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

correspondence with critics

2003 January 1 - December 31

487. 031231 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sacred memories can't be digitized

The hunger we have in our digitized world for the sacred is unsatisfied. The divine feast is always ready, though petty distractions often keep us from taking a place at the table. Yet there are moments when even a whiff of the holy meal sustains and nourishes. Here are several that blessed me this year.
   * Actually I caught quite a few whiffs of the desire many Kansas City Muslims and Jews have to affirm their kinship, sometimes with the support and participation of Christian friends. Bruce Fieler, author of Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, came to town, and the astonishing turnout for him was a pretty strong whiff. Young people in an interfaith group are now exploring each other's traditions, and lay people are taking the initiative in a variety of ways to build understanding.
   * With Kansas City Hindu friends mourning the death of Pandurang Athavale this year, I realize how well I was nourished by the spiritual banquet of meeting him for the first time in India in 1986. (Two years later he won the Gandhi Prize, and in 1997, he was recognized with the million-dollar Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.) For his life's work he took no salary, developed no formal organization, constructed no monuments, required no rituals and claimed no authority. But he created a movement that the United Nations has called "one of the most significant developments in the world."
   The key practice he promoted is called swadhyaya, self-study. But his conception of the self was social; understanding ourselves springs from understanding others; and as we understand others better, we come to see our own true nature. He taught that "to be is to be related." This means listening well to others is a spiritual opportunity which begets service to them as a way of growing one's own faith. His uniting of Asian and Western methods is itself inspiring evidence of such listening.
   * The Kansas City Interfaith Council recognized Congressman Dennis Moore (Kansas Third District) "for his leadership in the community and Congress honoring the many paths of faith and the American tradition of religious freedom" at its 19th annual Thanksgiving Sunday Ritual Meal. The literal feast at St Andrew Christian Church in Olathe was mirrored by the spiritual feast of Moore's acceptance remarks.
Ranging from the First Amendment to a poem he wrote for his grandson, Moore reminded us how precious the right of religious liberty is and how we as individuals and a community are nourished as we seek its fulfillment.
   And you, dear reader, as this year ends, will you take an undigitized moment to praise yourself for those public and private occasions when you resisted secular distractions, dined at the sacred table and shared the endless supply of spiritual food with others?

486. 031224 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Best present saves us from selfishness

Into the strife, into botched efforts at personal and international peace-making, into the world of tragic misunderstanding and mean power, into the pit of buying and selling and market indices, is born the Son of God. This Christian story is often sweetened with candy-canes and other comforts and distractions to obscure the homeless, the oppressed, the victims of terror and the violence and injustice we ourselves perpetuate.
   The ancient Romans had no difficulty in imagining a mere mortal becoming a god. The Roman Senate voted to make Caesar a god. What was amazing to them was the Christian claim that God would leave the realm of perfection and take upon himself the limits of the human form to suffer on behalf of others.
   I love the silent night, the holy quiet of Christmas. But we camouflage and cheapen the miracle if we forget Herod's slaughter of the children of Bethlehem. It is a theme found in other faiths as well. The Hindu god Krishna had to be hidden at birth to escape the murders of infants by the king.
   Religion is not a giddy excursion into the realm of confection; it arises from our intimations of the sacred while we struggle with the uncertainties of this world. The awe the shepherds felt did not relieve them of their duties but rather placed them in the cosmic story, giving to their lives a great meaning otherwise absent.
   The birth of any child should be an occasion of wonderment. The event is not a meteor from outer space landing in our laps, but rather an emergence from amazing processes that govern this world and unfold its grace. The realm of perfection is not an abode in the sky. It is the openness of the heart.
   So the Christ-child is not the injection of the Word of God from a transcendent sphere into ours, but the revelation of the power of love within this realm. It transforms what seems ordinary with the promise of love's embrace, even though the integrity love demands may lead to crucifixion.
   Those of many faiths have made such sacrifice. The Muslim Sadat. The Jew Rabin. The Hindu Gandhi. The self-immolating Buddhist monks of Saigon. The Christian Martin Luther King Jr.
   And all of us are called to that end metaphorically. Unless we give ourselves for others, the strife will continue without abatement. It may seem at times that the path is narrow, but as we travel it, sometimes trudging, sometimes dancing on the way, we find it widens to all the world, the world whose every feature is like the child in the manger, a treasure beyond measure in the most unexpected place.
   The joy of Christmas is justified by the presence of the divine awaiting to save us from our selfishness. In the language of the tradition, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."

485. 031217 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Let menorah bring understanding

In the darkness of December, I await this Friday evening when, with Jewish friends, I will light the first of the candles for the eight-day Hanukkah festival.
   Hanukkah is a minor holiday that has gained disproportionate attention outside the Jewish faith for several reasons. Christians, less informed about Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, caught up in seasonal good-will, want to acknowledge other faiths. Since Hanukkah is observed around Christmas time, it becomes a convenient way for Christians to honor Jewish friends.
   Jewish families, pulled into the commercialism of the dominant culture that overwhelm children and all of us sometimes use Hanukkah to substitute for Christmas.
   Some fear this distorts the meaning of Hanukkah.
   The holiday is actually a commemoration of the triumph of religious liberty and the faithfulness of ancient Jews. Antiochus Epiphanes tried to force religious conformity throughout his empire which included Israel in the 2nd Century B.C.E. The Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated and robbed. An idol to Zeus was placed upon the altar and Jews were commanded to worship it or die.
   Judah Maccabee and his brothers of the priestly Hasmonean family led a tiny force into guerrilla warfare against the great armies oppressing them. After three bloody years, in 164 B.C.E. they regained the freedom to worship according to their tradition.
   The Temple was cleansed and rededicated. Enough uncontaminated oil was found to light the temple menorah for only one day, and it would take more than a week to prepare an additional supply.
Miraculously, according to the Talmud, the single cruse of oil lasted eight days, until the new supply was ready.
   Although Hanukkah is a Jewish tradition, all who love religious liberty can celebrate its meaning.
   Ten years ago in Billings, MT, a Jewish family was observing Hanukkah, with an image of the menorah displayed. A brick was thrown through 5-year-old Isaac Schnitzer's bedroom window, glass shards strewn on his bed.
   Although only a few dozen Jewish families lived in Billings, a week later, thousands of homes displayed menorahs. Such displays led to a Catholic school, a Methodist Church, and Christian homes being vandalized, but eventually the hate crimes ended. And interfaith understanding blossomed.
   Prejudice and religious presumption persist. Whatever lights we revere in this cold and dark time of the year, may we join together in igniting the lamps of understanding and good will with our neighbors of all faiths.

484. 031210 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Prayer for partisans must look to both sides

I was asked to give the invocation at a fund-raising luncheon with Senator Pat Roberts last April. I immediately said yes because I don't turn down requests for prayer. But in these contentious times, I didn't know how I would be able to pray at a partisan function in a non-partisan way, especially in the context of a war that even then divided Americans.
   So I prayed about the prayer.
   My job was to voice the aspirations of all those present. The prayer needed to recognize the occasion and place it in a spiritual context.
   It would violate my spiritual role, my duty to the Sacred, to pray for the election of any particular person, but I could pray for alignment with the process of democracy, including subtly honoring Senator Roberts' responsibility as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. So with a long breath, the prayer began:
   "Spirit of Generations, we gather to continue the great experiment of self-government begun by those visionaries of 1776. We  give thanks for the development of the basic and enduring values and civil liberties which have guided us through the ending of slavery, the enfranchisement of women, economic transformations, personal freedoms, inclusion and respect for every faith and other challenges, and the opportunities we now have to be a beacon throughout the world, blessed by those who transform intelligence into wisdom."
   With these words I also discharged my duty to acknowledge the controversy then raging whether the Patriot Act unreasonably curtails civil liberties.
   While I could neither bless nor question the war, I could pray this in April: "In the midst of tumult and devastation in Iraq, we give thanks that losses were limited, that those who served so well have enlarged our affirmation of your sway over all peoples and all nations."
   I added references to committees dealing with agriculture, education and labor on which Senator Roberts serves. And since he is famous both for his sense of humor and his fanatical support of K-State, I found a way to combine the two in a light-hearted phrase that gave some relief to the somber topics.
   Dear readers, many of you ask for guidance about how to offer public prayer. Perhaps seeing my effort helps.
   But the chief reason I write about this now is because I am continuing to pray the last paragraph of that prayer. I hope it is  wide enough for people on both sides of the war debate: "We pray that
misunderstandings between nations and peoples will be healed, that our own intentions and actions may be purified, and that the holy tussle of our political struggles may be like the wind unfurling the flag of freedom in history's march to justice and human dignity everywhere."

483. 031203 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Mystical and modern meet in artist's paintings

Spiritual ideas are everywhere you look at the Marsden Hartley show now at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. From his early landscapes influenced by American Transcendentalism to one of his late three portraits of Abraham Lincoln, which can be likened to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Hartley's religious preoccupations unify his work through an astounding variety of styles.
   Hartley himself speculated that he was "probably the first (painter) to contribute (the) mystical element to the modern movement." Paintings from 1913 inspired by Kandinsky's essay "On the Spiritual in Art," include images of the cross, the Buddha, a Hindu mudra, the American Indian 8-pointed star and symbols suggested by Paracelsus and the Lutheran theosophist Jakob Boehme.
   Hartley had been active in the Episcopalian men's guild and even considered the ministry. But the closed doors and shut windows of "The Church at Head Tide, No. 2" suggests that Hartley came to see organized religion as antiquarian. Resident curator Randall Griffey says Hartley's rejection of institutionalized faith arose from Emersonian skepticism of conformity and from Hartley's sense of alienation as he kept his homosexuality secret.
   While "Christ Held by Half-Naked Men," an all-male pieta, perhaps the most astonishingly overt-even bizarre-religious painting in the show, was not shown during his life, other paintings with similar hypermasculine figures were welcomed by the homophobic art world of the 1940s as images projecting American strength in the context of war, Griffey says. The eight figures, probably fishermen, recall both Christ as a fisher of men.
   The common man is an American theme Hartley explored repeatedly. In the two paintings called "Fishermen's Last Supper," Hartley mourns the death at sea of two adults sons of the Farncis Mason family with whom he had lived by placing them in a biblical context. One of the paintings includes the words ``mene mene'' from Belshazzar's feast (Daniel 5:25). Griffey says in this case, as throughout his work, Hartley took the common and the ordinary and shows them to us with an eternal and cosmic intent.
   My favorite painting is "Eight Bells Folly, Memorial for Hart Crane." The poet and Hartley were friends. Crane's suicide at sea at age 33, the age at which Christ is thought to have died, is not only
recognized by a shark and the eyes of the already-dead under the sea, but also transcended with cosmic promise hovering above.
   This week-end the Nelson presents poetry, images and music to explore the times and work of Hartley. Call 816.751.1ART for information.

482. 031126 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Thanksgiving works for all faiths

When I want to gauge my spiritual state, I count the number of times I say or think uncharitable things about the terrible drivers I encounter as I travel around town. People sometimes see me as some kind of serene religious type; but when I'm in the car, it's pretty clear I'm no saint.
   The best quick method I've discovered to improve my spiritual temper is to recall how many reasons there are to be grateful.
   It is a practice recommended by every faith. "Thanksgiving is our way of life," says Kara Hawkins, a teacher of American Indian spirituality. According to Daryoush Jahanian, Zoroastrian thanksgiving includes gratitude for "the call to justice." Pagan Caroline Baughman's list includes "herbs, cooking and healing." Barbara McAtee says that the Baha'i faith teaches that better than verbal thanks is action that shows "kindness to all creatures."
   Giving thanks while driving, and being a little more courteous myself to the other creatures also behind the wheel, can be an everyday spiritual exercise.
   But the annual Thanksgiving holiday has special meaning to me because it works for all faiths. It is a holy day owned by no one religion.
   The American Thanksgiving tradition begins with an interfaith feast between the Indians and the Pilgrims, only half of whom survived that first harsh winter. It is right for us to honor them.
   While our ideals of religious freedom and other liberties are part of that story, the prejudice that still persists, the slaughter and oppression of the Indians, the slavery that took centuries to end, the sexism that kept women from voting for most of our history and other continuing injustices, should chasten us and renew our resolve to transform gratitude into wider service to the American vision.
   I'm not naming names, but over the past quarter century I've come to give thanks for many religious leaders, clergy and lay, in Kansas City. I've had the privilege of working with men and women whose lives have made our community stronger and who urge us toward a deeper life of the spirit. Some of these good folk are now retired but are still engaged. Some are in full career. Some are just emerging.
Some are dead, but their contributions are still vivid.
   The cynicism of our age may be often justified, but we can be genuine in gratitude for those who professional and volunteer lives awaken in us the sense of the sacred, a sense of what really counts.
   Their sacrifices are rewarded by the joy of service we, too, can taste.
   Whether driving or feasting or falling asleep, it is a comfort to give thanks for the joy that rises from doing our duty to the world. Happy Thanksgiving.

481. 031119 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Extremists need to find middle ground

With increasingly frequency, readers put this question to me: Does religion do more harm than good?
   Too many wicked acts are perpetrated in the name of religion to dismiss this question. A fresh example may be last Saturday's bombings of two synagogues in Turkey as worshippers observed the sabbath.
With its Muslim heritage, Turkey has been developing ties with Israel, and extremists don't like that. In Christian Europe as well, anti-Semitism is reportedly growing.
   Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, restricts the religious practice of American guests who happen to be Christian. Presumably secular China has killed more than a million Tibetan Buddhists. New violence between Hindus and Muslims in India and Kashmir could erupt at any time. Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland have a terrorist history that will not soon be healed.
   In our own country, religious extremism may be growing, often in a political environment. When ousted from his court last week, Alabama "Ten Commandments" Judge Roy Moore said, "The battle to acknowledge God is about to rage across the country."
   Liberals can wring hands and conservatives can offer prayers, but is there anything more we can do?
   To liberal friends of wide embrace I say, You are right to honor diversity as a blessing, but your neglect of a sense of the sacred in public and private life has led to the fragmentation of society, to the special interests which control our politics and to the lack of a vision in which we all can share.
   To conservative friends extolling only their own traditions I say, You are wise to see that no arena of life can be excluded from the demands of faith, but you fail to appreciate that the Infinite is revealed in many colors, and the pure white light by which we can see most clearly shines only when the colors are united together.
   To both I say, Your religion is no religion at all unless its fruits include a holy conviction that we are all kin.
   I worry that the secularism of liberals and the exclusivity of conservatives leaves too little space for the spirit. This vacuum can pervert faith into a justification of violence.
   But if liberals and conservatives can rediscover a moderate center which honors a healthy tension between them, then religion can be a gift rather than a curse, and the distortions and fears of the present may be transformed into reverence and good will.

480. 031112 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Author says understanding Bible erases skepticism

Why should "skeptics, seekers and religious liberals" pay attention to the Bible? John A. Buehrens, former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, explores the question with his new book,
Understanding the Bible.
   Buehrens' first answer is that in order to understand Western culture, one has to be familiar with the Scriptures.
   But, in Kansas City recently, he told me that his book is designed for more than simply aiding a person to make his way through the museum or appreciate significant literature with the references and allusions to stories and ideas at the heart of our civilization.
   "American culture is being is being torn apart by a narrow interpretation of our biblical heritage, and this has political as well as cultural consequences,"
he said. He believes that the Bible has been used  "to legitimize such clear sins as economic and environmental exploitation, racism, sexism, homophobia and more."
   Skeptics and others have neglected the Bible because it has been used in "simplistic and oppressive ways." Progressives have thus lost sway in the cultural conversation. If you don't know the Bible, you cede the power to interpret it to others, he says.
   Buehrens thinks that the Bible is about "the ancient human struggle for freedom and liberation" and its enduring wisdom speaks today to ``the human quest for wisdom, justice and peace."
   But the deepest reason for his book is neither cultural competence nor asserting political ground.
   Buehrens began working with the material which became his book in a series of lectures "in the very secular city of New York" and was surprised by the strong interest from people who had previously ignored the Scriptures. "These people responded to the Bible" as a rich source of spiritual sustenance for their everyday lives and their extraordinary moments.
   Buehrens wants to help skeptics grow past the "emotional reactions," formed often in childhood, when they were told the Bible said something that did not make sense to them.
   The 200-page book is deliberately not a scholarly tome, though it is informed by scholarship. The reader will learn how the Bible came to be composed. But I read it primarily as a thoughtful tour of sacred texts whose meaning unfolds by clearing away the fog of preconceptions about what is actually there.
   Like the Jewish sage Martin Buber, whose heritage he claims, Buehrens does more than guide. He illumines.

479. 031105 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Speaker sees hope in Abrahamic bond

When Abraham died, his "sons Isaac and Ishmaiel buried him in the cave of Machpelah" (Genesis 25:9).
 For Bruce Feiler, author of Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, this union of Abraham's rival sons at their father's death presents hope that Jews and Muslims, who trace their heritage to Abraham, can, along with Christians, find fruitful ways of understanding their conflicts and move toward reconciliation.
 Feiler will be in Kansas City as part of the annual Jewish Book Fair and will speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 11 at Villiage Presbyterian Church, 6641 Mission Road.
    Responding to Feiler will be an interfaith panel with Rabbi Alan Cohen of Beth Shalom Congregation, Abdalla Idris Ali of the Center for Islamic Education in North America and Presbyterian lay leader Bill Tammeus, columnist for The Kansas City Star.
    Scholars often call the three great monotheistic faiths "Abrahamic" because all three of the them see in Abraham the man God chose to further divine revelation.  Jews understand Abraham as the patriarch of the Israelites through Isaac.  For Christians, Abraham is an exemplar of one save by faith, without the law.  Called Ibrahim in Arabic, Abraham is revered by Muslims for cleansing Mecca of idolatry and restoring worship of the one God.
    "Abraham may hold the key for us to communicate," says the Rev. Diane Quaintance, a minister at Village Presbyterian Church, who has arranged otherinterfaith programs open to the community.  She said bringing Feiler here was "the logical next step" in the conversation.
 Quaintance teaches Bible study and found that Feiler's book made it easy to connect our daily life with biblical interests, whether one know nothing or a great deal about the Bible.
    "All of us want to belive there is hope for peace, but we don't hear about the threads of hope in the news much," she said.  She expects that the Fieler visit's focus on Abraham will become a bridge between faith communities working for peace.
    Feiler's Web site,, is worth a visit.
   Note: An area Jewish leader wrote to complain that my column last week makes readers think "that the American Jewish community doesn't question settlements and supports (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon in his desire to force Muslims to leave Israel so they can take all the land."
    The column actually referred to Muslims leaving the "Palestinian territories" rather than Israel, but I do apologize for failing to note that many people in the Jewish community here do not support the
expansion of Israeli settlements.

478. 031029 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Huston Smith looks for commonality

Born in 1919 in China, no teacher of world religions is regarded with greater affection than Huston Smith. Even before the 1996 PBS series with Bill Moyers on what Smith calls "the wisdom traditions," Smith was widely known for his book, "The World's Religions," which has sold millions of copies to several generations. His impeccable personal relationships with many faiths, through family connections and travel, make his scholarship a love affair with humanity as well as the divine.
   Smith was in town last week-end to honor his 1938-39 roommate at Central Methodist College, Elbert Cole, on Cole's retirement as director of Shepherd's Centers of America. Cole founded the
movement in 1972 to provide seniors with new opportunities to learn and to enrich society.
   Cole asked Smith to help those at the conference to understand commonalities among Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Smith said these faiths were revealed by the same God but took different forms as appropriate to the language, culture, and times of those to whom they were given.
   He noted historical respect between Muslims and Jews, but that the boundary between Christianity and Islam has often been contested, which has led to persistent stereotypes, one of which is that Islam is a violent religion. Smith presented a scholar's view that Islam may have been less violent than Christianity, but recently violence has been nurtured within Islam.
  In an interview later, Smith said resentment of the West in the Muslim world arises in part from the way the West conquered it and chopped up it up into artificial states like Iraq and Israel, and from the West's support for corrupt and oppressive regimes.
   Smith complained that extremists get the press and those seeking reconciliation are ignored.
   As he spoke to me, Smith seemed almost overwhelmed by sorrow over the Middle East where there is "too little land and too much history." Where formerly the American Jewish community questioned Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, "now it is silent" as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "by his actions, seems determined to force the Muslims into such a desperate situation that they will leave and Israel will take all the land.''
   These "shocking, disgusting, and tragic developments" impede interfaith relations because those concerned hesitate to speak for fear of being called anti-Semitic, he said.

477. 031022 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Nietzsche's relevance is in being all to human

Although Friedrich Nietzsche is out of fashion in mainstream analytic philosophy, UMKC philosophy professor Clancy Martin celebrated Nietzsche's 159th birthday last Wednesday by submitting a paper about the German philosopher to a learned journal. Martin says Nietzsche "has important things to say about what it is to be human."
   Despite writing about a mad-man who announces that "God is dead" and that we have killed Him, Nietzsche may be better regarded in religious circles today than in technical philosophy because of his assessment of the human predicament. Whether the field is ethics, cultural diagnosis or the spiritual life -- what Nietzsche calls "the life of the unseen" -- Nietzsche's influence on the writings of theologians today is undiminished.
   Martin thinks Nietzsche's analysis of culture is meritorious. Like the Danish Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard, the atheist Nietzsche finds society claiming to be Christian while there is little evidence that people are practicing the teachings of Jesus. Actual Christianity is a curse of guilt about our natural impulses that deprives people of their capacities to experience life fully.
   Saying "God is dead" is a way of bursting through the hypocrisy, pretense and self-deception that we are religious. Nietzsche argues that the lives of professed Christians seem no different than the lives of those who make no such profession. Martin asks Nietzsche’s question: Who is willing to change one's life to live as Christ said we must live?
   According to Martin, Nietzsche says in killing God, we have cut the last tether to the past and now must make decisions about our lives on our own. Without divine guidance we may be in danger or we may have an unprecedented opportunity. The bow of the future is tense, and who knows how far we may shoot the arrow?
   Nietzsche, who was acquainted with the early encounters of the West with Buddhism, considers that tradition to be the closest to an "honest religion" because it offers a spirituality without a Creator God and rejects the notion of a unified self.
   The "unified self" is a construct that disguises the many divergent impulses we have and contradictory actions we take. This disguise keeps us from knowing who we are.
   Martin says the basic injunction of philosophy is to "Know thyself," and Nietzsche helps keep this imperative alive in a culture that wants us to bury it.

476. 031015 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Jewish festival recalls wandering in the desert

I asked Ken Sonnenschein, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist in private practice, about the Jewish festival which ends Saturday. He writes:
   With this month’s full moon comes the Jewish festival of Sukkot (pronounced like sue-coat). Sukkot is the third of the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot) and begins on the fifteenth day after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. During the pilgrimage festivals, Jews would go to Jerusalem to make special sacrifices at the temple mount.
   Each festival, which is still celebrated by Jews today, has a special historical significance.  Passover is associated with the Exodus from Egypt.  Shavuot is the time Jews celebrate receiving the Ten Commandments and Torah (the first five books of the Bible) at Mt. Sinai.  Sukkot recalls the 40-year wandering in the desert. Its name, "Feast of the Tabernacles," reminds us of the temporary shelters used then.
   Each festival also had a direct link to the agricultural calendar.  Passover was connected with the early-ripening barley, Shavuot with the later-ripening wheat, and Sukkot with the ingathering of many species of produce.  In fact, when the biblically-based pilgrims searched for an appropriate way to give thanks for the bounty of the new world, they looked in Exodus 23:16 which makes reference to ``the feast of the harvest.''
   This is why the American holiday of Thanksgiving shares an uncanny resemblance to Sukkot.
   I've been working with a group of dedicated volunteers at Village Shalom in Overland Park to develop a gardening project which helps people today connect with this rich heritage and symbolism of growth.
   The garden is called the Mitzvah Garden of Greater Kansas City. ("Mitzvah" means "commandment" but has also come to mean "a charitable act.")
   People of all ages, including residents of the Village Shalom retirement center, plant, tend, and harvest produce from ten handicapped-accessible beds. The produce is donated to the residents, Yachad (the Jewish food pantry) and Harvesters.
   The garden also yields spiritual produce in its ability to provide an interactive, living experience of how the Jewish calendar with its major festivals ties in with agriculture and its fruits.

475. 031008 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The right to work has its religious aspect, too

"God, how can I serve you today?" asks Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks each morning. The Heartland has many outstanding spiritual leaders, but none more inspiring and connected across all social strata in the metro area than Brooks. He spoke Friday at a breakfast meeting beginning the program year of the Cathedral Center for Faith and Work.
   Of a piece with his prayer is his conviction that all of us are made in the image of God. This is the spiritual basis for the ordinance he recently sponsored to give city employees with domestic partners benefits such as time off when a partner dies.
   I've been attending events sponsored by the Center for several years because the speakers provide spiritual insights into community leadership from many angles. The breakfast series this year includes president of DST Realty Vince Dasta, metro Arts Council president Joan Israelite, Star publisher Art Brisbane and Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn.
   The dinner series includes Helzberg Diamonds president Jeffrey W. Comment, Muslim leader Mahnaz Shabbir, Andrews and McMeel president Bob Duffy and yours truly quite a variety.
   My talk next Wednesday at the downtown Marriott, 'The Idea of Work in World Religions," is still being written. And quite frankly, dear reader, I could use your help.
   I will mention 'right livelihood,' the Buddhist principle of doing honorable work, a similar a Catholic concept of vocation, and the Shaker belief that to work is to worship. The Jewish gift of the sabbath, the Protestant ``work ethic'' and the ancient Greek valuation of play over work also deserve some discussion. I'll also try to weave in the Muslim requirement to provide for the poor, the Hindu concept of duty and the Taoist advice to let things happen, rather than over-managing.
   I aim to be useful, practical and relevant, to offer several spiritual perspectives on the social and economic situations we are actually experiencing, locally and globally.
   Whatever your tradition, dear reader, what ideas in your faith would you suggest for my talk and perhaps for a follow-up column? You can email your thoughts to me,
   Still, even with your help, I wonder whether I will be able to do any better than to suggest that we approach our jobs as well as free time by offering the prayer that Al Brooks says every day.

474. 031001 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Common Meanings in Faith, Medicine

In ancient cultures, healing was a religious activity, as it remains in primal societies today. One favorite image in the East is the Medicine Buddha, and in the Gospels Jesus is presented as a healer. In our culture, many faiths offer "ministries" to the sick, ranging from "faith healers" to accredited parish nurses. Many liturgical churches practice anointing the sick with oil.
   Today our health care system is "fragmented, dysfunctional and not compassionate,' according to Christina M. Puchalski, MD, who will speak here as part of a conference, ``Bridging Faith and Medicine,'' Oct 10. Puchalski is a professor at the George Washington University Medical Center and has helped some 90 medical schools to integrate spiritual care into their curricula.
   Another speaker, the Rev. Fred B. Craddock, professor emeritus at Emory University, appreciates the historical developments which have distinguished faith from medicine. Their separation ``helped to establish medicine free of superstition by the increasing use of observation, reason and diagnosis,'' he says.
   But he also believes religious and health-care professionals need a much deeper conversation over turf issues and decisions that affect the patient, such as whether to provide relief from suffering when some believe that suffering is a character-building gift from God.
   Interest in spirituality in medicine has grown from some studies which suggest that religious people are more likely to regain health than others. Puchalski has reservations about this theory; people involved in cultural activities also show high rates of responsiveness to treatment.
   But her own clinical experience convinces her that sickness can lead people to explore the meaning of their lives more deeply. She also says that research indicates that patients who struggle to find or create purpose in their illness or loss do in fact have improved quality of life.
   Hospitalization can be a time to ask the big questions. Spiritual beliefs can be very important. Meaning can be found in work, family, faith or, as atheists sometimes say, "in doing good for others."
   Given a health-care system that in some important ways is failing, she plans to address the question, 'What can be done to improve it?"
   The conference is sponsored by the Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Central Baptist Seminary and the Nazarene Theological Seminary, where it will be held. For information, call (913) 676.2097.

473. 030924 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Same-sex arguments addressed

Over a dozen people contacted me about my Sept. 10 column about same-sex relationships in religious history.
   Many readers wanted sources. Here are two of the best.
   Yale historian John Boswell's 1994 book Same-Sex Unions in PreModern Europe details evidence within Christianity. Boswell has attracted a number of critics, and his ground-breaking book no doubt contains errors as any such first study would have. However, I have not seen any substantial refutation of his major claims.
   David F Greenberg's 1988 The Construction of Homosexuality includes a more comprehensive cultural and religious survey, ancient and modern.
   Other readers were disturbed by my failure to support the idea of sexual orientation. Most cultures have accepted same-sex relationships and several societies institutionalized them in marriage and other forms of commitment. "Nevertheless," I wrote, ``same-sex unions do not prove that people are born with a controlling sexual orientation.''
   Why, then, readers asked, do so many in same-sex relationships believe they were "born that way"?
   Religious history offers no clear answer. However sexual behavior seems to be influenced by at least four factors: genetic, imprinting, conditioning, and situations.
   * In recent times, a genetic explanation has been favored, particularly by liberal religious groups, while conservatives have often argued that same-sex behavior is simply a choice.
   * Imprinting is an explanation derived from zoology which suggests that at a crucial age before one can remember, one profoundly notices someone of the same or opposite gender at the point of developing a sense of sexual identity or attraction.
   * Conditioning refers to social expectations. The universal male participation in same-sex relationships in ancient Sparta, for example, can be explained this way.
   * Situational sex includes experimentation and behavior by cowboys, soldiers, inmates and others temporarily deprived of opportunities with those of the opposite sex.
   With few exceptions, religious history does not weigh these factors. It does suggest that human sexuality is more plastic than current debates recognize.

472. 030917 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Council achieves much

For the past three years, the Kansas City Interfaith Council has gathered on Sept. 11.
   In 2001, media were invited to hear members of the council announce "The Gifts of Pluralism" conference planned for that October. As events unfolded on the TV monitor in the room, Council members expressed deep commitment to one another and to the city to foster interfaith understanding, and the Muslims pointedly condemned the hijacking of their faith.
   The conference was held as planned. Over 250 people from every faith group from A to Z -- American Indian to Zoroastrian -- participated in the two-day assembly at Pembroke Hill School. Many relationships were developed that have strengthened the community, and new programs have emerged.
   One of them is Mosaic, which includes an interfaith book club, a "Passport" program for visiting houses of worship of various faiths, and a "stories project."
   This project involved interviewing over 60 people, from a now-elderly Jewish survivor of a Nazi concentration camp to a young Muslim. The interviews have been fashioned into a play, tentatively called The Hindu and the Cowboy and Other Kansas City Stories, with a staged reading Nov. 2 at the Bruce Watkins Center. Understanding one another's lives in the context of our faiths is a way to liberate ourselves from the fear the terrorists wished to instill within us.
   In 2002, the Council observed the first anniversary with a day-long schedule to place 9/11 in a spiritual context. Members of the Council brought waters from their individual faith communities, from water collected from KC area fountains, and from the rivers and oceans of the world, to honor both the tears flowing from the tragedy and the refreshment and cleansing power of our faiths. Network CBS-TV broadcast these and other local efforts as model interfaith approaches for the rest of the nation.
   In 2003, last Thursday, the Council members met and exchanged stories about how these two years affected them and their communities. The reports were filled with emotion. The assessments were mixed.
Pride in the area's residents' reaching out to one another and learning about others' faiths was offset by the corrosive impact of economic priorities and international concerns.
   Despite misunderstandings, Muslim leaders have been especially vigorous in reaching out to Jewish, Christian and other religious communities. Their strong allegience to American democracy and ability to correct misrepresentations of their faith show us that we are all together as we seek a world of mutual respect and promise.
    We still have more work to do.  We must live our faith more deeply.

471. 030910 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Putting same-sex unions in historical context

Today's controversies about gay bishops and gay marriages lack historical context. We know much about same-sex behavior, understood as a choice. But in the history of religions, little can be found about orientation as an inborn characteristic until the idea developed in the 19th Century.
   While some faiths have condemned same-sex behavior, others have accepted it and even given it special praise.
   Most cultures have simply assumed that everyone is capable of both same- and opposite-sex behavior. Thus Caesar, who missed few sexual opportunities, was known as ``the husband to every wife and the wife to every husband.''
   Religions prohibiting homosexual behavior usually did so because producing children was more important than pleasure the same reason masturbation and coitus interruptus were condemned. The ancient Hebrews exemplify this perspective. The Talmud condemns celibacy.
   Religions favoring same-sex relationships often did so as part of a conservative, age-structured educational process, as in the military system of ancient Sparta. There same-sex relationships and heterosexual marriage supplemented each other. The later Celtic warriors also engaged in same-sex love. Some traditions expect all young men to practice same-sex behavior as preparation for heterosexual marriage.
   It is true that the Romans honored same-sex marriages and that the Japanese samurai institutionalized same-sex unions. The Chinese in the Ming dynasty, many Native American and African tribes, and other European, Asian and South American cultures accepted such relationships.
   It is also true that well into the modern era, same-sex unions were blessed within Christianity in a ceremony celebrating love, with wine, a kiss, scripture readings and joining of hands before the altar.
   (Early Christian heterosexual marriages were civil, not religious. They arranged property rights and paternity. Unlike same-sex unions, they did not originate from affection. Thus they were held outside the church. Heterosexual marriage was made a sacrament in 1215.)
   Nevertheless, same-sex unions do not prove that people are born with a controlling sexual orientation, any more than people who choose to join the Chamber of Commerce do so because of their genes.
The term ``homosexual'' was not coined until 1869 as the idea of orientation developed.
   Historically, whether a religion has condemned or supported same-sex behavior, it has generally been regarded as a choice, whether despised or honored.

470. 030903 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Is Alabama judge 'editing' the Ten Commandments?

Dear Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore:
   Your effort to display the Ten Commandments makes me wonder if you have read them.
   Please study the versions of the commandments as they appear in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Your monument's text is edited. Do you have the right to alter scripture?
   The children of Israel are commanded to have no other gods before the Lord. This does not deny the common belief at the time that other gods existed. Most scholars agree the texts mean simply that the Israelites must worship only one particular god out of the many gods. True monotheism may not have developed until the prophet Isaiah wrote. Do you want to promote texts that imply there are many gods?
   Since no likeness is to be made of anything in heaven or earth, are photos, paintings and statues sinful? And should the government prohibit Kodak moments?
   You have had the monument on display two years. Was this display effective in eliminating the taking of the Lord's name in vain?
   If we honor the sabbath as instructed, to do no work, our stores, theaters, police stations and hospitals would have to be closed. Have you considered whether our society might be more complex than the society to which the commandments were presented?
   Sometimes our economy seems geared to encourage us to covet what our neighbor has. Are we required to eliminate advertising which creates desire for things others have?
   As a general rule, honoring one's parents is a fine sentiment. But what about the girl who has been repeatedly raped by her father? Should we demand that he be honored or locked up?
   While you are searching the scriptures, please note that the phrase ``Ten Commandments'' cannot be found in the passages with the list of commandments on your monument. If you count them in the
scripture, there are actually 12 or 13. Jews, Catholics and Presbyterians combine them differently to come up with a total of 10.
   The phrase "ten commandments" does appear in the list in Exodus 34, where one of the commandments is not to boil a kid in its mother's milk. Why was this commandment omitted from your monument?

469. 030827 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
An Uncommon Denomination

Last Wednesday five area Unitarian Universalist congregations sponsored an advertising supplement in The Star to promote their faith as ''the Uncommon Denomination.'' The 8-page supplement concluded a “campaign to raise awareness of (the) historic, distinctive religion'' earlier this year.” The denomination is unusual in eschewing any creed and any single scripture and in embracing believer and atheist alike.
   To support the campaign, the president of the Boston-based denomination, William Sinkford, visited Kansas City this spring. Sinkford is the first black president of a predominantly white denomination which often prides itself as a leader in social change.
For example, decades ago, Unitarian Universalists welcomed gays and lesbians into their ministry. The denomination also confronted racial, gender and economic justice questions before most other churches dealt with them.
   In an interview, Sinkford said that 30 years ago, the denomination understood itself as on the ``cutting edge, so far ahead our voice was not welcome. We withdrew from engagement with other religious groups.
   ``Now we have come in from the margins. The majority in America has decided we were right on many of these issues.''
The advertising campaign was inspired in part by Sinkford's concern that ``the religious voice in public discourse is the Religious Right,'' which he said was often ``mean-spirited.''
   Sinkford noted that the promotional effort followed the unusual experience Unitarian Universalist congregations had following 9/11. The attendance surge most denominations had immediately after the 2001 terrorist attacks dissipated in the following months, but the ``trailing off'' phenomenon did not affect his denomination.
   This and other indicators suggest to Sinkford that people are looking more for religious community rather than for the ``shallow consumerism'' advocated after 9/11 to keep the country going. Instead of the thousand or so Unitarian Universalists now in the area, ``Kansas City has a potential for 70,000'' if people become aware of this religious option, Sinkford said. Beyond membership growth, he believes that the conviction and experience that Unitarian Universalists can offer to the broader culture is that ``religious pluralism is not a curse but rather a blessing.''

468. 030820 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Building a community in remembrance of tragic day

How should the second anniversary of the 9/11 events be marked? In 2001, the nation was shaken, lives were taken, bravery was discovered and pain endures. lIn 2002, the Kansas City Interfaith Council offered a day-long observance and 50-some individual congregations held services to place remembrances and hopes in a spiritual context.
   This year the Council has endorsed an interfaith program Sept. 9 with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim speakers, featuring Imam Hassan Qazwini of Detroit, originally from Iraq. A panel moderated by Star columnist Bill Tammeus includes Rabbi Neal Schuster of Temple B'nai Jehudah and the Rev Robert Lee Hill, senior pastor of the hosting congregation, Community Christian Church.
   The event was initiated by the Kansas City International Visitors Council under the U.S. State Department and has been planned with the aid of Harmony, the Rabbinical Association, the National Conference for Community and Justice and the Crescent Peace Society.
   Barbara Dolci, head of the Visitors Council, says that since 9/11, ``we have seen how religion has been used to distort the goodness of these religions and divide those who need to work together for a positive resolution of conflicts in our communities. By focusing on that which unites us as children of Abraham, perhaps we can learn to respect our differences and build peace one community at a time.''
   Hill is enthusiastic about hosting this event. ``We our honored to live out the meaning of our church's name--'Community.' The subject of this gathering is of utmost importance not only to our local metroplex but also to the nation and the world,'' he said.
   Those able to be there at 5:30 pm can join with those of other faiths in silent prayer for peace. At 6, a light dinner is served. Qazwini and the panel begin at 6:45, and the program ends at 8 so Muslims can perform maghrib, evening prayer.
   The fall offers other opportunities to explore our neighbors' faiths. The Interfaith Council's Oct. 1  conference for clergy and lay leaders is ``Introducing World Religions and the Faiths of Kansas City.''
Bruce Fieler, author of Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, speaks here Nov. 11, the annual Harmony Concert is Nov. 16, the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Sunday Ritual Meal is Nov 23.
While awaiting details, you may want to get these dates on your calendar.

467. 030813 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sounding the alarm on divisive issues

A recent study says violence, discrimination and harassment against Muslims in the U.S. increased 15% last year. Protestant Senators have accused Catholic Senators of being anti-Catholic because they oppose the nomination of a Catholic to a federal judgeship. Christian conservatives complain about court rulings that "under God" does not belong in the Pledge of Allegiance. In Europe, anti-Semitism seems to be growing.
   Religion, which should bring us together, too often sets us against one another. While it is easy to see someone else's religious prejudice, it is hard to see our own.
   This may be the case with Mel Gibson. His forthcoming film about the death of Jesus has aroused Christian and Jewish concern that relations between the two faiths will be damaged by its portrayal of Jews.

   From articles and websites, friends in Kansas City have contacted me with alarm. The Star's movie critic, Bob Bulter, is following the controversy.
   The film, The Passion, may be released next spring on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
   One may wonder whether the controversy has been created to publicize the movie, but all the articles I have read suggest serious problems with the film. Scholars who have seen a script are dismayed by it.
The New York Times quoted Sister Mary C. Boys, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, as saying, "We're really concerned that this could be one of the great crises in Christian-Jewish relations."
   On the other hand, those who appear to have been predisposed toward Gibson's efforts, including those from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, reportedly found a preview inspiring.
   Perhaps identifying the problems will cause Gibson to change the final version.
   Christian history includes violent images of both Jews and Muslims, as well as others. In the last century, Christians have worked hard to purge their liturgies and teachings of bias. But a popular movie which could renew the old "Christ killer" charge against Jews and reinforce persistent stereotypes will divide us, not bring us together. National leaders and local people of faith are right to sound an alert.

466. 030806 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Don't discount influence of faith on culture

The impact of various religions on their societies can be profound, and the influence one religion has on subsequent civilizations can be unacknowledged except by the scholars.
   The ancient religion of Zoroastrianism is an example, sometimes thought to be the first faith to proclaim that there is but one God.
   Other religions may have their influence overestimated, as Christianity is sometimes cited as the basis of Constitutional government in the United States, a judgment most scholars dismiss.
   And the heritage of some faiths in some cultures may be so pervasive that it is difficult to assess. The development of Judaism in the last 2000 years is a fascinating story, too little known. But Jewish themes in the West, embedded in the majority Christian faith, are so much a part of the culture that we easily assume all faiths share a similar orientation.
   Here are some of those themes.
   While God is the Creator of all things, including the world of nature, he is revealed primarily through inspired Scripture. This "mediated" revelation contrasts with the "immediate" revelation in primal faiths, where the sacred is found primarily in nature, and with some Asian faiths, where the divine must be apprehended within oneself.
   The Scriptures show God acting in the realm of human relations and the history of community. God is a power working through the social order toward the establishment of peace and justice, often seen in the fair distribution of wealth and special concern for the poor. While some faiths see time as circular and the notion of progress is irrelevant, the Jewish tradition presents a hope for the future; there is a divine purpose to our lives.
   In some faiths, recurring events like the daily rising of the sun are the keys to finding sacred meaning. In Judaism, singular, unrepeated events like the Exodus and the Holocaust are central occasions which arouse the questions about God, justice and community.
   Some faiths have little interest in land or national identity. Zen Buddhists, for example, say that wherever you are is holy space. For several reasons, modern Judaism has come to place considerable emphasis upon Israel as a legal and geographical reality, not simply a spiritual notion.

465. 030730 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Palestinian Christian favors two states

A Palestinian Christian, the Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, served this past year as moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He speaks next Sunday at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village.
   In a telephone interview, he said that one hundred years ago, 35% of the Palestinians were Christian. "As a result of war, occupation and economic hardship, today less than 3% are Christian. Still, about 15 million Arabs in over a dozen countries are Christian. Yassir Arafat's wife is Christian." He cited Acts 2:11 as evidence that Christianity began among the Arabs as early as Pentecost.
   To explain his concern about the Middle East, he said people of faith "need to know how the word of God becomes alive locally, nationally and globally, not just in evangelism or medical missions, but also in issues of justice, to give credibility to the Gospel."
   His perspective is shaped by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when he was 4 years old, living in the Galilean village of Kuffer-Yassif. Israeli troops drove his family from their home. For safety, his father led him and his seven siblings to a mountain refugee camp. But his mother refused to go. "This is our home, our land and our church. If they want to kill me, they will need to kill me in my own home," she said.
   He outlined four options for the future of the Israelis and Palestinians. The first is a continuation of the status quo. He describes this as the longest occupation by one people over another in recent history, which brutalizes both the Israelis and the 3.4 million Palestinians.
   A second proposal is a transfer policy, which he called "ethnic cleansing," the removal of Palestinians from their homes to other counties.
   A third possibility is one state for all people in the area. This would mean abandoning the religious character of Israel as a Jewish homeland and the end of the Palestinian hope of a state of their own. A single secular, democratic republic would not be controlled by either religion or ethnicity.
   He favors a fourth path, a two-state solution, which is the goal of President Bush's "road map" for peace, and is envisioned by United Nations resolutions as early as 1947. "Christians must love both
peoples. Both need to live in peace," he said.

464. 030723 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Local Jews, Muslims build bridges

Within each faith, disagreements and sometimes hostilities arise. Christianity is divided on issues like abortion, homosexuality and the war with Iraq, as well as by denominational loyalties. Other faiths are similarly fractured.
   And sometimes the problems are between those of different faiths. With friends and families in the Middle East, Jews and Muslims here have to work extra hard not to associate the deaths and indignities both sides abroad have suffered with their neighbors of the other faith here, as many local Christians have deliberately educated themselves about not only Arab Muslims but the other 80% of the world's Muslims who are not Arab.
   Some disagreements are not theological or political, but primarily personal. Every faith has its troublesome members.
   But relations between the faiths are too important to let all these factors rule. That is why Kansas City can celebrate the many and varied efforts by local Jews and Muslims to build and repair bridges between the two communities and live together harmoniously.
   Here are some examples. The leader of a medical practice is Muslim; his staff of physicians is overwhelmingly Jewish. Jewish businessmen have made substantial donations, and a Jewish educator has assisted Muslims in obtaining grants, for Islamic education.
   A mosque, synagogue and church formed a congregational partnership under the auspices of Kansas City Harmony. With the services of the National Conference for Community and Justice, young people from Jewish, Muslim and Christian schools have learned from each other in day-long experiences at the Kauffman Foundation.
   At last year's anniversary of 9/11, Jewish and Muslim children performed a song including both the Hebrew and Arabic terms for peace, shalom and salam, in a community-wide observance.
   When the mayor of Romle, Israel, visited Kansas City, a Leawood Muslim hosted a reception for him. Two women, Muslim and Jewish, Mahnaz Shabbir and Sheila Sonnenschein, have written joint articles for several local publications.
   These are just a few examples of the dozens on my list. So when you hear about "tensions and suspicions" between Kansas City Jews and Muslims, keep all that in perspective.

463. 030716 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Faiths share sensibility of surrender

To the casual observer, no two religions might seem more different than Buddhism and Islam.
   Buddhism is non-theistic; most Buddhist pictures of reality contain no Creator God. Islam, on the other hand, rigorously proclaims the majesty and mercy of single Creator God, on whom all creatures depend.
   For Buddhists without God, no aspect of the universe is more fundamental than any other because everything is intertwined, with multiple reference points. For Muslims, God is the original and fundamental reality. He is the sole and ultimate reference point.
   Buddhists see morality as part of the impersonal nature of the universe. The consequences of our acts are explained by karma, a law of cause and effect which operates without any divine supervision. For Muslims, God is the source of morality. God has provided instructions for regulating our behavior. God will be the judge of our acts and dispense the consequences.
   The Buddha taught that the illusion of separateness causes suffering. Buddhism denies an eternal, unchanging, individual soul. Salvation or enlightenment comes not through any person, book or institution, but by direct, immediate experience. Buddhism is sometimes called a psychology because of its emphasis on meditation and internal experience over behavior.
   In Islam, each of us has a separate and distinct soul. Salvation is mediated through the Qur'an and the tradition. Islam emphasizes social relationships and behaviors through extensive legal codes. Islam is often considered a more external religion than Buddhism, and its ideals of consensus suggest a public, democratic focus. If inward meditation might characterize Buddhism, Friday prayer, which is a social configuration, might represent Islam on this point.
   And yet, underlying both of these great faiths is a common sensibility: surrender.
   In Buddhism, the surrender is an absorption into the flow of the universe, as a drop of water unites by yielding to the ocean in which it falls. Through acute attention focused in meditation, the Buddhist becomes one with the flow of events rather than obstructing them.
   The very word Islam means submission and the peace that arises from submission to the will of God. The prostrations of prayer emphasize the utter surrender in Islam, placing one's very body in God's service.
   Beyond beliefs, is there a parallel sensibility in your faith?

462. 030709 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Scouting for a path between faiths

Last month I attended an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for three remarkable boys--one wants to say "young men." The ceremony, held at St Peter's Episcopal Church, began with a Christian prayer by the rector. As each of the candidates spoke, it was clear how much their families, their friends, the scouting program and their faiths meant to them.
   The featured speaker was Terry Dunn, president and CEO of J. E. Dunn Construction, himself a nationally prominent Scout leader. Dunn believes that more important than building buildings is  "building people."
   One of the Scouts was Muslim. The event ended with a recitation from the Qur'an.
   What seemed remarkable was that no one seemed to think this was remarkable. The Boy Scouts have long welcomed boys of most spiritual paths as part of their Scouting experience.
   Recently at Village Presbyterian Church, Jewish leader Alan Edelman, and Muslim leader Ahmed El-Sherif hugged each other as they greeted each other before speaking about the Abrahamic faiths, and as they departed. Whether this was remarkable or not, such a sign of amity between those of faiths too often portrayed as in conflict is always welcome.
   Our religious liberty as Americans becomes even more precious as we build communities of regard for differences while understanding our human kinship. Getting to know one another as spiritual beings does far more than even the most brilliant column in this space to create a safe, respectful and generous Kansas City.
   Former Mayor Emanuel Cleaver's "Under the Clock" program on KCUR this Friday is billed as a "town hall public forum" on the relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities here. The producer's announcement says that "There is an undercurrent of suspicion and tension between some members of each community; we hope giving voice to some of those feelings will give us the opportunity to promote greater understanding."
   All of us, regardless of our faiths, may hope that "giving voice" to family-like squabbles on a radio program will build upon, rather than damage, the many sincere private efforts of leaders of both
communities to build bridges between them.
   May we some day soon remark on how unremarkable it is that we enjoy one another's faiths because we are secure in our own.

461. 030702 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The Supreme Court can decide only what is legal

The Supreme Court has affirmed the Constitution's protection of private, non-commercial love-making by consenting adults of the same sex. This may have changed the legal situation, but the Court cannot compel people of faith to think any differently about sexual morality.
   Homosexuality is a contentious issue among many Christians. Some cite Biblical passages such as Lev. 18:22 and Rom. 1:27 as proof of God's displeasure with homosexual activity. Others say ancient and modern contexts require reinterpretation of these texts. But the government cannot decide what is sin. It can only decide what is legal.
   The role of women in Christianity also is disputed. Passages such as 1 Cor. 14:34-5 might seem to prohibit female Sunday school teachers, but such matters are for churches, not the Supreme Court, to interpret.
   For hundreds of years, Christians believed charging interest on loans was immoral. It has since become legal.
   Laws prohibiting trade on the sabbath have been struck down or removed, but those faithful to the commandment in Ex. 20:9-11 may still observe it.
   Ex. 20:17 may condemn our desire for what our neighbor has, but the economic life of our nation is not inhibited by this religious perspective, though we may voluntarily seek a spare life-style.
   In Mark 10:4-12, Jesus seems to say that a divorced person should not remarry, but our legal codes permit remarriage.
   In Matt. 5:34, Jesus condemns swearing, but the President swears an oath prescribed by the Constitution when he is inaugurated into office. Ironically, the custom has been to swear on a Bible. Witnesses in court are also asked to swear. However, in recognition of those who follow the teachings of Jesus, the law also permits affirmation instead of swearing.
   Slaves were freed despite Paul's exhortation in 1 Tim. 6:1-2 that slaves should obey their Christian masters.
   Government is prohibited from enforcing or prohibiting any religious opinion. It is not always obvious how to practice our own faith while respecting the freedom of others. Our legal system is often in tension with expectations from citizens with religious views. Keeping that tension creative may be a continuing challenge as we celebrate the birth of freedom on July 4, 1776.

Best health care treats the whole person

Many Kansas City area hospital staffs are now aware of the religious diversity of their patients. The chaplains seek to provide appropriate and specific spiritual attention to patients who wish companionship or guidance with the spiritual dimensions of their hospitalizations.
   The Institute for Spirituality in Health at the Shawnee Mission Medical Center brings a wholistic approach to medical care. Spirituality may be expressed in a particular religious tradition or simply in a sense of meaning and direction for life.
   At a recent meeting of the Institute's board, Dr Andrew Schwartz discussed a difficult case and praised the support the Institute is providing as he seeks to give his patients and their families not only the most skillful technical care but to be understanding of spiritual needs as well. Here is some of what he said:
   "Recently, I evaluated a patient in the office with abnormal changes in the chest and neck thought to represent cancer that was highly aggressive, that had already spread. Even with aggressive therapy, survival would probably be poor."
   "I was honest and forthright, which the patient wanted. With his head half cocked to the side, he looked at me and asked: 'What do I do now?'"
   "I had not anticipated his question. I paused. Then I said:
  1. Allow family, friends and neighbors to help you, to support you and your family.
  2.  Make every day, every hour, every moment count.
  3. Do the things you always wanted to do.
  4. You will be most remembered during this time of illness in your life; ensure as many good memories as you can!
  5. Be sure your questions and those of your family are clearly answered by your healthcare providers.
  6. Get your affairs in order: financial, end of life care decisions, funeral arrangements.
   "As the patient and family left, the daughter-in-law said to me, 'You did good.' I realized then that the Institute for Spirituality in Health had successfully taken root in me; the spirituality in this physician was being harnessed to better serve. May God bless our mission."
   Dr Schwartz, like an increasing number of health care workers, recognizes that medicine is more treating the patient than just the disease.
   Like an increasing number of health care workers, Dr. Schwartz recognizes that medicine is more than just treating a disease. It is treating the whole patient.

Faiths must give up roles and take up being human

Studying the three major monotheistic faiths using a psychological model called the Karpman drama triangle may be illuminating. Each player in the drama has one of three typical opening positions.
   Christians have at times taken the aggressor role. For example, in 1492, when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile united Spain under Christian rule, Jews and Muslims were forced to convert or be expelled. That same year, the "discovery" of the New World led to the forced conversion, subjugation or extermination of many native peoples.
   Jews often see themselves as victims. Muslims frequently understand their history as that of protector. For example, Muslim countries welcomed Jews when they were expelled from Spain.
   In the Karpman drama, a "game" is played when the players switch positions, as when the victim becomes the aggressor. The game arises from distorted perceptions of reality.
   It is chilling to apply this theory to what has been happening in the Middle East. Jews, recalling the Nazi Holocaust, resolve never again to play the role of victim, and respond to what they see as an Arab threat against their nation by switching to the attack mode while still thinking of themselves [and portraying themselves] as victims.
   Palestinians, most of whom are Muslim and who have historically thought of themselves as welcoming Jews as cousins, now see their land occupied rather than shared, and switch from the rescuer to the victim position and become so confused in this new role that some become aggressive.
   The United States, with many Christians repenting how Christians have oppressed others in the past, wants to help. The danger is that  in playing rescuer, those we seek to help will see us, accurately or not, tilting toward one side, and thus see us as persecutor.
   The game continues until the players give up their roles and see themselves and others as human beings apart from the roles in which they are cast.
   All faiths have great strengths and insights, and all have perverted manifestations. The genius of the monotheistic traditions is in understanding that human community is the realm in which God moves toward justice. But this insight can be perverted into self-righteousness, where each side projects its own evil on the other.

L'Arche has message for becoming human

In what vessel was Noah and his passengers protected from the Deluge? What contained the Ten Commandments and eventually rested in Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem? When Muslims depart on the hajj, the pilgrimage, to what vessel do they refer in saying "Board; in God's name be its course and mooring"? The architectural form of the church is sometimes thought of as an upside-down version of what? The Torah scrolls in the modern synagogue are contained in what?
   As these questions suggest, the ark has been an instrument and symbol for salvation in the three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But the ark also appears in other traditions. The Dogon of Africa believe that a primal spirit escaped from  heaven and came to earth on a rainbow with an ark he had stolen. The ark contained the essences of all creatures to populate the planet. In several Mesopotamian texts, the most famous of which is the Epic of Gilgamesh, a god instructs a human to build an ark to save living things from an overwhelming flood. The ark is part of a similar story in Mongolia.
   When Cyprian (205-258 C.E.) insisted Salus extra ecclesiam non est, outside the church there is no salvation, he identified the church metaphorically with Noah's ark to say that we will perish in the flood without the safety of the church.
   So in many cultures and in many ways, the ark has been a symbol of the holy, of how to live, of preservation and refuge, of rebirth, of salvation.
   The ark has also become a symbol of a kind of community where "ordinary" people live with those with developmental disabilities. It is called L'Arche, French for "the ark." Local L'Arche board founder George Harris, who has worked with the organization twenty years, says that in L'Arche communities, the abled and the disabled learn to be with each other for mutual spiritual growth.
   The international founder of L'Arche, Jean Vanier, ranks with Mother Teresa as a spiritual guide, Harris says. Our community has a chance to hear this amazing man tonight, 6:45-8 pm, when he receives the International Peace Award at the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence where he speaks on "Becoming human: the weak can be a sign of hope." The event is free.
   If the human race could realize we are all in the same boat, then the fighting might cease and we might learn from one another. We might be saved.

Faiths can grow in America

Although Jews sailed with Columbus to the New World, and a few Jews from Brazil began a community when they resettled in what became New York, it was not until two hundred years later that the first synagogue in North America was established.
   After 1820, a new wave of Jewish immigration made it possible for Jews to begin to distinguish themselves not only from Christians but also from one another. In 1889 Reform rabbis organized themselves, and the Conservative movement and Orthodoxy also emerged as identifiable forms of the faith. In addition to these different expressions of Judaism in Kansas City today, Traditionalist  and Hasidic forms of Judaism are also practiced. Judaism in America has developed as Jews from many countries met each other in the unique setting of American toleration.
   Islam is now following a similar trajectory. In 1539 a Muslim arrived in what became the United States, and a government reference to Muslims appears in South Carolina in 1790. Today African
Americans, Asians, Arabs, Africans, and those of European descent are participating in a dynamic which pulls on one hand toward particular cultural allegiances and on the other, toward a universal Islam, with America the proving grounds for a fresh discovery of the ancient faith.
   In America, Christianity has also taken new forms, from the Black Church to Christian Science, from the Mormons to the Adventists, from the Shakers to the Disciples. Even Catholicism has its own  American complexion.
   Buddhism, which was imported in the Nineteenth Century and became a significant religious force here after the Second World War, now has a rich array of schools and practices.
   Until the late 80s, local Buddhist groups were not even aware of each other. But since March this year, members of ten groups have met to form a Buddhist Council. The Council includes those with
Tibetan, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Laotian and Korean lineages. American-formed groups are also represented.
   The Council wants to raise the visibility Buddhism in general while also promoting awareness of the choices possible within Buddhism. It is developing a "master calendar" of Buddhist events in Kansas City as one way of demonstrating a cooperative and supportive spirit.
   America provides the environment in which faiths can stimulate and purify each other and the larger culture.

Islamic Society seeks faiths' common ground

A plaintive letter from a reader listing charges against Islam, and particularly the Qur'an, asks me to reassure him that his concerns are unfounded. He is right to question material from an unreliable source, and right to suspect the charges are inaccurate. There is a lot of bigotry these days.
   I wish the reader could have met with some 1600 Muslims and guests at the Central Zone Conference of the Islamic Society of North America last weekend in Overland Park. Not only would he have heard Muslims deal straightforwardly with misrepresentations of Islam, but Jewish and Christian leaders were there as well to make common cause and to learn from each other.
   Mary Cohen, a life-long educator and now the US Secretary of Education's regional representative, began a panel discussion on "Shared Values." Cohen is Jewish. Judaism values learning so much that its clergy are called "rabbis," which means "teachers." She gave examples of how both Judaism and Christianity are indebted to Islamic scholarship. The Rev. Robert Lee Hill, the Protestant panelist, amplified the importance of education by quoting Isaiah 1:18, "Come now and let us reason together," and Romans 12:2, "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." George Noonan, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, spoke about the schools and universities Catholics have founded.
   (Other conference speakers also addressed education, including Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, the British pop singer.)
   The panelists identified many other shared values. Noonan drew parallels between Catholic social teaching and the Islamic approach to peace and justice.  Hill focused on the ineffable nature of God, and invited the members of the audience to turn to neighbors and say, "God loves you and there's nothing you can do about it."
   Cohen said, "We don't have to agree but we do have to make room for all of us to stand in the light of God."
   One member of the audience who recognized the divergences among Judaism, Christianity and Islam but found the commonalities overwhelming, proposed a shared holy day, such as a "Children of Abraham Day."
   Such a holiday might not make the prejudice which troubled the man who wrote me disappear, but it might strengthen interfaith relationships which are yet too fragile.

Sharing Emerson's birthday is a joy

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born 200 years ago this Sunday. Sharing his birthday has shadowed me most of my life.
   We both were parish ministers in the same denomination, made critical assessments of that faith, left parish work, wrote poetry and essays, continued to preach and lecture when invited to do so and found other ways to manifest an interest in the life of the spirit.
   Emerson was one of the first Americans to study Asian religions seriously. He was labeled a "Yankee Hindoo." His idea of an "Oversoul" seems to have been derived from the Hindu conception of the Brahman, an all-pervading divinity in which every human soul partakes. The American movement for interfaith understanding is  indebted to Emerson for his initial explorations.
   But more importantly, Emerson insisted that religion should not be  focused on the past. He criticized those who "see God in Judea and in Egypt, in Moses and in Jesus, but not around them." He wanted "a living religion," not a mere routine. "As the faith was alive in the hearts of Abraham and Paul, so I would have it in mine. I want a religion not recorded in a book, but flowing from all things. When we have broken our God of tradition and ceased from our God of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence."
   Instead of a personal God revealed in history, Emerson's God was the power in nature.  In his vision, unity within nature was glorious. He could not see such interdependence as clearly in society.
   In our self-centered culture, Emerson is sometimes read as an apostle of narcissism. He praised the non-conformist in his famous essay, "Self-Reliance," and said, "Do your own thing." His mystical counsel may have been appropriate to his stiff society. But later Emerson came to place morality at the core of spiritual life; and thoughtful readers today may recognize the truth that Emerson neglected, that we are all
connected, involved with one another in ways we seldom recognize.
   Although Emerson did not believe in life behind the grave, his admonition to "hitch your wagon to a star" has the ring of immortality to it. His observation that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" similarly invites us to think "outside the box."
   Rather than regarding Emerson's birthday as a shadow, perhaps I should think of it as a great light. Happy 200th, Waldo.

Religion has much to say about sexuality

Kansas state Sen. Susan Wagle has criticized Dennis Dailey, an award-winning University of Kansas professor, for materials used in his popular class on human sexuality. Wagle's efforts have been applauded by some religious conservatives.
   Religious perspectives on sexuality have varied greatly. St Augustine taught that sex for pleasure must be avoided, while sex for procreation, though still sinful, is pardonable. Many Christian thinkers nowadays justify sex as a form of intimate communication. Traditional Jewish, Muslim and Hindu perspectives have embraced responsible sex as a holy pleasure.
   Here are some suggestions for further reading.
   Theologian James B. Nelson's Body Theology (1992) presents sexuality as central to the mystery of one's relationship with God. Particularly interesting is Nelson's assessment as a heterosexual of the lessons heterosexuals can learn from homosexuals.
   Two chapters in the Rick Fields classic, Chop Wood, Carry Water (1984), "Intimate Relationships"' and  "Sex," provide excellent guidance especially for young people. Both chapters draw upon Western and Eastern faith traditions.
   Theodore Zeldin's Intimate History of Humanity (1994) makes religious and social contexts vivid in his chapters "How new forms of love have been invented" and "Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex." The facts set forth in his chapter, "How the desire that men feel for women has altered," might clear up some disputes about same-sex behavior.
   Georg Feuerstein's Sacred Sexuality (1992) documents why so many in our culture cannot connect sex with spirituality, shows how they have been united in many of the world's faiths, and envisions a world where eroticism is sanctified.
   Clifford Bishop's Sex and Spirit (1996) covers sexuality as a spiritual matter in ancient and modern faiths. Through beautiful pictures and concise writing, he exhibits the variety of the world's faiths as they deal with topics from circumcision to techniques for ecstasy.
   David Friedman's A Mind of Its Own (2001) is full of surprising, even shocking, religious references as he presents a cultural history of the penis.
   Just a few pages long, Depak Chopra's essay, "Does God Have Orgasms?" in the Nov. 1996 issue of Playboy might be especially helpful to our lawmakers.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room

"The dark side of religion is like an elephant in the room that we can’t talk about," says Dr. Richard Childs, clinical professor of psychiatry at UMKC. Nonetheless, he plans to talk about this elephant at a free Friends of Jung program Friday at 7:15 pm at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th.
   Childs, a Presbyterian layman, became interested in the topic from some of the clients he saw in his psychiatric practice. He says they "seemed burdened with unnecessary guilt and were vulnerable to depression because of religious conflicts and uncertainties. Their religion made it difficult for them to live a full life and use all of their intellectual capacities. Some gave away large sums of money they could ill afford to exploitative religious groups."
   Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who developed the discipline of Analytical Psychology, had a positive view of spirituality. In this he differed from his older contemporary Sigmund Freud. But Jung was not always sanguine about the current state of Western religion. In his 1952 essay "Answer to Job,"  Jung argued that religion, like an individual person, has a negative, shadow side.
   Childs will show slides to illustrate both the shadow and the persona that operate in various religions. He says these functions must be acknowledged before a religion can be considered "safe" for its adherents. "The shadow can be recognized in the naive acceptance of authority and violence."
   Childs says that "skepticism is a component of any healthy faith. Skepticism is open-minded, asks questions and does not accept answers simply because an authority said so. Skepticism differs from
cynicism, which is negative, quarrelsome and bitter."
   The news media provide many examples of the dark side of religion. Childs will show images to illustrate this. "The negative way that some Americans view Islam is often as much a projection of the shadow side of their own religion as it is defects in the faith they condemn," he says. "The lecture will describe numerous reactionary Christian groups whose beliefs differ radically, yet each claims to have the only true faith."
   Childs believes that talking about this usually-ignored elephant in the room can promote healthier and safer religious views. Openness can provide a truer moral compass than groups that despise those who will not accept their dogmas. "There are many different stories and rituals that can provide a satisfying meaning and give purpose and beauty to our lives," he says.

Recipe for love from 13th-century Sufi

When one falls in love, the whole world changes. It's a spiritual event. Life has fresh meaning. The sacred is everywhere. Even the ordinary becomes holy.
   No one has written about such love with greater surprise and religious fervor than Jelaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Sufi who lived in Konya, in what is now Turkey. His love for Shams, a man his elder by a generation, seems to have been sparked as they met when Sham asked Rumi a question about Muhammad and Bestami. Rumi fainted, literally falling to the floor in love.
   Rumi insists on the centrality of love in the life of the spirit. He writes of "the spreading union of lover and beloved," and calls it "the true religion. All others are thrown away bandages beside it." Theological speculations are not nearly as important as the power of love, which brings us to life: "If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead, don't try to explain the miracle. Kiss me on the lips."
   Rumi writes of longing for the beloved, and finding the beloved wherever one looks, as in our search for God. The act of surrender to God in faith is like surrendering to the uncertainties of love through which we live a life beyond mere expectations. Like the English poet and cleric, John Donne who asks God to "ravish" him, Rumi shocks us with sexual allusions to awaken us to the adventure of faith: "I used to be respectable and chaste and stable, but who can stand in this strong wind (of love) and remember those things?"
   The commonplace becomes the theater of faith. Eating, drinking, cooking, cups, plates, bread, drink, chickpeas--Rumi reveals from the daily need for nourishment ways we can be spiritually seasoned.
   Perhaps the most popular edition of his poetry is The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. The book  concludes with a feature seldom found in books of poems: recipes.
   The chickpea recipe is featured at the new Rumi restaurant at 39th and Wyoming. The owner, Bassam Helwani, says his purpose in opening the restaurant is to provide the experience of the spirit which Rumi's words express.
   On one wall of the restaurant is a painting with Rumi's words: "Like the ground turning green in a spring wind, like birdsong beginning inside the egg, like this universe coming into existence, the lover wakes and whirls in a dancing joy, then kneels down in praise."

Faith should promote understanding, not lead to mistrust, prejudice

Remarks by Franklin Graham and other Christian leaders calling Islam an evil religion are dangerous, according to John L. Esposito, interviewed following his recent appearance at Rockhurst University. He was especially concerned at the Pentagon's invitation to Graham to preside over Good Friday observances at the Pentagon.
   Esposito is a professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University and author of What everyone needs to know about Islam and editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of the
Modern Islamic World.
   Comments by Graham and others "do disservice to the President, to the image of America abroad and to American Muslims," he said. "President Bush backed away from his initial use of the word 'crusade' and has tried to make it clear that America is not fighting Islam, but rather extremists." But comments like Graham's are confusing to Europeans and Arabs who know that much of Bush's support comes from the Christian Right. When federal agents conducted raids as part of Operation Green Quest, some interpreted the color in the name as part of a Christian effort against Islam because green is often associated with Islam.
   Esposito noted that Graham offered a prayer at Bush's inauguration ceremony, and such associations reinforce the concern that the Religious Right influences U.S. foreign policy. They perpetuate prejudice
among us against American citizens who are Muslims.
   Readers of this column have repeatedly asked me about "Dhimmitude," a term coined by Bat Ye'or, a writer who insists that Christians and Jews were systematically mistreated throughout history under Muslim rule. She has appeared before Congress. Her speech last fall at Georgetown University caused a campus uproar reported in many journals. Readers may recall I recently asked Cornell University Jewish scholar Ross Brann about the term, and he declined to use it because he says it distorts history.
   When I put the term to Esposito, whose campus was affected by Ye'or's visit, he noted that "she does not have a major academic record in either teaching or research, and her conclusions go against established scholars, including Jewish scholars."
   Locally and globally, prejudice persists on many sides. It endangers our sense of community and threatens us internationally. Rather than mistrust, our faiths should engender understanding.

Art shows don't contradict each other

Two art shows using religious themes could hardly be more different. Robin Bernat's American Pastoral, a video installation which just closed at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, is personal and appropriates her own Jewish background with Buddhist, Christian and other materials as a therapy for dealing with the loss of her boyfriend, Daniel Zalik, drowned in a river.
   Dylan Mortimer's current installation has transformed the Epsten Gallery at the Kansas City Jewish Museum at Village Shalom into a fictional Museum of Faith Analysis. The signage, x-ray photographs, diagrams and "findings" suggest an instructional science display, objective rather than personal.
   Where the Bernat show pulls us through the universal experience of guilt and grief with the rediscovery and deepening of faith, the Mortimer show seems to eschew such emotions and instead uses metaphors of bone, brain, lungs and stomach to present an analysis of faith without any real experience of faith.
   Bernat shares her agonizing and messy search for redemption through landscape, ritual, song, quotation and even fireworks.
   Mortimer reveals what religion might look like to those who had no inner acquaintance with it but who were determined to study it. The neat categories of learning, community, worship, service, healing and prayer reduce faith to the shallowest possible observations. The quest for evidence ironically leads us to ask, "Where is the mystery and suffering and wonder from which religion arises?"
   Indeed, the imaginary scientists, whose interim results are the inconclusive reports on the gallery walls and the screens of the interactive computers, are afflicted with that peculiarly Western approach to religion as a matter of belief, evidence and proof. The question which opens the show "Who is right about Religion?" is utterly irrelevant to Bernat's spiritual journey. And as local sage Ed Chasteen reminds us, "Who's right is the wrong question."
   Mortimer's work demonstrates the vacuity of those who make religion an argument instead of a sense of the sacred, a statistic instead of an encounter with ultimate mystery.
   Though contrasting, these two shows are not contrary. Both beckon our secularist culture beyond easy answers and convenient categories. Faith is less calculation or a decoded message than it is simple surrender to the infinite. Looking at a menu is not the same as the satisfaction of a meal. It is not a proof but rather the presence of the holy which heals and liberates the spirit.

Author collects arguments on tough topic of abortion

Abortion is one of the most difficult and divisive topics in interfaith conversations. But in the view of Daniel C. Maguire, who teaches Moral Theology and Ethics at Marquette University, the argument is not so much between religions as it is within them.
   After consulting with scholars within Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Native American, and other traditions, he wrote Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions. He gives a free lecture on the subject Thursday at the Folly Theater at 7:30 pm.
   In a phone interview, he said that early in his study, he contacted a Taipei Buddhist from whom he learned that many Buddhists who believe in reincarnation regard abortion as the killing of a being who has already existed and is ready for another life. The matter is serious, far beyond simply ending the life of a fertilized egg.
   But he learned from a Thai Buddhist that abortion can also be regarded as the deferral of the arrival of that being's reincarnation for more favorable circumstances. If the reasons for the abortion are serious and unselfish, then the good karma would far outweigh the negative karma generated by the abortion.
   Maquire, who trained at Gregorian University in Rome, is particularly familiar with his own Catholic tradition. He said that while the Vatican II Council called abortion an "unspeakable crime," previous theologians had various views, as do others today. St Thomas Aquinas, for example, held that the early fetus is not "ensouled"--the early fetus is not a person. Some identified the moment of ensoulment with "quickening." McGuire noted that Aquinas followed Aristotle in thinking that a fetus becomes human after 40 days in the case of a male and about three months in the case of a female.
   Within Judaism, opinions also vary. Scholars often note Exodus 21:22, which describes a situation in which a pregnant woman is struck as men are fighting. If the fetus is killed, a fine must be levied against the attacker; but because the fetus is not a person, this is not murder.
   Mcguire's latest book is Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions, published in March by the Oxford University Press and is based on interfaith research funded by the Packard and Ford foundations. With Mcguire's introduction, the book collects in-depth papers by scholars from many faith traditions on these difficult theological and pastoral issues.

Learning about Western and Muslim nations

Since 9/11, many Americans have become aware of how ignorant we are about Islamic culture. And many Americans have yet to become aware of our ignorance about the rich Jewish history that unfolded after the Bible was compiled. Despite the fact that Kansas City's first sister city is Seville, most of us know little about how Jews and Muslims lived together in Spain's golden age of Islam before the Christians expelled the Jews and Muslims in 1492.
   But we should know. And care.
   Ross Brann, the Milton R. Konvitz Professor of Judeo-Islamic Studies at Cornell University, offers insights from history to illumine the present in a lecture this Sunday at 4 pm at the Hall Student Center at Pembroke Hill School, 5121 State Line Road. His topic is "Religion, Politics and Peace in the Middle East."
   In a telephone interview, I asked Brann about the frequent claim that "Jews and Muslims have been fighting for thousands of years, and nothing can change that." Brann said that it is useful to include the history of Christianity with Judaism and Islam in considering such views.
   "The past may be more positive and tolerant--less hegemonic--than most people think. The idea that Jews and Muslims have been fighting since Isaac and Ishmael is false. We are not consigned to an eternal conflict. Medieval Islam was far more tolerant than the Christianity of that era."
   Under Muslim rule, a Dhimmi was a non-Muslim whose right to practice his or her own faith was protected. Recently a derivative term, "dhimmitude," has been used to argue that Muslims demeaned or oppressed those with Dhimmi status. Brann is not in favor of this term because it is used polemically to "grossly oversimplify and distort" the historical context of the privileges and disabilities of the Dhimmi.
   Brann suggests that looking at interactions from the past might point us in fruitful directions for the future. One of his special interests is Samuel Ha-Nagid, a Jew who rose to became vizier in Muslim-ruled Granada. "But he is not the only such figure" to illustrate the complicated relationships those of different faiths have had in mixed cultures, Brann said.
   Brann's talk Sunday will move from such history to look at events of 1917 and 1967 and at current issues between the West and Muslim nations.
   The lecture is sponsored by the Cornell Club, the International Relations Council, the Plaza Rotary Club and several other groups.

447. 030326  THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Worship space reminds us of the omnipresence of God

God is often understood to be present everywhere, yet we sometimes refer to places of worship as "God's house." If God is omnipresent, why do we need sites specifically designated to point us to the divine?
   As Bishop Raymond Boland of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph dedicated the renovated Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception last month, he said that the cathedral's "gold dome (proclaims) the transcendency of eternity amid the secular towers of trade and commerce." While God may be everywhere, we need particular places to remind us of that truth.
   In a later interview, Boland identified four ways of thinking about God's presence. First, he said, there is the universal presence, which can be sensed anywhere. Some people especially enjoy feeling God in nature, as in walking along a river bank.
   Second, God is present in people. Boland cited the conclusion of President Kennedy's Inaugural Address in which he said, "here on earth God's work must truly be our own." God in our hearts can make our hands useful.
   Third, God is present in special places such as temples. The cathedral is a place of beauty, uplifting the spirit. It is also a place of service to the entire city, not only to Catholics but to city residents in many ways, such as through its social service programs and its use as a facility for great music.
   Of course its primary function is worship. Boland described it as a sort of "spiritual filling station," where people can be refreshed to take God's spirit back into their daily lives in a deepened way. The week becomes the fulfillment of the worship experience.
   Fourth, Boland identified the "real presence" of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The Catholic doctrine that the bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ is called transubstantiation. Scriptural support for this teaching can be found in John 6:50-55, which includes the statement of Jesus identifying himself as the living bread, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you."
   While Protestants typically interpret this passage differently, most Christians recognize the Eucharistic meal as a reminder of God's sacrificial presence in the world.
   The sites, rituals and people of faith are all signs of God's pervasive grace available everywhere, throughout the entire world.

446. 030319 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Partnership program makes friends of faiths

Can people of various faiths learn to share their perspectives and come to love each other?
   One of several Kansas City area efforts that has provided a resounding "yes" to this question is the Congregational Partners program run by Kansas City Harmony. Begun in 1997, the program is about to celebrate its five years of success.
   Janet Moss, who coordinates the program, last month visited Johannesburg, South Africa, where she piloted a "faiths in harmony" institute for people of different religious backgrounds.
   While skills developed here are being shared elsewhere, many people in our own community have yet to learn about the 33 congregations in 16 partnerships and how they operate. Usually once a month members of partnering congregations get together for an activity that develops mutual apprecation and enhances their relationships.
   With the oldest partnership still vibrant, Moss is eager to assist additional congregations to form partnerships.
   She says one exciting result of this program is "hearing people of different religions being transparent to one another, authentic with each another in their moments of joy and laughter and sadness and vulnerablity."
   And from her trip she has a deepened appreciation for ways that enable people to express sorrow for the suffering they have caused others, and for others to respond with forgiveness, for mutual reconcilliation. South Africa's "Truth and Reconcilliation" commission dealt with abuses under apartheid and provided legal amnesty.
   Although the US situation is very different, we are too often estranged from each other, or at least not knowledgeable enough to be comfortable with one another. While the opportunities for understanding offered by Congregational Partners are less formal than those of South Africa, they can still be quite meaningful to the participants.
   Sunday 4-6 pm you can join in celebrating the partnership process in a free program at the Heart of America Indian Center, 600 W. 39 St. Moss says this is an opportunity to "listen in on a dialogue about the power of authentic reconciliation, experience the healing sound of the drum and learn how a person of faith can cross lines of ethnic, racial and religions differences." RSVP (816) 531-6577.

445. 030312 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Fast brings duty to world into focus

In 1983, on Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian pre-Easter season of Lent, I began a fast from solid food. My purpose was to purify myself as the spiritual leader of the congregation I then served. Bellicose statements about the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union alarmed many of my parishioners. I wanted to know my responsibilities to them and my duties as a citizen more clearly.
   Every meal time was a reminder of the goal, a renewal of effort to be cleansed of prejudice and predispositions so that I might see through the haze in which I felt engulfed.
   I intended to break the fast with Easter Eucharist, but I did not feel I had learned enough to do so. I continued the fast until Wesak in May, a festival marking the Buddha's birthday, enlightenment and death.
   I seldom talk about these ten weeks, and I've never written about this before. But with a war apparently near, perhaps you, dear reader, may find my surprise discovery near the end of the fast a stimulus to your own contemplation.
   The concerns I had were deepened first by the Christian calendar which framed the fast. The story of Jesus' unmerited suffering and death is often minimized these days, but you cannot get to Easter without it. Then the weeks before the Buddhist observance beckoned toward universal compassion within the question of why life so often is unfair.
   I contemplated "a worst case scenario," where all human life would be agonizingly ended in nuclear disasters. How would that affect my faith?
   Having worked with families with loved ones in the process of dying and their deep sorrow even before death actually occurred, I learned about "anticipatory grief." Sometimes people stopped eating.
   The surprise for me near the end of the 72 days was the realization that the discipline of the fast had become a form of anticipatory grief--for the end of the world. That perhaps sounds grandiose, but it was actually the opposite: a profound recognition that my powers are infinitesimal. With that revelation came a sense of freedom. The haze disappeared.
   The freedom did not mean I cared any less, but instead of clinging to an outcome no human could manage to bring about, I could find joy in duty to the world.
   Now, our best gifts to one another may be to do our duty joyfully as we best understand it, and to hold each other dearly through the unfolding events in an embrace as large as possible.

444. 030305 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Dance can build a haven for the spirit

How does one live with an open heart in a world where fear, misunderstanding, schedules, selfishness and other poisons abound? Marcus Borg, the famous scholar visiting Village Presbyterian Church last month, named activities that can help us, including communing with nature, regular worship and the arts.
   The question is raised also by William Whitener's dance, "Haven," premiered in February by the Kansas City Ballet.
   With images that could be interpreted as priestesses in ceremonial garments at a temple entrance, a renewal or resurrection of a pile of bodies and quite ordinary, everyday movements as people go about their business, "Haven" was a testimony to centeredness in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. The dancers were sometimes hidden or framed by scenic elements created by Buddhist fiber artist Jason Pollen of the Kansas City Art Institute, by the lighting of Kirk Bookman and by the musical cosmos of the Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu.
   Perhaps Whitener is suggesting that faith more than an MTV event. Moments when the dancers moved in silence and times when dancers deliberated in slow, ritual modulations invite us to an awareness far deeper than a succession of scenes so forgettable that they can hold our attention for only a few seconds. Thus the utopian section of the piece ends in silence. Paradoxically, the silence, the sustained, can make us vividly aware of how transient our lives are and direct us toward that which is permanent or renewing or healing.
   It is then that the heart opens.
   The heart does not open to a world without pain and struggle. The haven is in the midst of the crammed, bustling, confusing rush all around us and into which we are drawn. The heart opens as our numbness to all of this is broken. The arts have the power to reawaken us to the joy and woe of our own lives and the lives of others.
   This is not the first time the ballet has presented works which open the heart to the world of the spirit. Gloria, Carmina Burana, Prodigal Son, Arena, Holberg Suite and Feast of Ashes are on my list from previous seasons. The next performances, Apr. 10-13, include The Still Point, with the title from the profoundly religious poet, T S Eliot. Another offering, Canzone, is choreographed by Paula Weber who created Carmina Burana.
   Kansas City is fortunate to have a dance company that can not only entertain but also inform and lift the spirit.

living the faith
Contents: UU World March/April 2003
March/April 2003

Kansas City UU minister builds interfaith bridges
by Donald E. Skinner

It is 6 a.m. on the last day of the year, and 250 people of different faiths have gathered at a Buddhist center in Kansas City, Missouri, for the seventeenth annual World Peace Meditation. They have come to witness and participate in Native American prayers, Tibetan Buddhist chants and meditations, Sufi dancing, and a Muslim call to prayer. And, of course, to hear the Rev. Vern Barnet speak about "The Path of Peace in World Religions."

Rev. Barnet has been a Unitarian Universalist minister since 1970. In 1984 he left his last parish, in a Kansas City suburb, to take up what had become his passion — the study of world religions and the promotion of interfaith understanding. He founded the Center for Religious Experience and Study in 1982 ( and since then has gone on to help create or to inspire a broad array of multifaith programs, resources, and organizations that have helped make Kansas City a national model.

When CBS went looking last summer for a city actively involved in multifaith work, it selected Kansas City in large part because of Barnet's work — and because after 9/11 Kansas City experienced little of the aggression against Muslims that other cities reported. A film crew spent a week in Kansas City filming what would become a half-hour documentary, "Open Hearts, Open Minds," which was shown in October 2002.

The intro to the film went as follows: "A growing number of people in this heartland city are trying to send a message to the rest of America — Let's celebrate our diversity, let's get to know people of different religions and different backgrounds, respect them, maybe even love them. It's a simple message, and an old one, but since 9/11, the idea of brotherhood has gained new urgency."

CBS was initially attracted by a program that one of Barnet's groups launched last year. It printed thousands of thirty-two-page passport-size booklets and distributed them to congregations to hand out. Holders of these "interfaith passports" are encouraged to visit other religious groups and in the process collect a stamp, sticker, or signature just as they would in crossing international borders. The program, and other initiatives that Barnet helped create, are helping Kansas City-area residents appreciate each other's religious diversity in several ways:

    * Since 1994 Barnet has written a weekly "Faiths and Beliefs" column in the Kansas City Star about the value of diversity. The column appears to have changed people's attitudes. "In the beginning," he says, "I'd get calls and letters about how I was sending people to hell and why was I diverting people from the one true religion? But the responses I get now are more focused on trying to understand something I've written. That's one way I know we're making a difference here."

    * MOSAIC, a newly formed group that Barnet helped organize, is, in addition to developing the passport project, collecting "life stories" of religious involvement and plans to dramatize them this year as a way of expanding appreciation of various faiths. It also sponsors a book club. One of the first titles discussed was Why Religion Matters, by Huston Smith. The Rev. Kathy Riegelman, a Unitarian Universalist community minister, is helping with that work.

* Hospitals and schools increasingly call Barnet for interfaith resources. Prayers at his Rotary club no longer end "in Jesus' name."

Barnet's days are a round of speaking engagements, organizational meetings, teaching, and writing. His appointments for a recent two-week period included speaking to students at Unity School of Religious Studies on "The Various Forms of Prayer," at a Roman Catholic church on "How Other Faiths Respond to the Scripture for the Day," and on "Religious Stereotypes" at a PeaceJam youth workshop at a Roman Catholic university. He also gave "A Brief History of the Christian Denominations" to an interdenominational marriage group at a Roman Catholic church, spoke on "The Heart of Every Faith" to a Baptist men's group, and discussed interfaith topics on a local National Public Radio station talk show.

Barnet had always intended to be a parish minister. And he was for fourteen years. But he noticed that whenever he talked about world religions "there was great resonance in my congregations. I got a very noticeable response." That encouraged him to learn more about world religions and to explore his own community. As he became aware of the broad array of religious groups in Kansas City he decided to take up interfaith work. "I saw this as a mission field," he says. "And it's every bit as demanding as parish work."

He lives simply, or as he says, "low to the ground." He receives no salary for his interfaith work. Last year he earned about $5,000 from teaching at local colleges. He supplements that income with early withdrawals from his pension. Friends help with living expenses, including donating clothing and an occasional automobile. "It's a quasi-monastic model," he says. "I have learned what it is like to live under the poverty level. I am very aware of economic injustice."

Barnet is often called on to give inclusive prayers at public events and he has developed a guide for that purpose. He has also developed Earth Day resources that explain the ways in which various faiths regard the Earth. Both are available on the CRES Web site.

One of the first things Barnet did when he began his interfaith work was to help organize a comprehensive metro interfaith council, giving not only Christians, Jews, and Muslims a way to talk together, but also Baha'is, Sufis, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, Native Americans, and others. A multifaith speaker's bureau has also been created, and it has been much in demand since 9/11. An annual interfaith dinner is held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, placing Thanksgiving in a worldwide religious context and celebrating the many ways that various religions express gratitude. More than 150 were in attendance at last November's dinner.

The interfaith council was instrumental in organizing multifaith memorial services after September 11, 2001, and its one-year anniversary, and also organized Kansas City's first interfaith conference, "The Gifts of Pluralism," in October 2001. More than 250 people from fifteen faith groups attended.

One of Barnet's close associates in interfaith work is Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks. "Vern has taken interfaith work to a new level," says Brooks. "He reaches out not only to the major faiths, but to others. He helps keep them all connected, and he provides a great service for the metro area."

Barnet is heartened by the growing interest that he sees in learning about other religions. "People are hungry for knowledge about other peoples' faiths," he says. "And they end up deepening their own faith when they have encounters with other faiths. This is what has to happen if the human race is going to survive."

443. 030226 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sense of community preferred to conversion

The Rev. Thomas Johnson, the Methodist slave-holder for whom the Kansas county was named, constructed the Shawnee Mission in 1839 to encourage American Indians to become Christians. His injurious and deadly practices to force conversions are not what we hope for when traditions of faith meet today.
   Evelyn Wasserstrom, the Jewish leader of the local office of the National Conference of Christians and Jews from 1981 to 1988, helped to make interfaith understanding a priority in human relations. (NCCJ is now the National Conference for Community and Justice.) David Goldstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau from 1972 to 1999, worked tirelessly to support interfaith relationships.
   In 1989 the Kansas City Interfaith Council was formed. Later that year, Harmony in a World of Difference developed a "Covenant" signed by leaders of many faiths. In 2001, the area's first interfaith conference, "The Gifts of Pluralism," was attended by 250 people from 15 faiths--American Indian to Zoroastrian, with NCCJ and Harmony consponsoring the 3-day event with the Interfaith Council.
   Especially since Sept. 11, 2001, the Christian community has used the Interfaith Council Speakers Bureau for programs on world religions practiced here. Islam is the most  frequently requested topic.
   The Muslim community has responded repeatedly to condemn terrorism and reach out to others. When Mahnaz Shabbir learned about the murder of Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl about a year ago, she organized an opportunity for Muslims, Jews, Christians and others to pray together for peace to coincide with the sixth month "anniversary" of 9/11, and similar observances have been held subsequently at three-month intervals.
   The next "Community Praying for Peace" event is this Sunday from 2 to 3 pm at two locations, the Rime Buddhist Center, 700 W. Pennway, and Inshirah Mosque, 3664 Troost.
   Earlier this month, to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the festival ending the time of the Hajj, the Pilgrimage in Islam, a house-full of Muslim leaders and friends hosted a number of Jewish leaders and friends for dinner and conversation.
   We've come a long way from a government supporting Johnson's removal of Indian children from their families, forcing them into labor and accepting White ways and the "White religion." But bias, fear and hatred persist. We've a long, long way to go.

442. 030219 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Scholar presents Christianity in a different light

If Jesus were born today in the midst of urban life, it is unlikely that we would use the "lamb of God"' metaphor to describe him. For most of us, lambs are not every-day companions, and their ritual sacrifice, important in ancient Israel, is more a literary and theological tradition than a palpable experience. Apart from this tradition, the Protestant hymn, "Washed in the blood of the lamb," sounds bizarre to those of other cultures.
   But how much of our understanding of Jesus is clouded by failure to appreciate the images, metaphors, language and cultural context of the early Christian community and its texts? According to many scholars, the gospels were developed in layers, from oral sources, and it is not always easy to distinguish the voice of Jesus from the voice of the several communities talking about Jesus.
   One person especially skilled at this is Marcus Borg, described by the New York Times as "a leading figure among the new generation of Jesus scholars." Borg is the Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture in the Philosophy Department at Oregon State University.
   He comes to Village Presbyterian Church Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is a rare opportunity to hear one of the world's great figures in contemporary religious conversation. Borg is entertaining, crisp, insightful--and talks about the important stuff. This is why he appears not only in the classroom but also on network TV and two dozen lecture tours this year. Among his seven books is Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.
   His theme is "Seeing Christianity again: Why it matters for the 21st century." Specific talks include "Seeing the Bible again: Why it matters." For a schedule of talks and fees, call (913) 262-4200, extension 281, or email
   Of course Borg is controversial. He is a leading member of the Jesus Seminar, the group of scholars whose search for the historical Jesus was begun in 1985 and attained notoriety through their color-coded method of designating portions of the gospels they thought were more or less authentic sayings of Jesus.
   Opening the Bible and letting God speak to you through the English translation may be one way of deepening one's spiritual life. Scholarship--seeking to understand the original meaning of the text and how that meaning can reveal the divine to us today--is Borg's.
   For an internet preview of Borg's approach, visit

441. 030212 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Different faiths an opportunity for love

Love can be a path of spiritual discovery. Some have observed that marriage or holy union is just as much a religious discipline as monasticism. Both monks and committed folk take vows, but the rules by which marriages run are perhaps less clear than for celibacy.
   Learning to live with someone else who shares one's deepest values is an adventure of many rewards, but not always easy. If one's partner's religious tradition is different, a special problem--and opportunity--is encountered.
   Jeanne Finger, a leader of the Interdenominational Marriage Group hosted by St Thomas More Catholic Church in south Kansas City, emphasizes the opportunity. She is Presbyterian and her husband is Catholic. Together they attend each other's churches regularly.
   "I experience ritual and reverence in his Catholic church. My Presbyterian church emphases teaching from the bible and fellowship. Attending both churches completes my spiritual needs.
   "Being in this marriage has forced me to notice the differences in our traditions, and this has led to learning the theological and historical reasons for why each church does what it does."
   She says her young children have learned to love Jesus from both faiths. For her and her family, the two-church solution is twice as good as selecting just her own faith or that of her husband.
   Other parents who have older children tell them they are lucky that they get to go to two churches each Sunday.
   The group, now almost six years old, is open to those contemplating marriage who have different backgrounds, as well as to married couples, with or without children. The group's purposes include fellowship, informational exchange and spiritual support. Meetings are free and those unable to attend regularly are welcome when they are able to come. The group offers prayer, guest speakers, scripture study, testimony and holiday workshops as way to understand differences and celebrate what is common.
   The group meets next on Feb. 20 from 7 to 9 pm, when a panel of Catholic and Protestant pastors will discuss theological concepts and current  topics for the group. A question and answer session follows the discussion. Childcare will be available. For more information, call Donna or Russ, 816-246-5187.

440. 030205 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
New seminary seeks to embody church founder's early vision

The early insights of a religious founder may grow toward fulfillment through denominational embodiment.
   From his religious experiences as a teenager, Joseph Smith Jr, founded a church in 1830 in Fayette, NY. Soon he and others moved to Kirtland, OH, where the experiment of the Saints, as they were known, grew. An outreach to Jackson County, MO, understood as the center of God's earthly work, was met with prejudice, and the church was expelled.
   The Saints founded Nauvoo, IL, but in 1844 Smith was killed. A large group led by Brigham Young settled in Utah as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often known as Mormons.
   Reorganized under Smith's eldest son, the original church's understanding of its mission deepened. Its Graceland University was founded in 1895 in Lamoni. IA. Since 1920 its corporate headquarters has been in Independence. The church's auditorium was constructed 1926-1960. In 1968 president Wallace Smith presented instruction to begin a temple, though its purpose, "the pursuit of peace," was not revealed until 1984. The building came into use in 1994.
   In 2001 the church adopted its new name, the Community of Christ. Graceland developed a seminary at the Independence World Headquarters campus.
   In his address at the seminary's first convocation in January, church President Grant McMurray noted his own ministry began more from relationships than academic study, and that the church has honored the call to God's service regardless of scholarly training.
   Nonetheless, the seminary will not only prepare its ministers, but also help the church develop its theology in areas such as Christian ethics, with respect for individual voices within the conversation.
   From a teenager's quest for God, a new center of learning and service has been given to Kansas City and beyond.

439. 030129 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Respect Diversity

"Out of many, one," in Latin, E Pluribus Unum, was the first motto of the United States. With "plural" religions, can we be one people?
   Earlier this month, Adam Hamilton, senior minister at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, began a world religions series. Hamilton is using local leaders of these faiths to help introduce his mega-church to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. He says that "our aim is to gain a deeper understanding of our own (Christian) faith even as we come to appreciate and understand the faith of our neighbors." Paradoxically, only when we appreciate our diversity can we be one community.
   The annual Martin Luther King Jr observances this year began with an interfaith service at Community Christian Church, with Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Christian Protestant and Christian Catholic recognition, a gathering the pastor, Robert Lee Hill, clearly relishes.
   Two hours before she became Governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius attended an Inaugural Interfaith Service at her own church, Assumption Catholic, across the street from the Capitol. From the Kansas City area, Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation Beth Torah and A. M. "Art Chaudry," president of the American Muslim Council Heartland Chapter and chairman of the Urban League, participated. No longer can any government official be respected who does not respect America's diversity of faiths.
   Sebelius follows Bill Graves, apparently the first governor in the nation to issue a proclamation recognizing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in 1997.
   While some mayors still tolerate mayors' prayer breakfasts with exclusively Christian prayers, Mayor Kay Barnes has aimed to honor people of all faiths.
    From the stands of many faiths we become one community.

438. 030122 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Muslims should not bear blame

After the 9/11 attacks, two classmates called the 14-year old son of Mahnaz Shabbir of Stillwell, KS, a "terrorist." The Shabbirs are Muslim. She is vice-president of the Crescent Peace Society, one of many Muslim organizations in the area.
   Shabbir, born in Philadelphia, a born American citizen, spoke last Saturday to the Kansas City Press Club. She teared up as she concluded, telling how her Boy Scout son was taunted because of his faith. She worries about his future.
   Responding to a report first given to me on Jan. 3 that a local Muslim last October claimed that Israel and Jews were responsible for the terrorism of 9/11, she condemned such anti-Semitic remarks. Other Muslims had also vigorously condemned the alleged statement.
   All Christians are not held accountable when Christian ministers are arrested for killing their son, she said, referring to the local case of 9-year old Brian Edgar.
   Yet whenever an individual Muslim makes an offensive remark, or remarks are recycled, Muslims are asked to respond, though leading Muslims, locally and around the world, have repeatedly condemned terrorism.
   She is dismayed about biased press coverage. She warned the Press Club about writers like Steve Emerson and Daniel Pipes who "aggressively spread negative messages about Muslims."
   She also mentioned the continuing burden Muslims are asked to bear. Travel, and particularly KCI, is now more difficult for Muslims than for others, she said.
   When people tell her, "If your don't like our government policies, go back to your own country," she responds proudly. "Excuse me, this is my country."

437. 030115 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Birmingham letter still should be read

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr was thrown in jail for "nonviolent direct action" against segregation in Birmingham, AL. Clergymen had joined others to criticize King for stirring up trouble. From his cell, King wrote them a 46-paragraph letter which has become a religious classic.
   I re-read the letter every year. To me it is sacred scripture, and I must listen anew to its call. Just as in the letters of Paul addressed to the churches of his day there is transcendent truth for our own era, so the changes in America are not yet so fundamental that the words of King have become obsolete.
   This year I got as far as the third paragraph before weeping.
   King begins by explaining why he is even bothering to respond to the criticism -- he perceives the pastors to be of good will, even if mistaken. He then answers the complaint that he is from out of town by noting that he heads the Southern Christian Leadership Conferences with 85 affiliates, including one in Birmingham, which requested his help.
   Then paragraph 3. King, who was able to transform abstruse theology into the power of simplicity, writes, "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here." He reminds his colleagues of the 8th Century prophets and of Paul's journeys to carry forth "the gospel of freedom."
   I weep not because of King but because of my own shamefully hesitant and imperfect response to the call for peace and justice.
   This year I also recall the delayed entry King made into the Washington, DC auditorium where the rumors that he was about to condemn the Vietnam War proved true. He was urged not to confound civil rights with the Vietnam controversy for fear this would weaken his civil rights witness. I watched his bodyguards, clearly worried, as they finally admitted him to the room to speak.
   King understood that oppressions are linked, that war arises from injustice. Are we still so indolent that we will not figure this out?

The Kansas City Star   Wed Jan 4, 2003
Society gives out peace, community service awards

The Crescent Peace Society's 2002 Eid Celebration and Annual Peace Award Dinner took place recently at Pierson Hall, the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Awards for peace, community service and journalism were given out. Speakers addressed the crowd, and a children's ensemble performed at the event.
    [CRES photo] At right (from left) Akhtar Chaudry of Overland Park, Crescent Peace Society board member; Javid Talib of Leawood, CPS president; Mayor Kay Barnes of Kansas City, recipient of the 2002 Peace Award; and Mahnaz Shabbir of Stilwell, vice president of CPS, were at the dinner.
    [CRES photo] Below, Katheryn Shields of Kansas City, Jackson County executive, was a guest speaker.
    [photo by Fatimah El-Sherif] Above, (from left) Iftekhar Ahmed of Leawood, past president of CPS; Talibm CPS president, the Rev, Vern Barnet, recipient of Community Service Award; and Mahnaz Shabbir,  vice president of CPS.
    [CRES photo] Above, Elizabeth Alex, KSHB 41 news anchor, was recognized for her humanitarian work with baby Doa'a Alda;ou and her family, who live in the Gaza Strip. Alex helped the family get visas, so they could bring their child to Kansas CIty for medical treatment. Doa'a has since had surgery and returned home.
    [CRES photo] At right, Muslim and  Jewish children sang "America, the Beautiful" and "Od Yavo" (world prace) songs as part of the Children's Music Ensemble.
    Photos submitted by Javid Talib

The Kansas City Star   Wed Jan 1, 2003
U.S. Muslims stand up for faith and country


....The wedding made a powerful statement about the faith the newlyweds have in the new year and in America.

That same indomitable spirit filled Shalom House in Kansas City, Kan., on Christmas Eve. Adults and children with the Crescent Peace Society and the American Muslim Council-Heartland Chapter donated and served holiday dinners to men at the homeless shelter.

The wedding and community involvement show that many area Muslims are standing up instead of hunkering down even as bigotry against them has increased since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The FBI reported last month that hate crimes and similar acts against Muslims and other immigrants from the Middle East have soared nationwide after the tragedy. Muslims in 2000 reported 28 hate crimes; this rose to 481 in 2001.

The Jackson County Diversity Task Force [chaired  by Vern Barnet] in September reported similar findings. "There can be no doubt that Kansas City's Muslim community has been the most vulnerable to deplorable acts of ignorance and hatred in the days since Sept. 11, 2001," the report said.

"In spite of their condemnation of the terrorist acts, in spite of their loyalty as American citizens, in spite of their desire to live peaceful and productive lives and in spite of their extensive efforts to reach out to the wider community with educational programs about their faith, Muslims have been threatened and attacked in the metropolitan area. Simultaneously, their friends and neighbors have offered support and encouragement."

Muslims have been our neighbors for centuries. Faiz Rehman, communications director of the American Muslim Council in Washington, said 40 percent of the millions of Africans brought to America as slaves were Muslims.

Jason Erb, director of government affairs with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at least 30 percent of America's 7 million Muslims today are African-Americans. They're "happy to be here and are impressed by the general tolerance of American society," he said.

Bilal Muhammed, an Olathe firefighter and imam of Al-Inshirah Islamic Center in midtown, said in his speech at the Crescent Peace Society Eid Celebration Dinner: "We should feel all of us that we can contribute to a better America.

"We have much to love about our history and contributions to America. We have earned our right to share in the shaping of America."

But their struggles against bigotry threaten to continue into the new year because of the U.S. war against terrorism and a possible war in Iraq. Erb said the hate was changing from physical and verbal abuse to cases of discrimination and child custody disputes.

Muslims also face racial profiling and visa restrictions. In Los Angeles last month, thousands of people protested and filed suit against the arrests of Middle Easterners who felt entrapped by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The men had voluntarily gone to register with the federal government under a new anti-terrorism program.

Also, several Middle Eastern students in Colorado were jailed recently for not taking enough college classes as required by their student visas.

Such endless incidents are causing many Muslims to withdraw because of a "sense of siege," Erb said. "There is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for a lot of people in terms of public activity."

Nevertheless, the council wants Muslims to go public to dispel myths and share their perspective about their faith. The council also is sending books, DVDs and videotapes to 16,000 libraries to help educate people about Muslims.

"You can't hide from the problem," Erb said. "The only way is to encourage greater participation in public and civic life."

Thank goodness many area Muslims are doing that and proudly showing they're Americans, too.

436. 030108 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
New movements keep questions fresh

The Raelians claim to have cloned a human. They call themselves a religion. This prompts a reader to ask, "When is something a religion?"
   "Religion" is notoriously difficult to define. I like what Rufus M. Jones says: "Religion is an experience which no definition exhausts." Some scholarly books on religion don't even try; instead they offer descriptions.
   Nonetheless, I've collected 50-some definitions which you can explore at
   The  Raelians, founded in 1973 and headquartered in Canada, believe that the human race was created by extraterrestrials.
   Scholars classify the Raelians with NRMs -- the New Religious Movements, along with Scientology, Brahma Kumaris, Hare Krishna, Rastafarianism, Cao Dai and many more.
   America has been an especially fertile place for NRMs, some of which have entered the mainstream, like the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Christian Scientists. Others have been less successful: the Shakers, Oneida Perfectionists and Branch Davidians.
   Despite the dangers, one of the benefits of NRMs for those whose faith has become routine is that NRMs raise and refresh basic religious questions: What is our place in the universe? What is human nature? How can we best live together? How to we explain the mystery of existence? What does the future hold? What is sacred? The Raelian perspective on these questions is certainly unusual, but no less religious than those of traditional faiths.
   Religiously, today is much like the period of the Roman Empire around the time of the birth of Jesus. Few could have predicted that the early Christian sects, with continuing mutations, would eventually crowd out the cults of Mithra, Cybele, Isis, Dionysus and others.
   NRMs are an accelerating response to secular, materialistic culture which cannot give satisfying answers to the most important questions we can ask.

435. 030101 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
KC can be an interfaith role model

In the year just ended, metro Kansas City made some progress in interfaith understanding -- though much work remains to be done.
   Some Christians joined members of the Jewish community here in signing a May 12 ad supporting Israeli policies. Others invited to sign declined to do so because they felt the ad needed to recognize the calamity of a situation which produces both Israeli and Palestinian victims.
   Muslim leaders here condemned all terrorism, including suicide-bombing, and the loss of life on all sides. In June, UMKC was the site of a conference of the Islamic Society of North America with the theme, "Muslims for Peace and Justice."
   The Interfaith Council led a day-long observance of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Over 50 other religious groups registered with the Council to focus the day on spiritual kinship within our diversity.
   The Jackson County Diversity Task Force, organized by County Executive Katheryn Shields, following reports of continuing harassment of Muslims, drew together Jewish, Sikh, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist and secular leaders to "promote understanding of our differences." On Sept. 10, the panel detailed troubling and persistent prejudice in a 77-page report, with three major recommendations to secure the American ideal of religious freedom, which Shields is working to implement.
   This year Shields and Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes and Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks received awards for their energetic support of religious diversity.
   Concern about a war with Iraq reawakened the interfaith peace movement.
   Kansas City interfaith efforts were recognized in a story in the National Catholic Reporter and a half-hour CBS network religious special. We may yet become a model interfaith community.