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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

2001 January 1 - December 31
Most recent at top, #.YrMoDa

382. 011226 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Perimeters of peace and compassion are ever-changing

A map of Kansas City is not Kansas City, a recipe in the newspaper does not itself satisfy hunger and a CD of your favorite music without a player is mute. Still a map is useful to find a location, a recipe can lead to gustatory delight and the CD is a way to hear a performance of sounds you prize.
   Similarly, a Tibetan mandala is not in itself a religious experience; but contemplating it can strengthen spiritual capacities like compassion.
   In 1995, many of us throughout April watched in amazement as two Tibetan monks constructed a mandala of colored sand at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. On Apr. 29 it was ritually destroyed to remind us of the impermanence of all things, with the sand given to Brush Creek and those participating in the closing ceremony.
   Other mandalas made with beads, magic markers and computers have appeared here since, created by children and adults exploring the mandala as a discipline of insight.
   At the Rime Buddhist Center, the Ven. Gyaltsen Wangchuk began a sand Mandala of the Eight Auspicious Symbols in October to help inaugurate area's first interfaith conference. Now complete in vivid color and precise line, it will be dismantled Dec. 31 in an early morning ceremony.
   The monk, familiarly known as Jigme, has made similar mandalas in Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden and India. He says the mandala is an expression of hope for world and personal peace.
   A hand-out at the Rime Center, 700 West Pennway, explains the symbols (conch, umbrella, victory banner, golden fish, treasure vase, lotus flower, endless knot, dharma wheel). To view the mandala, call (816) 471-7073. You will see a map of a spiritual universe.

381. 011219 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
A reminder of true communion

If you would like to see a holiday example of liturgical Christianity on TV, tune in to CBS at 10:35 pm Dec. 24. You will observe Kansas City area Episcopalians and Lutherans celebrating Christmas Eve in what is thought to be the first national broadcast of joint worship since the full relations between the denominations began Jan 1.
   (Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are also considered liturgical. Each Sunday these churches celebrate a ritual meal of bread and wine, often called "Holy Communion." In less liturgical churches--Presbyterian, Baptist and others--preaching is emphasized. The meal is often called "the Lord's Supper" and may not be observed every Sunday. The order of service is often flexible--in some cases spontaneous.)
   Lutheran Bishop Gerald Mansholt describes the liturgical service as "revolving around two poles, the word and the meal."
   Episcopal Bishop Barry R. Howe says the three lessons of the word include readings from the Jewish scripture, letters to the early church and the gospels. The first two are read in front of the people. Viewers will see the Bible taken in procession to the midst of the people where an ordained person reads the gospel. The sermon is an expansion of the lessons.
   Mansholt describes the meal as "God coming to us in a profoundly intimate way, uniting us with one another in the body of Christ." Through communion, worshippers are joined not only with those present but also with other Christians around the world and with the faithful who have already died.
   Jesus himself instituted the meal, Howe says, which brings Christ into the present. In receiving communion, people accept his sacificial and saving power and offer themselves to the Lord's service.

380. 011212 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Pluralism alive and well in KC area

Government plays a carefully limited role in the religious life of this nation--almost none--and religion flourishes. Freedom from government meddling here has led to religious pluralism and to vitality. Religions are waning in countries which have made them official.
   But especially since Sept. 11, leaders in government, like those in schools, hospitals, media and business, want to be sure that they are discharging their duties with particular sensitivity to religious concerns. Should a teacher help a class understand why a Muslim student might fast during Ramadan? What is the most effective way for a manager respond to one employee who makes unkind and ignorant comments about another employee, a Sikh, who wears a turban?
   As part of a recognition of pluralism in the metro area, Jackson County executive Katheryn J. Shields is developing a six-month calendar of community open houses scheduled by ethnic and faith groups and other organizations. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Sufi arrangements have already been made, and more are expected by the time of the announcement of the calendar this Saturday as part of an observance of the 175th anniversary of the county's founding.
   Shields will also announce the formation of a task force to report on Sep 10, 2002 on ways the county can insure the civil rights of all citizens in the current environment.
"The goal is to promote acceptance of the diversity in Jackson County, by encouraging our neighbors to learn more about each others' various beliefs, practices and lifestyles," she says. "The more we know about each other, the more we appreciate our common unity. In times like these it is important for all of us to stand together as Americans and practice our common faith of freedom."

379. 011205 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Healing, not war, should be metaphor

What is the religious danger the world now faces? Bin Laden, who claims Islam, attacks the Christian West as evil. President Bush says we fight not against Islam but against terrorism. Last week Thomas Friedman's New York Times column, reprinted in The Kansas City Star,
says the real war is not so much against terrorism as against "religious totalitarianism."
   Fanatics of every faith are alike in their insistence that they alone know the only path to salvation or how the world needs to be set aright. They will battle others who are not as ready to declare they know the mind of God.
   Friedman embraces diversity. He praises the pluralistic tradition of America, where one's faith can be nurtured without excluding others.
   Nonetheless, Friedman's framing our situation as a war between pluralism and religious totalitarianism is itself is problematic. It sounds too much like a holy war and almost mirrors the self-righteousness we see in the fanatics. It is us against them.
   War is an appealing metaphor but it may oversimplify our complex situation. An alternative metaphor is "disease." We need not so much to fight as to heal. If we liken all humanity to one body, then what we want is a diagnosis and cure. I agree with the Jewish, Christian and Muslim totalitarians on the diagnosis: the world suffers from a loss of the sense of the sacred. But the cures the fanatics prescribe are worse than the disease.
   Disconnected diversity alone is no remedy. But encounter among the faiths may be an enzyme that, without changing the faiths, restores and refreshes the body and enables it to walk again the sacred paths.

378. 011121 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Gratitute is the hallmark of many faiths

Can a civil holiday like Thanksgiving also be religious?
   The giving of thanks does not belong to any one faith but speaks from the depths of them all.
Perhaps this justifies President Bush's calling Thanksgiving "America's most beloved tradition."  Gratitude is a sign of spiritual life.
   In fact, the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, repeatedly associates believers with those who are grateful.  The Christian "Eucharist" is derived from a Greek term meaning "thanksgiving."  As Hinduism developed, the very act of breathing became a sacrifice of praise.
   The fist thanksgiving feasts in this land were offered by American Indians, long before they heard of Christianity.  The legendary "first Thanksgiving" with the Indians and the Christian Pilgrims was an interfaith occasion.  Furthermore, the Pilgrims understood their own feasts as a version of the Jewish Festival of Booths.
   In 1492 Christians -- and most likely Jews -- were aboard the shops of Columbus, using maps from the Muslim world.  Islam touched this continent in 1539.  Buddhist immigrants arrived in the 1840s.  Hindu group formed here in 1896.  America has become perhaps the most religiously pluralistic nation in history.
   While turkey remains an emblem of the feast, the Kansas City Interfaith Council's annual Thanksgiving Sunday meal includes a vegetarian option for those whose faith forbids meat.  Baha'i, Buddhist, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan and Zoroastrian speakers and those from faiths already mentioned participate.
   The universal call to give thanks inspires us as Americans.  This is why one special day becomes a model for every day of living one's faith, whatever it is, with thanksgiving.

377. 011121 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Spiritual understanding transcends strict logic

KCMO's 6-8 am Sunday morning ``Religion on the Line'' program features George Noonan (Catholic), the Rev. Bob Hill (Protestant) and Rabbi Michael Zedek (Jewish). Recently the hosts were criticized for entertaining a variety of views about truth. Citing the principal of non-contradiction, a caller asserted that no statement could be both true and false.
   Language about the real world is far more complex than abstract logic. Here are two contradictory statements: /{We are all alike. We are all different./} Both are true.
   The novelist Thomas Mann said that "A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a truth." The finite vehicle of our words cannot carry the enormity of ultimate meaning; at best, words can point us toward the Infinite. Scholar Alan Watts said, ``No one's mouth is big enough to utter the whole thing.''
   This is why the Tao Te Ching, the classic text of Taoism, begins, ``He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.'' Language is too tricky for us to rely on it naively in matters of faith.
   Even in far simpler matters, statements can be both true and false. "Santa Claus is real" is true if we mean to praise the spirit of giving but false if we expect to see him in a North Pole workshop. "Her sisters mistreated Cinderella" is true in the context of the story but false if we give Cinderella the same historical reality as Cleopatra. You may say the glass is half-empty but it may look half-full to me. In giving thanks it is the attitude, not the facts, that counts.
   The tight rules of logic do not assure spiritual understanding. I recommend modesty about the words we use for that which is beyond words.

376. 011114 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Gays in boy scouts presents an American dilemma

An interfaith panel last Thursday addressed the situation with the Boy Scouts. What is the situation? The words one uses to describe it depends on how you see it.
   For the Heart of America Council, Boy Scouts of America, it is upholding "leadership standards."  For others, it is  "discrimination" against homosexuals.
   Kansas City Harmony and the National Conference for Community and Justice asked me to moderate the panel with Protestant, Catholic and Jewish speakers. Despite interest in the forum as early as last April, recent internal discussion led the local Scout Council executive committee not to participate. It did provide written material which was distributed.
   The Rev. Diane Nunnelee of the host church, Central United Methodist, noted the strong tradition of her congregation in supporting Scouts but agonized over the exclusionary policies of both the Scouts and her own denomination. "I will work within to promote change," she said.
   Attorney Lloyd Hellman, the Jewish speaker, has been involved with Scouting almost 60 years. He spoke passionately about the value of the Scouting program but criticized the organization's national leadership for its new policy of shutting out homosexuals.
   Deacon Kenneth S. Greene directs the Family Life Office of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The Church supports private instutions in setting their own moral leadership standards. Nevertheless Greene said the exclusion of people merely on the basis of orientation was morally wrong and ``harmful.'' He said that boys need to experience diversity in the process of maturing.
  Some religious groups want their views about homosexuality enforced through the Boy Scouts. How do we respect the free practice of faith without imposing it on others? It is a dilemma as American as the Scouts.

375. 011107 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
KC's first interfaith conference a success

What made Kansas City's first interfaith conference, Oct 27-28, a success? Here are five guesses.
   First, the Interfaith Council, which I am grateful to serve, avoided the usual practice of inviting a big-name speaker from out of town to draw a crowd. A celebrity would have deflected the light shining from the variety of traditions practiced now in the Heartland.
   Second, it was a participatory, not a sit-down-and-listen, conference. Religion, after all, is more what you do than what gets poured into you. With David E. Nelson's skillful use of ''appreciative inquiry'' throughout the two days, conferees became friends as they asked and answered questions eliciting the depths of their spiritual experences.
    Third, the planners accepted Rabbi Joshua Taub's advice to make this more than just a
''feel-good'' event. Panels brought the wisdom of the world's religions to the troubles we face environmentally, personally and socially. Other panels dealt with the role of religion in the difficulties of the larger Kansas City landscape.
   Fourth, the Interfaith Council invited Spirit of Service, Kansas City Harmony and the National Conference for Community and Justice to be cosponsors. Their sharing the load reflected the cooperative style developed over the years among the Council members. In addition, the three denominations with world headquarters here enhanced the program: the Community of Christ, the Church of the Nazarene, and Unity School of Christianity.
     Fifth, the conference charted a direction into the future, summarized by a concluding Declaration, available on my website. Action on some ideas has already begun to make our home a model interfaith community.

374. 011031 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Faith can see beyond the terror

What has happened to our world since Sept. 11?
   Before planes crashed into buildings and anthrax came in the mail, the American sense of security could be compared with the stable picture of the cosmos held by the ancient Egyptians. The sun rose each day. The Nile flooded each year. The crops grew. People ate. All was dependable. The world showed eternal order and justice.
   But the unsettling of America in the past weeks now more closely resembles the religious style of the ancient Mesopotamians. For them the world had been created by strife among the gods. Now the world had crazy weather and the land was frequent invaded. The mood was anxious. It was hard to plan the future. When the hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh discovers his mortality, he turns with new appreciation to his community of friends. His attitude is reflected in the Biblical passage, "let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die.''
   A third perspective can be found in the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. While two armies are ready to set upon each other, Krishna provides Arjuna instruction about the battle within his own soul. One can be whole if one performs one's duty without attachment to the result of one's actions. Anger, fear and hatred distort our view of reality. They inhibit our effectiveness. But in the end, the result of what we do is in God's hands.
   Many of the earth's children have long suffered poverty, disease, dislocation and war. Despite noble relief efforts, we Americans perhaps have failed to appreciate the desolation of much of the human landscape. Now we have been brought to its corner.
   With faith, we can find a view beyond the shattering.

373. 011024 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Nonviolence a practice for those with a conscience

Are the instructions of Jesus absolute? Jesus says to "resist not evil,'' to "turn the other cheek,'' and  to "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.''  Can Christians interpret Matt. 5:38-48 literally following Sept. 11?  Do Christians need to apply "situation  ethics'' to practice this wisdom?
   While revenge is surely an unworthy spiritual goal, establishing justice is religiously ordained in most faiths, including Christianity. The Sikh tradition is particularly clear in proclaiming it. Islam is very specific about allowing defense when life is threatened. Most faiths speak of a duty to protect life.
   Readers have asked me whether the Buddhist teaching of karuna,universal compassion, the Jain admonition of ahimsa, no harm, or satyagraha, the truth-force of the Hindu leader Gandhi, can guide America through these difficult days.
   The non-violent methods of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. work if the oppressor has a conscience. But do the terrorists have a conscience? Or if they do, do we have a way of accessing it? It is not obvious how to apply these teachings in the present circumstance.
   In religious literature we can find at least three metaphors to describe what happened Sept. 11: crime, war and disease. Each metaphor has its virtue, and the situation is so complex that no one metaphor is sufficient.
   One advantage of the disease metaphor is that it suggests that all humanity is a body, and the ailment arises from poisons such as greed, ignorance and hate. We then can ask, What is the best prescription to effect the cure?

372. 011017 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Claim to faith does not sanctify unholy acts

The Arabic term jihad means struggle, an effort for a worthwhile purpose, resisting one's evil inclinations, striving against temptation. The term may also designate endeavors to improve the moral climate of society.
   Jihad is often misleadingly translated ``holy war,'' a term developed within the Christian tradition. Muslim terrorists use jihad to justify their acts, just as some Christians, Jews and others have promoted violence in the name of their faiths.
   What is the Islamic case against the terrorist interpretation of Sept. 11?
   1. Suicide. Last May the highest Saudi religious authority confirmed the position found in all four Islamic legal systems, that suicide is never justified and cannot lead to martyrdom.  Those who kill themselves for any reason are denied paradise because suicide is unequivocally forbidden.
  2. Conditions. Conflict in Islam is limited by strict rules. Only defensive war is permitted. One can only attack combatants (women, children, and the elderly are specifically protected). The property of the enemy must not be damaged; Muhammad warned against even burning a plant or cutting a tree.
   3. Universal condemnation. No responsible Islamic government or leader has supported the Sept. 11 terrorism. Even Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-American Muslim official, condemned the attacks, as have Muslim organizations in the U.S. and abroad.
   Yes, verses can be cited from holy books to justify crimes and atrocities. History shows that terrorists of any religion will try to sanctify their evil. Whatever faith they claim, they prove themselves blasphemers by their acts.

371. 011010  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
How faith and work enhance each other

Profit is not an end in itself, but rather a means, said Irvine O. Hockaday Jr., president and chief executive officer of Hallmark Cards. He spoke last Friday at a breakfast sponsored by the Cathedral Center for Faith and Work. Profits create jobs, give shareholders a return on their investments and enable ``caring responses'' to the needs of the community, he said.
   While America may be the most religious of any developed country, spirituality is a difficult topic for business to address, Hockaday said. Businesses are rightly concerned to avoid sectarian sentiments. Nevertheless, "the workplace is an important source of community,'' he said, "as Sept. 11 showed us.''
   The sense of community is one dimension of spirituality, which Hockaday discussed as behavior undertaken with awareness of what is above or beyond one's own self. Indeed, citing Michael Novak, Hockaday said that business is the crucial institution of civil society.
   Business is powerful, power can corrupt and power ungrounded by spirituality can be "lethal,'' he said.
   Yet business is also fragile. It can be "crushed" by government instability. Free enterprise flourishes with dependable social conditions. Business thus has an interest in  enhancing the health of all segments of our interconnected society. This begins with purposeful, meaningful, "ethical and humane'' employment without which the workplace becomes a "wasteland.'' But Hockaday also identified the high rate of our nation's children who live in poverty as an example of social problems also requiring attention.
    When faith and work are appropriately related, "both are enhanced and enriched,'' he said.

370. 011003  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Attacks strengthen bonds between faiths

Until Sept. 11 many historians might have said that the event that had done the most to develop understanding of non-Christian faiths was the 1893 World Parliament of Religion in Chicago.
   But one result of Sept. 11, no doubt unintended by the terrorists, is a dramatic shift toward respecting minority faiths. Except for American Indian ways, all faiths here are imports, but Christians have largely defined what it means to be religious in the United States, especially in civic spheres. President Bush's efforts to praise Muslim, Sikh and other faiths in recent days recognizes that these are now American religions. [The Sep 23, five-hour memorial service in Yankee Stadium was unprecedented in its explicit affirmations of America's diversity, with Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and Hindu leaders.]
   The many interfaith responses in metro Kansas City to the terrorist attacks suggests a marked change from prejudice to sincere desire to embrace every worthy tradition.
   When the Kansas City Interfaith Council learned two days after the attack that Congressman Dennis Moore (Kansas Third District) would be available to speak at an interfaith event Sept. 16, the Council, which I am privileged to convene, put together an observance, "Remembering and Renewing,'' at Johnson County Community College. Thirteen traditions participated: American Indian, Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian Protestant, Christian Roman Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, and Zoroastrian.
   Many members of the audience told me afterwards that one of the most moving parts of the event was the opportunity to find someone of a different faith and, one-on-one, discuss signs of compassion and hope they had seen in recent days. Surely interfaith understanding is one of those signs.

The Edge 2001 October


       "Gifts of Pluralism" Conference

KANSAS CITY -- Never before in the history of metro Kansas City has such a multi-faith gathering been planned as the "Gifts of Pluralism" conference scheduled for Oct 27-28 at Pembroke Hill School Ward Parkway (State Line) Campus. The school is donating its facility for the conference.

Convened by the 12-year old Kansas City Interfaith Council and co-sponsored by three other organizations -- Kansas City Harmony, the regional chapter of  the National Conference for Community and Justice, and Spirit of Service -- religions represented run from A to Z, American Indian to Zoroastrian.

"In deepening our own faiths by learning about others, we will help shape of the future of religion here," said the Rev. Vern Barnet, DMn, whose organization, CRES, is managing the conference.

The conference features include:
 • Workshops, displays and a notebook about the many faiths in the community

• Panels on the wisdom of the faiths on environmental, personal and social issues

• Non-profit organizations answering, "What is the role of religion in the community?"

• Many opportunities for personal exchange across faith boundaries through a method called "Appreciative Inquiry."

• A concluding Joint Declaration, with ideas developed by the conference participants, which will chart how religious groups can more effectively work together in the future.

"Working together over the years, the members of the Council are clear that we do not seek to blend our faiths together or to invent a new one, but rather to strengthen the place of each of our traditions in the community through mutual stimulation and cooperation," Barnet said. "We now have an historic opportunity to address the problems of secularism with rich and varied spiritual resources right here in the heartland."

Council members overseeing the conference are Kara Hawkins (American Indian), Barbara McAtee (Bahá'í), Lama Chuck Stanford (Buddhist), the Rev. Dr. Wallace Hartsfield (Christian -- Protestant), Chancellor George Noonan (Christian -- Roman Catholic), Anand Bhattacharyya (Hindu), Rabbi Joshua Taub (Jewish), A Rauf Mir, MD (Muslim), Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa (Sikh), Ali Kadr (Sufi), Ted Otteson (Unitarian Universalist), Mike Nichols (Wiccan), and Daryoush Jahanian, MD (Zoroastrian). Uma is the regular Council observer for Vedanta.

In addition, representatives of the three denominations with world headquarters here are official Council observers for the conference planning. They are the Rev. W. Grant McMurray (Community of Christ), the Rev. D.r William C. Miller (Church of the Nazarene), and the Rev. Sharon Connors (Unity).

Also supporting the conference are Ed Chasteen, founder of Hatebusters, and Maggie Finefrock, president of The Learning Project. Representatives from the larger community also have provided input into the conference.

The Council is planning to attract 150 Christians and 150 participants from non-Christian faiths. Welcome are lay and professional religious leaders, educators, students, HR managers, medical workers, and anyone interested in experiencing the religious diversity of the heartland.

Extensive information about the conference program is available for downloading by visiting the conference website,, by phoning (913) 649-5114, or writing CRES at Box 4165, Overland Park, KS 66204.

369. 010926  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Mozart's Magic Affirming

   Mozart's "The Magic Flute," performed by the Lyric Opera tonight, Friday and Sunday, takes us to a fantasy realm tinted by gleams of light from the past in order to suggest the path of virtue into the future.
   In his address last week, President Bush invoked the God of today's religions to identify a universal commitment against terrorism. Mozart's opera names the pre-Christian Egyptian deities Osiris and Isis to place the struggle for righteousness in an eternal setting.
   The parallels between Christ 2000 years ago and Osiris 5000 years ago include their violent deaths and subsequent resurrections. Both provide their believers with afterlife. Both have kingly roles. But in the opera, Osiris is more a patina than a figure.
   Sarastro, on the other hand, is the character around whom the action pivots, though we do not see him until the second half of the adventure. His name is a form of Zarathustra, the early Iranian prophet who, some scholars say, first clearly enunciated the cosmic battle between good and evil.
   The music is glorious as it shifts repeatedly from solemnity to hilarity, but the story is problematic. Prince Tamino first thinks the Queen of the Night is good. He wants to save her daughter Pamina, with whom he has fallen in love, from the wicked Sarastro. Later he finds it is Sarastro who is good and the Queen evil. Tamino passes the tests of rectitude, wins Pamina, and succeeds Sarastro as head of the order which rules by love.
   ``The Magic Flute'' has sometimes been called a cartoon, but its mix of serious religious questions with irresistible comedy may uplift and confirm us with the magic of music, as we seek our own ways through the trials and torments that began Sept. 11.

368. 010919  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Faith can save us from tragedy's abyss

   Many of us are soul-fatigued by the events now a week old. A week is too short to expect release from the overwhelming and multiplying tragedies of September 11.
   We verge at the abyss from which we are saved only by faith. On one hand we must reach out to those of all faiths. On the other, we must become more committed than ever to our own traditions.
   Each faith in its own way addresses the great mysteries: how such evil can permitted, how we can best honor the dead and the suffering, how we can find and bring healing, and how we can live together in peace and justice.
   Even as we rightly rage, no faith endorses rage's wild manifestation. The energy of anger and the holiness of grief are, in time, best offered up as sacrifices we must make, to think clearly, to enlarge compassion, to practice courage even in the darkness.
   We learn the fragility of our hopes, the uncertainty of our expectations. The anguish we ourselves feel, and feel so deeply for others, is an anguish we choose not to escape. We rather willingly bear and share it, to honor those now gone from us and to understand those whose pain is unspeakable.
   For me, religion is not in certitude, but in confidence: confidence in healing, in restoring, in renewing, in the face of public and private grief and calamity and severance. We are called to a bosom where agony becomes irrepressible thanksgiving for the blessings we have known, even as they are snatched from us.
   The joy in the midst of our sorrow is this: As we work together to repair the world, we will discover new depths of love.

Leaders of various faiths focus on unity and strength
By Sarah Gerry
The Kansas City Star
Monday, September 17, 2001

Edition: METROPOLITAN, Section: METRO, Page B3

Leaders from many different faiths gathered on a Johnson County Community College stage Sunday afternoon to send a common message.

Unite in the face of Tuesday's attacks on America, religious leaders told more than 200 people gathered in Yardley Hall, and look for signs of strength and hope in each other.

Among the faiths represented at the memorial service were Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Islam. Leaders from each religion addressed the audience, either through a short speech or by expressing a vision for a more peaceful future. Near the beginning of the ceremony, all stood to light candles on the stage. U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Kansas Democrat, also spoke briefly.

Participants sang a revised version of "America, the Beautiful" that ended with the words "a nation blessed with none oppressed, true land of liberty." They turned to their neighbors to listen to their descriptions of events demonstrating compassion, peace and hope.

"Our presence here, in the face of attempts to intimidate us into our homes, testifies to our faith in a God of goodness and light," said Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park. "Together we can conquer the fear of terror and death."

Thomas Slisz of Shawnee, who is Roman Catholic, attended the service to help make sense of Tuesday's attacks.

"It gives you better insight into yourself," he said, "and all the events occurring around you."

Mohammad Saeed Akhtar, a Muslim who teaches at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, said one of his students was cursed in a McDonald's and he can see fear in the faces of his Arab students. But he still has hopes for the future.

He said the Islamic Center of Warrensburg had received one threatening call and 15 supportive calls.

"People definitely will be closer to each other, will learn to trust each other and stand by each other," he said.

At one point in the service, Muslims in the audience were asked to stand. Other members of the audience applauded.

At the service's end, the Rev. Rodger Kube, interim minister of Bethel United Church of Christ in Kansas City, urged listeners not to forget the togetherness they had experienced.

"Remember that you are bound together, brother and sister ... Remember that you are called to live in peace," he said. "Remember that you are important, that you are cared for, and you are a child of that which is infinite."
To reach Sarah Gerry, call (816) 234-7729 or send an e-mail to

Photo Caption: Photo During a Sunday service at Johnson County Community College to remember victims of the terrorist attacks, Rep. Dennis Moore addressed the crowd of more than 200. Credit: JEFF ROBERSON/The Kansas City Star

367. 010915  [special Saturday column]  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Affirming kinship of faiths a good step to survival

    A few hours after tragic events unfolded Tuesday, I walked by the intersection of Westport Road and Broadway.  There, a young man held a hand made sign that said, "Honk if you want revenge."  Many of us can understand his emotions.
    But his second sign said, "When Americans are killed, Palestinians rejoice."  The two signs together became an incitement to prejudice and violence.
    A Jewish acquaintance, a past president of a Kansas City synagogue, called me about a mutual friend, a Muslim.  On the phone, he broke down, weeping about how our Muslim  brother -- we are all brothers and sisters -- might be faring.  I advised him to call our Muslim friend, who then called me with deep appreciation for the Jewish person reaching out and affirming enduring friendship.
    As the shocking scenes were broadcast over the TV, I sat with a monk from Tibet.  He lamented the suffering and deaths as deeply as any American and spoke about the feelings of the surviving families and friends.  He would know about tragedy.  He told me more that 1 million of his people have been slaughtered in the last 50 years.
    In the Kansas City area, leaders of every faith have reached out to one another.  Civic leaders as well are asking how relegious peoples can respond to strengthen our community in the face of the disaster we have seen and the threats we still face.  Surely isolation is only an invitation to terror, but affirming our kinship is the first step of our survival.
    All religious traditions teach peace and equity.  People of faith must resist accepting the claims of those who pervert religion into violence and injustice.  We as a people are now stressed in many ways, but our basic test is spiritual.

366. 010912  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Wicca, other faiths deserve respect

   Three weeks ago this column presented a quiz about many of the religions in Kansas City.
A reader complained that I had omitted her faith, Wicca.
   She wrote in part, ``The uninformed still make the assumption that Wiccans are `Satanists' and make blood sacrifices. Our children are kicked out of school for wearing a pentagram, though no one is asked to leave because they're wearing a cross or a star of David. Libraries are being asked to exclude Harry Potter books from the shelves.
   ``We are business owners, plumbers, waiters, radiology technicians, financial  planners, computer technicians, lawyers, parents and soccer coaches.''
   She is right. Satan is a figure that appears in Christianity but not in Wicca, a form of paganism. ``Pagan'' derives from the Latin term for country-dweller. Christianity was originally an urban faith proclaiming a supernatural message. Those who lived in rural areas followed older folk religions which considered the powers of nature to be sacred.
   Two thousand years later, KCMO talk radio used a March 20 spring festival in Penn Valley Park to ridicule pagans. Following a flood of protests from St Joseph to Grandview and local human rights organizations, the station issued an apology April 4.
   Several years ago I helped a fast-growing congregation plan a series of programs on world religions. The one tradition the minister would not permit to be included was Wicca.
   My correspondent hesitated to let me use her name. ``I want so badly to give you permission if it means that even one person will have a better understanding of my religion,'' she wrote. But she fears she might lose clients, and her employees and family would suffer. ``Do I dare risk the livelihood of the people who depend on me?"
   Do we want a Kansas City with good people afraid to identify their faiths?

365. 010905  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Interfaith Movement Finds Strength in Diversity

Is difference in religion to be regretted or celebrated?
   Some Christians are embarrassed by the failure of the churches to heed the prayer of Jesus that those who believe in him "may be one." [John 17.21] The variety of beliefs and the separate branches and denominations within Christendom are troubling to them.  This discomfort is one source of the ecumenical movement.
   The interfaith movement, on the other hand, often glories in variety.  Instead of seeking to bring faiths into alignment or conformity, it typically finds the stimulation of faith meeting faith as a way of entering more deeply into the infinite arena of the sacred.
   The interfaith movement is often confused with the ecumenical desire for unity or assimilation.  We see the troubles around the world and in our own society fomented in the name of particular religions.  It might seem that if we could only discover some basic unity, the mischief would end.  But interfaith dialogue is not about unity.  It is about relationships.
   The interfaith movement is also sometimes regarded as relativistic -- any faith is as good as another.  But I cannot think of a single person on the Kansas City Interfaith Council who is not passionate about his or her own faith.  Interfaith encounters do not submerge distinctions but rather deepen commitment to one's own faith.  We understand our own traditions better as they are highlighted by similarities and differences with others.
   Some say America is the most religiously pluralistic country in history.  Diversity does not threaten us; it is a strength.  Instead of bemoaning variety, we can rejoice.  The lack of uniformity is no deficit; it is wealth.  By cleansing us of prejudice, the stream of pluralism can purify our spirits.  Will we enter the stream or hide in bias?

364. 010829   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Exploring Interbeing

   Is Buddhism a religion of introspection? Does it say that the world around us is an illusion and therefore should be given little attention?
   An old Buddhist insight, that all things are interrelated, suggests otherwise. The West learned more about this aspect of Buddhism beginning with a monk's burning himself to death in Vietnam in 1963. This puzzling sacrifice alerted the world to what was happening In Vietnam.
   Another Vietnamese monk, the pacific Thich Nhat Hanh, now 75, has been teaching ``engaged Buddhism'' since his delegation produced an agreement between North Vietnam and the U.S. in 1967. The Catholic monk Thomas Merton admired him and Martin Luther King Jr. nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.
    Next month a senior member of Hanh's Order of Interbeing, a lay organization, brings this teaching to the region Oct. 3-7 at Conception Abbey in Conception, Mo.
   ``We will reflect with compassion on our own sufferings and the sufferings of those we love, on the violence in ourselves and in society,'' said Minh Tran, who will lead a retreat. ``We explore ways to bring peace and joy into daily life--with families, schools, work place and society.''
   The term ``Interbeing'' is a way of emphasizing the Buddhist teaching that we are all involved with each other and our environment, though we often forget our interdependence.
   Tran says the Order is based on four principles: no attachment to opinions, using one's life as the arena to experience truth, appropriateness and skillful means. The retreat will provide practice for these principles, elaborated in 14 ``Mindfulness Trainings.''
   For information about the retreat, phone (816) 333-3043.
   For the complete interview, visit

363. 010822   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Kansas City is home to many and varied faiths

How much do you know about world religions in Kansas City? Which of these 12 statements is false?
   1. Muslim students at UMKC have their own mosque.
   2. Begun as an orthodox Jewish congregation, during construction of its new building and ever since, Kehilath Israel has permitted women and men to sit together at services.
   3. Residing in Kansas City is a Tibetan-born Buddhist monk from the Dalai Lama's monastery.
   4. The Zoroastrian community here includes the author of a book comparing the teachings of his faith with the Bible.
   5. Sikhs here include immigrants from the Punjab and their children at the gurdwara in Shawnee and American-born followers of the faith in a Kansas City ashram.
   6. Jains participate with Hindus in supporting the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center.
   7. Several different groups offer American Indian rituals such as the sweat lodge.
   8. Baha'is have meeting locations throughout the metropolitan area.
   9. Although Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox expressions of Christianity can be found here, there are no Copts in the area.
   10. Sufis dance each Thursday evening at St. Mary's Episcopal Church.
   11. The Kansas City Interfaith Council's first-ever interfaith conference will be held at Pembroke Hill School Oct. 27-28.
   12. Kansas City Harmony and the National Conference for Community and Justice seek to end not only racial prejudice but also religious bigotry.
   ANSWER: Only #9 is false.

362. 010815   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Faithful need one another to avoid aimlessness

"What is wrong with us?" This is a key question in all faiths, and each answers it in its own idiom.
   * Christianity speaks of a fall from Eden, from which we inherit the stain of Adam's willful disobedience to God's commands. We are born in sin. We are inadequate to save ourselves. This explains the troubles we have.
   * Judaism sees a broken world. It is our duty to repair it.
   * Like Judaism, Islam is keenly aware that illicit behavior tears the social fabric.
   * Hinduism and Buddhism teach that the root of suffering is not so much rebellion against God's law as ignorance of our own true natures.
   * Confucius taught that we are born good; but when society fails to recognize human dignity expressed through manners and rituals, we are corrupted.
   Sin, rebellion, brokenness, wrong deeds, ignorance, rudeness -- historically, the religions of the world have used words like these to account for our environmental, personal and social problems. Is there a contemporary phrase for the heart of this wisdom?
   Perhaps "ultimate aimlessness" might be a modern equivalent. Of course most of us have transitory aims, but are they guided into a faithful direction? If so, they may be worthy.  But without an overarching vision of the common good drawing us together, selfish pursuits often end in personal tangles and social messes.
   Some characterize our society as pulled in many ways by many "special interest groups." We try to dominate and win more than to understand.
   We may need each other's help to find ultimate aim, to discover what is right in us.

361. 010808   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Sincerity important to religion

A reader asks, "Does it really matter what I believe as long as I am sincere?" I imagine this question comes my way because this column celebrates religious diversity and one might assume I value sincerity above all.
   President Eisenhower said, "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith--and I don't care what it is." His statement is sometimes attacked as shallow because it seems to display little commitment to a particular tradition.
   If Eisenhower meant that so long as a person has thought deeply and widely, and developed compassion sufficient to embrace everyone as a worthy partner in the human adventure, I might agree.
   And great religious leaders have sometimes placed sincerity above beliefs and regulations. Christians might recall the perspective of Jesus when he said, "the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" when he was accused of breaking the rules regarding the holy day. Buddhists might think of the monk violating his vow not to touch women when he encountered a woman who needed him to carry her across a stream. Every tradition tells stories where sincere behavior is more important than meticulous belief. Following the spirit is more important than technically correct but insincere action.
   Still, a religion of mere sincerity, a kind of general religion, is a problem. It is like trying to speak without knowing a particular language. We can grunt, we can point with sincerity.
   But so long as we are not deceived by language, it opens a world beyond mere gestures. And knowing several religions, like knowing many languages, empowers sincerity by respecting both our differences and our kinship.

The Eisenhower quotation is incorrectly cited by Michael Barone in US News 2000.08.21 as from Eisenhower's First Inaugrual. It is cited by Diana Eck in A New Religious America, 2001, p 61, and Robert Bellah, "Civil Religion in America" in The Religious Situation 1968, edited by Donald R Cutler, p334, with a source given as Will Herberg's Protestant-Catholic-Jew, 1955, page 97.

360. 010801   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Hindus celebrate with joy

With conch, cymbals, drum, clapping and harmonium, and gifts of fruits and flowers and the offering of fire, a group of Kansas City area Hindus continuously chanted 'Hare Krishna' from morning to evening Saturday.
   Called Nam-Yajna,  which means "the  ceremonious invocation of the name of the Lord," the colorful and tuneful practice began about 500 years ago, according to Anand Bhattacharyya, who initiated the celebration with a brief explanation to the crowd of youngsters, women in saris and men in dhotis and Western dress.
   One teenager applied tilak, a mark made with sandalwood paste, to the foreheads of the devotees. With the acceptance so typical of his faith, he included me.
   Bhattacharyya said the purpose of the joyous exercise "is to love God with all our heart and soul." It is based on the belief that the unconditional, selfless love of God is manifested in dancing and chanting the name of the Lord.
   This is the second time Nam-Yajna has been observed here, according to Saraswati Shanker, president of the Hindu Temple. It was made possible by the visit of Shri and Shrimati P. Kundu from Calcutta to visit their daughter and son-in-law, Bhaswati and Amar Ray.
   Kundu and his wife were disciples of Anandamoyi Ma, a spiritual luminary of the last century. Ma employed the ceremony of continuous chanting to uplift her followers.
   Hindu practice takes many forms, and particular ceremonies are sometimes transmitted by revered teachers and the families of their devotees, with special regard for specific incarnations of God, just as some Christian families are, for example, traditionally Lutheran or Baptist, out of respect for their heritage of understanding the divine.

359. 010725   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
West meets East, and the spirit benefits

The West invented the idea of "religion" as a separate sphere of culture. Art, government, and medicine, now distinct enterprises, were formerly expressions of a pervasive spiritual impulse. The division between spirituality and other realms is frequently patterned in the monotheistic faiths. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have often drawn an important distinction between the Creator and the creation.
   Especially in the 18th Century, the West sought to classify everything. It created a category for religion fragmented from other pursuits, just as philosophy split into science, mathematics, natural history and other new disciplines.
   In the U.S., liberals have defended the separation of church and state. Conservatives have sometimes supported the idea of exclusive worlds with the words of Jesus, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mark 12:17)
   But in Asian and primal traditions, faith is more likely to be implicit in all activities, rather than confined to one particular arena. Taoism, for example, teaches that the Tao, the Way, is so pervasive that only the ignorant try to identify or locate it.
   Today the confluence of East and West makes it possible to regard spirituality not so much as an isolated pursuit but more like a pair of glasses through which one sees everything. Spirituality becomes not a realm apart, but rather experiencing life in its fullness. It is not so much a domain as an orientation. It is not where you stand, but how you show up.
   When sexuality, or baseball, or study, or feasting, becomes an expression of, or avenue to, the Whole, it is spiritual. When we remember how all things are connected, we reclaim our spiritual natures.

358. 010718   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 KC's CowParade marches to the beat of playfulness

I see six cows. I am not in India, where cows roaming the streets are unexceptional. I sit at Nichols Fountain near the Country Club Plaza. As I observe folk, young and old, bemused by the cows, it is hard for me to distinguish their attention from veneration.
   ``Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world,'' said Gandhi. The cow symbolizes the profound interdependence between human and non-human life. Milk and other gifts of the cow, and her role in defining Hindu culture when India was invaded, help to explain her special status there.
   One day each year, Gopastami, cows are given offerings and decorated. The idea of decorated cows brings my thoughts back to Kansas City.
   While we may not consider cows ``sacred,'' both pride and disdain in their role in defining Kansas City have appeared along with the CowParade.
   But I ask, ``What CowParade theology can explicate the joy people take in the gifts of imagination from the cow artists?''
   Perhaps it is a theology of play. In play we are open to the unexpected, even within arbitrary rules. We are enthralled because within the form of the cow are so many surprises, displayed all over town where cows ordinarily do not roam.
   Play has no end except itself. The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. Yet paradoxically, from playfulness arises the business of civilization.
   As the Hindu regard for the cow is a way of understanding more fully what it means to be human in relationship, so the CowParade reminds us playfully of who we are and our creative powers yet to be unleashed--pardon the expression.

357. 010711   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Olympic diver knows the quality of grace

When Greg Louganis needed his head sewn up after he hit it on the diving board during trials at the 1988 Olympics, I thought he would have to withdraw. Four years earlier he had become the first man in 56 years to win gold medals in both platform and springboard events. But he continued in the '88 games, the first diver to win double gold medals in two consecutive Olympics.
   The popular meaning of "graceful" certainly seemed to apply to the way Louganis executed his dives. Theology has several technical uses for the term "grace," one of which is divine favor. In this sense the term seemed appropriate for his amazing Olympic comeback from near disaster.
   He had been called the nation's most outstanding amateur athlete, but when it became known that Louganis had AIDS, the suitability of theological "grace" might have come into question.
   He was in Kansas City last month, more than two decades later, to raise money for the Good Samaritan Project. While he told me he did not like to be a "role model," he clearly inspires many who admire his work on behalf of many causes, including youth clubs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation groups, the dyslexic and now pets, with his just published book, For the Life of Your Dog.
   Just as the seeming effortlessness of his diving arose from intense discipline, so the freedom of the life of the spirit, including the grace to give to others, arises from the most ruthless honesty with oneself. Perhaps his quoting John 8:32 in his autobiography, Breaking the Surface, aims in this direction: "The truth shall set you free."

356. 010704   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Celebrate diversity the Independence Day

With 42 flags from Australia to Zimbabwe hanging from the rafters, the congregation of the Full Faith Church of Love West installed its new senior pastor June 24. The nearly all-white Johnson County congregation welcomed an African-American, the Rev. Don Lewis to its ministry. Lewis was the senior chaplain for Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.
   Should I report the fact that the minister is different in race from most of his congregation? No one mentioned it during the entire ceremony, which focused instead on the promises between the congregation and its pastor with the guidance of God.
   Perhaps former Kansas City mayor Emanuel Cleaver's recent KCUR "Under the Clock" program examining the claim that "the eleven o'clock Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week"  leads me to observe the achievement of this congregation in healing racial divisions. But do I exacerbate racial concerns by celebrating an occasion when race did not seem to be an issue worth noticing?
   Another kind of healing is also happening at this church. Guests at the installation were Charangit Hundal of the Sikh Gurdwara and Anand and Dipti Bhattacharyya of the Hindu Temple. The gurdwara, the temple and the church are in the same neighborhood. During the service, Pastor Lewis made a special point of thanking these guests for attending. "We are secure enough in our faith that we embrace you," he said.
   When religion, so often tainted by the partialisms of our age, encourages people of different races and different faiths to accept, yea, embrace one another, we as a nation are strengthened. Happy Independence Day!


355. 010627   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Community needs more emphasis

Which is the primary focus of meaning, the individual or the group? Monotheistic traditions have generally recognized the importance of the group. For Jews the primary group image has been the idea of Israel, for Muslims the umma, for Christians the Church understood as the Body of Christ.
   In our time, however, individualism has become dominant--and perhaps rampant. Many churches nowadays struggle to offer a taste of community. Responding to our culture, the groups they create are attractive because they are means to serve the needs of the individual.
   William James, often considered the founder of American psychology, and  author of the classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience, wrote, "The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual; the impulse dies away without the support of the community." Such a balance between individual and community is difficult to achieve.
   Whether it is the joy evident in its members as they make offerings to support their church, or their pride in honoring their youth and graduates, the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church seems to have found the right balance.
   The morning I visited recently, Pastor Wallace S. Hartsfield's message challenged the selfish orientation of our age: "It is not about `What have you done for me lately?' Rather your compassion drives you to ask `What can I do for someone else?'"
   Preacher DeWayne Bright quoted James 2:20: "faith without works is dead." He told the story of friends, not deterred by a crowd, who let down a paralytic through the roof of a house where Jesus was, and presented an image of the community where everyone is "brought to the table."

354. 010620   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Cosmologist tells his creation story

"Thirteen billion years ago the universe began as hydrogen. Left entirely to itself the hydrogen became rosebushes, giraffes and human beings. We are depriving our children by not telling them this amazing story," mathematical cosmologist and author Brian Swimme told an international gathering of Unity ministers at the Hyatt-Regency Hotel last week.
   Swimme sees the universe suffused with spiritual energy, and says that the split between science and spirituality in our "industrial culture" is "a very serious condition."
   The discovery that the earth revolves around the sun was resisted at the time because the sun seems to move around the earth. But the early scientists were motivated by religious fervor to know the splendor of how God works. They advanced our understanding.
 [Those who encountered Copernicus must have been incredulous when he told them the earth revolved around the sun, and that the earth itself was spinning. Anyone can see the earth is the center of the universe. The sun is too small for the earth to move around. If the earth were spinning, why are the oceans not sloshing all over us?
  [But the scientific advance was a deep spiritual experience for Copernicus because it solved the problem identified by Plato: if the universe is perfect, how could the planets wander around the sky erratically instead of keeping in the same pattern as the stars? Copernicus found the problem was that our minds were not subtle enough to see the beauty of the way the universe works until we discovered that the earth moved around the sun.]
   In the past elders gathered their young around the fire in the darkness and told them stories of creation, he said. "But ours gathers around TV where we learn that we are fallen. If we want to reach paradise, we need to buy this product." Advertisements now display our fundamental values. "What are we teaching our children?" he asked.
   Instead of the universe expressing God, the universe has become a machine. In it we find a collection of objects which we need to acquire, he said.
  But science now reveals that the atom is mainly empty space. That the heaviest parts of the atom, the protons, themselves are almost empty, composed of quarks, and the quarks actually have no volume, an astonishing contradiction to our materialistic culture, he says.
   Swimme wants to reawaken a sense of awe at the mystery of the universe and reverence for the revelations of science. Information about his Center for the Story of the Universe can be found at

353. 010613   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 A call to unite against poverty

"I want the church to be as clear on this issue as the Bible is," says Jim Wallis speaking of poverty.
   Wallis, head of Call for Renewal, was brought to town last week by Spirit of Service, a Kansas City area non-profit that connects and resources congregations to build their capacity for ministry and service to the wider community.
   Rodger Kube, executive director of Spirit of Service, says, "the Call to Renewal movement focuses the compassion and moral power of religious organizations on poverty to unite rather than divide. Bringing together Roman Catholics, mainline, evangelical, Pentecostal and independent Protestants, as well as the historic African American churches, is no easy task, but Jim Wallis has done it. We are replicating that success here.''
   Wallis spoke at luncheon of leaders in government, business, non-profit and religious organizations and addressed an evening crowd at the Community of Christ Temple in Independence.
   "We will be judged," Wallis said, "not by our GNP or our military might but rather on how we treat those most vulnerable. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures all teach that the test of our faith is how we treat others, especially those on the margins. One cannot talk about poverty in America without also talking about racism."
   Wallis endorses a non-partisan approach to faith-based initiatives which preserve separation of church and state, provide public funds only for public purposes and maintain a prophetic independence between religious groups and state. "The church should be neither the master nor the servant of the state, he said.

352. 010606   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 To discover truth, renounce one's self-image

Raised in the Kansas City area, Sidney Piburn's contribution to the growing interest in Tibetan Buddhism is extraordinary. In 1974, after "pestering" the Dalai Lama's secretary for months, Piburn, then in his twenties, was granted a private audience with the Dalai Lama and in 1979 helped to bring the Dalai Lama to the U.S. for the first time. Despite an offer from Harper and Row, the Dalai Lama asked Piburn, with no publishing experience, to create a collection of his lectures from the trip. The resulting Kindness, Clarity and Insight put his Snow Lion Publications, now with 200 titles, on the map.
   Piburn was in town last month and spoke at the Rime Buddhist Center here. Later I pestered him with my own questions about renunciation.
   "Renunciation begins by helping others, if possible, or at least by doing no harm," he said. Renunciation does not mean abandoning the world, but simply forgoing attachment to objects of desire. We come to understand that what seems permanent is really transient.
   We are most attached to our self-image. Friends are those who reinforce our image, and our enemies challenge it. In renouncing attachment to our self-image, we discover the truth about ourselves, he said. This leads to compassion for others and our own freedom.
   He told about the Dalai Lama's asking a fellow monk, "How is your practice going?" The monk responded, "I am concerned I will lose compassion for the Chinese." The monk, through meditation, had become aware that his self-identification as a Tibetan tempted him toward anger. Renunciation does not mean the monk would no longer be Tibetan, but does mean he can abandon anger and live unfettered by it, with the infinite choices compassion makes possible.

351. 010530   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 There's a science to religion

This quiz on religion and science and technology is hard. If you get more than two right, congratulate yourself.
   1. What clergyman is credited with discovering oxygen? He was a friend of Benjamin Franklin.
   2. Trained by Adventists, who toasted grain that had been steamed and flattened in a vegetarian sanitarium?
   3. What clergyman 250 years ago developed a statistical method to factor previous beliefs into new research with unexpected results? The method is so sophisticated that it could not be used easily before computers.
   4. What priest is considered the father of genetics?
   5. Who, seeing the test blast of the first atomic bomb, recalled lines from the Bhagavad Gita?
   6. What American inventor intended his communication device to advance Protestantism over Catholicism?
   7. What cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church said that the earth could not be the center of the universe before Copernicus was even born?
   8. What American religious community was known for producing steel traps and silverware?
   9. "Science" is part of what two American religious developments?
   ANSWERS: 1. Joseph Priestley. 2. John H. Kellogg. 3. Thomas Bayes. 4. Gregor Mendel. 5. Robert J. Oppenheimer. 6. Samuel Morse. 7. Nicholas of Cusa. 8. The Oneida Perfectionists. 9. Christian Science and Scientology.

350. 010523   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 KU graduates 100th religion class

The 100th class of students studying religion at the University of Kansas graduates this Sunday.
"Religious studies were not always part of public university offerings, as the history at KU reflects," says Tim Miller, head of its religion department.
   In 1899 members of the Disciples of Christ, who had already founded "Bible Chairs" at colleges elsewhere to ensure that religion was not ignored at secular institutions, began their work in Lawrence. In 1901 they bought an old farmhouse near the KU campus and started teaching. In the early 1920s, while still heavily funding the program, they made it interdenominational. It now was called the Kansas School of Religion.
   In the late 50s a debate throughout the academic world about how religion should be studied — anthropologically, theologically, sociologically? — ended in consensus that religious studies was a distinctive discipline, though informed by other branches of inquiry.
   By the 60s the School included Catholic and Jewish participation; and Lutherans, Episcopalians and Methodists added funding. The inadequate farmhouse was replaced in 1967 by the present building, named in honor of  Irma I. Smith of Macksville, Kansas, the largest donor.
   "In the 70s, following favorable Supreme Court rulings in the 60s, departments of religious studies were founded at state universities in most states.  KU acted In 1977 and took over the Kansas School of Religion's teaching program by creating its own Department of Religious Studies." Miller said.
   The move to state support came full circle when Smith Hall was sold to the State of Kansas and finally became formally a part of the KU campus in 1998.

349. 010516   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Ways of wisdom in religions

What patterns of wisdom can be discerned in the world's religions?
   All religions teach protecting life, using words faithfully, respecting sexuality and appropriating wealth by fair rules. They all proclaim an Ultimacy which puts our petty concerns in perspective.
   Further, each of three families of faith offers its own message important to our time.
   Today, when toxic wastes, deforestation, the extinction of species and global warming threaten our environmental safety, the primal faiths (American Indian ways, for example) teach that nature is to be respected more than controlled; it is a process which includes us, not a product external to us to be used or disposed of. The proper attitude toward nature is awe, not utility.
   Today, when addictions to drugs, power and prejudicial thinking distort what it means to be human, when we have become largely consumers and audiences, when many feel greed more strongly than vocation, Asian faiths (Hinduism, for example) teach that our apparent identities are illusory. Our actions should arise from duty and compassion without attachment to results.<
   Today, when violence sometimes seems fashionable, when engaged citizenship is often overwhelmed by special interests, when vast private abundance becomes more a virtue than the public weal, the monotheistic faiths (Judaism, for example) teach that the flow of history toward justice requires righteous communities. Above mere personal profit, we should prize the covenant of service.
   Will we recognize the wisdom that awaits us and can save us?

348. 010509   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Aspire to spirituality with each breath

What does it mean to be spiritual? Is there an answer to this question that applies to all religious paths?
   In Hebrew, Chinese, Arabic, Sanskrit and Greek, similar terms use "breath" as a metaphor for spirituality. In English, "spirit" is part of words like "respiration" and "inspiration." So one way of desribing spirituality is "breathing with a sense of the sacred," living so that every breath we take reminds us of the ultimate mystery of our existence.
   The first stage of spirituality might be a sense of awe and wonder. Many of us may marvel when we contemplate the Grand Canyon, the experience of love, the history of a nation or profound questions like, "Why is there anything at all and not nothing?" But when we are truly spiritual, we marvel at even the most commonplace situation and everyday event. In the life of the spirit, every moment is fresh and every breath is a miracle.
   A second stage of spirituality is gratitude. The amazement we feel at simply being alive is transformed into thanksgiving. We live as if we receive an unending flow of gifts.
   Still, we cannot be content unless we are sharing with others what we have received. In a third state of spirituality, gratitude matures into service. Spirituality is not an escape into a private bliss but rather an engagement with the most intractable pain and sorrow within a perspective of universal interplay that removes any sense of isolation from others.
   Spirituality, then, is not disembodied sentiment or abstract vision. Arising from the physical metaphor of breathing, spirituality is both a signal of our palpable, fleshy nature and of the elusive mysteries to which we must surrender, as we live without knowing whence our next breath comes and whither our last breath goes.

347. 010502   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Three faiths share a common side

Does learning about other religions weaken your commitment to your own? This question may not be raised as frequently as in the past, but some people are still troubled by encountering unfamiliar faiths.
   Imam Mohammed Adnan Bayazid of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City, Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn of the New Reform Temple and Father Jose Geronimo Herrera of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph answered questions about Islam, Judaism and Christianity for an audience at Penn Valley Community College last week.
   For many, this was the first time to hear speakers compare notes about their traditions. The panelists were also conscientious in discussing their differences. No one's faith seemed endangered by the exchange.
   One speaker was repeatedly applauded by one segment of the crowd as if the panel discussion were a contest, but most of the students and campus visitors seemed interested in discovering the common ground for these three faiths.
   All teach belief in one God, all recognize Jesus (though in different ways), and all deplore violence, the panelists said. They all felt that their faiths were not always fairly presented in the media. Bayazid said that Muslims respected and enjoyed the American tradition of religious liberty, and that acts of prejudice against Muslims arose from ignorant individuals, not from the American people at large. "God bless America," he said.
  The panel was preceded by an except from "America the Musical," a play written by Michael Downey who says it is about "a Jewish professor, a black Muslim, and a truck-driving Christian woman who travel across America seeking music and harmony." It will be produced this Friday and Saturday; for information, call (816) 507-0350.

346. 010425   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Writer will speak about religious breakthroughs

Elaine Pagels writes so well and about things so important that anyone with spiritual questions may benefit from her scholarship. A professor of religion at Princeton University, she has won numerous awards. Her best-known and ground-breaking book, The Gnostic Gospels (1979), has been published in ten languages. She appeared in the 1998 PBS series, "From Jesus to Christ."
   Thursday at 7 pm she speaks at Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence. Her lecture is free.
   I asked her about her discoveries, beginning with her translation of the Nag Hammadi library, found in 1945 near the Nile.
   "It is startling to see how diverse the early Christian movements were," she said. Except for references by those who sought to refute them, these texts are the main documents to survive the destruction of early teachings when those who gained power were able to select which writings would ultimately comprise the New Testament.
   For example, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, excluded from the canon, regards Mary as one of the disciples, where Luke, admitted to the canon, considers only men as disciples. The picture of women teaching and preaching is very limited after the Second Century, and the once-common image of God as Divine Mother practically disappears.
   But most important, Pagels said, "is the question of Jesus and his message: The Gospel of Thomas teaches that the divine presence can be found within each person, and can also be discovered by looking outward at the universe.
   "Now we know that ideas that sound somewhat Buddhist were actually part of the rich Jewish tradition upon which Jesus drew."

345. 010418   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Baptist leader supports separation of church and state

James M. Dunn, for nearly two decades the head of the Baptist Joint Committee in Washington, D.C., comes twice to Kansas this spring. He speaks at festivities inaugurating John E. Neal as president of Ottawa University in Ottawa this Friday, and at the Central Baptist Theological Seminary commencement in Kansas City, Kan., May 19.
   In a recent interview, he called the separation of church and state "America's greatest contribution to the science of government."  He worries when "the church uses coercive power" and says "when the state meddles with the church, it always has the touch of mud. For religion to be vital, it must be voluntary."
   Citing trouble spots around the world, he said that "government tinkering with, prescribing or proscribing religion is often at the heart of the difficulty.  Religious sentiment, history, oppression, entanglements with government are almost always involved."
   I asked him about President Bush's "faith-based" proposals for government funding of sectarian social services. He said they are "an open invitation to manipulative evangelism, discrimination in hiring and the provision of services, dependence upon government, competition and divisiveness among religious groups, and reshaping the nature, purposes and even methods that are the very reasons for the success of religious social ministries.
   "The proposals will lead to the misuse of public monies for private purposes by shuffling money from one pocket to another, the awful burden of reporting, monitoring, rules, regulations, and guidelines that government can and should impose. It will silence the prophetic voice of the church because it is in bed with the very government that it should be holding up to higher standards."

344. 010411   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Joint vigil shows potential for unity of churches

This Saturday in Kansas City -- and only Kansas City -- will two cathedrals join for Easter Vigil. Separated by a couple downtown blocks and 450 years of history, Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral (Episcopal) and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic), have been finding ways to celebrate their unity in spirit.
   This Ash Wednesday, Catholics hosted Episcopalians. The Rev. Dennis J.J. Schmidt, dean of the Episcopal Cathedral, preached. Worshippers wrote Lenten intentions on index cards. Last year the Episcopalians hosted and Msgr. Ernest J. Fiedler, rector of the Catholic Cathedral preached.
   At the Vigil planned for outdoor space between the two cathedrals, the cards and the envelopes in which they were sealed will fuel a fire symbolizing the first sign of the Resurrection. Catholic Bishop Raymond J. Boland and Episcopal Bishop Barry R. Howe will bless the fire, from which paschal candles will be lit. Then candles held by all other participants will receive and pass on the flame. Half way through a hymn the two congregations will separate, each to its own cathedral, where the candles light the darkened sacred spaces.
   Msgr. Fiedler says that in their separate services, the congregations retain a "sense of the union we have already achieved. We know each other and love one another."
   Dean Schmidt says that the "dramatic evening also emphasizes our continuing relationship in other ways," including cooperative social ministries.
   Perhaps this tradition of joint Vigil, unique in Christendom, now decades old, says something about the possibilities for faith and religious leadership in Kansas City.

343. 010404   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 RLDS church changes to a new name

I asked W. Grant McMurray, president of the RLDS church, to explain the momentous change the church he leads is celebrating this Friday. Here is his response:
   On April 6, 2001, the 171st anniversary of its founding, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will embrace a new name for a new time. On that day we will officially become "Community of Christ."
   To change one's name is serious business, even in this day of corporate mergers and image programs.  For our church, with international headquarters in Independence, it is the result of an evolving process of identity formation that has occupied much of our history, particularly during the past 40 years.
   It comes not just because of a historic confusion with the Mormon Church, with whom we shared a fourteen year slice of history in the nineteenth century. Far more importantly, the new name seeks to capture what the church has stood for from its beginnings-to be centered in Jesus Christ, building communities that embody peace and affirm the worth of all persons.
   And so on that day we will become known by a new name. It will feel unusual at first, not only for us but for our friends and neighbors around the world. That will be especially true here in Kansas City where we are recognized by a beautiful Temple spiraling to the heavens and by our stately Auditorium, used for many community events.
   As the city adjusts to our new name, we will be working very hard on the next step in our journey-striving to be equal to the challenge of truly being the community of Christ wherever we serve.

342. 010323   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Finding common ground

In 1846 the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion was founded to convert Jews to Christianity. Today, this religious order of Catholic women works to counter anti-Semitism, according to Biagio Mazza of the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
   Eighth graders in two schools, St. Therese Catholic School in Parkville and the Hebrew Academy in Overland Park, "are dialoging toward mutual understanding and respect of their faiths" Mazza said. "We are learning how deeply the faiths are connected."
   Mazza calls such recent developments in Jewish Christian relations "a paradigm shift within the hierarchy and the church on the local level."
   Earlier this month Mazza gave two lectures at the chancery detailing the "mutual misunderstanding" between the faiths. "History shows patterns of Christian abuse, prejudice, persecution and forced conversions. Christians accused Jews of being Christ killers. Jews deserved whatever calamities befell them because God was punishing them for their stubborn refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God."
   Official Catholic teaching today speaks of mutual respect. "We see Christians and Jews as partners, each with a separate and proper covenant with God," Mazza said. "We are like two branches of the same tree or two children in the same family."
    "Now Catholics are studying and celebrating the common roots of our faiths in the Hebrew scriptures and in the one God we both worship. We Catholics still have a long way to go. Lent is an especially fitting season for us to reflect on the past, examine our attitudes and build relationships of honor."

341. 010321   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Associating with like-minded can mean being alone

I asked the Rev. R. Robert Cueni, senior minister of Country Club Christian Church and author of Dinosaur Heart Transplants: Renewing Mainline Congregations, about the increasing religious diversity of our country. Here is his response:
   "I overheard two Christians lamenting the growth of religious pluralism in America. They didn't think anything good could come of it. In fact one ranted, 'Dealing with religious differences just wears me out. I prefer to associate only with people who believe like me--you know, Christians.'
   "It can, of course, be intellectually, emotionally and even physically demanding to live with all the differences generated by the human community. On the other hand, it is not possible for any of us to associate only with people 'just like me.' Each person is unique. There are no two people who agree on everything. To associate only with 'people who think like me' means being 'only with me.'
   "It is also incorrect to assume that all Christians are alike. Christianity is an enormously diverse faith that divides into three major groups--Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox plus those that don't claim affiliation with the major groups.
   "I am a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), one of about 300 different Protestant denominations. Let me assure you that our million members in 4,000 congregations do not all believe exactly the same things in exactly the same way. If fact, Christianity is so diverse that there has never been a time in which all Christians, in all places believed exactly the same things in exactly the same way.
   "If God had intended us to be identical in all ways, I would have thought God would have created us that way."

340. 010314   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Jesus Seminar encourages new ways to talk about God

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- The Jesus Seminar conference here, "The Once and Future Faith," marks a new direction for the controversial group of biblical scholars who over the last 16 years have voted on which sayings attributed to Jesus might be authentic. Their work translating the four traditional gospels and over a dozen others now known from antiquity is finished. Now they want their discoveries to reform Christianity.
   To begin the process, they have inducted retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong and prolific writer Karen Armstrong into their group. Spong's 1998 book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, is one of a dozen in which he reassesses Christian teachings with pastoral care and scholarship. Armstrong is perhaps best known for her 1993 History of God. Her latest book, published a few weeks ago, is a biography of the Buddha.
   Spong says that the experience of God must be distinguished from the symbols and stories which are inevitably conditioned by the time and place in which they are developed. He says that Paul found the divinity of Jesus in the resurrection, Mark in the baptism of Jesus, Matthew and Luke at conception and John in co-existence with the Father at the beginning. Today, Spong says, we need fresh ways of talking about God. But the ineffable experience of God must remain primary.
   Armstrong ranged from the discovery of fire to the future. She said that religious seers like Jesus, Socrates and the Buddha challenged the ways of thinking of their times, just as we need fresh approaches today. They preferred to raise questions and avoided the traps of theological answers. Their emphasis was on living this life ethically rather than details about a future life.
   The conference was planned so about 500 people could observe the 40-some scholars at work.

339. 010307   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Get on the van for interfaith visits

What happens when 15 people on a van spend a day visiting the Hindu Temple in Shawnee, Beth Shalom Synagogue on Wornall Road and the Islamic Center near James A. Reed Road?
   According to Ed Chasteen, who arranged the visit, each of these religious sites engendered a spirit of peace. Shanti is the Sanskrit word in Hindu scriptures for peace, repeated often by the Hindu hosts. The Jewish congregation's designation means "House of Peace." The very word for the Muslim faith, Islam, refers to "the peace that comes from submission to the will of God."
   Chasteen, founder of HateBusters, has a passion for bringing people together to understand and appreciate each other. After teaching 30 years at William Jewell College where he ran its ethnic studies program, he now reaches beyond his office at Central Baptist Theological Seminary into the city where he finds ways of blessing both human differences and similarities.
   The visitors, all Christian, saw Hindu devotional statues, viewed the torah scrolls containing the Hebrew scriptures and learned how the Islamic calendar works. Hosts at each place explained the basics of their faiths.
   "'Who is right?' is not the question," says Chasteen. The question is "How are we all as people of faith like each other and how can we become neighbors in this big city where we all live?"
   This was the first of monthly van visits to faith sites. For a schedule of future trips, call Chasteen at (913) 371-5313 ex. 139 or email him,

338. 010228   THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Interfaith resolution calls for respect in civic prayers

Should prayer on civic occasions include everyone or exclude those who do not share the faith of the person offering the prayer?
   In response to the Bush inauguration, the Kansas City Interfaith Council last month passed a resolution suggesting that "those who offer prayers on civic occasions in which all citizens are entitled to participate be mindful and respectful of the religious diversity within our nation and prepare their utterances so as to recognize our heritage of religious freedom."
   The inaugural benediction was given by Kirbyjon Caldwell, a senior pastor at the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, the denomination's largest congregation. His prayer ended, "We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ. Let all who agree say `Amen.' "
   After seeing the Interfaith Council's resolution, Steve Rose, a prominent Johnson County civic leader, wrote me about the prayer "which I witnessed firsthand. I shuddered -- it was not the cold rain -- at the insensitivity displayed."<
   I asked Caldwell to comment on the Council's resolution. He said that he "intended to refer to the essence of the prayer, not all who agree with Jesus' name."
   From football games to legislatures, public prayer is increasingly an issue. It was the topic  of KCUR's Friday noon "Under the Clock" program with former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver earlier this month.
   Perhaps the question is larger than just prayer. As society becomes increasingly pluralistic,  perhaps we need to ask, "Can my faith truly embrace those who believe differently?"

---. 010221 no column appeared

Wednesday, February 21, 2001
by John Altevogt

Hate group dominates Star's religion page

 Yet more of the Mainstream Coalition's (an anti-evangelical hate group) continued dominance over the Kansas City Star's editorial policy owing to publisher Art Brisbane's defacto membership in the group is found in its recent assaults on traditional Christian beliefs.

In the article reprinted below, we find the Mainstream's (and hence The Star's) party line on the unity of all religions as cloaked in the rhetoric of Patrick Rush and Duke Tufty. Rush is one of the few Catholics who have cavorted openly with the Mainstream. Most have the integrity and intelligence to realize how their participation in such a group would subvert and betray the Catholic church's pro-life message, even if they share the Mainstream's extremist, totalitarian liberal, political philosophy. Rush is apparently absent one of those two qualities.

Speaking of various ego-driven religious leaders (that would be aside from Tufty's implied reference to Jesus), other Mainstreamers to be on the watch for on The Star's pages are Mark Levin, Bob Meneilly andVern Barnet.

337. 010214 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Life of Rumi an example for lovelorn singles

How is a single person to celebrate Valentine's Day?
   The story of the Jelaluddin Rumi, the Sufi, points to an answer.
   Rumi, born 1207, was a respected scholar near what is now central Turkey. When Rumi was 37, a 60-year old wandering dervish, Shams of Tabriz, appeared at his door and asked a question so profound that it led to intense discussion and spiritual intimacy.
   Rumi's students and the community were scandalized. Eventually Shams was murdered. Rumi's grief became a metaphor for our yearning for God and God's yearning for us. Rumi sang of his longing while spinning around to music and founded the order of mystics called "Whirling Dervishes."
   Rumi discovered that he could find his beloved when he looked within himself -- and that everywhere he looked he found embodiments of his friend: a stone, a field, a jug of water. The love that persists after a shattering loss, or the love that can be learned from the sound of a flute or a piece of bread, reveals its divine source.
   But we may not be open to the miracles about us until yearning breaks us open. The spirit can dance, even in loneliness, if one does not try to repair what is missing, and if one hears the direction of God in the absence.
   Whether we are partnered or single, we are incomplete if we try to still or numb our longings; but if we surrender to them, God will stir us with love everywhere we look.
   An eponymous sculpture by Mark di Suvero at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art celebrates Rumi's dance. The words Rumi put together from his experience have made him one of the most popular poets in America today.

336. 010207 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Many paths lead to one Pathways discussion

Can you guess what Kansas City area gathering last month produced these descriptions of religion?
   1. "Religion takes us out of ourselves. It is a desire and practice which propels us to reach God in purposeful living, in service to community, and in wonder. This path influences how we live, physically, mentally and spiritually."
   2. "Religion is a set of beliefs, ethics and values relating to God. It is a way of life, the path to God, and helps us establish a relationship with the Supreme Being."
   3.  Religion is not believing but becoming, not reasoning but realizing. Religion is a set of doctrines which lead us to the ultimate goal of self-realization with God."
   Sixty-some Christians, Hindus and Sikhs talking with each other at eight tables during dinner produced these and five other statements at the third annual "Pathways" dinner, hosted by the Full Faith Church of Love West.
   The church, the Hindu temple and the Sikh gurdwara are near each other in Shawnee, and representatives of the three groups have been meeting monthly to exchange scripture passages with each other as neighbors.
   What impresses me whenever I join them is that no one downplays the differences among them or tries for an easy accommodation with the others. Each faith receives clear and strong witness, but each person is respectful of the paths others follow.
   The definitions of religion were developed not competitively, but with persons of each faith contributing their insights. The hard questions were not evaded but explored.
   Perhaps the exercise -- and the neighborliness -- shows how we can learn from each other.
   To read all eight statements, go to

335. 010131 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 How fate affects us is fascinating

The ancient Greek gods were intelligent, but their designs did not always work in favor of the humans who concerned them. Often the gods seemed to use people to advance their own power struggles with each other, or simply for entertainment.
   Shakespeare sometimes expressed this Greek view, as in King Lear: "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport."
   Why has this view fascinated audiences for thousands of years?
   This week the Kansas City Symphony's performances of Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex" provide listeners with an opportunity to explore this question.
   Stravinsky's story, first performed in 1927, is the same that Sophocles told 2430 years ago, only starker, sparer and more monumental.
   Oedipus is king of Thebes. A plague befalls the city. An oracle demands that the murderer of Laius, the previous king, be driven out of the city. Oedipus, who solved the riddle of the Sphinx, now promises to discover the assassin and free the city of its woes.
   He does not know, and his arrogance make him the last to learn, that he himself is the murderer, that Laius was his father, and that he has married his mother, the queen.
   As the story unfolds, it seems the gods concocted an intricate trap for Oedipus, admirable in many ways. "Sciam!" he says in the Latin text set to insistent music, "I must know!" as he obsessively reconstructs his past.
   Even before Oedipus was born, those who are forewarned of the tragedy take extreme measures to do the right thing, but their efforts to avoid fate only seal what the gods have ordained and raise the question of how much control we have over our lives.

334. 010124 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Cultivate a spirit of gratitude

BERKELEY, Calif. -- How do you cut down a tree?
   American answers might focus on tools like axes or saws or techniques using bulldozers, but a spiritual practice among the people of Papua New Guinea might be important for us to consider, according to Mary N MacDonald who teaches religion at Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY.
   In her living among the people there as part of her research, she learned that the first step in chopping down a tree is to request its spirit to move. "One may suggest that a nearby tree might be a good place take for it to take up residence," she said.
   To placate the tree spirit, a gift such as the smell of cooking meat might be offered for the spirit's enjoyment, before the petitioner eats the food.
   Rituals like this make sense in their culture, MacDonald said, because everything is seen as interconnected. Removing a tree involves altering the environment, and one must be careful that such changes do not disturb the powers of nature. The spirits of the trees, the streams, the animals and the ancestors all are intimately involved with everyday welfare and must be respected to avoid harm.
   While making an offering to a tree spirit might seem silly to us, MacDonald says that rituals can make us more fully aware of the present and future impact of what we do.
   MacDonald was one of 300 theologians and scientists recently convened by the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences here. Environmental issues were repeatedly identified as one arena where both science and religion are necessary for a complete understanding of the ecological changes the planet is now undergoing.

333. 010117 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Science and religion share ethical enigmas

BERKELEY, California -- Both science and religion answer questions about our place in the universe, but do their messages conflict or agree? Three hundred scientists and religious scholars meeting here for most of a week seem to find the relationship between science and faith more subtle and complicated than either of these two simple answers.
   Using resources from American Indian, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other traditions, participants from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe considered topics from the origins of the universe and quantum physics to evolution and ecology.
   In a session entitled "Genes and Justice," Tom Okarma, president and CEO of Geron, the biotech company that recently acquired the firm that cloned "Dolly the Sheep," defended his research using telomerase to repair tissues damaged by heart disease and other ailments in therapies expected to be much less costly than current procedures. Telomerase also offers hope for treating almost every kind of cancer.
   With two ethicists and the audience, he wrestled with questions of using material for medical purposes from a human embryo that would never become a baby, accessibility to high-tech medicine, patenting human forms and the prolongation of life on an already overpopulated planet.
   Telomerase enables a cell to live forever. Will it be possible to extend human life endlessly? Some are asking, "How will religion adapt to immortality?"
   The conference was convened by the 20-year old Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences here. It offers a workshop, "Science for Religious Educators," at the Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City June 14-19.

332. 010110 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 King's nonviolence has wide appeal

What inspires Thai Buddhists about Martin Luther King, Jr., is that he brought the practice of non-violence to America, according to Santikaro Bhikkhu, formerly senior monk at Suan Mokkh Monastery in southern Thailand. Santikaro was in Kansas City after leading a New Year's retreat at Conception Abbey earlier this month.
   "Thais and many in the Third World see the United States more as the world's dominant military power than as a democracy, so it is amazing that King would confront the violence of racism and make it visible by engaging the police and paramilitary groups like the KKK with his call for an end to oppression," he said.
   The monk noted that Thais feel a natural affinity for another teacher of non-violence, Gandhi, because of Thailand's closeness to India, geographically and religiously. But King, who admired Gandhi and imitated his methods, made his own Christian tradition convincing though his oratorical skills, his courage and his commitment to peace and justice.
   King the Christian and Gandhi the Hindu both taught what Buddhists also believe: the method by which one seeks change must be pure. "If you do a thing in a dirty way, the result will also be soiled," Santikaro said and cited the Buddha: "Hatred is not ended by hatred. Hatred is ended only with love."
   This is why King and Gandhi both insisted that their followers purge themselves of any ill-feelings toward their oppressors. They used fasting, prayer and other disciplines for self-purification, so the end of the process is reconciliation within community, not victory over an enemy, he said.

331. 010103 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
 Some read the paper religiously

Dear Reader, here are some New Year's thoughts about this column.
   This is an interactive space. While I can't use all the ideas you offer, I want to hear them all. However, I can't return your call if you don't leave your phone number distinctly.
   Several callers have asked for my email address. It is
   I'm not surprised when people disagree with what appears here, where you'll find a variety of views. I don't agree with some of the ideas myself, but it is important that we know about each other's faiths and come to understand and respect each other.
   Sometimes I am introduced as the writer of this column. "Oh," the person I'm meeting may say, ''I'd read it except I don't get the paper." I may respond, "I don't care so much if you read my column, but how can you be a responsible citizen without reading the paper?"
   "But there is so much unpleasant stuff in the news."
   "There's a lot of unpleasant stuff in the Bible," I reply.
   A friend recently gave a gift subscription to the paper to a newcomer wishing to make a contribution to the community because the newcomer was unaware that relevant activities were already underway on which to build.
   She says the way to read the paper is with a notepad, scissors and the telephone. "Congratulate people on their achievements. Follow up on ideas to improve the community. Let people know you're aware of what they're doing.
   "Supporting good stuff means you might also need your checkbook handy."
   Now that's reading the paper religiously.

link to The Kansas City Star. -- Search for "Vern Barnet"