main observance of Kansas City's big anniversary. Without any permanent organization through which all religious groups can work with each other, countless good ideas, like the KC150 proposal, fail.
   "Kansas City is known throughout the country as having a fractured religious community," says Rodger Kube, executive director of Spirit of Service, one of several organizations trying to help fill the gap. Mayor Cleaver's 1996 Task Force on Race Relations also noted this hole in civic life.
   Maurice Culver, formerly executive director of Project Equality, spent his sabbatical leave a few years ago studying metro-wide religious councils in other cities. When he explored the possibility of such an association here, he discovered "nobody wants to fund it." The cancelled June 4 interfaith service is a case in point: the task religious leaders faced was to pull off a major city-wide event with no staff and no budget.
   Surely a gift Kansas City deserves to give itself on its 150th birthday is an alliance through which all faith communities can work together.


298. 000517 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Myth has a power all its own

You know the story. The boastful hare challenges the tortoise to a race. The tortoise accepts and steadily plods along the course. He finally passes the over-confident hare who has stopped to take a nap. The moral: Slow and steady wins the race.
   This famous fable attributed to Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller, has the ring of truth to it, whether or not a hare and a tortoise ever agreed to a contest. The story is true not in a literal sense, but in the sense of being genuine.
   We often use the term "myth" to refer to something untrue, as in the Vietnam era book by Senator J. William Fulbright, Old Myths and New Realities. But scholars of religion use "myth" to mean not what is untrue, but truth in story form so important that it is a pattern or guide for living, just as Aesop's fable provides a specific insight into how to achieve a goal even if we are not as naturally gifted as others.
   Myths are sacred stories that disclose answers to the tough questions: Who am I? Who are you? Can I trust myself with you? How should I relate to others? Is there a purpose or destiny for us? What are my duties? Why does anything exist? Why is there both good and evil? How do I want to live my life? What does death mean?
   In the secular world, advertisers now answer these questions. Commercials replace myths. Sponsorships supplant scriptures. We can trust ourselves with the right mouthwash and underarm deodorant. The label on our clothes confirms our identity.
   One function of myth is to reveal how all life fits together. In abandoning such sacred stories, we lose the wisdom showing us how to participate in the vitality of the cosmos.




297. 000510 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 God knows all -- except the future

MINNEAPOLIS -- Does God ever change his mind? Twin Cities theologian Gregory A. Boyd is in the midst of a controversy that has moved beyond his Baptist denomination because he believes the Bible suggests that the "future is open."
   Boyd is a professor at Bethel College. Seven years ago he founded Woodland Hills Church, now with 3,000 members. "How can you be a full-time teacher and also lead your church?" I asked. "I don't have to control everything," he answered, his management style in keeping with his understanding of a God who "delights in empowering others and in diversity."
   Charged with heresy, Boyd's responses are both Biblical and philosophical.
   Boyd says scripture contains indications that God "does not know exhaustively what is to come." God repents, regrets, expresses surprise, and is frustrated, as in Gen. 6:6, when God sees how wicked humans have become. Boyd cites both Hebrew and New Testament texts.
   God knows all that can be known, Boyd says, but since the future is unsettled and not yet reality, and since God has ordained a measure of free-will for humans, even he cannot be certain of how free agents will act.
   How God can know general outcomes while not determining individual behavior? Boyd answered by describing chaos theory, a powerful mathematical model developed in the last thirty years, to show how to predict the limits of a system while it is impossible to predict the condition of individual variables.
   Boyd's seventh book, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God, was published last month.


296. 000503 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Network has something to offer every congregation

Unlike most metro-areas, Kansas City has no comprehensive religious council through which all faith instititions can relate to each other and the larger community. Many organizations play specific roles. The Kansas City Interfaith Council, for example, provides speakers from various traditions, from American Indian to Zoroastrian. But the 1,300 congregations here have no regular way of working together.
   Now this gap may be closing. Late last year, the Rev Rodger Kube became executive director of Spirit of Service, an interfaith ministries network. Kube say the new non-profit organization "aims to be the catalyst for creating a membership association" of all congregations.
   "We know that congregations are doing great work in our community, and we want to celebrate their contributions. We believe that as congregations are connected, enter into true dialogue with one another and begin to collaborate to solve community problems, their positive influence will grow," Kube said.
   Spirit of Service plans to develop "cutting-edge electronic resources for the faith community," including a metro-wide religious master calendar, service need bulletin boards, congregational home pages and calendars, volunteer resource linkages and chat rooms for community problem solving, according to Kube. Some of these tools are already available through the interfaith ministries network website, www.spiritofservice.org.
   Education, community forums and a corps of consultants are also planned to support all aspects of congregational life. For more information, contact Spirit of Service through its website, by phone at 816-942-2224, or e-mail: sos@crn.org.


295. 000426 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Group helps with discerning the Tao

Translated into English perhaps more than any other scripture, the Tao Te Ching (pronounced Dow Duh Jeeng) consists of 5000 Chinese characters and takes less than half an hour to read. In its brevity and simplicty is the naturalness and sponteneity of its legendary author, Lao-Tzu, often regarded as the founder of Taoism (pronounced Dowism) in the Sixth Century B.C.E.
   Taoism, or more correctly Tao Chia, is the discovery that everything arises and returns to an ultimate Source, that this Source is a process changing one thing into what appears to be its opposite, and that the best way to live is to yeild to its flow.
   Water is a favorite metaphor for the Tao because it takes the shape of its vessel, it is a universal solvent and it is powerful enough over the course of time to wear away mountains.  The virtues of acceptance, absorption and patience are thus revealed.
   Over the years dozens of people have asked me if there is a Taoist group in the Kansas City area. Now one is starting, facilitated by the Rev. Johanna Perri, Wednesdays, 6-7 pm, at Unity Temple on the Plaza, (816) 561-4466. Each week the group discusses one of the 81 short chapters of the Tao Te Ching. Perri welcomes the use of multiple translations because the text is so rich in meanings.
   Perri says that we "spend most of our time fighting" the Tao, instead of knowing and working with it. It is "like expecting gravity or electricity to operate with different or sporadic equations when we want it to," she says.
   While Perri encourages each person to spend time alone discerning the Tao, she hopes the group can help each participant to find how the Tao is working in one's life.


294. 000412 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Take a look at other faiths through the eyes of a believer

Scholars describe religion as a mix of beliefs, rituals, rules of behavior and a sense of belonging to a group. Different religions may emphasize one of these elements over others. Christianity often focuses on beliefs, unlike Zen Buddhism which warns against beliefs as impediments to experiencing the depth and fullness of the "here and now," and unlike many expressions of Judaism where group solidarity is probably more important than most theological formulations.
   This diversity is a problem for one whose faith is centered in a creedal statement such "Christ is the only salvation for the world." In relating to other religions as if they are mainly belief systems, subject to rational discourse, one is likely to misapprehend their actual natures.
   So what is a Christian to do who feels responsible to share the Christian truth with others? Should other faiths be considered false?
   At a lecture at Rockhurst University last week, Professor Linda Zagzebski of the University of Oklahoma proposed working on such questions as I, they and you.
   She contrasted subjective, "first-person," with objective, "third-person," views of truth. My subjective view arises from my personal involvement with my faith. An objective view is broader and more likely to contain elements which people from other faiths see. Both views are valuable but both are incomplete.
   She recommends a "second-person" person perspective which combines first-person commitment with third-person scope. In learning to see ourselves from the view of the person with whom we speak, we contribute to a communal effort to identify the truth.


293. 000405 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Supplication recognizes commonality

Readers have asked for the invocation I offered for the Kansas House of Representatives Mar. 23. It will disappoint some who feel I missed the opportunity to proclaim social standards or propose a flashy legislative agenda. I thought it would be presumptuous to use a moment of reverence to make a political speech. Sometimes simply recognizing who we are, and what we hope to become, is better. Here is the text:
   "Infinite and Ultimate Mystery, the citizens of Kansas call you by many names — God, Yahweh, Wankantaka, Allah, Brahman, Goddess, Tao, Sat Nam, Creative Interchange, Void, Ahura Mazda, Ground of Being — these names planted and transplanted here, in Kansas soil, the great traditions of the world now growing in our own garden.
   "We are joined as a sunflower is joined with the plains while it reaches upward beyond itself. We are joined as the rivers and streams of Kansas are joined as they travel to the oceans of the planet. We are joined as the eagle is joined with the sky.
   "So are we joined in this chamber with the citizens on whose behalf we hold offices of trust, and joined with past and future as we live together honoring you as the Eternal Spirit of Service.
   "You, who from ancient times have joined us in shapes like covenant, compact, and constitution as means by which we may co-create a humane, educated, and prosperous society — you, Spirit of Generations: bless all those here and everywhere serving the public weal in many ways.
   "On this new day, accept us anew as we join again with the calls to stewardship, liberty, justice, righteousness and love."


292. 000329 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Convention calls for children's rights

"In the Christian faith we believe that unless we become as children, we cannot enter the kingdom of God," former Kansas City mayor Emanuel Cleaver, a United Methodist minister, said in explaining why he supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
   Cleaver says it is "tragic" that, while 191 counties have ratified the 1989 treaty, the United States has yet to do so. He said it is especially appropriate that Kansas City host a conference to encourage U.S. ratification of the Convention because "Kansas City has for the last decade moved toward being recognized as the 'children's capital of the world.'"
   At the conference Cleaver will speak on "The Role of Religious Institutions in Ratification" of the Convention. Cleaver said that the churches "have failed to be vigilant" in supporting such efforts on behalf of children.
   The recent shooting-deaths of children at school make this a poignant concern, he said.
   Ahmed El-Sherif, head of the American Muslim Council Midwest Region, welcomes interfaith attention to the Convention and will join Cleaver in speaking at the conference. "Children are the leaders of the future, and it is essential that we protect their rights now so they can grow with health, education and morals."
   El-Sherif, an American citizen, says he is embarrassed when he visits Egypt, his native country, that it is ahead of the U.S. in affirming the rights of children. "The U.S. should be showing the way," he said.
   Chaired by former Kansas City mayor Charles B. Wheeler, M.D., the conference begins Friday and runs through Sunday at the Kansas City Marriott Country Club Plaza.


291. 000322 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Prayer in House could be for thanksgiving

Several times this column has questioned whether certain prayers offered before the Kansas House of Representatives fully recognized the religious diversity within the state.
   Tomorrow I am scheduled to offer the invocation in Topeka. Dear reader, I can use your advice. I'm finding it is a lot easier to scrutinize someone else's effort than to find words for the large embrace implied in the Kansas Bill of Rights which prohibits any preference "by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship."
   Just as prayer in such a setting should be inclusive religiously, it should also recall shared aspirations rather than pushing legislators toward partisan positions. It might be right to pray for honest government, but I'd prefer the legislators figure out for themselves whether lobbyists should be required to report their expenditures on each representative than for me to pray God into cosponsoring any particular bill.
   Praying for any governmental function is inherently problematic. Skeptics point to the sometimes disappointing work of those for whom the prayer is offered and ask for evidence that the daily invocation does any good at all.
   And some religious leaders, mindful of the exhortation of Jesus to avoid public prayer (Matthew 6:6), worry about it as merely a sanctimonious veneer on the political rough house.
   Still, most people I know in government are honorable and dedicated. They often sacrifice personal gain for the larger public good. Perhaps I can at least offer a prayer of thanksgiving for them.


290. 000315 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Cartoon at least has some honest questions

NBC has braided the ancient stories of Noah, Lot and Job into a new half-hour animation, "God, the Devil and Bob." The show's chief human character is Bob Alman, whose last name recalls "Everyman," a 15th Century English morality play.
   Bob is a 32-year-old Detroit autoworker. God, who enjoys a good beer with a twist-off cap, is pretty disgusted with humankind and, as in the days before the Flood, contemplates destroying everything. As Abraham persuaded God to search for the righteous when God wanted to consume Sodom, God now wonders if one person can prove that humankind is worth saving. The Devil picks Bob and God agrees to the test. Unlike Job, Bob's task is not to merely to maintain his own integrity, but to save the world.
   Bob thus becomes a prophet or savior-figure, a role not particularly pleasing to his family. And since God gives no instructions, Bob is filled with Kafkaesque anxiety. When a bum asks for five bucks, Bob, perhaps recalling Matthew 25:40, wonders if the bum is Christ in disguise.
   Called a comedy, the show raises the really big questions that our secular culture usually ignores. Why did God create a world he knew would be so foul? If we are made in the image of God, what does that say about God? Since God can intervene but doesn't, isn't he ultimately responsible for the horrors around us?
   This is hardly the sentimental "Touched by an Angel." Some may think the show verges into blasphemy. I find too few hints of redemption. And although Bob's theological problems plague mainly Western faiths and Eastern approaches are ignored, still the questions are more honest than pat answers.


289. 000308 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Faiths provide a mirror to unity

Many readers have let me know they understand the dangers of religious prejudice. They believe that everyone has the right to one's own religion, or none.
   This is an advance from the days when people were forcibly converted to another faith or denied opportunities because of their beliefs. Home associations can no longer prevent Jews from buying in their areas. While Wiccans and other minorities still encounter discrimination from time to time, we have come a long way.
   But are their deeper levels of engagement with faiths other than our own?
   We can move from respecting others' right to their own faiths to respecting their faiths. This is a subtle but crucial distinction. It is one thing for me to agree you have the right to have whatever painting you wish in your living room, and it is another thing for me to learn why it is beautiful to you, even if I do not want it in my living room.
   We take another step toward deeper understanding when we participate in interfaith exchange. I need a mirror to see myself. When Christians discover why Jesus is so revered by Muslims, when Tibetan Buddhists and Jews tell their stories of suffering, when Hindus and American Indians share dances, all can see their own heritage more clearly with the mirror of the other.
   But there may be an even fuller engagement possible for us. The mirrors of faith transmit and reflect the holy from many angles. Bringing and focusing them together, a powerful, curative light can shine to heal the three great crises of secularism: the endangered environment, the violation of personhood, and the broken community.
   This may be the key religious task of the new millennium.


288. 000301 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Coalition says religious freedom needs protection

Does Missouri need legislation to protect religious liberty? Cynthia S. Holmes, a St. Louis attorney representing the Missouri Coalition for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), met with Kansas City religious leaders recently to say that it does.
    "Government used to be required to have a compelling state interest before it could infringe upon religious practice," she said. "But recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have lowered the standard so that if a governmental action is simply neutral, it may be permitted."
   Organizers have turned their attention from the federal to the state level. She said that RFRA has received committee approval in the Missouri Senate, and a similar bill has been introduced in the House.
   She cited many examples where she believes remedy is necessary. "In Missouri, a party and a witness were forced to appear in court on their sabbath without any compelling reason." She told of instances where prisoners were not allowed access to the Bible and other religious literature. "Sunday School enrollment records have been subpoenaed.
    "The RFRA Coalition consists of both religious conservatives and liberals, Christians and non-Christians, many of whom frequently disagree on other issues," she said.
    "RFRA is necessary to make sure that everyone has the right to practice one's faith" said Juan Rangel, Jr, executive director of the Greater Kansas City Region of the NCCJ, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews, now the National Conference for Community and Justice.


287. 000223 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Different stories teach same lessons

Both Job in the Hebrew scriptures and Vimalakirti in the Buddhist tradition are model human beings. Both are family men, men of wealth, men of stature, known for their virtue.
   Both get sick. And both receive "comforters" who inquire about the cause of their illnesses. But the differences in the stories are striking.
   Job is afflicted because Satan persuades God to test him. We admire Job for maintaining his integrity throughout the ordeal. The main text explores the problem of a just man beset with undeserved misfortune. In a famous speech out of a whirlwind, God responds by daring Job to question His wisdom and power.
   In the end, Job's health and wealth are restored in passages scholars think derive from different sources.
   Buddhism, on the other hand, has no God to set the story in motion. It is Vimalakirti himself who assumes his disease, and he does so willingly, without complaint. Just as parents suffer when their children are distressed, so the model Buddhist vicariously takes on the difficulties of others, but without "owning" them.
   In opening ourselves to understand others, we gain understanding of our own true natures. Enlightenment comes when we so completely identify with others that we lose any sense of personal misery and enter the bliss of selflessness.
   Vimalakirti thus can also be compared with Isaiah's suffering servant and with the Christians' Jesus, whose wounds show us our own frail nature and paradoxically bring us healing.


286. 000216 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 The deep Muslim roots of respect

"For the first time in my 73 years, I have the opportunity to thank you for your heritage," Sr. Rosemary Flanigan, CSJ, told the Muslims gathered several weeks ago at the Crescent Peace Society fourth annual Eid celebration dinner, after Ramadan, the month of fasting.
   Flanigan's topic was "respect," and her acknowledgement of indebtedness to Muslim culture illustrated her theme to an audience of Americans who were born in 21 different countries.
   "Aristotle came to the West through Latin translations of the Arabic versions of the original Greek. The great theologian in my Roman Catholic tradition, Thomas Aquinas, studied Aristotle from the Muslims. The Muslims philosophers Avicenna and Averroes also influenced Western thought." She said her ideas about respect come from the Greeks through the Arabs.
   "Respect arises from the relationship between me as the decider and me as the doer. Respect involves the will as well as the intellect. Showing respect is a habit of behavior built upon our dignity as self-deciding actors. It is the essence of what it means to be human," she said.
   "This was the shortest, most insightful philosophy lecture I have ever heard," said Andrew S. Bergerson, asssitant professor of history at UMKC, a guest at the dinner.
   Bergerson is completing a book about a German town where the habit of respect disintegrated when people decided they were not responsible for the well-being of their neighbors. "This was a critical change which made Nazi dehumanization possible," he said.


285. 000209 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Romantic love pales beside divine love

"Romantic love is a secular version of the religious yearning for God," Morris Berman, author of the just-published Wandering God, told me when he was in Kansas City a few weeks ago.
   Both depend upon what Berman calls "interiority, the sense of inner life, a state of mind, rather than external order. We now select parnters based on how we feel about them rather than having our marriages arranged, and we value guilt and contrition over merely mechanical performances of penance. In law we consider intention as well as a result--did the accused mean to hurt his friend with the saw or was it an accident?
   "Interiority" disappeared in the West after St. Augustine's Confessions, he said. For reasons we do not yet fully understand, it was reawakened about the time that romantic love became an ideal.
   "Romantic love is the exception in most cultures," he said, "but since the 11th Century it has fascinated the West. Popular music today repeats the same themes of 12th Century French troubador songs: I am nothing without you, I can't live without you and such -- sentiments which, of course, are rubbish.
   "Courtly love arose with the knight's affection for his lord's wife, who could not be possessed. We value unsatisfied passion, a high state of desire. If you get what you want, as in marriage, romantic excitement diminishes." Since we cannot be united with God, the yearning continues. We want what we cannot attain.
   Berman advises those moving toward mature love to become "transparent," hiding nothing from ourselves about our interiority. And how else can one truly seek God?


284. 000202 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Christian churches have a duty to foster unity

"Within our local churches, ecumenism may seem like a second dessert, nice but hardly necessary,'' says retired Episcopal bishop Arthur A. Vogel. But Vogel agrees with Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner that "Christians have a duty of unity, that disunity is disobedience to God.''
   Vogel cites the prayer of Jesus for unity in John 17 and Ignatius of Antioch in the First Century who wrote, "Where division reigns, God does not dwell.''
   Paul's admonition in II Corinthians 5:19 says that as God has reconciled himself to us through Christ, so our service to others must be reconciliation.
   "If God's presence in the church is not able to overcome the divisions in the church, why should the world believe that the God to whom Christians witness can overcome the world?'' he asks. "This is why the union of the church is its very mission.''
   For Vogel, who was active in international Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue for 22 years, unity does not mean uniformity. Vogel advocates a unity of faith within a "pluralformity,'' the one truth expressed necessarily in various ways because of the richness and plentitude of God.
   The "ultimate ecumenism" includes non-Christian religions was well, in Vogel's view. What is needed is a shared awareness of the Infinite Mystery, however that is inflected in worship. "What we need is witness, not battle,'' he says.
   Vogel speaks on "The Gospel Imperative for Ecumenical Dialogue'' Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church ELCA in Independence. The evening is cosponsored by St. Michael's Episcopal and St. Mark's Catholic Church. For information, call (816) 373-2600.


283. 000126 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Monk seeks the self through the 'not self'

Some people get upset and defensive when they hear the Buddhist 'not-self' teaching," said the Ven. Santikaro Bhikkhu, a Thai monk visiting Kansas City earlier this month." Others are relieved. The stressed-out competitive ego has become a burden."
   The bhikkhu approaches the doctrine two ways. The "classic" explanation sees what we conventionally call a self as a system of interdependent activities such as touch, thought, emotions and consciousness.
   "All of these are transient; they arise and pass away, endlessly interacting with each other. They are impermanent and have no fixed, independent, isolated existence of their own," he said.
   The second, "relational" explanation jibes with the modern yearning "for the perfect relationship 'that will bring me happiness.' Our lives involve others: bosses, families, friends, lovers. What we are is collected from parents, teachers, friends--even enemies. And we would be different without, say, automobiles. Our ideas, beliefs, behaviors, values, and even our bodies come from others. It is impossible to draw real boundaries between 'self' and 'other.'"
   The 'not-self' insight can be understood only within the context of the Buddha's teaching about suffering and the end of suffering, he said. "Suffering arises from the illusion that there is a separate 'me' that is ultimately distinct from others and persists from moment to moment. Suffering ends when we abandon clinging to a false idea of self. Freed of illusion, we no longer need to be possessive, defensive, anxious or hateful. We can live with wisdom and compassion," he said.


282. 000119 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Students see the diversity in world's religions

All grades at the Kansas City Academy, a private school, returned to classes the first week after the holiday recess to study world religions. The students took field trips, listened to guests, did research and projects and performed and watched Inherit the Wind, a play about the Scopes Trial and evolution.
   During the week, students encountered Baha'is, Buddhists, Jews, Unitarian Universalists and Wiccans and well as members of the three branches of Christianity--Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Later this month, Muslims will visit.
   The week was focused on what religions teach about our relationships with the environment, ourselves and each other.
   Principal Mary Statz said the students helped select the social justice theme of diversity in religions. She was enthused about how the week affected the students. "All the speakers and the hosts at the places we visited were excellent role models because they felt strongly about their own faiths but refused to criticize others. We were all touched."
   Projects presented as the week ended included a dance depicting the birth of good and evil, a newspaper called "The Sinai Scrolls" reporting the activities of Moses and a brochure about a student's own new religion, Mechanical Naturalism.
   Rosemary Yarmo, a teacher, called the week a "truly enlightening experience."
   Since the students "were not forced to accept a specific doctrine," the acceptance of diversity helped the students to accept themselves, said academic dean Martha Fly.
   Stella Doering, a parent, said the week strengthened her son's understanding of his own faith while enabling him to appreciate others.


281. 000112 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Buddhist monk encourages real interaction

For the past 20 years, the Ven. Santikaro Bhikkhu has lived as a Buddhist monk in Thailand. Born in Chicago, he became a student and translator of perhaps the greatest Thai Buddhist teacher in history, Ajahn Buddhadasa.
   He was in Kansas City last week for talks with several different Buddhist groups here after leading a retreat at Conception Abbey.
   "While some indigenous peoples have no concept of what we call a 'self,' Americans are hyper-individualistic. Still, everywhere I go here, these isolated American individuals want to talk about community. Community is a deep human need, but America is consumer-oriented, forcused more on products than on community," he said.
   "The closest some get to community may be identifying with a team at a football game.
   "The Christian doctrine of the Trinity has become opaque. How can three persons be one? Premoderns found in it a model of relationships, a way of understanding God as community. Now we don't understand community or God."
   Leading his own monastery, the bhikkhu (monk) believes community requires regular face-to-face interaction and connection to place. Cyber communities like GeoCities are useful but insufficient as a substitute.
   "Buddhism teaches that a community depends upon six virtues of harmonious living under the two rubrics of caring and sharing. Metta, kindness, includes caring in body, speech and mind -- what we do, say and think. Sharing involves property, a moral code and a world view," he said.
   The task today, he said, is to create community not only within groups of individuals, but world-wide communities of communities.


280. 000105 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Now the real challenges to religion begin

The next 100 years may bring the greater challenges to all religions than the last 10,000 years. The technological advances of the agricultural, industrial and information revolutions resulted in new religious developments, but they may seem trivial compared with the biotechnologies already beginning to raise difficult questions.
   All religions have wrestled with the meaning of death. Some teach this life is followed by heaven or hell as reward or punishment. Others believe the soul is reincarnated repeatedly until one is absorbed in God. Still others say that we can know nothing beyond the grave, so life's meaning must be found within the limits of this life.
   But how will religions deal with the emerging possibility that humans -- through biological and computerized replacement parts, through mastering the aging process and other medical advances -- may be able to live forever? And how will religions say the resources to support endless life should be allocated?
   What it means to be human today in America is very different than what it meant to be human in ancient Sumer, for example. They didn't have cell phones. But soon it may be possible to place a hardly-noticeable, voice-activated device in one's ear and communicate instantly with others. The step just beyond that is a biological implant. Will we still be human? With the completion of the human genome project within five years, we may gain the power to create new species.
   Already the internet is transforming old notions of identity -- the soul. One can adopt many different on-line personalities interacting in cyberspace with other identities. When these creations gain independence from us in virtual reality, will we usurp God's role?


Buddhist center offers blending of beliefs for modern times

By OSCAR AVILA - The Kansas City Star
Date: 01/04/00 22:15

Ben Worth doesn't like labels. Too limiting. But he uses a few labels for himself to make a point. Christian minister. Recovering lawyer. Follower of Buddhism.
    Worth, founder of the American Buddhist Center, says the Eastern faith is compatible with a person's career pressures and Judeo-Christian roots.
    Many Kansas Citians seem to agree. Since the center opened in 1996, attendance has tripled and the mailing list is five times larger.
    Interest in Buddhism is growing throughout the area, though the numbers still are relatively small when compared with other religions. The increase has been bolstered by the American Buddhist Center, other houses of worship and scores of Asian immigrants.
    And, Worth says, the demands of a stressful society are steering many to Buddhism as a way
to find peace and satisfaction with life.
    "I subscribed to how my generation defined happiness: a nice house in Johnson County, a
big garage, a lot of possessions," Worth said. "I woke up one morning and realized I wasn't
happy.
    "I think a lot of people are realizing the same thing."
    The center, at Unity Temple on the Plaza, presents several meditation sessions each week.
The center also sponsors lectures, study groups, book discussions and retreats.
    On Sunday mornings, one can find Worth at Unity Temple, lighting a candle and hoping to
spark a figurative one as well.
    At his one-hour meditation sessions, he tries to provide a calm haven for the storms of the
modern world.
    Several participants join Worth in sitting cross-legged on the stage. Dozens more sit in
pews.
    Light filters in through colored windows featuring the authors of the four gospels. The piano strains of Christmas tunes leak in from a nearby room.
    Worth rings a bell and greets the "Buddha nature in each one of you."
    "Each one of us has the potential to awaken our true nature and release ourselves from fear,
greed, hatred and ignorance," he says softly.
    The participants breathe in. They breathe out.
    Footsteps shuffle outside the door. Some squirm. A clock ticks.
    They breathe in. They breathe out.
    "Breathing in, know that you're breathing in," Worth says. "Breathing out, know that you're
breathing out.
    "Keeping things as simple as possible, this breath, this moment is all there is."
    A few years ago, this would have been torture for Worth.
    He was a high-powered lawyer in Johnson County. Every career advancement wasn't
enough. He needed more. To get ahead, to buy, to...succeed.
    He was born in 1946. He was the classic Type-A personality, he said, always organizing. Even his attempts at spiritual retreats became well-orchestrated outings, not relaxing affairs.
    He turned away from religion. He began developing ulcers. His marriage fell apart,
embittering his family.
    He started attending Buddhist meditation sessions. After a short while, he had left his law
practice to start a prison ministry. He became an ordained Christian minister and started pursuing Buddhist philosophy more deeply.
    "Now I have less stuff and less money in my life than I've ever had," Worth said. "But I have more joy, hope and love."
    Worth acknowledges that traditional Buddhist teachers might take issue with his meditation techniques and how he presents the faith. His center offers a taste of many different approaches, from American to Korean.
    He also teaches a Communiversity course on the subject through the University of
Missouri-Kansas City.
    The Rev. Vern Barnet, minister in residence at the Center for Religious Experience and Study in Overland Park, said the American Buddhist Center is a good resource for those seeking an introduction to the faith.
    He said the Buddhist belief in impermanence appeals to many concerned about a modern world that seems to change with the speed of a mouse-click.
    Nothing good lasts forever, the Buddhists believe. Likewise, even extreme suffering will end too.
    "I think a lot of people are grabbing hold of that message," he said.
    Also helping has been the emergence of the Dalai Lama into Western consciousness, the embracing of the faith by celebrities such as Richard Gere and the sprinkling of Buddhism into popular culture, including movies such as "Little Buddha" and "Seven Years in Tibet."
    Other Buddhist centers remain vibrant. The Mindfulness Meditation Institute is making plans for a monastery and institute. The Shambhala Center in Kansas City, Kan., attracts dozens for meditation and study. The Kansas Zen Center in Lawrence draws teachers from around the world.
    Meanwhile, immigrants from China, Vietnam, Laos and Korea practice their faith in more orthodox manners in temples and private homes.
    Worth's center has become a networking point for the many interpretations of the faith, which is considered more diverse than Christianity.
    On Tuesday nights, teachers from the Kansas Zen Center lead meditation sessions based on the Korean tradition. The meetings combine quiet thought with lively chanting in a Sino-Korean tongue.
    Wearing traditional gray robes, the teachers share Buddhist stories and explain their relevance for modern society. Judy Roitman, a teacher at the Zen Center, meets individually with participants who want to learn more.
    "The only thing these people have in common is the desire to understand," Roitman said.
    Each manifestation of Buddhism -- be it from Vietnam or Korea -- has been shaped by the national character of its birthplace, Worth said.
    Worth said he hopes the multicultural flavor of America will create a Buddhism that embraces the traditions of many schools.
    Many who participate at the center, like Worth, are Christians seeking other answers about the great questions of life.
    "The search for truth with a capital `T' cuts across all religions," Worth said. "I don't go with the idea that you should be a Buddhist or non-Buddhist. It's just a good way to live your life.
    "We don't necessarily need more Buddhists. We need people finding about their own religion and seeing what's best for them."
    What's best for Worth has been a blending of his Christian roots with the four noble truths of Buddhism.
    Since he began meditating, he has made peace with relatives after his divorce. He doesn't worry about money. He doesn't fume when a motorist cuts him off. He's happy.
    "I've had such great blessings in my life," he said. "That's what I'm hoping to do with the center: share that with other people."

To reach Oscar Avila at The Star, call (816) 234-4902 or send e-mail to oavila@kcstar.com.

© 2000 The Kansas City Star


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