|434. 021225 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
What's your Christmas IQ?
Here's a Christmas Quiz. Which of the following
statements are true?
ANSWER: All of the statements
are true. We are enriched by the heritage of many times and places. Merry
For a decade, a group of Hindus in Kansas
City have been observing "Christ's birthday"' every December.
Jesus is a very important prophet in the Muslim
In Colonial and Revolutionary times, children
were made to go to school on Christmas in Boston and celebrating Christmas
was a crime.
Christmas for Armenian Christians is observed
on January 6.
Christmas for Eastern Orthodox Christians
is observed on January 7.
Most Western Christians observe Christmas
on Dec 25, the date of the solstice on an ancient Roman calendar, adopted
from a pagan faith which honored the sun god, thought to be reborn on the
shortest day of the year.
Many scholars believe Jesus was born in the
Most cultures have stories of miraculous conceptions
and births of gods or heroes.
Like Jesus, the Hindu god Krishna had to be
hid in order to escape a slaughter of infants.
At the birth of Confucius, the sky was filled
with music and a voice said, "This night a child is born. He shall be a
Wise men who saw signs in the heavens brought
gifts to the infant Buddha-to-be.
Christmas was not a legal holiday in the U.S.
until 1836 when Alabama became the first state to recognize it.
Christmas as it is observed in the America
today is a mixture of Christian, pagan and secular customs.
The most important holy day in the Christian
calendar is Easter.
Kansas CIty Star Dec 22, 2002, H8
convenes the Kansas City Interfaith Council, teaches world religions and
writes the Wednesday "Faiths and Beliefs" column for The Kansas City
Star. His articles, poems and reviews have been published in many journals.
He lives in Kansas City.
fyi & Sunday
Best -- Season's Readings
[one of ten selections]
Soldier, circa Anno Domini CCCXXV
Some provinces have
snow this time of year although the darkest day we buried, past.
of the spring ends fear as promises in sky and flame forecast.
For Mithra's birthday,
god of light, the sun, the solstice birthing, I slew heretics.
Assuming my salvation
I hailed Invictus
well with oil-soaked wicks.
Now Constantine says
Christ is why we fight,
not just those we
were, who called Sol true god,
but if some cherish
creeds that are not right
we must kill them, sword or rod.
Christmas I've made holy with my knife.
reign, this new religion, is my life.
Catholic Key -- Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City - St Joseph
task force is called together
county exec's office
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY - In
the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, increasing numbers of incidents of religious
intolerance, especially against Arab-Americans, were reported across the
nation. Locally, 14 incidents of intolerance were recorded in the first
six weeks, according to the Kansas City Missouri Human Relations Department's
bias crime records.
Many incidents went
undocumented for fear of reprisals or a perception of nonsupport for further
investigation, said Ken Evans, Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shield's
public information officer.
To help combat future
occurrences of bias crimes in Kansas City, Shields assembled a task force
to examine issues of diversity, religious discrimination and hate crimes
in the area. The 12-member task force was introduced at a press conference
on Feb. 14, 2002, and asked to make its report to Shield's office by Sept.
Members of the task
force came from many different religious and social backgrounds. Chaired
by the Rev. Vern Barnet of the Kansas City Interfaith Council, the group
included representatives of the Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant,
Sikh and Jewish faith traditions and members of the Hispanic, African-American,
and Gay and Lesbian communities. Diane Herschberger of Kansas City Harmony
and Dick Kurtenbach of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and
Western Missouri were also members.
Task force member
George Noonan, chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said
the history of the diverse backgrounds of Catholics underscored the importance
of learning about and accepting other faith and culture traditions. "Catholics
have experienced prejudice themselves in the past; the anti-Irish bias
in the 19th century is one example. We, as Catholics, need to encourage
acceptance of diversity in Kansas City."
Three of the task
force's meetings were designated as public listening sessions - at the
University of Missouri-Kansas City, at the Islamic Center of Greater Kansas
City and at the Antioch Branch of the Johnson County (Kansas) Library.
A Web site was established in April to further enable public comment on
issues of religious intolerance and bias crime.
The group met with
Michael Tabman of the Federal Bureau of Investigation several times to
discuss the Patriot Act and proposed national homeland security measures
in relation to Kansas City.
The task force presented
its findings and recommendations to Shields on Sept. 10. They confirmed
that intolerance does exist in the Kansas City area and identified educational
resources that are accessible to religious institutions, businesses and
non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, the media and residents.
The task force called
for three preventive actions: a crisis response plan, a public education
plan, and a tolerance monitoring plan.
A crisis response
plan would help ensure the safety and protect the civil and religious liberties
of vulnerable ethnic and religious minority communities in the event of
further terrorist activity at the local or national level.
Barnet, the task
force chair, said the implementation of a response plan is a way of managing
potential crises. The first step in its implementation would be the creation
of a catalog of the religious institutions and educational facilities most
vulnerable to harassment and violence.
Other steps include
creating directories of contact persons within those institutions to facilitate
communication between law enforcement and government bodies and the religious
institutions in the event of harassment or violence.
Barnet said the group
recommended the involvement of the Mid-America Regional Council in tailoring
national homeland security efforts to fit the needs of a Midwestern region.
"Kansas City has different security concerns than a coastal city like New
York or Los Angeles. We need to be ready, but not paranoid," he said.
A public education
plan is the second recommendation of the diversity task force. Barnet said
he expects to meet with Katheryn Shields early in 2003 to discuss the creation
of a community education program about religious and cultural traditions
to improve communication and appreciation of the traditions. The program
would be targeted at non-profit organizations, the arts and education communities,
and the media to promote tolerance.
Some of the steps
suggested to implement the education recommendation include governments
and law enforcement agencies declaring municipalities as "Hate Free Zones,"
and providing law enforcement officials with pocket-sized cards developed
by the Anti-defamation League to help them determine if a bias crime occurred.
Finally, the task
force proposed a tolerance monitoring plan as a way of "monitoring the
state of tolerance in the greater Kansas City area."
One step in implementing
such a plan would be the creation and dissemination of an annual report
card on the state of tolerance in the area. Barnet said this would begin
with a one-year study of religious and cultural traditions with law enforcement
officials, the arts and education communities and media representatives.
Noonan and Barnet
both said they were pleased with the report of the task force and hoped
Shields's office would follow up on their recommendations.
Shields agreed to
act on the task force's recommendations. "I have met with the [task force]
members and agreed that we would proceed with the annual report card part
of the proposal. I have also agreed to additional meetings with law enforcement,
religious leaders, and emergency preparedness officials to discuss a crisis
plan. We will be meeting with others in the education and arts community
about the need to create a greater community awareness about bias," Shields
Barnet said he hoped
to see visible signs that the task force recommendations were being implemented
by Sept. 11, 2003.
courtesy of Ken Evans
of the Diversity Task Force. Back row: Rabbi Joshua Taub, Dick Kurtenbach,
Rev. Roger Kube, George Noonan, Thomas Poe, and Lama Chuck Stanford. Front
row: Sayed Hasan, Diane Hershberger, Katheryn Shields, Rita Valenciano
& Rev. Vern Barnet.
433. 021218 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Honor Christmas with Peace
While others are welcome to eavesdrop,
this column is directed to Christian parents.
Do not celebrate the birthday
of the Prince of Peace by giving your children video games where characters
attack, maim, or kill each other. Toys of violence model future behavior
in your children and in society. Movies that depend on violence are unworthy
of Christmas. While it is difficult to reconcile such entertainment with
any faith, especially at this season, Christians should be watchful about
the values they exemplify and instill in youngsters.
Do not lie to your children
about Santa Claus. Yes, tell them Santa is coming. Set out a cup of chocolate
milk and a cookie for his midnight appearance. But tell them that at your
house you play Santa, and that parents and others play Santa because bringing
joy to children brings joy to adults. As your children grow, help them
understand that Santa is a role, not a person. Santa is a character in
a custom, and different actors play the part in their own private performances.
Do teach them about Incarnation.
In the Christian faith, the birth of the Christ child celebrates the miracle
of incarnation, infinite God becoming finite human flesh.
Just as America at least
partly embodies hopes for the ideals of freedom and justice, as Martin
Luther King Jr. incarnated the dream of equality under law, and as the
birth of each child should evoke hopes for the future, so for Christians,
Jesus is the manifestation of God's perfect love.
The Romans were used to the
idea that humans could become gods -- they made Caesar a god by legislation
in the senate. But it was hard for them to believe that God would choose
to leave the realm of perfection, become human, and take upon himself the
troubles and limitations of this world. Suffering on behalf of others is
still hard to understand. That is one reason Christmas can be called a
Kansas City Star Dec 16, 2002, page B-1
crowd of more than 250 attended the Crescent Peace Society's 2002 Eid dinner
Saturday to help the Muslim community celebrate the end of the holy month
The society was founded in 1996 to enhance the understanding of Muslim
culture through educational and cultural activities.
Three persons were honored, including Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes who
received the society's Peace Award.
Vern Barnet, minister in residence at the Center for Religious Experience
and Study, a Kansas City educational and inter-religious organization,
received the Community Award.
Lewis Diuguid, vice president of Community Resources for The Kansas City
Star received the Journalism Award.
Also honored was Elizabeth Alex, NBC 41 news anchor who, while on assignment
in the Middle East this spring, met a young girl in the Gaza Strip who
Alex worked with local authorities and the medical community to secure
the necessary services in Kansas City and young Doa Aldalou and her family
returned home in November after successful surgery.
-- Jennifer Mann/The Star
432. 021211 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Learning to walk on a 'Journey of Faith'
We rejoice at a baby's first steps, awkward
though they may be. Tonight at 8, KCPT broadcasts a two-hour special about
baby steps in the journey of understanding between Christians and Jews.
These steps have their slips and falls, but the effort lifts the heart.
"Jews and Christians: A Journey
of Faith"' is based on Marvin R. Wilson's book, Our Father Abraham:
Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Interviews with scholars and ordinary
people, and encounters between Jews and Christians, encourage others who
are still in the crawling stage.
The steps can be difficult.
Why are most Christians unaware of the glorious developments in Judaism
since Biblical times? Why, if the Lord's prayer summarizes the Jewish tradition,
do Jews decline to say it? Three-quarters of Christian scripture is Jewish,
but how can Jews and Christians understand it so differently? Do most Christians
realize the significance of the fact that Jesus was Jewish? Why is it essential
for Christians today to deal with the horrors of past Christian anti-Semitism?
What are we to make of the
parallels of Moses bringing the law from Mt Sinai and Jesus preaching the
Sermon on the Mount? or of Abraham ready to sacrifice his son Isaac and
God the Father sacrificing his son Jesus?
Missteps are few. The program
fails to recognize that Christianity developed as much or more from pagan
sources as well as Jewish roots, and that Islam and Judaism are more alike
than Judaism and Christianity. But next Wednesday KCPT airs "Muhammad."
The big step in interfaith
understanding is what Krister Stendhal in the program calls "holy envy
-- the other faith has something beautiful that tells you about God, but
"it ain't yours." It's different, not to be incorporated, not to become
"cut flowers in our own garden," but rather a reason to give thanks for
the diversity of God's revelation.
431. 021204 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Ramadan stories tell of grace and grit
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are
required during daylight hours to refrain from eating, drinking and sexual
relations. Here are two Ramadan stories of grace, one recent, one ancient.
An area school librarian
writes that during lunch time, "a seventh grade Muslim girl has been in
the library fasting. Five non-Muslim friends are taking turns coming to
the library to sit with her so she isn't alone at lunch. They are taking
turns each day so they only miss lunch one day a week. I told them they
could bring a snack and eat it quickly in my office but they declined.
We can learn a lot from kids."
This is a paraphrase of Ibn
Majah's traditional story #1671, elaborated elsewhere.
A distressed man came to
the prophet Muhammad. "I am undone!" he said. The prophet asked, "What
has so upset you?" The man said, "I violated Ramadan because I wanted
To compensate for the violation,
the prophet instructed him, "Buy a slave and free him." (Muhammad often
recommended this compensation as a way of ending the slavery of his era.)
But the man said he could
not afford this. Then the prophet asked him to fast two months continuously.
The man said he could not handle this, either. The prophet said, "Feed
sixty needy people." The man again said this would be impossible for him
As they were talking, a container
of food arrived. The prophet said, "Give this food as a charity." The man
responded, "O prophet of God, I swear by the one who sent you with the
truth, no family is more needy than mine." The prophet said, "Go and feed
your family." So he left to feed his own children.
The first story shows the
grace non-Muslim children have developed in respecting a person whose religious
practice is not normally their own. The second story shows the grace of
Muhammad in finding a compensation to fit the situation--the penalty becomes
430. 021127 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Thanksgiving celebrates an interfaith
That early American Thanksgiving in 1621
was an interfaith affair, Indians and Pilgrims together. It was a fitting
if unintended introduction to the astonishing claim Americans made in 1776,
declaring Independence, that "all men are created equal; that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these
are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
When Jefferson penned these
words, "happiness" was understood not so much a private matter as the capacity
to influence public life. His words--our words--have become a public creed.
This creed, cited by Lincoln, and more recently named as such by Martin
Luther King Jr, has guided the process by which African-Americans, women
and others are becoming full participants in the American promise.
From the Pilgrims to 9/11,
no book tells this story with greater urgency and simplicity than The
American Creed: A Spiritual and Patriotic Primer by Forrest Church,
published a few months ago. In 150 pages, spread before the reader is the
sweep and meaning of America as a spiritual experiment, often flawed but
full of redemption. It is a drama in which we now act, and it is our duty
to shape its future.
As the horror of 9/11
unfolded, we paradoxically glimpsed a world of faithfulness to one another.
The spirit of service brought a chastened "happiness" from doing even a
tiny thing to help others, as we contemplated how from many, we are one.
We thus realized anew our nation's first motto, e pluribus unum.
This vision is too precious to forget.
Church calls Thanksgiving
"our most distinctive national holiday." Our perspective today is more
inclusive than the Pilgrims' theology, but their risky adventure of faith
is still transmitted to our tables of gratitude.
This holiday is both intimate
and public, about today and about history. But most of all, it is a feast
of faith, a celebration of the American creed.
429. 021120 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Share a story and cross the dividing
In 1996, Pam Peck visited Turkey. She met
a group of Muslim women carrying elegant dresses over their arms as they
boarded a bus for an embassy reception that evening which Pam was also
to attend. Pam confided to one that she was unprepared for the affair and
would be wearing the one casual skirt she'd packed. When Pam next saw the
Muslim women, none were wearing their party dresses. They wore skirts and
blouses like hers.
Sharing stories is a simple
way to respond to complex global religious divisions. Recalling even a
simple story may nurture a community of understanding.
In Kansas City people of
all faiths are telling stories. Hindus and Roman Catholics talk about the
toughest thing they ever had to do. Buddhists and Muslims share the best
and the most painful things that ever happened to them. Protestants and
Wiccans discuss how they got faith and (perhaps) how they lost it. Sikhs
and Unitarians reveal what they do for fun. Jews and Zoroastrians recount
the most amazing thing that ever happened to them.
Local citizens calling themselves
"Mosaic" believe the power in people's stories can lead us to appreciate
each other's faiths. That's why they initiated the Mosaic Life Stories
Project. Coordinator Donna Ziegenhorn says, "Our stories tell who we are,
what's important to us, how we survive and find meaning day to day. These
experiences offer an authentic connecting point for individuals from all
the religious traditions practiced in Kansas City."
Through mid-December, Mosaic
volunteers are listening to such stories. After stories are transcribed,
the material will be scripted for a performance.
If you are willing to be
interviewed or would like to write your own story, contact Donna, firstname.lastname@example.org,
for more information. Your story may inspire others.
November 14, 2002 page 6
by Deborah Young
hasn't escaped 9/11 backlash (or faced it)
slurs and threatening phone calls and letters have thrust he weight of
9/11 on members of Kansas City’s Muslim community just like they’ve burdened
Muslims (and other people who “look Middle Eastern”) in other U.S. cities.
But we don’t hear much about it on the airwaves here or read much about
it in The Kansas City Star.
One reason for the
silence is fear, which gags many hate-crime victims.
Shortly after 9/11,
Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields received reports of harassment
and violence against members of certain ethnic groups. In response to public
concerns about such incidents, she assembled a multicultural task force
to investigate the post-9/11 experiences of some ethnic groups and to provide
recommendations about how local agencies can protect those communities.
The Jackson County
Diversity Task Force recently released its report. The report includes
summaries of comments made during a public meeting the task force held
in August. One Muslim man said he’d received five threatening postcards
between Sept. 11 and mid-July.
One of the postcards
included a signature and this rant: “America doesn’t want you. Get out!
Get out now! Take your lies and print them someplace else. Try the Murdock
Sound. But get out of the USA.” Other notes characterized Muslims as unclean,
stupid and hateful. Another man said he knows lots of KC area Muslims who’ve
been harassed and threatened on jobs, at schools and as they traveled.
He said the victims don’t file reports because they don’t think it’ll help
Syed Hasan, a UIMKC
professor and Muslim who served on the Jackson County Task Force, said
it’s the victim’s choice to file a report. The community can only educate
people about how to file reports and about why reporting crimes is important.
. . .
428. 021113 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Life of the spirit can be an adventure
The life of faith can be an adventure,
where we set off in new directions, make friends in unlikely places, pass
through trials and sorrows, gain wisdom and sense the sacred so deeply
and pervasively we hesitate to put it into words. Whether it is Jesus surprising
his family by leaving the carpenter's bench or the Buddha-to-be renouncing
his right to his father's throne, the stories of the world's religions
intrigue us when we see them less as a set script and more as an exploration
on behalf of others who are, like us, caught in the web of finitude.
Both Moses and Muhammad were
reluctant recipients of divine commissions because they sensed their own
limits compared with the inexpressible Majesty calling them. Yet they surrendered
to the adventure set before them, and we now speak their names with respect.
Lincoln, Gandhi, King and
Mandela likewise were called into service precisely because they were open
to sense an awesome Power working through history toward justice.
But for others, the life
of faith is not so much an open adventure as it is simply following instructions.
More important than awe and duty are absolute belief and compliance. An
open adventure is less appealing than an established strategy for gain.
Yet St Paul spoke of our
knowing "through a glass darkly." Plato's cave suggests we see but shadows
of reality. Hindus sometimes call the world of our ordinary perceptions
"maya," an illusion in which we are confined.
This suggests it is wise
to be modest about our opinions. But this modesty is not the style of those
who claim their answers must be ours. What if religion is less about certitude
but more about confidence, not so much about creeds as about commitment
to serve others? Is the life of the spirit more like an adventure or an
427. 021106 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Wheel spokes closer toward center
Patricia Lynn Morrison was one of the adults
at Rockhurst High School Oct 22 when students of Amnesty International
there joined with Christians, Jews and Muslims from other high schools.
Adults--their teachers, parents, guests--and the students, in separate
groups, spent the evening sharing information about their traditions, breaking
down stereotypes and hoping to better understand their commonalities and
Morrison, managing editor
of The National Catholic Reporter, an independent newsweekly
based in Kansas City, reflected on a Buddhist speaker she heard at the
1993 Chicago Parliament of World Religions.
"The parliament’s logo was
a wheel," Morrison said, "and the Buddhist thought of the wheel as a symbol
for the spiritual journey."
"All of us, he said, are
like the spokes of the wheel. At the beginning of our journey, at the rim,
we are not much invested in our own religious tradition or practice. We
are far from the hub or center, as we are far from God, or whatever name
one might use for Ultimate Reality."
"We are, like the spokes
at the rim, also far from each other. But as we move deeper in our quest
and closer toward God at the center, spokes also come closer together,
and we become closer to one another."
Describing the Rockhurst
meeting, Morrison said, "We were Christians of several traditions, Muslims
born here and elsewhere, American-born Jews and two Israeli soldiers. We
began by talking about our religion; we ended talking about the need for
peace. It was just a small step, two hours of a fall evening out of 365
busy days. But what a powerful first step. I could sense those spokes of
the great wheel getting a little bit closer."
The Catholic Key,
Nov 1, 2002
table forum gives teens
chance to talk about faith
Denzer/Key photo: Students from Notre Dame de Sion High School, Rockhurst
High School, The Islamic School of Kansas City and Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy
exchange ideas on faith at the round table forum at Rockhurst on Oct. 22.
KANSAS CITY - They
wore baseball caps, yarmulkes, amira and crocheted topi, and their ideas
were as varied as their hats.
Students from Rockhurst
High School, Notre Dame de Sion High School, the Islamic School of Kansas
City, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and St. Teresa's Academy gathered at Rockhurst
on Oct. 22 to exchange thoughts and concerns about religion in the 21st
Hosted by the Rockhurst
chapter of Amnesty International, the round table "conversations" were
the brain child of theology teacher, Sean Agniel.
According to senior
Ben Summers, president of Rockhurst's Amnesty chapter, the idea of a gathering
of young people from different faith traditions came up "out of the blue"
during a discussion on security measures implemented by the U.S. government.
Originally the intended topics of the gathering were: the post-Sept. 11
world, possible threats to civil liberties and other domestic issues. But
as the students discussed the proposed gathering, "Mr. Agniel commented
that there had been little or no dialogue between Christians, Jews and
Muslims recently. We moved quickly away from politics and decided it would
be an opportunity to share our thoughts and our opinions on our faith traditions
with other young people."
They came in pairs
and groups, a few hesitant, most nonchalant. About 35 teenagers, all members
or guests of their schools' Amnesty chapters, crowded around tables in
the Rockhurst High School cafeteria, ready to talk and listen.
After the ice breakers
and the formalities, the teenagers gathered in quiet groups of their own
faith traditions to discuss likes and concerns about their faith and what
misconceptions others might have about their tradition.
Then they regrouped,
mixing Catholic, Jewish and Muslim for interreligious conversation.
The adults - teachers,
three Israelis, members of the Kansas City Interfaith Council and a parent
or two - went to another room for similar discussions.
With the adults gone,
the students seemed to feel freer to talk.
"We can't blame our
religion or 'their' religion for human failures. It's up to us to carry
out what our religion teaches us."
"Judaism is pluralistic.
It fosters a strong love of community." "Catholics have big families, right?"
"Muslims try to live
a good life. We pray five times a day at specific times. Sometimes it's
hard to get up at 6 a.m. for the first prayer, but I have to try."
adapted over the years and our values of love, unity, respect and peace
help us get along with people of many different faiths."
"The situation in
Israel and Palestine is like trouble in someone else's family. You want
to help, but you can't."
"We're human. We
"We're all trying
to reach the same goal, heaven. We're all fundamentally the same."
"It's different learning
about another religion from a textbook than from someone who lives it."
Agniel said he had
asked the Rev. Vern Barnet, convener of the Kansas City Interfaith Council,
for advice on how to proceed with an interreligious dialogue. Barnet and
George Noonan, diocesan ecumenical officer and member of the Interfaith
Council, attended the gathering.
"Basically it was
to show support for youth, Noonan said. "We need to promote ecumenical
things happening at the grass roots level, like this event."
Barnet handed each
participant an interfaith passport. The concept of the interfaith passport
originated at the October 2001 "Gifts of Pluralism Conference." The conference
was a two-day dialogue and discussion between representatives of Kansas
City's 15 religious traditions, from American Indian to Zoroastrianism.
The passport is intended to encourage interfaith activities and participation.
Barnet told the young
people that he was glad they had come to the round table conversations.
"Schools should connect
more," he said.
"Visas" may be issued
by any organization welcoming interfaith exchange and placed on the appropriate
passport page as evidence of attendance or participation in an interfaith
event. There are pages for each faith tradition in Kansas City and three
interfaith activities pages. A "visa" sticker was handed out to be applied
to an interfaith activities page.
E.E. Keenan, vice-president of the Amnesty chapter, concluded the conversations
with a Muslim/Jewish/Christian prayer for peace.
Andrew Perry, also
a senior at Rockhurst, said he gained a lot of respect for other traditions
by simply talking to the other teenagers. He liked the fact that Muslims
respected their religious leaders.
"Teenagers from other
faith traditions are just like me in many ways," Perry said.
"The round table
showed me that the youth of Kansas City are willing to listen to each other's
views. There was no prejudice."
Summers said the
students exchanged e-mail addresses and planned to stay in touch.
Agniel said the round
table conversations were just the beginning.
"It was a chance
to get to know each other as human beings, not discuss deep theological
issues. We hope to meet again in the spring, maybe progress to doing a
project together, and eventually pray together."
The Catholic Key - 816-756-1850
Box 419037, Kansas City, MO 64141-6037
426. 021030 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Interfaith efforts recognize kinship
This is a difficult time for all of us,
and particularly for Jewish and Muslim communities. When we feel threatened,
it is hard for us to reach out with neighborly trust.
An mild example of the difficulty
appeared on the CBS program "Open Hearts Open Minds," broadcast earlier
this month. The network special focused on Kansas City's interfaith responses
While the officials at the
Islamic Center of Greater Kansas City extended extraordinary hospitality
to the Jackson County Diversity Task Force during a fact-finding session
there, one member of the mosque, Abdullah Bayazid said, "The people of
the Islamic Center don't welcome interfaith (efforts)."
Within any emerging community,
especially sub-communities of immigrants, a tension naturally exists between
integrating with society and separation from it. Even now the well-established
Jewish community strongly discourages interfaith marriage.
The program also shows Sulaiman
Salaam and others of Al-Inshirah Islamic Center participating with St Monica
Catholic Church and Congregation Beth Torah in a gathering sponsored by
Harmony called Congregational Partners. He cites the Qur'an conveying God's
plan in making different peoples, "not to despise each other, but to get
to know each other."
Of course no one need feel
threatened by interfaith work. Its aim is neither to convert nor to merge,
but to recognize our kinship and to learn from one another the paths of
Just as conversation is taking
place within the Muslim community about this, so the Kansas City Jewish
community exhibits the tension between garnering support for Israel on
one hand and reaching out beyond political agendas to embrace those of
every faith as we recognize the mysterious Power bringing us into being
with one another.
425. 021023 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Where there's a Wills, there's a critique
Garry Wills, author of Papal Sin: Structures
of Deceit, calmly and methodically attacked the notion that the practices
of the Roman Catholic Church are changeless. Wills spoke last week at Rockhurst
University to a crowd so large the venue had to be changed.
Analyzing the histories of
the prohibition of meat on Fridays, the Latin mass, clerical celibacy,
and the male priesthood, Wills argued that each of these customs arose
in response to the secular world at the time and are not essential to the
The mass, for example, was
originally in Greek, the language of the New Testament. But as Christianity
developed, Latin, then the vernacular in the West, came to be used. What
began as convenience became a rigid requirement until Vatican II.
Wills says the Rosary and
is active in his own parish. He responded to the critics of his book with
a sequel, Why I am a Catholic.The "great truths of salvation" found
in the creed compel him both to criticize and support the Church he loves.
Wills, winner of the Pulitzer
and many other prizes, is a historian whose 20 books include works on Washington
and Lincoln as well as Augustine and other religious topics.
Augustine (354-430), who
helped develop the "just war" theory in Christianity, was his reference
point when I asked him about Iraq.
One feature of the theory
prohibits aggression. Iraq poses no immediate threat to us, Wills said,
and its secular government at odds with the Kurds who are far more friendlier
to al Quida than Iraq is.
"People have threatened to
kill me, and some of the threats are serious," he said. "But I cannot take
action against them until they actually show intent to come after me."
424. 021016 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Words get to the roots of spiritual
Ignition, yoke, video--what do these three
terms have in common with Hinduism or its sacred language, Sanskrit?
Although modern English developed
thousands of years after Sanskrit, both tongues, along with Greek and Latin,
belong to a group of languages called Indo-European. The similarities of
some terms can be instructive.
English words relating to
fire--igneous, igite, ignition--derive from the Latin word ignis,
related to the Sanskrit agnis,fire. Agni was the second most important
god in ancient India. His job was to convey sacrifices to the gods in the
sky by transforming the offerings into ascending smoke.
Fire makes dangerous raw
meat edible, keeps animals at a distance, provides light in darkness. Almost
every faith uses flames in sacred ways, and even secular birthday parties
often involve lit candles in celebration. The domestication of fire was
an enormous step in early civilization. Because of its beauty and its danger,
it is still appropriate to respect it.
The many forms of yoga in
Hinduism all seek to bring the practicioner into union with the Supreme
Reality. It is easy to see how the Enlish word "yoke" is related, but less
obvious are words like "join," "conjugal" and "zygote." Bringing things
together is a theme found in Jewish mysticism, American Indian ritual and
many other religious paths.
The word "video" entered
our language in 1930, but its relatives--evidence, view, advice--like the
Sanskrit vidya, remind us that seeing can be believing. The name
of the earliest Hindu scriptures, from the same stem, the Vedas, means
Ordinary words can lead us
into contemplating spiritual mysteries.
Kansas City Star Oct 21, 2002 Letters to the Editor
America is rooted in religious pluralism. Religious prejudice is more than
silly; it is dangerous to our community and our nation. When American religious
leaders perpetuate misunderstanding and promote bigotry, we are all shamed.
Therefore, we must express our deep regret over recent inaccurate and divisive
remarks by religious leaders Franklin Graham calling Islam a "wicked religion"
and Jerry Falwell characterizing Muhammad as a "terrorist."
When one faith is attacked, all faiths are jeopardized. We work for a community
and a nation celebrating its religious diversity. For over a decade, from
13 different faiths, the members of the Kansas City Interfaith Council
have worked together in mutual regard and respect. We urge all to replace
prejudice with understanding. Our differences are blessings, and the spirit
of kinship unites us all together.
Rev. David E. Nelson, chairman (and all thirteen members of the Kansas
City Interfaith Council)
Hawkins (American Indian), Simeon Kohlman Rabbani (Baha'i), Lama Chuck
Stanford (Buddhist), the Rev Wallace Hartsfield (Christian-Protestant),
Father Pat Rush (Christian-Roman Catholic), Rabbi Joshua Taub (Jewish),
Anand Bhattacharyya (Hindu), A Rauf Mir, MD (Muslim), Karta Purkh Sign
Khalsa (Sikh), Ali Kadr (Sufi), the Rev Kathy Riegelman (Unitarian Universalist),
Mike Nichols (Wiccan), Daryoush Jahanian, MD (Zoroastrian), the Rev David
E Nelson (chairman), the Rev Vern Barnet (convener), October 9, 2002]
423. 021009 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Community flows together with ritual
For some, ritual is boring, meaningless
rote. It speaks nothing. But St Mark's Catholic Church liturgist Susan
Walker, with her interfaith ritual team, planned to observe the anniversary
of Sept. 11 by using something as ordinary as water to speak the best of
Waters from fountains all
over the metro region and from dozens of rivers of the world had been poured
into the pool at Ilus Davis Park that morning. A vessel of the mingled
waters was taken to the Community of Christ Auditorium for the evening
For Walker, water as an interfaith
symbol speaks of cleansing, renewal, rebirth, and refreshment. But it also
recalls the countless people who found ways to respond to the tragedy,
including the emergency workers. It evokes memories of frontier America:
if the barn caught fire, the entire community came out, formed a bucket
brigade from the nearest water source, and did their part to put out the
The fountain on the rostrum
was silent until Independence Mayor Ron Stewart and Raytown Mayor Sue Frank
received buckets of water being passed the entire length of the north aisle,
hand to hand, by more than 50 uniformed police officers, fire fighters,
emergency medical personnel and others. As the fountain filled, the water
began speaking, circulating and spilling from an upper basin to the larger
With the physical act of
handing off buckets, the brigade volunteers became members of each other,
and those who were witnesses gazed deeper into the best of humanity, and
found comfort and consolation.
Ritual can speak to us as
words cannot. A simple action like handing a bucket of water to another
person, deepening community, helped us face a tragedy that is unspeakable.
422. 021002 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The Japanese boys of summer play a
Now that we're into the baseball season,
I asked Dan Johnson, who is writing a history of the sport in Japan where
he lived for 1 1/2 years, to tell us about its relation to religion there.
Japanese baseball stars
such as Ichiro and Kazuhiro Sasaki only now are becoming household names
here, though the sport there dates back to 1873, when U.S. enthusiasts
introduced it to Japanese youth. Religion and culture, with their emphasis
on hard work and sacrifice for the greater whole, greatly affects the sport.
In the spring Japanese
teams typically visit Shinto shrines so that they can receive blessings
for the upcoming season. Some players, including Hall of Famer Tetsuharu
Kawakami and former pitching ace Choji Murata, often frequented Zen temples.
When their clubs were
not performing well, Kawakami and other managers have often taken kyuyo,
extended breaks, during the season, to meditate on their performance and
players have shown what might seem to Americans unusual politeness toward
each other. Pitchers often bowed to fielders who made nice fielding plays,
and base runners rarely bowled over infielders attempting to execute double
plays. Though Japanese baseball has recently become more aggressive, it
generally remains a gentle game--stuffed-animal prizes await players who
hit home runs. When I interviewed Mike Sweeney of the Royals after his
participation in the 2000 all-star tour of Japan, he also remarked about
the graciousness of the hosts.
The teams there all
have a great fan base. In that spirit, since I now live here, I say: Go
421. 020925 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Asian teachings reveal meaning of duty
In a troubled world, we crave an island
of peace. We want to do no harm, but our first concern is to not be harmed
A problem arises when seeking
our own safety leads to the destruction of others. Focus on ourselves makes
it hard to see others.
Religions pull us into a
larger context. But religion is perverted when partisan desires are claimed
in the name of faith. Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed by
a fellow Jew, Gandhi was murdered by a fellow Hindu, Egyptian president
Anwar Sadat was killed by a fellow Muslim, Christians killing Christians
persists in Ireland.
To avoid such partisanship,
religion's offer of personal peace may be best when it teaches duty to
the world. Duty was once a sturdy American value. Nowadays we may need
to study the Asian teaching of dharmato recover the meaning of duty
Dharma is a rich and
complex concept, but it involves a sense of peace and order even in the
midst of turbulence when one knows one is doing the right thing.
The calm evident in teachers
like the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh is remarkable because they have been
immersed in the horrors of history--in Hanh's case, the Vietnam war. Such
teachers, engaged in the world, have converted their own suffering into
compassion for others. Seeing that nothing happens without cause is a key
to such transformation.
Minh Tran, a distinguished
student of Hahn, himself a remarkable teacher, visits Conception Abbey,
the Benedictine monastery 90 miles north of Kansas City, Nov. 1-3,
to lead a retreat, "Lotus in a Sea of Fire." You can learn about it from
the Community of Mindful Living, a Kansas City Buddhist group sponsoring
him, by calling (816) 333-3043.
University News - Forum -- Issue: 09/23/02
City has religious bias
By Vern Barnett
may be tempted to congratulate themselves for refusing to be taken in by
It was a Georgia
woman who caused severe traffic problems on Interstate 75 in Florida earlier
this month when her suspicions led to a search for cars driven by three
young men she suspected were planning a terrorist attack. Some reports
suggest that they were not plotting to "bring down" buildings, but to "bring
down" a car
for the students to use. It was the officials in Florida who handcuffed
the men, medical students, held a gun to the head of one, ripped open the
cars in a search for evidence,
destroyed clothing, medical equipment and laptop computers. It is a Miami
hospital that, because of 200 anti-Muslim e-mails it has received, revoked
the welcome it had previously given to the students to continue their studies
there. During their 17 hours of detention, they were not allowed to use
So the bad
stuff happened elsewhere.
We may be tempted
to think well of ourselves here because one of the students, Omer Choudhary,
23, has received strong support from those who know him and his Kansas
But we must
not think all is well in the heartland.
County Diversity Task Force, which submitted its 77-page report on Sept.
10 after a seven-month study of the metro area, shows that Kansas City
has a big-time religious bias.
My weekly column
in The Kansas City Star celebrates the diverse faiths in our land. It often
elicits responses which might charitably called "unenlightened." However,
I was not prepared for the level and intensity of recent attacks on American
citizens who are Muslims. One caller said we must kill the Muslims before
they kill us. A Kansas City leader told me face to face that he wanted
to meet a Muslim who did not want to kill him. Of the 20,000 Muslims here,
I would like to introduce him to 20,000.
to fears some people have of those who are "different," anti-Muslim prejudice
is fueled by religious bigotry and political perspectives. Franklin Graham,
Billy Graham's son and successor, calls Islam an "evil religion" and claims
that Muslims do not worship the same god as Christians. Those who wish
to see how Kansas Citians have been affected by this blatant bigotry can
read the summary in the report from the fact-finding session we held at
the Islamic Center and survey the "creative" thinking of my correspondents
on this issue at http://www.cres.org/star/~god.htm.
dimension arises when, despite repeated condemnations of all terrorism
by prominent Muslim leaders here and elsewhere, a segment of the community
with a political agenda persists in repeating that no such denunciations
have been made and focuses instead on extremist statements.
The Task Force
developed three detailed recommendations: a crisis response plan, a public
education plan, and a tolerance monitoring plan. The report is available
Barnet is a religious leader and active community member in Kansas City.
His organization, CRES (the Center for Religious Education and Study),
has succeeded in promoting understanding among people of all faiths. Barnet
has worked tirelessly to make Kansas City a religiously safe environment
for people of all faiths.
September 20 By Marty Denzer,
Catholic Key Reporter
ceremony brings together memories and hope
KANSAS CITY - In
many faith traditions the image of water is symbolic of tears, cleansing,
renewal and refreshment, which is why the Sept. 11 services sponsored by
the Kansas City Interfaith Council centered around water.
During the 7 a.m.
ceremony at Ilus Davis Park, 10th and Oak Streets, members of the InterfaithCouncil
poured water gathered from fountains all over the Kansas City metropolitan
area into the park's pool. The mingled waters were joined with water from
world's rivers -including the Ganges, the Rhine, the Nile and the Tiber
- and blessed. The water was then collected to be used in individual ceremonies
later that day.
As a part of the
observance, over 200 representatives from all faiths present touched the
mingled waters then turned to the person next to them and touched each
others' eyes and cheeks, saying, "Your tears are my tears and your joy
is my joy."
Then they bowed to
one another as a sign of respect for each one's humanity.
Linda Zeorlin, associate
director of the diocesan Peace and Justice office, told The Catholic Key
that bowing to each other was a "profound emotional experience" for her.
"That's when it all
came together. We're all human and we should acknowledge and respect that.
We should pray that we can live together in peace," she said.
Mercy Sisters Jeanne
Christenson, director of the diocesan Peace and Justice Office, and Donna
Ryan, educational resources coordinator for the Cathedral of the Immaculate
Conception, George Noonan, diocesan chancellor, and Clara Dina Hinojosa,
of the diocesan Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry, were among the Interfaith
At the conclusion
of the water ceremony, participants processed to Grace and Holy Trinity
Episcopal Cathedral, carrying vessels of water, and waving flags and banners.
Members of Pembroke Hill School's fifth grade chorus told The Key they
were "confused and scared a year ago." Now they felt confused and sad,
but not scared. Several adults around the children agreed that they also
were not scared, but sad.
At Grace and Holy
Trinity's Founders Hall, the interfaith observance continued. Bells began
tolling all over the city at 7:48 a.m., the time when the first plane hit
the World Trade Center, and continued for two minutes. The bells would
toll regularly throughout the day all through the city.
on the lawn in front of the hall, and prayed . . . as the bells tolled,
led by the Rev. Vern Barnet, convener of the Interfaith Council.
Inside Founders Hall,
silence prevailed as people entered, taking a slip of paper upon which
was printed the name of one of the more than 3,000 victims who died in
the terrorist attacks. The names were also projected on a wall.
invited to step to the front of the room, read the name of the victim on
their slip of paper, and then speak, pray or sing according to their faith
At the back of the
room was a container filled with water from the pool at Ilus Davis Park.
Nearby lay the vessels waiting to be filled and taken back to various faith
groups for later observances: Brass jugs nestled next to glass and silver
bowls, plain clay pots lay near a weatherbeaten cast iron cauldron, a brass
horn and a conch shell.
Founders Hall and
Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral remained open all day for prayer and reflection.
According to the
Rev. Grant McMurray, president of the Community of Christ (formerly the
Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints) in Independence, the morning's
ceremonies were videotaped for use later that day.
At the Independence
Ministerial Alliance services that evening, the videotape would be played
to create a visual link of the diversity in Jackson County. Water
collected from the pool at Ilus Davis Park, and carried to Independence
in the conch shell, was to be used during the evening services.
420. 020918 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Music and dance bring spirit to 9/11
Several months ago, when the Kansas City
Interfaith Council asked Mayor Kay Barnes for her suggestions for its 9/11
observances, her immediate response was "music."
Martin Luther called
music "the gift of God." As a theologian, he ranked music "next to theology."
Although I do theology, I think there is more good music than there is
Most of us may approach the
ultimate more through the arts than through theology. In Hinduism, for
example, the god Krishna is often portrayed as playing a flute, and the
god Shiva is famous for his dancing.
Accepting the Mayor's advice,
the Council planned American Indian, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu music
in its observances, as well as a profoundly moving offering by Jewish and
Muslim children singing together a song which included Shalom and
Salam, the Hebrew and Arabic words for "peace."
Artists from the Kansas City
Symphony and the Ballet enriched the day of remembrance and renewal. As
the sun was rising, a brass ensemble with percussion played "Amazing Grace"
at Ilus Davis Park. In the evening, a string quartet lifted the spirits
with several numbers, including the "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber,
a work of such poignancy and resolution it seemed to epitomize the emotions
of the past year.
A dancer ended the observance
with the "Kaddish," an intense expression of loss and mourning which so
stunned the audience that it took a while before the audience was able
to respond with its own intense applause.
Pope Pius XII spoke of art
"breaking through the narrow and tortuous enclosure of the finite... in
providing a window on the infinite for his hungry soul."
City Jewish Chronicle September 13, 2002
Anna Jaffe, Staff Writer
in the Aftermath:
Christians Muslims struggle
deepen relations in post 9/11 world
White, a research associate for CBS News and a member of the clergy, said
producers wanted to find a community where there was a broad range of interfaith
activity - some of which was spurred on by the attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon.
CBS looked at a number
of communities that had interesting things going on, but ultimately settled
on Kansas City because of the level of activity and the involvement of
a wide variety of religious groups.
In August, a news
crew visited the metropolitan area to conduct interviews and shoot footage
of a number of activities, including an ongoing interfaith exchange involving
Congregation Beth Torah, Al-Inshirah Islamic Center and St. Monica's Catholic
"There was a real
vibrancy in the story that came out of Kansas City that we wanted to follow,"
While CBS may be
impressed with the level of interfaith activity in the metropolitan area,
some local leaders seem far less confident that Kansas City is where it
could or should be.
executive director of Kansas City Harmony, said that Kansas City may be
ahead of other communities in terms of interfaith relations, but the environment
is still far from ideal.
"There was more going
on here than anywhere else," Hershberger said. "That doesn't mean things
are where we want them to be."
Some community leaders
go so far as to say there's really very little substantive interfaith activity
in Kansas City.
Rabbi Mark Levin,
leader of Congregation Beth Torah, said activities such as the interfaith
exchange that his congregation is participating in are a start. But he
questions how widespread - and how deep - these types of efforts
"People work together
when they need to," Levin said. "But I'm not aware of any real exchange
of views. And I'm not aware of any exchanges of pulpits."
Prior to Sept. 11,
local groups such as Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish
Committee, Kansas City Harmony, the National Conference for Community and
Justice and the Kansas City Interfaith Council were working to promote
Marvin Szneler, executive
director of the JCRB/AJC, said his organization is constantly trying to
promote interfaith connections.
"We think it's important
to have strong bridges of understanding with faiths and ethnic groups,"
Szneler said. "And we take advantage of every opportunity to do that."
Szneler said a lot
of the interfaith effort involves building relationships and standing in
coalition with other groups to support particular causes.
"That's how things
get done," he said.
The JCRB/AJC's efforts
range from small-scale activities - such as buying a table and attending
the Catholic Bishop Boland Public Policy Summit Sept. 5 - to larger events
- such as the pro-Israel rally in May, attended by over 2,000 people. The
latter event was co-sponsored by Rockhurst University, First Baptist Church
of Raytown, Paseo Baptist Church, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,
St. James United Methodist Church, Christ Temple Church, Community Christian
Church, Longview United Methodist Church and Metropolitan Missionary Baptist
agree that the events of last September increased the need for interfaith
dialogue. The terror attacks - perpetrated by the Islamist radicals of
al-Queda - killed nearly 3,000 Americans, including Muslims, Christians,
"9/11 has emphasized
to everyone our mutual vulnerability and the preciousness of life," said
Rev. Tom Ford, executive director of Metropolitan Lutheran Ministry. "It's
pointed us to the things that are most important in life. And it's created
opportunities for religious discussion, cooperation and understanding that
never existed before."
However, it is not
clear that groups in Kansas City have seized these opportunities.
Rabbi Alan Cohen,
leader of Congregation Beth Shalom and a member of the Metropolitan Lutheran
Ministry board of directors, said he hasn't noticed a distinct change in
interfaith relations since 9/11/01.
"If there's any change,
it's the communication I've had with clergy of different faiths in which
we've all expressed a greater need to know more about each other's beliefs,"
Cohen said. "That would be a way to build community."
So far, it's largely
been talk, Cohen said.
up to the plate
Rev. Vern Barnet,
founder and minister in residence of the Center for Religious Experience
and Study, which, in turn, convenes the Kansas City Interfaith Council,
said he has seen increased interfaith activity in the last year. He pointed
to an estimated 65 percent increase in activities sponsored by CRES as
"While church attendance
may have fallen back to the pre-9/11 levels, the interfaith interest has
never been stronger, and I don't see it waning," Rev. Barnet said.
The problem is that
CRES - while highly visible in the Kansas City area, in part through Rev.
Barnet's column in The Kansas City Star - represents only a small
sector of the local faith community, which is made up of more than 1,600
Hershberger of Kansas
City Harmony said she has seen some positive momentum since 9/11. In particular,
she said, members of the Muslim community have become more involved in
the larger civic community and have taken extra steps to educate people
about their faith.
"I think there's
a net gain in interfaith dialogue and understanding," Hershberger said.
"It's still not utopia. But it's heading in the right direction."
Mahnaz Shabbir is
an example of a person stepping up to the plate.
Since 9/11, Shabbir,
a Muslim of Indian descent, has become a one-woman public relations machine,
giving interviews to news media and speaking to dozens of groups, including
Jewish ones, across the city about her faith.
"What I've come to
realize is that if you want to make a change, you have to start with yourself
and go from there," Shabbir said.
Shabbir said she
firmly believes in the words of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, who said
"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
While interest in
interfaith activities may be strong, it is often difficult to translate
into concrete action.
time constraints and politics often get in the way.
Rev. Ford said that,
no matter how much improvement is made on the interfaith front, the situation
will never be perfect. He said that the wide range of religious perspectives
within Christianity is an impediment, in and of itself. Those on the theological
far right believe that anyone who does not believe in Jesus is doomed to
hell, while those on the far left believe God reveals himself to different
people in different ways.
"I don't think there
will ever be a uniform Christian belief in that arena," Rev. Ford said.
And with degree of the divergence of beliefs, finding common ground for
interfaith discussions is not easy, he said.
Lack of time is another
Members of the clergy
say they have a deep interest in interfaith relations. But the majority
of their time is spent dealing with their first obligation - their own
This makes it difficult
to sustain consistent, long-term activities, said Rabbi Levin of Beth Torah.
"There are not a
lot of rabbis around," Rabbi Levin said. "Our time is spent with our congregations.
I don't know that there's anyone who has the time to spend on this kind
of thing. And there doesn't seem to be an enormous amount of lay support
Rev. Ford said the
normal, competing life interests are the greatest barriers to getting people
involved. "People have so many things to do and so many excuses," he said.
And then there's
the issue of the blurring of lines between religion and politics. Sometimes
there is overlap, as is the case with the situation in Israel.
The Jewish community's
relations with some Christians, especially evangelicals, have improved
"The Israel issue
has seemed to create a shared agenda," said Rabbi Cohen of Beth Shalom.
But it has also created
that were close and positive before September 11 have been maintained and
even strengthened in some cases," said Judy Hellman, special projects coordinator
for the JCRB/AJC. "We're doing the best we can. We recognize the importance
of maintaining relationships and we're trying to do that. But the situation
in the Middle East has flavored who we work with and what we do."
So what needs to
happen to move interfaith relations in the Kansas City area to a deeper
she hopes organizations will move beyond the focus of the past year - the
ceremonies and memorials commemorating 9/11.
"I would like to
see us find more ways to come together and talk about what we're experiencing,"
There already is
interest in restarting the defunct Christian-Jewish-Muslim dialogue group,
which had been active until a few years ago.
the creation of additional interfaith forums is a must. She said there
needs to be a metro-wide group, representing as many of the local faith
groups and congregations as possible, that promotes, discussion, education
and problem solving.
Other community leaders
kind of communication, dialogue and programming that I think would be the
greatest benefit for the future," Rabbi Cohen said.
Despite the challenges,
Rev. Barnet said he is optimistic that the Kansas City community will continue
to make strides in interfaith relations.
"People are inherently
spiritual beings," he said. "Those who have tasted the deepening of their
own faith by interfaith encounter are eager to encourage others to have
the same kind of experience. This area is growing. And although the movement
is slow, it's a real cause for hope."
419. 020911 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
We gather today to remember and to
help each other heal
What are the reasons of the heart so many
of us gather in ceremonies of faith today?
We do not celebrate a victory
over stealthy might. Osama bin Laden may still be loose and well-financed,
and dangers from others seem to mount.
We do not mark the end of
a culture of selfishness. Executive greed and accounting corruption have
cheated our dreams.
We do not lead a world united
toward freedom. Even allies question our directions.
Yet the explosive heat of
terrorism one year ago revealed the ordinary hero. Even as we discovered
our vulnerability, Ground Zero showed how caring and generous we can be.
We saw people from over 80
nations and many faiths enveloped in the day's fireballs. With greater
understanding and compassion, we can now approach the suffering of others--the
Killing Fields of Cambodia, the massacres in Tibet, the horrors of the
Nazis, the decimation of the Native Americans, the abomination of slavery.
We saw no god avert disaster.
But beyond the betrayal by a few, we saw human duty entwined with love
over and over again.
We gather because we glimpsed
a world of faithfulness to one another, and we will not let that inkling
become ash. This vision is too precious to forget. So from every faith
we congregate today with reverence and resolution, to remember and to renew.
We know we have more work
to do. Blessed with many traditions brought to this land, we know the best
tribute to the fallen is to live and love in their memory, and build the
kind of America we saw when we were tested most severely.
We gather because to touch
one another's wounds is to touch the Infinite, and heal.
September 6, 2002:
11 -- A Year Later -- page 11
‘passport’ opens doors
a wider world
By PAT MORRISON
Once the smoke
cleared from the tragic events of Sept. 11, many Americans came to realize
that there was “collateral damage” far beyond what the nation first imagined.
It took various names: racism, suspicion, religious intolerance, ignorance.
As in cities around the country, religious leaders in Kansas City, Mo.,
quickly convened their congregations to provide interfaith services for
the community, offering prayer and healing in the wake of the disaster.
But they also knew that in the post-9/11 climate they needed to do even
intolerance -- and a terrible distortion of one religion’s beliefs -- had
been a major force behind the death and destruction America had suffered.
One effective antidote to the poison, the Kansas City religious community
realized, would be a positive outreach to promote better understanding
among the area’s faith traditions.
of their planning is a tangible aid to achieving interfaith understanding:
a “passport” -- more specifically the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Passport
-- a 32-page document that’s the same size as the official U.S. document
(minus the hefty fee). The catchy understanding-builder was a joint project
of several groups active in interfaith and interracial efforts in the community,
including the Kansas City Interfaith Council, Mosaic, CRES, Kansas City
Harmony, and the Kansas City region of the National Conference for Community
and Justice (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews).
who brought the passport from concept to reality was the Rev. Vern Barnet,
a Unitarian Universalist minister who serves as minister-in-residence for
CRES and writes a weekly religion column in The Kansas City Star titled
“Faiths and Beliefs.”
Barnet, a well-known
figure on the Kansas City religious scene, has a lifelong passion for interreligious
and ecumenical understanding. “We felt that one of the best ways to get
people out of their denominational ‘boxes’ and comfort levels was to provide
a resource that would encourage them to visit other faith traditions, to
learn more about other religions,” he told NCR. “And from there, tolerance
and understanding deepen, and appreciation and respect take root.”
to knowing little or nothing of religious traditions other than their own,
many people have no incentive to visit another faith’s house of worship,
Barnet said. Kansas City’s religious leaders felt they needed to build
some bridges to get people moving beyond the familiar. For Barnet, the
passport concept was a natural one to achieve that.
“Just as travelers
visit other cultures and countries, and come home with a stamped passport
as proof of their expanded world, we thought an interfaith passport would
do the same thing,” he said. And there are more than a dozen religious
“lands” for the interested spiritual traveler in metropolitan Kansas City
to visit, from A (American Indian spirituality) to Z (Zoroastrianism).
In addition to the better-known religions like Buddhism, Christianity (with
a category each for Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic), Hinduism,
Islam and Judaism, the passport also includes space to visit other traditions,
from Jain and Sikh to Wicca, as well as interfaith activities and programs.
Each of the
participating traditions in the metro-politan area has agreed to offer
a stamp, a self-stick “visa” or to sign the passport when a person or group
visits. There’s also a bit of healthy entrepreneurial spirit at work: Those
who accumulate at least one visa on 12 pages for specific faiths and at
least five visas for interfaith activities will be honored at an awards
dinner and get a discounted rate to attend the city’s 2003 interfaith conference.
passport was launched July 1, and Barnet said the first printing of 5,000
is almost sold out. The $2 cost covers just the printing, with a $5 donation
asked to cover the booklet and postage if it’s mailed. In addition to orders
from individuals, Barnet said several congregations have purchased quantities
to give their members, encouraging them to “travel” to other faith “lands.”
official pages where “visas” can be affixed, the passport contains information
on all the faith communities that are members of the Kansas City Interfaith
Council and their representatives. Also included is the declaration from
the “Gifts of Pluralism” Conference that brought participants from the
area’s faith traditions together a year ago and was the genesis for the
“This is a
small step, certainly,” Barnet said, “but it’s a practical, tangible way
for people to learn more, widen their perspective and embrace tolerance.
We’re all journeying together, after all. Isn’t it a wonderful thing if
we can widen the circle of our fellow travelers through respect and understanding?”
To learn more
about the interfaith passport or to obtain a copy, visit the CRES Web site
at www.cres.org/passport or e-mail: email@example.com.
418. 020904 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
It's time for the waters of transformation
Water, used for its spiritual significance
in many faiths, is becoming a symbol of interfaith cooperation in our area.
Drawing on the "City of Fountains" designation for Kansas City, the Interfaith
Council plans a water ceremony to begin the metro-wide Sept. 11 anniversary
At Kansas City's first interfaith
conference last fall, water was collected from 14 area fountains, from
Independence to Lenexa, and 14 representatives of different faiths poured
the waters together to emphasize that we are one community of many faiths.
In January, Jewish, Muslim
and Christian students poured water from their religious schools to dramatize
their mingling together for a day of interfaith learning.
Next Wednesday 7 am, members
of many faiths will gather to pour waters into the pool at Ilus Davis Park,
to represent the tears we have offered for those who have suffered this
year because of the terrorist attacks, and for all who have been injured
in any way. The waters thus joined, will be gathered and taken to sites
around the metro area for use in services later that day, and to Grace
and Holy Trinity Cathedral where the central observance will be held at
Christians have cried. Muslims
have cried. Jews have cried. Sikhs have cried. Peoples of many faiths were
killed by the terrorists. Tears are an honorable part of our response to
the horrors. In our common grief, we are united.
For now it is time to transform
the water of tears into waters of purification, renewal and refreshment.
The waters need to extinguish the fires of hatred, wash away our self-righteousness,
and well up as healing fountains of the heart. Now let us be united in
417. 020828 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Dispelling myths about Islam
Earlier this month the Jackson County Diversity
Task Force held a fact-finding session at the Islamic Center. The testimony
revealed both horrendous acts of prejudice against Muslims and the extraordinary
protection and concern non-Muslims have extended to their Muslim friends.
The report the task force issues on Sept. 10 will detail this as well as
other material it has gathered from the entire metro area.
But Kansas City does not
exist in isolation from the rest of the nation or the world. Several Muslims
spoke about how damaging the words of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son
and successor, have been to them and how those words perpetuate a climate
Graham has called Islam "a
very evil and wicked religion," a religion that preaches violence. It is
as if he were judging Christianity solely by the deeds of Timothy McVeigh,
Adolf Hitler, Christian slave-holders, the Inquisition or the Crusades.
As I read history, Islam
has often been far more tolerant than Christianity. And today the democratic
spirit inherent in Islam remains suppressed in many places by regimes our
own nation has supported.
Critics misuse history and
misunderstand the present-day aspirations of Islam. But they also often
misread the Qur'an. You can make it say anything you want if you remove
words from their context, just as I can make the bible say "there is no
god" by quoting from Psalms 14:1.
"There is no doubt that what
national religious figures say about Islam has an impact on our local community,"
says the Rev. Rodger Kube, research associate for the Task Force. "Perhaps
the best answer to Graham is to get acquainted with real Muslims here in
416. 020821 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Examine paganism before denouncing
The Kansas City Interfaith Council recently
received an angry phone call from someone who identified himself as a pastor.
Referring to the symbol representing the pagan traditions, he shouted into
the telephone, "Are you crazy devil worshippers?" He does not realize that
while Satan is a figure in many forms of Christianity, Satan never appears
in paganism. No one on the Council worships the devil.
Because of prejudice, many
pagans prefer to hide their faith. But others are open. In 1998, Kansas
City Pagan Pride Day began with 50 people. Last year it drew 250 pagans.
This year even more are expected, Aug. 24, from 10 am to dusk, at Shawnee
Mission Park Shelter #10.
Because the event is free
and open to the public, I hope that the pastor will take this opportunity
to learn about the pagan heritage which reaches back to the folk religions
of pre-Christian Europe.
He would learn why the classical
four elements of air, fire, water and earth represent the values, respectively,
of education, activism, charity and community. He might enjoy the music
of a local band, Spellbound. He might purchase something at the auction,
with 100% of his bid going to support the work of a local charity, this
year the Rose Brooks Center for Domestic Violence Intervention.
If he cannot attend, perhaps
he could visit the group's web site,www.ipagan.net/kcpride.
There he would find a vow which concludes, "I pledge that to the best of
my ability, I will respect practitioners of other spiritual paths and treat
them with kindness and courtesy."
If the caller had taken this
pledge, it would have saved the ringing in my ears, as well as opened him
to a less angry spiritual life.
415. 020814 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Love more important than labels
What are the rules by which we decide whether
someone else is a member of a particular faith? Is our own religious identity
something we are born with, something we choose for social reasons or the
result of spiritual search?
After writing this column
for eight years, I still am contacted by people who tell me that Catholics
are not Christian. Only Protestants qualify. Occasionally someone insists
that his own denomination is the only true Christian group - the others
are "false Christians."
We can sympathize with the
overwhelming majority of Muslims who say their faith was hijacked on 9/11
because no terrorist can be a true Muslim. We can understand why the Jewish
community rejects the claims of "Messianic Jews," organized in 1979, to
be truly Jewish when they affirm that Jesus was divine.
But religions evolve; their
boundaries are not always clear. Christianity was originally a Mediterranean
phenomenon, but has become a worldwide faith. Buddhism began in India and
is now also widespread, with notable American teachers of non-Asian extraction.
American Indian tribes have
sometimes welcomed into their circles those with no Indian blood at all
because of the spiritual kinship mutually discerned. Some Indian leaders
have sought to share their wisdom with those of European descent. But just
as some Christians want to keep the label all to themselves, so some Indians
resist others adopting their identities. In many cases their land, their
language, their families and their traditions have been ripped from them,
so they guard against the ignorant and shallow use of their ceremonies
But all of us are in danger
of focusing more on membership labels than on love.
414. 020807 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Nonsectarian prayer respects the U.S.
A few readers continue to attack my column
about my honoring a request to give a non-sectarian prayer in a theater.
One writes, "Vern, the 'separation of Church and State' you mind-numbed
PC liberals worship so much does not exist. The First Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." Sure
is convenient to ignore theor prohibiting the free exercise thereof
part, isn't it?
Dear Reader: By my offering
a prayer respectful of the entire audience, how is the Congress prohibiting
the free exercise of religion? Are you not still free to pray in your home
and church as you wish? You can still commune with God anywhere, anytime,
For 32 years of ministry,
I have encouraged such exercise. As an American, I rejoice in the many
forms of worship protected by the First Amendment, from American Indian
to Zoroastrian. Each has a special place in my heart, and I vigorously
defend their free exercise.
When I visit a Hindu
temple, I take prasad. At a mosque, I do prostrations. In church, I partake
of the eucharist. In a synagogue, I do my best with the Hebrew prayers.
But in those places
where people of many faiths come together, I reach for the freest possible
practice of faith by embracing common ground. Forcing my personal ways
on others is religious enslavement, not free exercise.
Just as I would not prepare
a milk-based dish for a lactose-intolerant friend to satisfy my friend's
hunger, so I will not knowingly pray in a way that excludes those for whom
I am given the responsibility to find words for the prayer in their hearts.
Respecting our nation's religious
varieties is not PC. It is the kind of patriotism the Constitution enshirnes.
413. 020731 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
CBS eyes KC for 9/11 observations
After looking at other cities, CBS-TV is
sending a crew from New York to Kansas City Aug. 12 for several days to
see how the metro area is preparing for observing the first anniversary
of the terrorist attacks last Sept. 11.
Several initiatives of the
Kansas City Interfaith Council attracted the network's attention. First
was the distribution of "Interfaith Passports" to encourage citizens to
learn about the religions of their neighbors. Another was the Council's
speakers from various faiths.
But perhaps key was the Council's
effort to coordinate a metro-wide response, "Remembering 9/11: A Day of
Hope," by employing the spiritual wisdom from the many faiths practiced
in the Heartland. The observance is intended to deepen our sense of kinship
with one another as residents of the region, as Americans, and as citizens
of the world.
The central events begin
with a 7 a.m. ceremony at Ilus Davis Park. The Community of Christ has
arranged to videotape the ceremony and make the tapes available without
charge to others later in the day who wish to use them in their own faith
From the park, participants
will process to Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral where prayers will be
offered throughout the day with the reading of the names of the victims,
in which the public is invited to participate.
At 6:30 p.m., an observance
honoring government officials and emergency-preparedness personnel is planned,
with Kansas City Mayor Barnes speaking. Members of the Interfaith Council
will also participate. Workshops follow at 7:30.
The complete schedule is
available at www.cres.org/911, including
events throughout the metro area.
412. 020724 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Practice freedom for all religions
Reader Hubert Speer questions my recent
column about a prayer I offered before a film at a Westport theater. The
prayer was addressed to the "Spirit of Generations" and did not use the
Mr Speer writes, "This separation
of church and state issue has got out of hand... Why should we let people
of no faith control our degree of religious expression?" Mr Speer believes
that the United States is a Christian country; a Christian prayer here
should offend no one. And, he says, mentioning God is does not endorse
any particular faith.
Here are three thoughts.
First. While the U.S. is demographically
a largely Christian nation,
it is not legally Christian. Washington, Jefferson and other founders
were clear that this nation belongs as much to Jews, Muslims and atheists
as to Christians. The word "God" no where appears in the U.S. Constitution.
Second. Do I want to lead
prayer or ask people to listen to me praying? Do I want to host a
dinner party or ask people to look through my dining room window to see
me eat? As host, I want to do everything I can to respect my guests. Just
as I would not prepare a milk-based dish for a lactose-intolerant friend
to satisfy my friend's hunger, so I will not knowingly pray in a way that
excludes those for whom I am given the responsibility to find words for
the prayer in their hearts.
Third, about God. While Mr
Speer is correct that the mere mention of God does not specify a particular
religion, it does exclude non-theistic traditions such as Buddhism and
polytheistic faiths such as Wicca. Further, I have found as great or greater
proportion of highly ethical citizens who are atheists as among those professing
any religion. Atheists deserve respect, too.
411. 020717 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
You should recognize the self but know
Why does Buddhism, unlike most faiths,
teach that no self exists? The idea that each of us has a separate, distinct,
unchanging and eternal soul seems obvious to many people, so the Buddhist
insistence that no such soul exists may at first seem shocking and even
Yet in the Buddhist analysis,
great suffering arises from clinging to the notion of the self. The father
berates his boy for failing to play football perfectly because his image
of himself is to have a successful athlete for his son. The greedy CEO
who encourages misleading accounting seeks to fulfill an image of himself
astride the world. The Israelis and Palestinians really fight not about
land but about their identities--what kind of people would they be if they
did not address the injustices they see caused by the other side?
Buddhists do not deny the
conventional self, the legal entity, the social construct, the picture
we have of ourselves. But they warn against being deceived by such ideas
of the self.
For the Buddhist, a person
is a swirling vortex of impulses, perceptions and bodily functions. None
of these is either permanent or independent of environmental, social and
biochemical influences. We utterly depend on bacteria in our stomachs to
digest our food, and the cells of our bodies are hosts to creatures, the
mitochondria, with their own DNA, without whose aid we could not lift a
The 100 billion neurons in
our brains are seldom unanimous. Should we relax and go shopping after
9/11 or should we remain vigilant and alert? The brain is more like a society
governed by shifting alliances and cross currents than by a single power.
Buddhists say the best way
to recognize the illusory self--since we are all in the same boat--is to
410. 020710 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Prayer for diverse group a big challenge
Offering public prayer is often a challenge,
especially when one is asked to pray on behalf of people of many faiths,
or no faith at all. The challenge is even more difficult when the occasion
may have a political purpose, for the prayer must both embrace the urges
of those gathered while at the same time it must rise above any partisanship.
I was inducted into such
a situation recently at the Tivoli Theater Manor Square. After Mayor Pro
Tem Al Brooks introduced the evening, I was asked to offer a prayer before
the film. It was a documentary made by those who believe that Joe Amrine
did not commit the murder for which he has been sentenced to death.
In a dispute, how could I
pray as if I knew the facts? Since my job was to pray on behalf of everyone
there, how could I pray as if everyone agreed about capital punishment?
Here's my best effort within
Spirit of generations, you
have made us all the gift of life and entrusted us with a sacred sense
of justice. In all faiths, in all cultures, the taking of human life is
fraught with severest concern.
Spirit of generations, in
our own time, our society still disagrees whether the state best upholds
the value of life by itself taking life. But we are unanimous in crying
for mercy for the innocent who have been wrongly convicted, and for redress
for those about whom there is doubt.
Spirit of generations, we
gather this evening to learn about one pending case, and to repent of a
system--our system--that makes mistakes. Give us light to see our duty
as citizens of this generation so we put to death no one innocent. And
to the next generation may we transmit that light renewed and brightened
by the work we now do to honor justice and to protect the sacred gift of
409. 020703 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Muslims: American ideals reflected
Muslims from Indonesia to the inner city
gathered at UMKC last week-end for a conference entitled "Muslims for Peace
and Justice." A resounding theme was the affection Muslims here and abroad
feel for America.
"The terrorists may have
thought by attacking the World Trade Center, they were challenging America's
greatness. But America's strength lies not in skyscrapers but in our embrace
of religious diversity," said Sayyid Syeed, general secretary of the Islamic
Society of North America, which sponsored the conference.
"Our defense is in the preservation
of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands,
everywhere," said former Illinois congressman Paul Findley, quoting Abraham
A Muslim scholar from Bosnia
told the crowd that American Muslims need not so much to learn from Muslims
elsewhere as to teach them.
"The most important message
I heard from the Muslim speakers was that the American government, above
all others on earth, comes the closest to the ideals of government expressed
in the Qur'an. They need to convey this message to the American public,"
said banquet guest Barton Cohen, a Johnson County attorney.
Cohen was one of many non-Muslims
attending the Saturday evening banquet, including Jackson County Executive
Katherine Shields and Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Al Brooks. Mayor Kay Barnes
had addressed the assembly on Friday.
Conference participants frequently
discussed countering stereotypes of themselves and their faith. The success
of this conference may be due largely to the demonstration that Islam harmonizes
well with America’s vision.
408. 020626 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Conference will accentuate Muslim contributions
What is the most important thing Americans
should know about Islam?
I put this question to former
Illinois Congressman Paul Findley who speaks at UMKC this Saturday on "Islam:
A Blessing, Not a Threat." He said, "The links Islam has with Judaism and
Christianity are many and fundamental. These faiths are all spiritual heirs
Findley said that the form
of government most admired throughout the Muslim world is ours because
America protects the practice of all faiths. Islam stresses tolerance.
"But you get a very different picture from the media," he said. Many "Muslim'"
countries have governments resulting from Western colonialism rather than
the freedom Muslims desire.
Syed Hasan chairs the three-day
conference at which Findley speaks. Hasan hopes that the meeting will project
"an accurate image of Muslims as fair, honorable and peace-loving American
citizens making important contributions in the city's social, business,
health care and academic life."
Entitled "Muslims for Peace
and Justice," the conference is presented by the Islamic Society of North
America Central Zone. Unlike previous ISNA conferences, this one is
designed for non-Muslims as well as Muslims.
Mayor Kay Barnes is scheduled
to speak, and topics addressed by national and local authorities include
"Universal Principles of Peace and Justice in Islam," conflict resolution,
civil liberties and media activism.
Hasan laments the negative
portrayal of Islam that became visible after 9/11, but believes Kansas
City has fared better than some places because of its emphasis on interfaith
To register, call (816) 965-5555
or visit www.umkc.edu/studo/msa/isna.
407. 020619 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
A prayer nine months after 9/11
To mark the nine months that have passed
since Sept. 11, members of several faiths gathered earlier this month to
pray together silently and then as led by Sister Ruth Stuckel, Anand Bhattacharyya,
Doug Alpert, Syed Hasan and Charangit Hundal in words from each of their
traditions. I was asked to offer an "interfaith prayer." Here it is:
As Christians, Hindus, Jews,
Muslims, Sikhs, and others, we pray: Infinite Spirit of Compassion, help
us these nine months after the shock of a day of terror to remember those
of all faiths who have suffered--and those who seek the relief of suffering
and injustice--and the repair of the world.
We come from many religions
and have ties to many nations. We abhor the use of our faiths to justify
violence and oppression--or the heritage of any land to launch hatred against
We come as members of the
Kansas City region who care about our relations with each other. From different
traditions, we grieve together a common loss and work towards better understanding
of our kinship.
We come as citizens also
of a planetary community, intimately involved with all peoples, who affect
us and whom we affect often in ways we have yet to realize.
We recognize many disconnected
sorrows in these nine months, and we place the events of our focus in this
larger human story, in which we pray to discover in compassion the meaning
of your spirit as we join in renewal.
Enlarge our sympathies, deepen
our understanding, strengthen our courage and hope, here in our own neighborhoods,
and as a model for others everywhere.
We all pray in the name of
peace, salaam, shalom, shantih, waheguru.
406. 020612 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Let vocation be your offering to community
In an address last month at the Ottawa
University--Kansas City commencement, I discussed "Vision, Vocation and
Valor" in building meaning for our lives. Here is a gist of some of what
"Vocation" is out of fashion.
Often education is sold primarily as pre-employment training. And the job
is simply to make money.
Vocation on the other hand,
is a way of offering one's work to others by providing worthy goods and
services. This school understands that education is not just about jobs
but also about citizenship, about community, about how we relate to one
another. A wise one said, "We make a living by what we get; we make a life
by what we give."
Pharmacist Robert Courtney
got instead of gave; profit was more important than helping to heal cancer
patients. Enron manipulated markets to create an empty empire instead of
providing energy at a fair price. Such examples multiply. The goal has
been perverted from providing a service to the community at a fair profit,
to making as much money as possible quickly, and even that goal seems to
be replaced now by the goal of executive compensation whether the business
is making money or not.
Is greed good?
Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, an early
Sufi mystic, ran down a street with fire in one hand and water in the other.
When people asked her what she was doing, she said she wanted to douse
the fires of hell and burn down Paradise so that no one would love God
out of fear of punishment or hope for reward. Are we more interested in
reward or punishment than in God? Is the bottom line more important than
our fair duties to others and to ourselves?
Whatever our work, it can
be our vocation if we offer it to the community in love of God and gratitude
for the opportunity to serve.
405. 020605 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Lincoln speech points way to authentic
Many Americans are squeamish about "American
civil religion." In fact, scholar Robert Bellah, who popularized the term,
no longer uses it. He fears that those who identify Americas with their
particular faith may wish to impose their views on the rest of us. Often
they assert that God favors Americans over other peoples.
This is what has given civil
religion a bad name. But there is another kind of civil religion which
scrupulously observes the wall separating religious institutions and the
state. It can be described as a sacred search for the meaning of events
in the unfolding history of this nation and the world.
No document better
expresses this search more eloquently or more profoundly than Abraham Lincoln's
Second Inaugural Address. On the verge of winning the Civil War, Lincoln
is not triumphant. Approaching the moment of victory, in the language of
his time, he notes that both North and South "read from the same Bible
and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other."
He is modest about the correctness of his views. He focuses on the task
of binding up the nation's wounds.
But the pivot of his message
is the search for understanding--what is the cause and the meaning of "this
terrible war"? He suggests that there is a power in the sweep of history
that moves toward justice, even at a price made terrible by our offense.
He reaches beyond blame for healing.
Sept. 11 the KC Interfaith
Council will lead a day-long anniversary observance of last year's events.
The Council wants to shine spiritual lights on the occasion. What lights
do you have? What meaning do you discern in 9/11? What questions would
you ask? What themes should be explored? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'll share reader responses in a forthcoming column.
404. 020529 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Seeds of modern religions found in
To mark the current "Eternal Egypt"
show at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I asked Paul Mirecki (ThD, Harvard)
to comment on ancient Egyptian religion. Professor of religious studies
at the University of Kansas, he focuses on ancient Mediterranean religions.
Today ancient Egyptian
religion is an enormous field of research. This was not always the case,
begging the question why a clear understanding of Egyptian religion is
relevant at all.
Simply said, the popular
idea of the past developed in medieval Europe is flawed because a huge
amount of primary data--the history of ancient Egypt and its rich culture--was
unavailable when European historians began reconstructing the past. Hieroglyphs
were not even deciphered until about 1825!
So what can be said
about current knowledge of Egyptian religion and its influence? We now
recognize the basic features of later religions like Judaism and Christianity
had already arisen in Egypt.
Many Egyptians were
polytheists, but their priestly theologians knew otherwise. They were
monotheists and understood that all things were created by only one god,
Amun. The many goddesses and gods of Egypt were simply manifestations of
Amun, in exactly the same way the feminine Holy Spirit, the masculine Jesus,
the neuter angels and the animalistic white dove are manifestations of
the one God of Christians.
In Egypt is the earliest
evidence for belief in heaven and hell, judgment for sin, trinity, an eternal
human spirit, a resurrected God and a promise of resurrection for everyone.
Although still denied by those with a medieval worldview, we now know that
ancient Egypt was a primary source for the infancy of later western religions.
403. 020522 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Pagans simply walk a different path
Would you be surprised to learn that this
week-end, near Kansas City, over a thousand men, women and children will
gather for the 17th annual Heartland Pagan Festival? It is part of a rapidly
growing tradition, a revival of ideas and practices that reach back to
Paganism is one of
the least understood of the faiths practiced here, even though it has been
represented on the Kansas City Interfaith Council since 1989. When I asked
Aislinn Firehawk, a Kansas City resident who is president of the
Heartland Spiritual Alliance, what she most wanted others to know about
pagans, she said, "We're just like everyone else. We just walk a different
That path deliberately
leads through the realm of nature. In fact, the word "pagan" comes from
the Latin for "country dweller," just as "heathen" comes from the Anglo-Saxon
term for "one who lives on the heath." Thus the location for the festival
is a camp site, not a hotel.
"Earth religion" is
another name sometimes given to this spiritual path. The Greek earth-goddess
Gaia (also spelled Gaea) was worshipped from 1500 BCE to 400 years into
the Christian era, and sometimes today's pagans call themselves Gaians.
This year the festival
theme is "Ancient Ways for Future Days."
Native American ways and paganism are striking but should not be surprising.
Wicca, one form of paganism, derives largely from the folk ways of pre-Christian
Pagans have one chief
ethical rule: Do what you wish so long as it harms no one. They say this
combines freedom with responsibility on the spiritual path.
402. 020515 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Talk among parties is good when it
leads to action
"Just more talk. I'm tired of talk. I want
action." It is a common complaint from those of us who want to improve
But David Smith, vice-president
of the Partnership for Children and a member of the Kauffman Foundation
Forum series team, says that "talk is action" when new possibilities emerge
from deliberate conversation. It is a process theologians also address.
The Kauffman Forum series
grew with the CitiStates Report published in January in The Kansas City
Star. Urban vitality, race relations, regionalism, transportation and
economic development were topics for April invitational forums.
Are the topics secular? Yes,
but the process employed may have universal spiritual significance.
Smith says that "deliberation"--not
"debate"--can lead parties with different perspectives to discover unanticipated
points of intersection, common ground for action that supports the interests
of all parties.
The series moves forward
this Saturday with an "Action Forum" resulting from the deliberations.
Participants will identify what they individually or collectively can do.
The great American theologian
Henry Nelson Wieman is famous for his phrase, "creative interchange," the
action in the "intersection" of which Smith speaks. Wieman influenced Martin
Luther King Jr. King's deliberations as well as his speeches showed how
talk can be action.
Born in Rich Hill, Mo., in
1884, Wieman understood the divine as a power that transforms us as we
cannot transform ourselves in the space created by such deliberation.
Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian,
also found the divine in the space between people engaged with each other.
Thus he said, "All real life is meeting."
401. 020508 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Remember the God of all nations
Nearly nine months have passed since the
Sept. 11 terrorism. How are we doing? The Rev. Richard Maraj, pastor of
Christ Church Unity, offers these thoughts:
The outpouring of physical,
emotional and financial support that immediately followed the attacks showed
the power of love and our skill in pulling together. We turned to God for
peace, comfort and guidance through this tragedy. We prayed for the victims,
their families, the rescue workers, the volunteers, the cities, our leaders
and the entire country.
But staying with me
these months since are the words of Jesus, "Love your enemies, bless them
that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which
despitefully use you and persecute you." (Matt. 5:44)
Surely these criminals
qualify as our enemies. Praying for such individuals, practicing the divine
directive to send love for hate, to reach for understanding, is the only
way we can ultimately heal the hurt, anger, mistrust and the underlying
impulse behind the attacks. We must hold them responsible without ourselves
becoming consumed by imitating their hate.
We have sometimes allowed
our own shock, pain and anger to develop into an "us vs. them" way of thinking.
While we may always sing "God Bless America" in our hearts, it may be even
more important now to remember the God of all nations. Abandoning stereotypes,
we need to pray for the happiness of Muslims, Jews, Christians and those
of every other faith as well, here and abroad.
While our humanitarian
and military responses to the events of Sept. 11 may address the
symptoms of the situation, we must continue the work of healing. We need
to enlarge and deepen our prayers for all peoples. We need especially to
practice the spiritual discipline of loving those we see as our enemies.
400. 020501 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
May Kansas City's good will overflow
Kansas City is fortunate to have reservoirs
of good will within its religious communities. In innumerable conversations,
Jewish friends have poignently expressed their grief at the deaths in the
Middle East conflict--both Israeli and Palestinian deaths. Within the Muslim
community, I have repeatedly found the same grief for the victims on both
This is remarkable
because many members of both Jewish and Muslim communities have strong
family and friendship ties to one side. Their views of the conflict are
agonizingly far apart. Yet understanding the totality of the human tragedy
is important to them, even if political leaders are partial in their
oratory and decisions.
We dare not let the
desperation of the Middle East dry up the reservoirs of good will here.
Organizations like Kansas City Harmony help keep the reservoirs filled.
For example, last week's
Harmony Week began with a session at Temple B'nai Jehudah honoring "Congregational
Partners," a program of nearly 20 pairs of religious groups to build relationships
of trust and service across faith, ethnic and other lines. The partnership
between Ward Chapel AME and All Souls Unitarian Universalist is now four
years old. Bridging the State Line is the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist
and Cure of Ares Catholic partnership.
The session included
blessings from representatives of a three-way partnership, with Ann Pace
of Congregation Beth Torah, Faheem Abdul-Alim of Al Inshirah Islamic Center
and Eugene Agee of St. Monica Catholic Church.
Human beings dedicated
to their Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths stood together to bless the
rest of us. May that blessing not only protect us here but also bring water
to the desolation abroad.
399. 020424 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Facts get in the way of moral clarity
in the crisis in the Middle East
"Moral clarity" may seem desirable. But
the Taliban had it. Fred Phelps has it. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
has it. Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat has it. Both the absolute pacifist
and the suicide bomber have moral clarity in their minds.
But for many of us,
distinguishing between right and wrong is often more complicated.
It would be simple
to say, "Since Arafat is in some way responsible for suicide bombings that
kill civilians, he should be excluded from peace negotiations with Israel.
We will not recognize terrorists or the fruits of terrorism."
Yet Jewish terrorists
helped to give birth to Israel. Two of them became prime ministers, Menachem
Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.
Also accused of terrorism,
the current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, broke off the successful Taba
negotiations following the Clinton peace plan, to which his predecessor
[Ehud Bark] and Arafat had by then agreed. Sharon then led Israel into
killing far more Palestinians than Palestinians have killed Israelis.
The situation is too
messy to achieve the kind of moral clarity each side demands without ignoring
the facts on both sides.
Is this mess political
Very few are fighting
over theological doctrines. But the dispute over security, land, refugees
and resources--which is political--is now being shaped by religious identity.
When Judaism is identified with the Sharon administration, the Jewish faith
is politicized. When murderers become martyrs, the Muslim faith is perverted.
The Taliban made vivid the horrors of merging religion with government.
And the Middle East
war comes to Kansas City when such "moral clarity" becomes more important
to us than our common humanity.
398. 020417 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Rabbi speaking in KC adds a 614th commandment
"Judaism is not a creedal religion," Rabbi
David J. Meyer said at a one-day interfaith institute last week. "Judaism
is based on observing the commandments."
Meyer's religious home
was Kansas City's Temple B'nai Jehudah. He now serves a synagogue in Marblehead,
Meyer's statement introduced
the two questions he addressed, "Where was God during the Holocaust?" and
"Are Jews the Chosen People?" Meyer illustrated the fact that Judaism does
not require conformity of belief with various Jewish answers to these questions.
Meyer spoke on Yom
HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. He noted that to the traditional
613 commandments a 614th has been added: "Thou shalt survive as Jews."
Jewish responses to
the Holocaust include these views: 1. The thread between God and humankind
is broken. 2. The Holocaust was God's punishment. 3. Jews are forbidden
to despair. 4. Nothing has changed. 5. The Holocaust is about people, not
God. 6. Faith can no longer be regarded as continuous certitude so much
as momentary events. 7. The Holocaust shows that God risks the welfare
of the world by giving choice to humans.
In discussing the second
question, Meyers quoted the old rhyme, "How odd of God to choose
the Jews," and a more recent rejoinder, "It's not so odd: the Jews chose
The unique covenant between
God and the Jews does not exclude God's different covenants with other
peoples, he said.
Jews became a "pilot project''
for monotheism, and since Christians and Muslims have followed this idea
and claim over half the world's peoples, the project seems successful.
Meyer prefers to think of
Jews as the "choosing" people, honoring Torah, the Law.
397. 020410 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Gandhi's granddaughter carries on his
message of nonviolence
While most religions allow a person to
defend oneself or one's group, some religious leaders have questioned whether
violence even in self-defense ultimately works. Non-violent approaches
have been used in the West, sometimes at the ultimate cost for their advocates.
In many respects Martin Luther King Jr was successful in leading the United
States toward greater racial justice, and he paid for his work with his
While in our own time people
said that a "blood bath" was inevitable in ending apartheid in South Africa,
Nelson Mandela used non-violent methods that achieved a largely peaceful
The methods of non-violence
in modern times were developed by an Indian lawyer, Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Two of the several steps he identified in achieving change without committing
violence are very difficult. They seem absent in the tragedy we see unfolding
in the Middle East.
One step is self-purification.
One must see that one's own perspective is just that; it cannot be the
total truth which no single human can possess. One must grant that one's
adversary also has some truth. Cleansing oneself of hatred clears the picture
and helps to end the cycle of mistrust.
A second step is the willingness
to suffer for the truth while doing all in one's power to protect one's
While none of us can learn
directly from Gandhi today, we can hear Gandhi's granddaughter. She helped
to end apartheid in South Africa. She is scheduled to be in Kansas City
this week to receive an award from the Community of Christ on Friday. Tomorrow
you can meet and hear her at a free public reception at Grace and Holy
Trinity Cathedral's Founders Hall, 13th and Broadway, between 4:30 and
396. 020403 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Same-sex love makes spiritual contribution
[Some claim that spiritual renewal comes
from unexpected arenas, even those places scorned. It is an old motif,
best known in the story of the birth of the Christian Savior in a stable.]
Can homosexuals contribute civilization's spiritual renewal? Theologians
like James B. Nelson, himself a heterosexual, in his Body Theology,
say yes emphatically. Now Mark Hayes, one of the nation's most popular
composers of church music, has created a cantata with the same affirmation.
"With what we have
had to learn, we could heal the world," sang the Heartland Men's Chorus
at a recent concert where Hayes' "Two Flutes Playing," made its premiere.
The work, with choreography by David Ollington, is based on the book of
the same name by Andrew Ramer.
While Fred Phelps'
group demonstrated outside the Folly Theater, the chorus sang "We are a
walk-between people, a bridge-making people, a link between all that stands
apart. . . . We are a sacred people. We are a holy tribe."
This text implies the
notion of sexual orientation, now only 133 years old. As distinct from
behavior, "orientation" has little support in religious history. Still,
most traditions have blessed at least some forms of same-sex love. For
example, the Epic of Gilgamesh , the world's first "novel," from
which portions of the Bible appear to be derived, tells the story of two
men devoted to each other.
But the West began
to separate all sexuality from spirituality. Many people attribute this
in part to Saint Augustine [d. 430 CE], who himself had an intense relationship
with a male friend, as he writes in his famous Confessions . Still,
according to Yale historian John Boswell, the Church did not become seriously
hostile to homosexuality until after the 12th Century.
[Black and women's
liberation have been strong theological as well as political movements.
They are often explained not only in terms of seeking justice but also
as contributions to the larger understanding of the spirit.]
Tayarti, the dead savior
of the Hayes-Ramer story, survives in men who love men. This conception
parallels the Christian motif of the crucified Christ living within those
who accept Him. For some this parallel is blasphemous; for others, redemptive.
395. 020327 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Mysteries should prompt quest for truth
Ancient Egypt lures us with its art, its
engineering and its exploration of spiritual themes. No other culture reaching
back five thousand years ago has been better preserved, with so much to
see. We are fascinated by the fascination the Egyptians themselves had
with survival beyond death, indicated by mummies, funerary objects and
the monuments which bespeak a great civilization.
Next month the Nelson-Atkins
Museum of Art will offer an exhibition, "Eternal Egypt," with a stunning
collection from the British Museum. But how should the exhibition be understood?
To provide context for the show, Nigel Strudwick, an assistant keeper at
the British Museum, spoke recently at the Nelson about his last ten years
leading the excavation of the tomb of Senneferi at Luxor, part of his quarter
century studying ancient Egypt.
After his lecture, several
members of the audience asked about "alternative archeology." Strudwick's
answers were polite, with a touch of British understatement.
When I had a chance to speak
privately with him, he was not so reserved about those who advocate fanciful
theories about ancient Egypt. "Why,'' I asked, "are people drawn to theories
about visitors from outer space or interpretations of the Pyramids for
which no scholar can find evidence?"
He spoke of writers with
no academic standing in Egyptology who want to make a fast buck. He mentioned
book stores that place the work of scholars in the same section as the
work of charlatans, and book clubs, TV shows and magazines that confuse
The beauty and power of antiquity
is cheapened by what Strudwick calls "rediculous." And the story of faith
is perverted whenever we are so gullible that improbable answers appeal
to us more than the unending quest for truth.
394. 020320 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Humanity ensures plenty of topics for
Readers ask many questions, but the one
that always surprises me is, "Do you ever run out of things to write about?'"
Since humans first wondered
as they saw the sun rise, and puzzled over a body exhausted, with no breath,
and rejoiced in the miracle of springtime, a vast and variegated history
of the spirit has developed toward which this column points.
Each week in Kansas City
people express doubt, faith and commitment in so many ways it is endlessly
And often, readers challenge
me to explain a column in greater detail. Two weeks ago, I presented three
reasons for saying that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
If you want to read what my critics wrote and my responses, visit www.cres.org/god
Several non-Christians have asked
me to outline the basic differences within Christianity -- to them it is
a diverse and confusing religion. There are books I want you to know about.
Can I show you that the Kauffman Foundation's forums responding to the
"Citisates Report"' are dealing not just with civic issues but with spiritual
values as well? Would ypu like to see a list of Muslim organizations that
now benefit the Kansas City area? What answers to eternal religious questions
can we discern in the upcoming show of ancient Egyptian art at at the Nelson-Atkins?
The list of topics runs into
the next century, so it's easy to say there is always plenty to write
It's not just because there
are so many religions. It's because faith touches every aspect of life.
Our blessings and tragedies draw us, if we are open, to the place beyond
words, the place where all of us can unite. This column seeks this place
not outside the world, but within the heart of it.
393. 020313 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Gathering share in suffering while
Two recent events are signs of improving
understanding among faiths. Last Thursday Temple B'nai Juhudah hosted more
than 60 Christians, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs clarifying misconceptions about
their faiths. Part of the two-year old "Good Morning Kansas City" series
involving the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, Community
Christian Church, Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and the Temple Brotherhood,
this was the first session focusing on religious diversity.
Atkins Warren of the Justice
Department said that the group discussed involving youth, play-writing,
a media campaign and a web site as ways to be "proactive" in a pluralistic
Observing six months since
9/11, about 80 Christians, Muslims and Jews gathered Sunday afternoon to
pray for peace at the Saint Jospeh Health Center. Organized originally
by Muslims, the event expanded to include sponsorship by the Jewish Community
Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee, the Jackson County Tolerance
Task Force, Kansas City Harmony, the National Conference for Community
and Justice and the KC Interfaith Council. Endorsements came from KC Mayor
Kay Barnes, UMKC Chancellor Martha Gilliland, Kansas Congressman Dennis
Moore and others. This list shows that the interfaith network is growing.
The Muslims' statement calling
for prayer mentioned troubles in Afghanistan, India and Kashmir, Iraq,
Ireland, Tibet, Africa and elsewhere. It lamented the Palestinians and
Israelis who have died. Daniel Pearl, the American Jewish Wall
Street Journal reporter killed recently, was specifically named.
Perhaps if we can be united
in sharing suffering, we may together find the peace we seek.
392. 020306 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Different ways of understanding God
Last year Franklin Graham and others began
saying that the God of Jews and Muslims is not the same God worshipped
by Christians. Several readers have tried to convince me Graham is right.
Here are three reasons which suggest Graham may be mistaken.
1. Judaism, Christianity
and Islam all teach there is one God, the Creator. If there is only one
God, how could the Christian God be a God other than the God of the Jews
or the Muslims?
2. While most Christians
believe Jesus is God, not all do. Jews and Muslims do not believe any human
can be God. Certainly Jews, Muslims and Christians understand God in different
ways, and Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Baptists and Quakers also
understand God differently. But different conceptions of God does not mean
there are different Gods.
3. All three religions are
"Abrahamic"--they all claim Abraham as a primary prophet of faith. (Muslims
also include Jesus as one of the five great prophets.)
Christians may wish to examine
their scriptures on this point. Many passages indicate that the God of
Abraham (identified with the Jewish tradition) is the God of Christians,
including Acts 3:13, 7:2 and 7:32; Galatians 3:6 and 3:8; look especially
at Hebrews 11:8-16. The New Testament seems to teach that the God seen
by Christians in Jesus is the very same God worshipped by Abraham.
It may be unseemly for Christians
to tell Muslims what Muslims believe or to describe the nature of the Jewish
faith for Jews. We should not assume similarities out of discomfort with
diversity, but neither should we invent differences where there are none.
It is our duty to our own faiths and to the faiths of others to be fair
and accurate as we seek to describe how various traditions deal with matters
truly beyond full human comprehension.
391. 020227 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Meeting of the faiths increases understanding
About one third of the world's population
is Christian, about one fifth are Muslim and about two of every thousand
are Jewish. An estimated 15,000 Muslims and 20,000 Jews live in the greater
Kansas City region out of a total of 1.5 million.
Many people tell me they
know little about faiths other than their own. But in the past few months,
throughout the metro area, from Independence to Olathe, Muslim speakers
and others have been invited to speak about Islam.
Among the groups seeking
to learn about faiths other than their own is the Country Club Congregational
United Church of Christ. ``Shortly after Sept 11, members of this congregation
started voicing their lack of knowledge of Islam, their concern for Muslims
in this community and their desire to do something,'' says the Rev Susan
Thorne, pastor. So the church organized a five-Sunday series.
The Muslim speakers included
two men, Rushdy El-Ghussein and Ahmed El-Sherif, and four women, Farrukh
Hasan, Anab Abdulahi, Rita Shukair and Shaheen Ahmed all of whom made it
clear that women are first-class persons in the Islamic community.
Thone says that although
gaining understanding of Islam was very important, ``the best gift'' was
meeting ``individuals who live the faith.'' The church is now considering
a series on Judaism.
Audrey Wiegmann, a lay leader
at Old Mission United Methodist Church, has arranged a two-month study
beginning March 3. Topics include Muslim contributions to science with
Prof. Syed Hasan, Moses in the Qur'an with Rabbi Aaron Lever and women
in Islam with Mahnaz Shabbir.
Wiegmann says ``Recent events
encourage us to look more deeply at other faiths and the people who practice
them. The ultimate goal we all share is peace.'
390. 020220 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Civic prayer must cover a lot of ground
Last Friday I delivered the invocation
at the annual Mayors' Prayer Breakfast. Preparing words for such civic
occasions is an awesome responsibility. Mistakes are easy to make.
In a multifaith environment,
the language of aspiration must be universal, so universal that even an
atheist can embrace it. The separate domains of religion and the state
must be respected.
It is a difficult, but not
impossible task. I enjoy it because it forces me to find words beyond my
usual province of thought, to identify civic values like inclusiveness,
service and heritage in a non-sectarian way.
It is also important to acknowledge
those present, the program, and the purpose and context of the occasion.
On the agenda were remarks about a visit to Ground Zero, an award to Mary
Eisenhower of People to People, participation by firefighters and police,
and salutes to local youth.
So the prayer was addressed
to the ``Infinite and Ultimate Mystery called by many names.'' The prayer
continued, ``From business, labor and government we come to inspire in
each other deeper understandings of morality, as we especially honor those
whose courage makes our community safer and more secure, and our youth
whose examples of service give us the promise of the future.''
A line mentioned how we are
affected by our history, by Sept. 11, by the ice storm, by our citizenship,
by joining ``people to people.''
The prayer concluded with
an appreciation of both diversity and unity: ``through we have different
faces, different faiths and different tasks,'' we are joined ``as the breaths
of our being are joined with the winds of the world.''
389. 020213 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Mingling the waters of many faiths
Jews may bathe in a mikvah, Christians
practice baptism, Muslims observe ablutions, the Shinto tradition includes
misoge -- almost every faith has some way of using water to develop a sense
of transcendent reality. While the different ways the various faiths use
water should not be confused, water is a natural symbol of the spirit in
For years I have been collecting
water, from my journeys and from friends as they travel. Into a jar I have
poured water drawn from the Rhine, Seine, Tiber, Danube, Nile, Jordan,
Thames, Amazon, Ganges, Yangtze, Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, Kaw and
many other rivers, lakes and puddles around the world.
Last October, to conclude
Kansas City's first interfaith conference, I brought my water to the front
table. Behind the table was the conference emblem showing an image of the
continents of the world on which was imposed the Kansas City "City of Fountains,
Heart of the Nation" logo. Into the large jar representatives of 14 faiths
poured waters that Laura Conley had gathered a few days earlier from 14
Kansas City area fountains, from Independence to Lenexa.
This ceremony recognized
that the faiths of the world now present in Kansas City flowed together
as we met at the conference. As they left, participants filled vials with
the mixed liquid with the pledge to help something grow with the waters
Last month, when 50 students
from five high schools--Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and public -- met and
mixed for a day to learn about each other's faiths, they added waters representing
their schools to the jar. Many of the students left with the mixed water
Last week, I added a chunk
of ice from the storm to the jar. The storm created both beauty and peril.
The storm and how we responded to it is part of the growing mixture of
who we are and the transcendent reality beyond us.
388. 020206 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Youth conference advances multifaith
``Jews do not hate Palestinians.'' ``Muslims
worship God, not Muhammad.'' ``Most Christians are not homophobic.''
Last week fifty students
spent a day exchanging such views and getting to know one another at a
``religion/spirituality'' conference supported by the Youth Advisory Board
of the Kauffman Foundation and organized by Bev Timmons, Shawnee Mission
Students came from Hyman
Brand Hebrew Academy, the Islamic School of Kansas City, SM East, Wyandotte
and Bishop Miege high schools. The National Conference for Community and
Justice and my organization, CRES, developed the day-long program.
Anna Smith of East was especially
glad to encounter Muslim students. ``They are quite unlike the stereotypes.
Everyone at the conference is respectful, tolerant and loving,'' she said.
``We need dialogue like this
to happen on regular basis and involve more people,'' said Alex Edelman
of the Hebrew Academy.
At the end of the day, the
students presented reports on the wisdom of their faiths about environmental,
personal, and social issues to a panel representing the Kansas City
Interfaith Council. Roman Catholic panelist Mary Kelly Mueller noted ``the
depth of appreciation the students expressed for each other'' as they ``moved
toward celebrating those things that make us who we are.''
Charanjit Hundal, the Sikh
panelist, said he was ``impressed by the students' ability to listen to
each other.'' Other panelists, Muslim Ahmed El-Sherif, American Indian
Kara Hawkins, Hindu Arvind Khetia and Buddhist Chuck Stanford, also applauded
the quality of students' proposals, which included school interfaith councils
and ambassadors among the schools.
387. 020130 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
True Muslim Faith shows in peace, justice
Guests included former Kansas City mayor
Charles Wheeler and Kansas Congressman Dennis Moore, both of whom spoke,
and Missouri Congresswoman Karen McCarthy sent a representative. Kansas
City mayor pro tem Al Brooks received an award. Kansas City Star
columnist Lewis Diuguid presented the major address. UMKC Chancellor Martha
Gilliland was ill but sent a representative.
The organization's membership
is completely integrated into the life of the community, from a former
member of the Royals management to teachers, physicians, engineers and
The occasion was the annual
Eid dinner of the Crescent Peace Society earlier this month, a Kansas City
area Muslim group whose name proclaims the nature of the Muslim faith.
Those who ask--and I keep hearing this even in Kansas City--``Why don't
Muslims speak out against terrorism?'' should get acquainted with Muslims.
Or at least watch the new KCPT documentary on Kansas City Muslims and read
Star commentary by Muslims and feature stories on Islam here.
Before noon on Sept. 11,
as the attacks were being reported, two prominent Kansas City Muslim leaders
appeared before the press to condemn the terrorism. The very next day,
the Muslim member of the Kansas City Interfaith Council helped to shape
the resolution it adopted condemning violence. For years Kansas City Muslims
have been saying violence is no solution. Muslims have joined with Christians
and Jews here in publicly supporting paths to peace in the Middle East.
Terrorists may claim a faith--Jewish,
Christian, Muslim, Hindu. But the true faith is revealed in the commitment
to peace and justice, as in the work of the Crescent Peace Society.
386. 020123 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Doubter misses 'ordinary' spirtual
He took me to breakfast. He was doubtful
about God. Words like religion and spirituality were empty to him. ``I
just don't know if I could call anything sacred. What does sacred mean?''
``Can you recall a time when
something, even fleeting, captured your attention and brought you a sense
of well-being, of fitness, of perfection, of your place in the universe?''
Immediately he grinned. ``I'll
have to explain,'' he said. ``My wife and I insist that our 6-year old
son sleep in his own bed, in his own room. But last night he was so especially
wonderful and loving to us, we asked him if we could do anything for him.
He asked to sleep with us. So we bent our rule and this once we all snuggled
``This morning, I left the
house early, and my wife and son were still sleeping. I saw them curled
up so peacefully. I had an overwhelming sense of how important they are
to me, and that this is what my life in the cosmos is about. I took
a deep breath and felt fully alive.
``And yet it was very ordinary
-- nothing religious about it.''
``But doesn't the Christian
icon of the Madonna and Child, or the ancient Egyptian image of Isis and
Horus, arise, at least in part, from similar cosmic parent-child delight?''
``You tell me,'' he laughed.
``Religion has a problem,''
I admitted. ``Religion tends to confuse the symbols for what they represent.
We forget symbols and words are reminders of holiness all around us. The
sacred is as ordinary and as indispensable as breathing.''
My friend may not be stirred
by theological language, but he is stirred by the holy.
385. 020116 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Theologian ponders ancient advice
Martin Luther King Jr was criticized for
making a fuss about racism. Even religious leaders said that in due time
the relations between the races would improve without his intervention.
He was repeatedly told to "Wait!" In his famous letter from a Birmingham
jail, King explained why passivity did not work in the face of disenfranchisement,
exploitation, injustice and murder.
But did King follow Jesus,
who instructed his followers to "turn the other cheek"? Did Jesus really
advise passive acceptance of evil in the world?
Walter Wink taught at Union
Theological Seminary. He places the teaching of Jesus in its historical
and linguistic context. Such study also illumines the instructions Jesus
gave to "go the second mile" and "if you are sued for your cloak, give
also your coat.''
The literal meaning of the
words of Jesus seem perplexing. Could Jesus have meant that a battered
woman should submit to further abuse? Should we open our nation to more
attacks like those on Sept. 11?
Wink reminds us that in the
time of Jesus the left hand was not used in public. One could be punished
for doing so. The only way someone could strike you with the slap of humiliation
was with the back of his right hand to your right cheek (Matt. 6:39). Jesus
spoke to the oppressed. If you turned the other cheek rather than bowing
or acquiescing to your superior, you are in defiance. He cannot use
his left hand. He cannot use his fist because fists were used only for
fighting one's equals, and a fist would elevate your status.
Jesus advised his followers
to assert their dignity courageously, demonstrating the conditions of oppression.
King's non-violent resistance to evil was effective because it purified
the hearts of the oppressed and awakened the conscience of the oppressor.
Wink has given me permission
to post his unpublished work at www.cres.org/jesus.
384. 020109 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
It's a civic duty to overcome misconceptions
Last week I wrote about my childhood ignorance.
I thought that "Catholics worshipped idols of saints." The column included
the inflammatory word "idols'' to illustrate how absurd my impression was.
Apparently I am not the only
one who has held such a juvenile misconception. Several people have let
me know this misunderstanding is still a problem.
A special place like a church
can elevate and direct our attention to the sacred. Certain musical forms
like hymns or chants can make us more receptive to hearing the divine.
And statues and other images can be useful reminders of spiritual
examples and values around which we may wish to orient our lives.
To think my friends were
worshipping hunks of plaster and stone was silly. I was four; I've learned
better since. In grade school, none of us worshipped the portrait of George
Washington on the classroom wall, but it did inspire us to think about
Ridding ourselves of
misconceptions is not always easy. At least a dozen readers have told me
that Catholics are not Christians. Many think pagans worship the devil.
Some who claim to be Christian argue that that Muslims and Jews do not
worship the same God Christians do. Some of the best-meaning people tell
me that all religions teach belief in God, that afterlife is a feature
of every spiritual tradition, that every religion has a founder. These
Aside from the spiritual
benefits from learning about other faiths, better understanding has become
a civic duty. We need to know our neighbors, our community and our world.
Wrong assumptions can lead to wrong decisions. We all have lots to learn
from each other. Better understanding leads to a wider embrace. It is a
383. 020102 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Maturity a good starting place
When I was not quite five, I knew
I believed in God. A Roman Catholic friend, not much older, asked me if
I believed in the Trinity. I said No, I was a Protestant; I don't believe
such stupid things.
Of course I didn't know a
thing about the Trinity. Catholics worshipped idols of saints, so they
must be wrong about other stuff, too.
My Catholic friend told me
that if I were a Christian, I had to believe in the Trinity. I do not,
I argued. Yes, you do, he insisted. He extracted a promise from me to ask
my parents about it.
I did. They told me, Yes,
we believe in the Trinity. I remember how ashamed I was in not knowing
what I believed and having to admit with deep embarrassment to my friend
that I did, in fact, believe in the Trinity.
I did not see, and at that
age could not see, that what I said I believed came simply from my parents,
not from my own personal encounters with God. My belief was external like
a sweater, not internal like my sense of shame.
Many people are still like
children who believe as they do simply because they were raised in a certain
way in a particular culture at a precise time in history. They are right
and others wrong even though had they been born elsewhere in another age
in different conditions, their beliefs would be markedly different.
Religious fanaticism arises
when we think we alone have unconditioned Truth and must impose it on others.
We saw its horrors last year.
We also saw America, despite
woeful exceptions, maturing in understanding that those of different faiths
may be worthy of great admiration. It is a good beginning for 2002.