“Music exists not in the notes, but rather in the silence between them.  Without the off-beats – the silent, restful moments – we would hear no sound.”
        Wolfgang Mozart
a revised   08.07.23 --  Please reload/refresh....On the web since.1997.  WRITING A GUEST COLUMN....STYLE..........HEADLINESVern Barnet  Vern Barnett Vernon Barnett

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Faith and Beliefs

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Star tag: Vern Barnet does interfaith work in Kansas City. Reach him at vern@cres.org
a column by Vern Barnet every Wednesday in The Kansas City Star.
[Star printed and Star web versions, and the version here, may vary.]
copyright 2011 by Vern Barnet and The Kansas City Star.
We can include reader comment only when we see it.
How to find archived columns on certain subjects,
 2011 Columns
most recent at the top

in left-hand column
 Jacobs book
 Stahl book
 Goldman book


 Hate in all faiths
 Islamophobic emails
 Local Islamohobia 2010
 2011 Mar 16 Press conference
 5 myths American Muslims
 Osama's death KC Star
 Death to Unbelievers?
 Muslims: 9/11 Anniv.

   Vern's 2005 statement



VINTAGE  complaints
 "Vern Barnet" Award
 Gibson's Passion
 Hearing God
 Government size
 Atheists at
 Interfaith Bkfst
 Why Americans still dislike atheists
 KC area atheist groups 

Obama vs Bibi

Some favorite columns
[under construction]

720. 080625
Sufi teacher raises a balloon 
[God veils himself to reveal himself]


Planning progresses for MLK celebration
By Melissa Treolo -- January 6, 2011
  As always, the annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Bonner Springs will promote unity, but this year organizer Kay Shevling wants to highlight unity among religions, not just races.
   She says that’s how Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted it.
   “Martin Luther wanted everyone to get along together; it wasn’t just the blacks and the whites,” Shevling said. “His dream was just for everyone to be friends and to be civil with each other, to support each other and so on.”
   To uphold this theme of religious unity, the 23rd annual celebration, set for 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17, at Bonner Springs First Christian Church, will be a little different this year. Instead of one keynote speaker, the main address will be made up of comments from a panel of three people from different religious backgrounds. Ahmed El-Sherif is a Muslim and founder of the American Muslim Council of Greater Kansas City. Regina Stillman is a Christian and an ordained pastor with Foster Memorial Church and Out of the Ashes InterFaith Fellowship. Sheila Sonnenschein is Jewish and a freelance writer and founder of a kosher food pantry in Overland Park.
   All three are members of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, which promotes unification among religions. The panel will be moderated by the Rev. Vern Barnet, who is the founder of the organization. Shevling said the discussion would center on how religions should celebrate their similarities, not be divided by their differences.
   She said the celebration had featured a panel several years ago made up of people who had worked at one time or another with Martin Luther King Jr. This year’s panel, however, will add something unique to the event, she said, noting said she hoped it would be welcomed by the community.
   “I expect it to be positive. I’ve talked to people outside the community, and a lot of people want to come. My worry is that we’ll have more people than we’ll have room for,” Shevling said. “Because it’s something different and it’s something that fits what we’re going through right now. Someone said that religion is the best thing to bring people together in this country, but it’s also the best thing to separate them … and I’ve heard that from a lot of people.”
   The event will also feature performances from the Rosewood and Clark Middle School choirs, and a speech from 6-year-old Joelle Kimbrough, granddaughter of Mary Kimbrough, who is president of the Bonner Springs chapter of the NAACP. A “singspiration,” where all attendees are invited to sing songs of praise together, will be led by Gloria Owens.
   “Well I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting ones we’ve ever had, because it’s something that people will experience things they haven’t experienced before,” Shevling said of the celebration. “I really do think this is going to be great, and I think that people will learn from it.”
   Photo: The NAACP 100 Year Choir performs at the 2010 Bonner Springs/Edwardsville Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration


MLK Celebration opens the door for religious discussion

PHOTO: Gloria Owens leads audience members in a "singspiration" during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Monday. The event included a panel discussion on religious unity. Enlarge photo

PHOTO; Panelists during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration talk about the importance of coming together in spite of religious differences. Pictured are, from left, Sheila Sonnenschein, Regina Stillman and Ahmed El-Sherif.

By Melissa Treolo
January 17, 2011

Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at First Christian Church honored the civil rights leader through music and opened the door for what some might consider a controversial topic: religious unity.
   “We are one people. We’ve got to stop living divided,” Regina Stillman, an ordained Christian minister from Bonner Springs, said.
   Her comment was made during a panel discussion on the topic of finding the similarities but also celebrating the differences among the world’s many religions. Stillman’s fellow panelists were Sheila Sonnenschein, who is Jewish, and Ahmed El-Sherif, a Muslim and founder of the American Muslim Council of Greater Kansas City.
   Stillman and Sonnenschein are members of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, which was founded by Rev. Vern Barnet, who also moderated the discussion.
   Barnet said he met King while still a graduate student in 1967 — an experience he called “overwhelming” and “life-changing.”
  “It would not have happened without Martin Luther King,” Barnet said of founding the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council more than 20 years ago.
   Music during the celebration included performances from the Rosewood and Clark Middle School choirs. Audience members were also invited to sing at frequent times during “singspiration” songs led by Gloria Owens.
   A closing singspiration song, “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” had everyone in attendance doing just that.
   If King himself had been sitting in the audience, Sonnenschein said she hoped he would be pleased by the day’s message.
   “I think I would hope that he would be very happy to see everyone gathered together to be respectful of each other and to learn from each other,” she said.
   Added El-Sherif, “You know what he would do? He would join. He would join us, I’m sure.”
   • More of this story can be found in the Jan. 20 issue of The Chieftain.-- Originally published at: http://www2.bonnersprings.com/news/


Thank you for your thoughtful note.
   I certainly have no animosity toward the woman who wanted to squash me, or the rabbi, or the couple who punched my son in the nose. I simply was making the point that not everyone likes what I write! I suppose instead I could have bragged on and on about the many more instances, such as the interested case with the Mayors' Prayer breakfast, where some good has  resulted from my humble efforts, including some of the poignant personal stories readers have shared with me.
   I'd like to repeat what I said about Bill Gates -- I detest him not as a person (I never met the man, and I don't judge) but I detest him as a symbol for a corrupt and exploitative economic, social, and political system. Such complaints are in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus himself who frequently condemned those in power, including overturning the tables in the temple. Some have suggested that the reason the poor are blessed is because they are not seduced by power or promises of power, wealth, etc, and can see the nature of the oppressive system clearly, while those who benefit from the system, being part of it, cannot see it clearly.
   I think often of  the "memorable fancy" of William Blake, about whom it is sometimes said that he was the only true Christian since Christ himself:
   The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I  asked them how they dared  so roundly  to assert  that God  spoke  to them; and whether they did not think at the time that they would not be misunderstood,  and so be the cause of  imposition.
   Isaiah answered: "I saw no God, nor heard any,  in a  finite organical perception; but my senses discovered  the  infinite in everything, and as I was then persuaded,  and remain  confirmed,  that the voice of honest indignation  is the voice of God, I cared  not for consequences  but wrote."
   I hope my passion did not alarm you; I would not have spoken as I did if I did not believe I have the duty as a spiritual seeker, one called to the ministry, and as a citizen, to encourage others to challenge the spiritual disease which has overtaken our country. In this I revere other rabble-rousers such as George Washington, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B Anthony, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, etc. While my sway is nothing compared to theirs, still my duty remains. Unless folks at least become conscious of their situation, it is unlikely to change. All any of us can do is do our  duty -- we cannot see clearly the ultimate result. We are called to be righteous, and some whose names we will never know were burned at the stake, and Christ himself was crucified. I do not believe in a religion that puts us to sleep or a selfish coma when we see those around us suffering. I daily see so much unnecessary suffering, how can I not care?
   You wonder if our energy would be better spent on something with more certain results. But how will we know if a thing will be successful if we refuse even to try? Those who railed against the history of slavery enshrined in the US Constitution and worked for emancipation, those woman (and some men) who saw centuries of history of women denied the franchise railed and rallied and died before their right to vote was granted. Such examples are endless. As we enter the season remembering Martin Luther King Jr, may I respectfully request, yea plead, that you reread his amazing "Letter from the Birmingham Jail"? You can find it on my website at http://www.cres.org/pubs/king.htm .
   And does not democracy and the spiritual life itself involve discernment, and that requires our speaking with each other? How else can we determine where our efforts best be lodged? And may we not have different gifts, so that what I must do, you may not, but must work in another part of the vineyard?
   I have tried in a brief space to respond to your concerns, and will not tire you further except to say I did not expect to be discussing Bill Gates and such, but I went with what I perceived to be the energy in the room, which guided and indeed roused me.
   I do not ask  you to agree with anything I have written here. I simply want to acknowledge your writing by letting you know I have given the issues you raise some thought. I do appreciate your giving me an opportunity to respond.


Vern opened with his initial surprises on becoming a columnist: Not everyone reads The Star, Not everyone who does read The Star reads his column, and not everyone who reads his column likes it! He actually was invited to write the column when The Star decided it needed a balance, at least once a week, to Billy Graham. The column that generated the most response, some 800 emails — including from folks from Europe, Asia, and Africa, identified three reasons why he detested Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” Responses from his column on”Avatar” also generated unusual interest and was reprinted in over a dozen newspapers.

The photo here shows  Vern discussing one of his favorite columns  — about a Mayors' Prayer Breakfast which slammed diversity. Mayor Kay Barnes ultimately announced she would not attend her own Prayer Breakfast the next year since the committee was unresponsive to such complaints. The many stories initiated by Vern’s column he held up (see photo) ultimately became part of an extensive “case study” resource at Harvard University’s Pluralism Project.

Vern distributed copies of four columns, the “Avatar” column, one applying lessons from Epiphany to a show at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, different religions’ approaches to giving thanks, and a theological analysis of the Supreme Court decision giving First Amendment citizenship rights of speech to corporations as if they were actual people, with unchecked corporations anonymously buying the government.

This led to a discussion about whether folks who work hard deserve their wealth or whether chance factors and circumstances play a large part in worldly success, and whether those who benefit from society most should help to support it most. Vern referred to Ecclesiastes 9:11: “the race  is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.”

The discussion concluded with Vern challenging the theology of reward/punishment (if you’re good you go to heaven; if bad, hell) which has been applied to what he called our corrupted economic system, with wealth the reward. Instead, he advocated a morality of simply doing the right thing, that servanthood is its own reward, that satisfaction comes from fulfillment of one’s capacities, that wealth distorts relationships and democracy, and that the accumulation of more than a third of the nation’s wealth by 1% of the population, with 80% of the population sharing just 16%, is manifestly and obscenely evil. As Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have democracy, but we can’t have both.” Vern stressed the religious and theological underpinnings of how we relate to each other in our economic environment.


PO Box 415, Louisburg, KS 66053     913-548-2973
February 9, 2011


Shannon Clark, Executive Director
Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
www.kcinterfaith.org   913-548-2973

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
stands behind religious liberties in Johnson County

KANSAS CITY, MO – Our community is threatened when any faith is misrepresented. The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council (GKCIC) understands that a controversy has arisen over the purchase of property by a Laotian Buddhist group at 29600 W. 119th St. (Gardner Rd. is closest cross street) in Johnson County. We also understand that two plans for the use of the property have been approved by the professional staff of the County, that all similar plans and purchases in similar neighborhoods have always been approved for over a dozen Christian institutions, but that unfavorable sentiments expressed by some of the neighbors indicate that they may not be accurately informed about the Buddhist faith, appear to ignore our American tradition of religious liberty, and may damage the interfaith civility the Council seeks to assure for all who live in the metro area.

The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council's mission is to grow a sustainable, pervasive culture of knowledge, respect, appreciation and trust among people of all faiths.   One specific goal of the GKCIC is to "work with educational, spiritual, and religious leaders and the media in promoting accurate and fair portrayal of the faiths within our community."

Therefore, we urge the Johnson County Commission to take whatever steps may be appropriate to assure that both proper RUR zoning requirements are met in accommodating the Buddhist group, parallel to requirements for all other faiths, and that the principles of religious liberty are fully respected and practiced in all neighborhoods in Johnson County.

 The GKCIC, founded in 1989, brings together fifteen vital faith communities of the Kansas City area. The council meets on a monthly basis to work toward its mission of growing a sustainable pervasive culture of knowledge, respect, appreciation, and trust amongst all people. Members of the following faith groups serve on the council: American Indian, Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Christian Orthodox, Christian Protestant, Christian Roman Catholic, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Sikhism, Sufism, Unitarian Universalism, Vedanta, and Zoroastrianism. The members of the GKCIC believe that by raising awareness of our differences and similarities, by building relationships, and through education, the community can learn to respect and value its neighbors of many faiths. The GKCIC offers education about the fifteen faith groups through the GKCIC “Speakers Bureau.” Please contact the GKCIC at www.kcinterfaith.org or 913-548-2973 for information on how to arrange for a speaker at your place of work, your school, or your place of worship and to learn about our other interfaith programs.

Q & A 

READER: I have thought of a question which you may be able to answer as well as anyone. As background, I am a liberal Presbyterian and in my experience it is common to hear ministers or lay people say that the Bible is not actually the words of God but written by humans for a particular time and culture. (Though inspired by God.) In any discussions between Christians and Muslims that I have attended, I have not heard a Muslim say that the Quran was not the actual words of Allah. My questions is: Have you ever heard a Muslim admit  that the Quran is also not the actual words of Allah? I don't think that there will be any reconciliation between Christians and Muslims until both admit that their sacred books are just human documents. Thanks for your thoughts about this.

BARNET: It is said that God's revelations to Muhammad in Arabic became the Qur'an, which is why usually non-Arab Muslims learn at least a bit of Arabic. Arabic is a language that emphasizes relationships and particularly appropriate to the Abrahamic tradition. The word Allah is unique in its grammar. The Qur'an is a book of extraordinary poetic beauty and is regularly chanted rather than merely read as an ordinary text. Sometimes its quality is cited as proof that Muhammad, an illiterate, could not have written it himself.

Normatively, for Christians, Jesus is the Word of God, the Word made flesh, not the Bible. (See John 1.)

However, the problem you cite arises because of our Western tendency to place different things in parallel categories. The Qur'an is a different form of literature than the Bible in many ways and it is unwise to compare them on grounds suggested by your question although both are elaborately (and, within each tradition, variously) interpreted. Just think of the Hadith for starters!  As I understand it, Western-style analysis (such as form criticism) is beginning among Muslim scholars. The question you raise is a scholarly and theological problem of great interest to me.

But your concern -- for "reconciliation" -- need not involve such questions. Muslims are people. Start there. Why do Muslims or Hindus or Christians have to agree about their scriptures? Why not rejoice in the diversity? Isn't our measure of a faith "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God"? What is the point of making a Muslim "admit" the Qur'an is just a human document, or a Christian to "admit" that about the Bible, if it divinely guides them to mercy, justice and God? How do you know that God did not speak to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel? You may not believe it, but what is the point of your argument except to perpetuate colonial-style hegemony over peoples we have oppressed in many ways, including supporting corrupt governments to satisfy our unnecessary addiction to oil?

I worry that both liberals and fundamentalists suffer from the same Enlightenment categories that bury faith in tombs of fact instead of understanding religion arises from the grounds of awe and wonder and gratitude and service, with different intellectual constructions and different stories to honor, elicit, and transmit the values of peace and justice.

One can question the INTERPRETATION of ANY text if it oppresses or exploits while still revering the tradition which holds a text sacred. Certainly looking historically, judging Christianity and Islam from their behavior, one might well conclude that, guided by their texts, Muslims have been far more peaceful and just and tolerant than Christians. Some might even argue that offensive interpretations of Qur'an are largely the result of Christian influence on Islam, as for example with certain forms of sexuality.

There are many questions we do not need to decide. In my opinion living with theological diversity and ambiguity, and embracing many ways that give different folks meaningful lives while following our own paths of commitment is religious maturity, not telling other folks they are wrong about matters we cannot prove one way or the other, which distracts us from the important work of learning how to live together. . . . 

for a starting place for theology
from many fields

Catherine L. Albanese
America: Religions and Religion

Karen Armstrong
A History of God 

Ian G Barbour
Religion and Science

Joseph Campbell
The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Mircea Eliade
Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return

The Episcopal Church
The Book of Common Prayer

Peter Farb

Charles Hamden-Turner
Maps of the Mind

Douglas Hofstadter
Godel Escher Bach 

Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan
Chances Are . . .: Adventures in Probability

Fyodor Shcherbatskoy
Buddhist Logic

Huston Smith
The World's Religions

Lewis Thomas
The Lives of a Cell

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations

Theodore Zeldin
An Intimate History of Humanity


From Left to Right Top Row:Sheik Aasim Baheyadeen; the Rev Sam Mann, Regional Chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Front Row:Dr Robert Lee Hill, Pastor, Community Christian Church; Imam Yahya Furqan, Director of Religious Affairs for Culturally Speaking; Imam Bilal Muhammed, Rabbi Alan L Cohen, Director of Interregious Affairs, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City; andDr Vern Barnet of CRES and founder of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. Not in photo but also speaking: Imam Ahmed El-Sherif. 
Photo courtesy of Br Samuel Shareef

A Coalition of Kansas City area Muslims held a press conference on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Muslims, along with other members of the Kansas City faith community, have found Peter King's recent Congressional Hearings on the Radicalization of Muslims in America disturbing and divisive. Dr. Robert Hill lent his support by hosting the the event at Community Christian Church, 4601 Main Street in Kansas City, where he is pastor. Following is the statement made by Bilal Muhammed at the press conference:

With Allah’s help and assistance we greet you in Peace, thank you for your presence.
    Thanks to the honorable faith leaders who have joined us and special thanks to Reverend Robert Lee Hill and the Community Christian Church Family for hosting this Press Conference.
    Leaders in the Muslim Community feel it our obligation to protect our Muslim public living in this Great Land, the land we love and proudly call home from living under a cloud of suspicion. While we share an agreement with Congressman King that “ The responsibility of this committee is to protect America from a terrorist attack”, we register strong objection to the singling out of The Islamic American Community for and in these hearings. Muslims Americans live, work and attend schools in every part of America. Often but not always cultural dress easily identifies us as Muslims and perhaps so does an accent or maybe a certain demeanor. The singling out of Muslims as these Hearings in fact do, cast an undue cloud of suspicion over an entire religion. This singling out of Muslims in particular puts the ninety-nine percent of the law abiding Muslim American population in a position to live as a suspect group. We have children and grandchildren who do not even know what a terrorist is, they only want to experience the life and security that every child wants in every American home. The singling out of Muslims hurts our sense of shared freedom and shades our hopes for the treasured and promised pursuit of happiness protected by our Nation.
    Our message to people who would try and promote radicalization among our youth is simple. To you we say, your position and thinking is weak so you seek to use mere children for front line fodder in your cause. Our family of culturally mixed American Muslims know that you lack a display of the fiber of true men. You show no indication of the high moral and ethical principles of our sacred text The Qur’an.KNOW THAT WE WILL WORK AGAINST YOU.
    To our neighbors, work mates and colleagues we want to get to know you, to work with you and celebrate our differences. We want you to know the core of who we are not suspect us or fear our religion, not to think of us as radical but rather defenders of fairness and human decency.God’s peace be with you and Thank you.

Link to additional photos

Link to culturallyspeaking


Kansas City Star 2011 Apr 01
How can people of faith be good examples for peace?

Serving others brings peace
by A.M. Bhattacharyya, 
an active member of Hindu Community: 

People endowed with the power of faith have all the stimulus for peace. As a Hindu I believe that the core teachings of all religions are virtues like purity, nonviolence, honesty, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, selflessness, charity and love, which translate into peace.

To be a good example of peace a person of faith must refrain from making any derogatory comment about another faith. Such comment not only shows the person’s ignorance about another faith, it also hurts the sentiments of the people of that faith, which is not conducive for religious harmony and peace in the community. Faith leaders should encourage interfaith dialogues, interfaith seminars and meetings to create understanding and reverence for different faith traditions. The greater Kansas City area has made tremendous progress toward this goal, thanks to the initiative taken by a local faith leader, the Rev. Vern Barnet about 25 years ago.

Humanitarian service is another good example of peace. Swami Vivekananda, an eminent 19th century Vedantic monk and philosopher, said, “When I asked God for peace, he showed me how to help others.” When he established Ramakrishna Mission in 1897, service to humanity was the mission’s main goal. Relief and rehabilitation became an act of worship. There are many dedicated faith-inspired organizations in Hindu faith and in other faith traditions who are serving humanity in distress. They all are best examples of peace.

This also appeared in the Ledger-Enquirer
West Central Georgia and East Alabama area

Washington Post-- Friday, April 1, 3:28 PM
Five myths about Muslims in America
By Feisal Abdul Rauf

I founded the multi-faith Cordoba Initiative to fight the misunderstandings that broaden the divide between Islam and the West — each perceived as harmful by the other. Millions of American Muslims, who see no contradiction between being American and being Muslim, are working hard to bridge this gap. It is therefore not surprising that they have become the target of attacks by those who would rather burn bridges than build them, and the subject of recent congressional hearings exploring their “radicalization.” What myths are behind the entrenched beliefs that Muslims simply do not belong in the United States and that they threaten its security?

1. American Muslims are foreigners.
Islam was in America even before there was a United States. But Muslims didn’t peaceably emigrate — slave-traders brought them here.

Historians estimate that up to 30 percent of enslaved blacks were Muslims. West African prince Abdul Rahman, freed by President John Quincy Adams in 1828 after 40 years in captivity, was only one of many African Muslims kidnapped and sold into servitude in the New World. In early America, Muslim names could be found in reports of runaway slaves as well as among rosters of soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Muslims fought to preserve American independence in the War of 1812 and for the Union in the Civil War. And more than a century later, thousands of African Americans, including Cassius Clay and Malcolm Little, converted to Islam.

Currently, there are two Muslim members of Congress and thousands of Muslims on active duty in the armed forces. Sure, some Muslim soldiers may have been born elsewhere, but if you wear the uniform of the United States and are willing to die for this country, can you be really be considered a foreigner?

2. American Muslims are ethnically, culturally and politically monolithic.

In fact, the American Muslim community is the most diverse Muslim community in the world.

U.S. Muslims believe different things and honor their faith in different ways. When it comes to politics, a 2007 Pew study found that 63 percent of Muslim Americans “lean Democratic,” 11 percent “lean Republican” and 26 percent “lean independent.” Ethnically, despite the popular misperception, the majority of Muslims in the United States (and in the world, for that matter) are not Arabs — about 88 percent check a different box on their U.S. census form. At least one-quarter, for example, are African American. Anyone who thinks otherwise need look no further than the July 30, 2007, cover of Newsweek magazine, which featured a multicultural portrait of Islam in America.

Muslim Americans are also diverse in their sectarian affiliation. And whether they are Sunni or Shiite, their attendance at religious services varies. According to the State Department publication “Muslims in America — A Statistical Portrait,” Muslim Americans range from highly conservative to moderate to secular in their religious devotion, just like members of other faith communities.

With above-average median household incomes, they are also an indispensable part of the U.S. economy. Sixty-six percent of American Muslim households earn more than $50,000 per year — more than the average U.S. household.

3. American Muslims oppress women.

According to a 2009 study by Gallup, Muslim American women are not only more educated than Muslim women in Western Europe, but are also more educated than the average American. U.S. Muslim women report incomes closer to their male counterparts than American women of any other religion. They are at the helm of many key religious and civic organizations, such as the Arab-American Family Support Center, Azizah magazine, Karamah, Turning Point, the Islamic Networks Group and the American Society for Muslim Advancement.

Of course, challenges to gender justice remain worldwide. In the World Economic Forum’s 2009 Gender Gap Index, which ranks women’s participation in society, 18 of the 25 lowest-ranking countries have Muslim majorities. However, as documented by the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality , Muslim women are leading the struggle for change through their scholarship, civic engagement, education, advocacy and activism in the United States and across the world.

4. American Muslims often become “homegrown” terrorists.

According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, more non-Muslims than Muslims were involved in terrorist plots on U.S. soil in 2010. In a country in the grip of Islamophobia — where Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) can convene hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims — this has been overlooked. In 2010, the Triangle Center also found, the largest single source of initial information on planned terrorist attacks by Muslims in the United States was the Muslim American community.

As an American Muslim leader who worked with FBI agents on countering extremism right after Sept. 11, 2001, I fear that identifying Islam with terrorism threatens to erode American Muslims’ civil liberties and fuels the dangerous perception that the United States is at war with Islam. Policymakers must recognize that, more often than not, the terrorists the world should fear are motived by political and socioeconomic — not religious — concerns.

5. American Muslims want to bring sharia law to the United States.

In Islam, sharia is the divine ideal of justice and compassion, similar to the concept of natural law in the Western tradition. Though radicals exist on the fringes of Islam, as in every religion, most Muslim jurists agree on the principal objectives of sharia: the protection and promotion of life, religion, intellect, property, family and dignity. None of this includes turning the United States into a caliphate.

For centuries, most Islamic scholars around the world have agreed that Muslims must follow the laws of the land in which they live. This principle was established by the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 614-615, when he sent some of his followers to be protected by the Christian king of Abyssinia, where they co-existed peacefully. Not only do American Muslims have no scriptural, historical or political grounds to oppose the U.S. Constitution, but the U.S. Constitution is in line with the objectives and ideals of sharia. Muslims already practice sharia in the United States when they worship freely and follow U.S. laws.

In his 1776 publication “Thoughts on Government,” John Adams praised Muhammad as a “sober inquirer after truth.” And the Supreme Court building contains a likeness of the prophet, whose vision of justice is cited as an important precedent to the U.S. Constitution.

Feisal Abdul Rauf is the founder of the Cordoba Initiative.

Vern's 2005 Statement on Israel
Perhaps because of my lack of precision  in expressing myself, some misunderstandings of my views about Israel have arisen. I hope this statement will be useful in clarifying them. 
   The creation of Israel was important in world history as an admirable effort to create a just society. In Jewish history, it expresses a hope for a place where Jews can be safe from the discrimination, pogroms, and other horrors Jews have known for centuries, undeniably revealed in the Holocaust.
   It is essential, then, that Israel be safe and secure. Not only is this important for Israel and for Jews in diaspora, but it is ultimately important for the world.
   Terrorism and violence must be condemned and, better, prevented. Exactly how this can be achieved may be a political question, but no one should doubt my commitment to this end.
   I hope my work for interfaith understanding might be considered in this light.
   Specifically, I have heard the statement that I am reluctant to condemn Palestinian violence because I fear I might lose Muslim friends. My response is simple and unqualified. I have no Muslim friends who do not condemn Palestinian violence.Any person of any faith who  promotes violence would not be a friend of mine. I have condemned violence in the past, I do so now, and I will continue to do so. I condemn all violence, provoked and unprovoked, and I call on all peoples to use only  non-violent methods in response to attacks and oppression. It is especially important for peoples whose members use violence to do all in their power to condemn and prevent violence.
   In discussions seeking peace, it is important for all parties to distinguish identifying the possible causes of  violence from justifying violence. Violence cannot be justified.
   Jews in Kansas City have played and continue to play a significant role not only in the life and leadership of our community but also particularly in the vision of American religious pluralism. I wish to honor this as part of the genius of the Jewish faith. I am grateful for the many Jewish friendships which have blessed my life in Kansas City.

This statement was composed with the advice and assistance of Alvin Brooks, Rabbi Mark Levin, and Jay Barrish of blessed memory in an effort to enable the Jewish leadership to participate in the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council "Table of Faiths" annual luncheon, even though Vern no longer had any organizational relationship with the Council. The statement was insufficient to generate JCRB/AJC participation in these local interfaith efforts.
to Ven's Statement

purpose of the statement


Here are my impressions on how I think folks 
will read your statement:

 Israel's creation as an "admirable effort" is condescending at best. 

 You write "call on all peoples to use only non-violent methods
in response to attacks 
and oppression" 
is an attack on 
Israel's right 
to defend herself, 
and shows a lack of understanding
that this is not a cycle of violence, 
it is campaign of terror 
upon innocent victims 
by state supported 
political entities against women and children of a democratic nation. 
That is the unfortunate reality recognized 
by the majority, 
including the KC community.

This might be 
an opportunity for you 
to explain why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been your focus, 
why you chose to write about "moral clarity" 
by Israeli leaders, 
more than the Chechnya conflict, India-Pakistan conflict, human rights violations in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, anti-Semitism in Europe, etc.

 Your "lack of precision
in expressing" yourself
is disingenuous. 
You have made
your points very clear, 
over and over in written dialogue with many folks.

You do not mention 
anything about Israel 
in "Old Testament" history, which is acknowledged 
and used by the overwhelming majority of Christians and Jews. 

I am also unclear
what the definition 
of the "genius" 
of the Jewish faith means. 


Marvin Szneler is Executive Director, 
The Jewish Community Relations Bureau/
American Jewish Committee 
for the Kansas City area


In the words of Vern Barnet of the Center for Religious Experience and Study in Westport: “I’ve seen a hunger among churches here that have gone to some lengths to learn about the Muslim faith … (even as) a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric intensified.”

The Kansas City Star  2011 May 3
Osama bin Laden changed us in ways minute, monumental


Without him, there would probably be no Department of Homeland Security, no Patriot Act, no Qur’an-burning pastors.

Had Osama bin Laden never been born, there would surely be fewer memorials to slain firefighters, less need for prosthetic limbs for young troops, an American public still largely ignorant of the Muslim notion of martyrdom.

Our military probably would still be more interested in tanks and aircraft carriers, less wary of roadside bombs and suicide belts. The development of killer robot planes might not have come so far. The need to deal with asymmetric threats — battling an army not of battalions but of insurgents — would not be so pressing.

And America would certainly be a country with far fewer long-fading yellow ribbons.

The man who came to symbolize a bloody rejection of all things U.S. left a legacy among those he hated, and those he inspired to hate them. Little wonder that his demise brought so little sympathy.

“In the past few years, (bin Laden’s) main military triumphs have been against such targets as Afghan schoolgirls, Shiite Muslim civilians, and defenseless synagogues in Tunisia and Turkey,” wrote pundit Christopher Hitchens on news of bin Laden’s death and dumping at sea. “Has there ever been a more contemptible leader from behind, or a commander who authorized more blanket death sentences on bystanders?”

In ways small and monumental, bin Laden’s two decades on the world stage changed how America operated within its borders and with other nations. It may not have been entirely his doing, but his life had a profound impact on the nation he so loathed.

It was after he mobilized al-Qaida against the United States, after all, that Washington set up the legal purgatory of Guantanamo Bay for foreign fighters. Since then, the country tormented itself over whether waterboarding is torture and whether torture is always a bad idea.

As fate would have it, the first bits of intelligence that ultimately tracked down bin Laden came from secret prisons overseas. That won’t end the torture debate, but it looks to have ended bin Laden’s run.

Current and former U.S. officials told The Associated Press that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, provided the pseudonym of a bin Laden courier. The CIA also got tips from Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both men underwent harsh interrogation at CIA prisons in Poland and Romania.

It was, in a way, the nature of bin Laden’s tactics that prompted America to bend its own ways.

Bin Laden no more invented the suicide bomber than Henry Ford invented the automobile. He just made more of them than anyone had before.

Under his leadership, al-Qaida shifted the rationalization behind suicide bombings. The ultimate attacks of 9/11 weren’t done with bombs, but they fit with a devolved sense of justifications for killing. No longer did a man with an explosive vest need to aim for Israeli soldiers or some other combatants. Now, went the reasoning sold by bin Laden’s organization, truck bombs could target civilians as long as the victims could be painted as somehow sympathetic to Islam’s supposed enemies.

“They built this narrative that Muslims are being besieged and humiliated and targeted by the West in wars and occupation,” said Mohammed M. Hafez, an associate professor at the Naval Post Graduate School who has researched suicide bombers. “They elevated martyrdom in online documents and videos. … They’ve really taken the art of martyrdom veneration to a new level.”

Impact on politics

Bin Laden’s more lethal brand of terrorism changed, too, the dynamics of American politics.

George W. Bush arguably would have had a harder time at re-election in 2004 were he not, as he put it, “a war president.”

Barack Obama’s re-election prospects — had he ever made it to the White House — might look bleaker now had troops on his watch not slain the face of terrorism.

And the hope that bin Laden’s 9/11 terrorist attacks might unite a polarized U.S. turned out to be fleeting at best.

Carolyn Marvin, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, said less has changed about U.S. discourse than what was anticipated at the time of the attacks on New York and Washington.

“The thinking then was that from now on, we’d be united as a country,” she said, “and, also, that we’d pay more attention to serious matters rather than the trivial. Neither of those things lasted for long.”

Marvin attributed part of the nation’s polarized political climate to U.S. actions undertaken in pursuit of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups — “in some cases, with war after war, creating a worse situation” for national security than before 9/11.

People such as Tim Lynch of the libertarian Cato Institute believe the country went too far in allowing more leeway for warrantless wiretaps and the use of military tribunals to avoid the defendant protections of criminal courts.

“Countries always tend to expand government power in wartime. Then they retract them when the conflict is over,” said Lynch, the director of Cato’s project on criminal justice.

“The problem with the war on terror is it’s never over,” he said. “Not even now that bin Laden’s dead.”

The transformation of law enforcement, though, also wiped out legal and logistical prohibitions that stopped agencies from sharing information. Today, investigators of both terrorism and organized crime laud the changes. They allow investigators not to just connect dots, but to do so before something blows up.

In the 1990s, some analysts accused the Clinton administration of trying to personify an otherwise ambiguous terror threat by sloppily fingering bin Laden. Critics thought the Clinton White House was hyping a bogeyman to fatten intelligence budgets.

(Similar criticism would spill into the Bush years, when many Americans were convinced vague security concerns were excuses for rolling back civil liberties.)

That changed in 2000 when a boat loaded with explosives blew a gaping hole into the side of the USS Cole while it was anchored in a Yemeni harbor. It killed 17 American sailors. All clues pointed to bin Laden.

Prior to his rise among Islamist extremists, pollsters had little to gauge on the image of the United States in world opinion. In the months following 9/11, the Pew Global Attitudes Project tracked generally favorable public viewpoints about U.S. power, only to see those attitudes erode as the war against terror spread.

Bin Laden “prompted the U.S. to advance in the Middle East region in a way that turned public opinion against the U.S. all around the world,” said Stephen Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

America’s image hit bottom about 2007, he said. With the exception of Indonesia and parts of Africa, Kull said, “it has not recovered in the Muslim world.”

For American Muslims, the bin Laden effect has been brutal.

“Before Osama bin Laden told people to hijack airplanes, he hijacked Islam,” said Bassam Helwini, a native Syrian living in Lawrence. “He certainly didn’t do Muslims any favors, especially here in the West.”

The ways many of his fellow Americans treated Helwini changed, sometimes for the better. A Christian neighbor who exchanged few words with him before the terrorist strikes showed up with a cake, gift card and kind expressions in the weeks that followed.

Sales of the Qur’an in this country exploded.

In the words of Vern Barnet of the Center for Religious Experience and Study in Westport: “I’ve seen a hunger among churches here that have gone to some lengths to learn about the Muslim faith … (even as) a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric intensified.”

Military evolution

There’s no question that the military changed to meet the threat of bin Laden and his ilk. Before 9/11, the Pentagon invested heavily in the high-tech materiel that seemed to perform so well in the first Gulf War.

But chasing the terrorist bands who answered bin Laden’s call to jihad felt like drawing water from damp sand. Military thinkers describe it as an asymmetric threat — the brawnier your forces get, the tougher it can be to hunt down bad guys who blend into the village scenery.

So the military, especially the Army, redesigned what it did to counter insurgency and terrorism. Tanks and artillery units lost prestige to commanders who could insinuate their troops among locals and turn civilians who might otherwise harbor the enemy into collaborators in pursuit of peace and quiet.

“Because of bin Laden, we are now truly full-spectrum forces. We are as capable of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism as we are at conventional combat,” said John Nagl, who updated the Army’s counterinsurgency manual before retiring in 2008 and joining the Center for a New American Security.

Where some see the shift as a monumental success, others see it as a blunder. Douglas MacGregor, a retired Army colonel, said the U.S. sent in battalions where it should have sent in commando squads, and unintentionally retooled the military for missions it’s poorly suited for. The result, he contends, has been to make the country unready for the full-scale battlefield operations it had been criticized for obsessing for before bin Laden.

“We’ve structured it all for everything but combat,” said MacGregor, who now writes for the Committee for the Republic. “All the tactics and the strategy we used were a windfall for bin Laden. It fulfilled his prophecies about us wanting to invade these Muslim countries and take the oil.”

Other analysts see the transition less dramatically. They still worry that the war on terror, and bin Laden’s place in it, came at the cost of conventional military readiness.

New resources found their way to the long-troubled Osprey, a tilt rotor aircraft designed for moving Marines quickly into remote locations. Likewise, remote-controlled aircraft such as the Predator and the Global Hawk, which now play critical roles both in surveillance and armed attack, were hurried to the battlefield.

In the meantime, the Marines spent less time training for the amphibious assaults that defined much of their history. And the production of the Marines’ new expeditionary fighting vehicle, essentially amphibious tanks, was delayed.

While the Pentagon shifted to finding and fighting bin Laden, the Chinese steadily moved to improve their navy. Beijing will launch its first aircraft carriers next year.

“The Chinese have declared ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over the South China Sea,” said Eric Wertheim, who teaches at the U.S. Naval Institute and authors Combat Fleets of the World.

Taking it personally

The effects were more personal, of course, for the men and women who inspired so many ribbons on so many cars and trucks.

For Mike Davis of Lee’s Summit, bin Laden’s war on the United States is with him whenever he works with his “battle buddies” who came home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

He acts as advocate and ally at the Kansas City VA Medical Center for fellow troops wounded in conflicts sparked by terror.

He took a faceful of shrapnel one day in Baghdad in 2004. He’s medically retired now, working through the effects of a traumatic brain injury that jumbles his memory and can short-circuit his ability to stick with a thought, or a sentence. He feels the legacy of bin Laden every day.

“Now that (bin Laden) is dead, me and my Afghanistan brethren and buddies feel justified for our injuries, and for our fallen comrades,” said the 42-year-old former Army sergeant.

Phil Foster would still just be a weekend warrior, an Army reservist ready if his country needed him but not really expecting it would. Instead, he’s preparing for his third tour of Afghanistan.

Before bin Laden sponsored the 9/11 attacks, Foster was just a fleet manager in Charlotte, N.C., who had no particular expectation he’d really be around bullets fired in anger. But the bin Laden movement changed that. A major in 2001, he is a colonel now with the 475th Quartermaster Group. He has missed the birth of a grandchild and returned home and heard his wife tell him, sympathetically but unhappily, that he’d changed.

The local VA hospital tells him he has post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There were so many bombs. I’m jumpy now,” Foster said. “But it made me remember why I wear this uniform: to defend America.”

Air travel affected

It’s worth remembering that bin Laden truly burst into the American consciousness when he deployed young men with airline tickets and box cutters. They used those tools to topple skyscrapers and send a nation into panic. No wonder then that we worry now about bombs in shoes and underwear, that air travelers now surrender their bottled water and subject themselves to patdowns just to fly out of O’Hare.

“It’s almost as if the age of innocence ended that day,” said Joe McBride, longtime spokesman for the Kansas City Aviation Department. “The childhood I had isn’t going to be the same for my two daughters.”

That crystal-blue morning, as aircraft were being rerouted at Kansas City International Airport, McBride was being interviewed for local radio when the TV in his office showed the collapse of the first of the twin towers.

Airline passengers at the time could board flights carrying knives with blades no longer than four inches. Private security contractors ran checkpoints.

By 2004, screeners employed by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration nationwide would be confiscating more than 7 million dangerous items annually — including lighters, pepper spray, ski poles and tens of thousands of box cutters.

Bin Laden had been the world’s most hunted man for most of Mark Linzille’s life, dating back to U.S. embassy bombings in 1998. Linzille, a University of Missouri-Kansas City senior who edits the independent student newspaper, cannot recall living without slow lines at airport gates and bags being searched at sporting events.

His half brother joined the Marines and completed a two-year tour overseas fighting the war on terror.

“I think war most of the time is senseless,” said Linzille, 22, “but what my peers are doing over there takes a lot of courage. …

“I never really felt unsafe growing up … (but) it is kind of a relief to know we finally got (bin Laden). It’s nice to see something actually good coming out of all that relentless work.”


Is Kansas City the “heartland” of an imminent spiritual shift in consciousness for all of humanity?
May 5, 2011 
by Angie Lile. Co-Authored by Marcella Womack.

Kansas City is a melting pot of religious diversity. Home to several World Religion headquarters, it has been hailed as an undeniable energetic space that many of its residents find sacred. But is it possible that Kansas City is actually an energetic center of what many people believe to be a spiritual and energetic shift in human consciousness? Could Kansas City be home to the 2012 Shift?
. . . .
News of our religious diversity is even found in our mainstream media such as the Kansas City Star by way of a writer who wrote recently:

“In 2007, Religions for Peace-USA at the United Nations Plaza and Harvard University’s Pluralism Project sought a town for their first national interfaith academies. They selected Kansas City for the term because we offered the enrolled professionals and students hospitable Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and Buddhist congregations to visit, and speakers from other traditions as well.

A Harvard researcher said, “At the Pluralism Project, we consider Kansas City to be truly at the forefront of interfaith relations.” I believe one of several reasons for this is the proximity and influence of Unity, which has, since the time of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, validated wisdom found in faiths around the world.” (Harmony in a World of Differences: Interfaith Works- copyright 2011 by Unity Magazine and Vern Barnet Kansas City, MO)

Of course Mr Barnet is speaking of the Unity movement which observes all faiths and offers worship in all faiths and was initially initially founded in Kansas City, Missouri in 1889 after Mrs. Fillmore was cured of her tuberculosis that she believed came through spiritual healing. Unity Village in Lee’s Summit, Missouri is their world headquarters and offers nonsectarian educational training for ministers who serve those who organize under the “term” Unity. 
. . . .

Posted at 07:04 PM ET, 05/09/2011
Jewish newspaper edits Hillary Clinton out of ‘Situation Room’ 
By Brad Hirschfield

photo: U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011 (HO - REUTERS) 

The Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper, Der Zeitung, published the now iconic photograph of President Obama and his team watching as events unfolded in the Pakistan raid which killed Osama Bin Laden, but they did so with two notable changes – they removed both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the only other woman in the shot, Audrey Tomason. That kind of manipulation, not only violates the terms under which the White House makes such images available to the press, but suggests some real problems with the paper and it’s readership which presumably supports such manipulation.

To fully address the question of why they did this, the staff of the Yiddish language paper issued a lengthy statement, excerpted here:

“In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status... All Government employees are sworn into office, promising adherence to the Constitution, and our Constitution attests to our greatness as a nation that is a light beacon to the entire world. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. That has precedence even to our cherished freedom of the press! … Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.”

That understanding of sexual modesty is pretty extreme even relative to other members of the Ultra-Orthodox community, but that is not the real issue here. For starters, the publishers of the paper confuse what they have the right to do, with what is right to do.

Without entering a protracted debate about modesty or what Jewish law does and doesn’t allow, their statement fails to recognize that in exercising their right to edit the photo (they claim that White House policy forbid such editing), they needed to assume a related obligation – to inform their readership that they were looking at a re-touched image. In failing to make that clear, the editors avoided a very real challenge for themselves and for their community.

The manipulation of the photo makes it clear that those who read this paper need “facts” which conform to their beliefs, and when those facts are not available, they alter the real ones to conform to their beliefs. That’s not simply bad journalism or a violation of fundamental ethics; it’s actually dangerous for the community itself. No community, at least in America, will succeed for long if they cannot at least appreciate and make sense of what is actually going on around them.

It is also interesting to note that extreme discomfort with the presence of women or even images of women is common to virtually all totalitarian religious communities, regardless of the tradition involved. And in this case especially, it’s not something of which the editors of the paper should be proud.

Among the things for which radical Islam is most well known is its harsh repression of women’s rights. And while there are vast differences between how women function in the most conservative versions of the Jewish and Muslim worlds, the fact that both are often lead by men who seem utterly panicked by the presence of women in public life is only going to be highlighted by the paper’s actions.

The fact that they Photoshopped the image reminds us that even the most inward-looking communities can be technologically sophisticated. Technological sophistication has been shown, in some studies, to be inversely proportional to a community’s degree of religious openness.

The issue is not having technological capacity; it’s the ends to which we use that capacity. Communities may become increasingly sophisticated about keeping the world at bay, and even at using technology to do so, but ultimately that approach fails all those who avail themselves of it.

Of course, we all have versions of Der Zeitung’s editing process going on in our own lives – wanting to see the world as we would like it to be instead of how it really is. No, not as extreme for most of us, but if it weren’t a powerful impulse the news industry, especially on TV and radio would look quite different. If this story reminds us of how foolish that approach is, this Hasidic paper did us, if not themselves, a favor.


Why do Americans still dislike atheists?

By Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, Published: April 29

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently — and uncivilly — declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers intrinsically suspect and second-class citizens.

Is this knee-jerk dislike of atheists warranted? Not even close.

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

Consider that at the societal level, murder rates are far lower in secularized nations such as Japan or Sweden than they are in the much more religious United States, which also has a much greater portion of its population in prison. Even within this country, those states with the highest levels of church attendance, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, have significantly higher murder rates than far less religious states such as Vermont and Oregon.

As individuals, atheists tend to score high on measures of intelligence, especially verbal ability and scientific literacy. They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds when it comes to existential questions and to obey the golden rule. They are more likely to practice safe sex than the strongly religious are, and are less likely to be nationalistic or ethnocentric. They value freedom of thought.

While many studies show that secular Americans don’t fare as well as the religious when it comes to certain indicators of mental health or subjective well-being, new scholarship is showing that the relationships among atheism, theism, and mental health and well-being are complex. After all, Denmark, which is among the least religious countries in the history of the world, consistently rates as the happiest of nations. And studies of apostates — people who were religious but later rejected their religion — report feeling happier, better and liberated in their post-religious lives.

Nontheism isn’t all balloons and ice cream. Some studies suggest that suicide rates are higher among the non-religious. But surveys indicating that religious Americans are better off can be misleading because they include among the non-religious fence-sitters who are as likely to believe in God, whereas atheists who are more convinced are doing about as well as devout believers. On numerous respected measures of societal success — rates of poverty, teenage pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity, drug use and crime, as well as economics — high levels of secularity are consistently correlated with positive outcomes in first-world nations. None of the secular advanced democracies suffers from the combined social ills seen here in Christian America.

More than 2,000 years ago, whoever wrote Psalm 14 claimed that atheists were foolish and corrupt, incapable of doing any good. These put-downs have had sticking power. Negative stereotypes of atheists are alive and well. Yet like all stereotypes, they aren’t true — and perhaps they tell us more about those who harbor them than those who are maligned by them. So when the likes of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly and Newt Gingrich engage in the politics of division and destruction by maligning atheists, they do so in disregard of reality.

As with other national minority groups, atheism is enjoying rapid growth. Despite the bigotry, the number of American nontheists has tripled as a proportion of the general population since the 1960s. Younger generations’ tolerance for the endless disputes of religion is waning fast. Surveys designed to overcome the understandable reluctance to admit atheism have found that as many as 60 million Americans — a fifth of the population — are not believers. Our nonreligious compatriots should be accorded the same respect as other minorities.

KC  Freethinker Groups


Obama v. Netanyahu
two columns: Friedman, Zakaria

Lessons From Tahrir Sq.

By Thomas L Friedman, New Yoirk Times, May 24, 2011

Cairo. -- Being back in Cairo reminds me that there are two parties in this region that have been untouched by the Arab Spring: the Israelis and the Palestinians. Too bad, because when it comes to ossified, unimaginative, oxygen-deprived governments, the Israelis and Palestinians are right up there with pre-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia. I mean, is there anything less relevant than the prime minister of Israel going to the U.S. Congress for applause and the leader of the Palestinians going to the U.N. — instead of to each other?

Both could actually learn something from Tahrir Square. To the Palestinians I would say: You believe the Israelis are stiffing you because they think they have you in box. If you resort to violence, they will brand you terrorists. And if you don’t resort to violence, the Israelis will just pocket the peace and quiet and build more settlements. Your dilemma is how to move Israel in a way that won’t blow up in your face or require total surrender.

You have to start with the iron law of Israeli-Arab peace: whichever party has the Israeli silent majority on its side wins. Anwar Sadat brought the Israeli majority over to his side when he went to Israel, and he got everything he wanted. Yasir Arafat momentarily did the same with the Oslo peace accords. How could Palestinians do that again today? I can tell you how not to do it. Having the U.N. General Assembly pass a resolution recognizing an independent Palestinian state will only rally Israelis around Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, giving him another excuse not to talk.

May I suggest a Tahrir Square alternative? Announce that every Friday from today forward will be “Peace Day,” and have thousands of West Bank Palestinians march nonviolently to Jerusalem, carrying two things — an olive branch in one hand and a sign in Hebrew and Arabic in the other. The sign should say: “Two states for two peoples. We, the Palestinian people, offer the Jewish people a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed adjustments — including Jerusalem, where the Arabs will control their neighborhoods and the Jews theirs.”

If Palestinians peacefully march to Jerusalem by the thousands every Friday with a clear peace message, it would become a global news event. Every network in the world would be there. Trust me, it would stimulate a real peace debate within Israel — especially if Palestinians invited youth delegations from around the Arab world to join the marches, carrying the Saudi peace initiative in Hebrew and Arabic. Israeli Jews and Arabs should be invited to march as well. Together, the marchers could draw up their own peace maps and upload them onto YouTube as a way of telling their leaders what Egyptian youth said to President Hosni Mubarak: “We’re not going to let you waste another day of our lives with your tired mantras and maneuvering.”

Crazy, I know. Bibi is reading this and laughing: “The Palestinians will never do that. They could never get Hamas to adopt nonviolence. It’s not who the Palestinians are.”

That is exactly what Mubarak said about the Egyptian people: “They are not capable of being anything but what they are: docile and willing to eat whatever low expectations I feed them.” But then Egyptians surprised him. How about you, Palestinians, especially Hamas? Do you have any surprise in you? Is Bibi right about you, or not?

As for Bibi, his Tahrir lesson is obvious: Sir, you are well on your way to becoming the Hosni Mubarak of the peace process. The time to make big decisions in life is when you have all the leverage on your side. For 30 years, Mubarak had all the leverage on his side to gradually move Egypt toward democracy — and he never used it. Then, when Mubarak’s people rose up, he tried to do it all in six days. But it was too late. No one believed him. So his tenure ended in ruin.

Israel today still has enormous leverage. It is vastly superior militarily and economically to the Palestinians, and it has the U.S. on its side. If Netanyahu actually put a credible, specific two-state peace map on the table — not just the same old vague promises about “painful compromises” — he could get the Americans and Europeans to toss in anything Israel wanted, including the newest weapons, NATO membership, maybe even European Union membership. It could be a security windfall for Israel. Does Bibi have any surprise in him or do the Palestinians have him right: a big faker, hiding a nationalist-religious agenda under a cloak of security?

It may be that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are incapable of surprising anyone anymore, in which case the logic on the ground will prevail: Israel will gradually absorb the whole West Bank, so, together with Israel proper, a Jewish minority will be ruling over an Arab majority. Israel’s enemies will refer to it as “the Jewish apartheid state.” America, Israel’s only true friend, will find itself having to defend an Israel whose policies it does not believe in and whose leaders it does not respect — and the tensions between the U.S. and Israel displayed in Washington last week will seem quaint by comparison.

Where Netanyahu fails himself and Israel

By Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, May 25

Conventional wisdom is fast congealing in Washington that President Obama was wrong to demarcate a shift in American policy toward Israel last week. In fact, it was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who broke with the past — in one of a series of diversions and obstacles Netanyahu has come up with anytime he is pressed. He wins in the short run, but ultimately, he is turning himself into a version of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, “Mr. Nyet,” a man who will be bypassed by history.

Here is what Netanyahu’s immediate predecessor, Ehud Olmert, said in a widely reported speech to the Israeli Knesset in 2008: “We must give up Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and return to the core of the territory that is the State of Israel prior to 1967, with minor corrections dictated by the reality created since then.” Olmert, a man with a reputation as a hard-liner, said that meant Israel would keep about 6 percent of the West Bank — the major settlements — and give up land elsewhere. This was also the position of Ehud Barak, Israel’s prime minister during the late 1990s.

The Bush administration did not have a different position, as statements from the president and Condoleezza Rice make clear. Here is George W. Bush in 2008: “I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.” (The 1949 armistice lines is another way of saying the 1967 borders.)

Or consider this statement from last November: “[T]he United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.” That’s not Obama, Bush or Rice, but a statement jointly issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu on Nov. 11, 2010.

Today, Netanyahu says that any discussion of the 1967 borders is treason and that new borders must reflect “dramatic changes” since then. So in three years, an Israeli prime minister’s position has gone from “minor corrections” to “dramatic changes.” Netanyahu’s quarrel, it appears, is with himself. Yet we are to think it is Obama who has shifted policy?

Why did Netanyahu turn what was at best a minor difference into a major confrontation? Does it help Israel’s security or otherwise strengthen it to stoke tensions with its strongest ally and largest benefactor? Does such behavior further the resolution of Israel’s problems? No, but it helps Netanyahu stir support at home and maintain his fragile coalition. And while Bibi might sound like Churchill, he acts like a local ward boss, far more interested in holding onto his post than using it to secure Israel’s future.

The newsworthy, and real, shift in U.S. policy was Obama publicly condemning the Palestinian strategy to seek recognition as a state from the U.N. General Assembly in September. He also questioned the accord between Fatah and Hamas. Obama endorsed the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state, a demand Israel has made in recent years. Instead of thanking Obama for this, Netanyahu created a public confrontation to garner applause at home.

Netanyahu’s references to the “indefensible” borders of 1967 reveal him to be mired in a world that has gone away. The chief threat to Israel today is not from a Palestinian army. Israel has the region’s strongest economy and military, complete with an arsenal of nuclear weapons. The chief threats to Israel are from new technologies — rockets, biological weapons — and demography. Its physical existence is less in doubt than its democratic existence as it continues to rule millions of Palestinians in serf-like conditions — entitled to neither a vote nor a country.

The path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been clear for 20 years. Israel would cede most of the land it conquered in the 1967 war to a Palestinian state, keeping the major settlement blocks. In return, it would get a series of measures designed to protect its security. That’s why the process is called land for peace. The problem is that Netanyahu has never believed in land for peace. His strategy has been to put up obstacles, create confusion and wait it out. But one day there will be peace, along the lines that people have talked about for 20 years. And Netanyahu will be remembered only as a person before the person who made peace, a comma in history.

Originally published Friday, June 24, 2011 at 10:01 PM 
Faith & Values 
Death to unbelievers?
Quran's most misread words 

The often quoted Quranic passage that refers to the killing of unbelievers is often taken out of context, 
leaving an erroneous interpretation for many non-Muslims and also a few misguided Muslims. 
By Aziz Junejo -- Special to The Seattle Times 

At a recent interfaith gathering, a few guests privately expressed sincere concerns about the often quoted Quranic passage that refers to the killing of unbelievers — a passage I am frequently asked about.
   While none of those asking about this passage had had the opportunity to read the entire Quran with understanding, in taking a few lines out of context they sadly came away with an erroneous interpretation, as many non-Muslims and a few misguided Muslims do 
   Muslims believe the Quran to be the preserved and unchanged word of God, a book of moral and spiritual guidance that mentions and confirms three previous Holy Scriptures by name: the Torah, Psalms and Gospels. 
   The Quran was revealed at the peak of the Arabic language in terms of its expression, vocabulary, artistic and poetic value, and Muslims consider it their Lingua Franca.
   The Quran is written in pure, rich, lyrical Arabic that is read from right to left, and its complexity has posed many difficulties for translators. Every word and sentence has deep meanings that speak to the past, present and even the future, but which repeatedly emphasize the monotheistic belief in only one God. 
Muslim children have always been encouraged to memorize all or parts of the Quran in Arabic. When recited aloud, its rhythmical tones make it easy for even non-Arabic speakers to learn by heart. 
   God says in the Quran, "And We have certainly made the Quran easy to remembrance, so is there any who will remember?" (54:17) As a child growing up here in the 1960s, when there were no mosques in the area, I used to sit with an Arabic linguist who attended the University of Washington and who taught me the Quran in Arabic. 
   While memorizing it was easy, interpreting and understanding it was anything but. Some parts 
referred to specific historical situations, while others offered universal spiritual principles. 
   Today, the most quoted — and the most misinterpreted — Quranic passage (2:190-192) is the 
one giving permission to fight the unbelievers. What many don't know is that it speaks only to a specific time, and only at the city of Mecca, when the idol worshippers of Mecca had broken a truce with the Muslims and did horrible injustices. The passage speaks to the Muslims with numerous conditions, including that fighting in self-defense was a last resort. 
   I am most impressed with an analysis of this passage by Lesley Hazleton, of Seattle, an agnostic Jew and an award-winning British-American writer. Over a period of three months, she read in their entirety four well-known translations and a transliteration of the Quran, along with the Arabic text, then offered an interpretation of this disputed verse. 
   She describes the conditions of this verse as: not that you must kill, but that to do so at that time was allowed only under many conditions: including only after a defined grace period had passed; only if no other pact was in place; only if the idol worshippers stopped you from going to the Kaba (in Mecca); and only if they attacked you first — and even then, God is merciful, 
forgiveness is supreme. 
   Her findings reveal that the verse is allowing Muslims to defend themselves only with peace as their ultimate goal, which mirrors the interpretation of Islamic scholars today. 
   God speaks to all of humankind in the Quran without regard to race, color, social or financial situation or even genealogy. The clear unveiling of its truthful message can only come by reading it cover to cover with understanding. 
   From the beginning of creation God has sent prophets, messengers with divine scriptures, to 
guide mankind. Muslims believe his final unchanged text is in the Quran. 
   Aziz Junejo is host of "Focus on Islam," a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com 
Notes to myself

D Brooks neuro theology challg
Dr bronnrr
Quiz sor grapes. Not to swift. Not fruit of action. Merciful. NT

People who think that the triangle always has one a total of 180? test for some of its three angles ha ha are two dimensional ha ha whereas people who understand the outer surface of a three-dimensional sphere understand test the triangle I'll always be angles the some of the angles of the triangles are more than 180?Deleece is curious where it basically comes from earlier Anglo-Saxon words related also to the Germanic leave that to love means what you give your heart to and when I say I believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ how that is what I give my heart to hand at the time importance is not an intellectual assets but rather a good experience that one has hot in the totality of one's being as one of firms commit a test call to the body of Christ and his divine workReciting the creeds is like participating in a class grand how musical event just as the words .2 what is beyond words so how one creed which may apparently contradict another creed does not do so anymore then you and the multidimensional universe of the holy leave it open 29th piano Sonata does not contradict Mozart's 31st since the idea is that the Eucharist. For example ha ha is a statement about the chemical never been accepted by theologian ,sub species aeternitas  You cannot solve a calculus problem using elementary artimateic, When we discuss anything both as simple and as compicated as Infinite Love, human language is inadequate.
A 3 year old cannot be exected to understand the full meaning of sexual orgasm.A spiritial novice is unlikely to access the depth of experience that a saint in the very same religion can.  It is unfair to expect an illiterate person to completely understand a performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet in the original tongue. It is criminal to insist that someone allergic to poison ivy must rub the plant all over his body. Would you expect a blind person to fully appreciate Las Meneis by Valasquez?  Similarly, for those who have not explored certain dimensions of spiritual life cannot be expected to relate to the experiences of those who have, It is only with patience, exposure, and sincere openness that a Christian may gain some understanding of the Hindu perspectice, and vice versa, for example. For those who have only an elementary conception of Christianity, the vision of Christian mystics will seem as nonsense.
Nomore obliged to tell you where I worshp than I need to tell you whether I wear boxers or brief. You seek to invadeg my spiritual intimacy while you have accused me of chartalanism. You have not earned the trust required for such a private knowldge.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. -- C.S. Lewis, /The Weight of Glory/ book
The thing is this works for the world of Christianity. But supose your religion enables you to see ultraviolet radiation- from the sun which normally cannot be erceived except by instruments - you see the wold differently than one narrowly-sighted.You cannot us your micowave to download your email.

Matthew 11:13  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. | And if ye will receive  it,  this is Elias, which was for 
to come. | He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. | But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like 
unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, | And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not 
danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. |  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. | The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

  Matthew 13:10  And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest
thou unto them in parables? |   He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not 
given. | For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. |  Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 
 |  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye 
shall see, and shall not perceive: | For this people's heart is waxed gross, and  their  ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with  their  eyes and hear with  their  ears, and should 
understand with  their  heart, and should be converted, and I should heal

Luke 8:10  And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the
kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see,
and hearing they might not understand. 

You seem determined to find fault with me. I confess many imperfections. I hope you will find satisfaction in that.

If I am convinced that a person can be helped by such a religious discussion, and I am not  charged with "some other agenda," "being disingenuous," accused of being a "relativist, and implying that there IS NO truth," said to be "hiding" reflecting on my "motives," "playing games," repeatedly taking quotations out of context, "wishy washy talk," "simplistic" answers, that I "won't engage you in discussion: he like to be above it all and just sit back and act superior while others argue," accusing me of fearing loss of readership, and other 

I've been told that the Kansas International Film Festival is one of the top 25 in the country, which explains why it attracts such a following for a full week each year.

The "Holy Wars" film -- made in Missouri, Lebanon, Pakistan, and London -- could hardly have gone better. Alas, friends of mine were turned away because it was sold out. According to Bill Pryor, not a single person left during the 30-40 minute discussion. I worried when I saw Rauf and Naseema Mir in the audience - in part, whether to acknowledge them, torn between honoring them and putting them on the spot as Muslims - but when a question about Sharia came up, Rauf raised his hand and I had him come forward and introduced him and he had a good answer. I started the discussion by asking audience members to raise their hands if they were surprised about how the film turned out. Almost every hand went up. Then I asked for three volunteers to say what surprised them. Then the discussion got off with a good start, and I turned to the filmmaker (from Los Angeles) and put a question to him, and then gave the audience a chance to ask him questions. The filmmaker was excellent.  Afterward I was invited to a party with the filmmakers in town at McCoy's.

The paper today announced the two jury-winners, and that film won in the documentary class, so it is being reshown tomorrow. The narrative class winner was a Slovak film which I saw and thought was extraordinary with character development and surprise (and of course I like foreign movies because the subtitles make up for my problem hearing).

The big thing for me this week-end was the privately-financed free Hymn Fest. The organist, Gerre Hancock, is called the greatest living American organist improviser, and many of the top organists in the area showed up, including John Obetz and his successor Jan Craybill. There were mikes all over the Cathedral for a professional recording, and  they engaged a professional photographer to take photos. My wild selections were extremely well received, and apparently I was  heard properly in the Cathedral (I had brought a "pop" filter for the microphone I used); and the organist, at least once that I'm sure of, responded to what I did by altering his expected arrangement, which was great fun. Afterward I was part of a very nice dinner with key people involved and sat next to the organist and across from the financier who was extremely pleased with both the organist and with me. But most important, John Schaefer, the Cathedral's canon musician, was pleased, and this project has developed a great warmth between us and I've gotten to know his wife much better, too. Plus I now have been given the privilege of  going up to the gallery before the service is over and watch John play! Most of the "audience" were professional musicians and singers, just a few from the Cathedral, as this event was advertised city-wide; so my multi-faith approach to Christian hymns was, I'm sure, an awakening to most folks there. John asked Gerre if in all his career (mainly in New York, but concerts in Europe and Asia) he had ever had a reader select from such a variety of sources, and he said No. I provided brief introductions to several of the readings. My selections:

   Selections from the Holy Qur’an (610-633)
   A Hymn on the Nativity of my Savior — Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
Holy Name:
   Selections about Jesus — Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)
Epiphany and Transfiguration:
   Selections from the Bhagavad Gita (3137 BCE? - 1000 CE?)
Lent ? Passiontide:
  On the Eucharist — Thich Nhat Hanh (conversation with Daniel Berrigan in The Raft is Not the Shore, 1975)
Easter and Ascension:
   i thank You God — e e cummings (1884-1962)
   God’s Grandeur — Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
    Batter my heart Three-Personed God, John Donne (1572–1631)
All Saints:
   In Memory of W B Yeats, W H Auden (1907-1973)

Possible Internet trolls

maudley3@aol.com Mike Michael
JonHarker [100714]




A Muslim American Declaration
Wajahat Ali, Researcher
Center for American Progress

We are Muslim Americans. We are American Muslims. We live as your neighbors, friends, doctors, lawyers, police officers, soldiers, cab drivers, newspaper vendors, teammates, co-workers, and family -- seamlessly and without conflict. We are fully immersed in the American mosaic, and we are proud.

Our Muslims forefathers have been here since the founding of this country and we proudly continue upholding our legacy of investing in and contributing to America's successes from culture to politics, medicine to business, law enforcement to philanthropy.

As Muslims, we believe there is only one God, the God of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Noah, Moses, Joseph, Jesus and Muhammad (God's peace be on them all).

There is no country on earth that can boast as wide a variety of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians and Atheists as America can. As citizens of this country we feel truly blessed to be able to worship as we please, whatever our beliefs. The diversity of the American landscape is mirrored within each of its faith communities; our individual uniqueness, talent and energy make us stronger as one nation.

As Muslim Americans we also share a cultural and spiritual DNA with our fellow citizens and proudly celebrate our common values and ideals.

Our faith teaches us to be honest, hard-working, productive members of society. Compassion and ethical living are core foundations of our beliefs and an integral part of American character. We ask of ourselves what we ask of others, we seek the good in and for everyone and strive to be well-intentioned in our endeavors.

We are loyal to our country and our faith and rely strongly on God's gift of intellect and reason to guide us toward moral and ethical standards of behavior. We look to the wisdom of our past to benefit the present and future of all mankind.

Regardless of whether we were born in this nation or have recently adopted it as our home, we are committed to working with our fellow Americans to create a more perfect union for we, too, want a better life for ourselves, our children and our communities. In order to achieve these standards, we must all strive to understand and cherish the freedoms expressed in our Constitution and ensure none are denied these privileges.

Our respect for the Constitution allows us to appreciate the range of opinions that come with our freedoms. We welcome the ensuing debates, disagreements, and exchange of ideas because we believe this is the best way to understand one another and truly grow together as a community.
While these exchanges have the potential to uncover difficult and complicated subjects, we recognize that all Americans, regardless of their religious backgrounds or otherwise, have as much a right to participate and express their opinions in the name of making our country better. It is our responsibility as citizens to be educated, engaged and civic-minded.

We are today's Muslim Americans. We are striving toward building a better and more just society for all Americans and trust our collective action will result in the greater good: by us, for us all.


Kansas City Muslims: 
Patriot’s Day and Remembering 9/11
September 11, 2011

Kansas City-Area Muslims will be Honoring Muslim Veterans and Their Story of American Patriotism on Sunday, September 11, 2011 at Masjid Al Inshirah located at 3664 Troost Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri. The program will begin at 2:00 pm

 The commemoration will begin with an opening prayer for peace with a reading from the Holy Qu’ran followed by Muslim Boy Scouts conducting a flag ceremony.

Speakers include presentations about the sacred rights that the United States Constitution provides all Americans including Muslim Americans, young people’s presentation on the impact of 911 on their lives today including from a Muslim Eagle Scout.

In addition, a brief presentation of American Muslims who have served the United States along with Muslim Veterans will share their thoughts about their service and their patriotism for America.

Kansas City American Muslims remain confident in the principles of freedom, liberty and equality on which this great nation was founded which Muslim Veterans have defended and join the nation in commemorating the 10th anniversary of 911 of this ghastly tragedy with optimism that the next ten years will support inclusion, tolerance, social and legal justice for all.


The violence in sacred texts: 11-25-11

. . . .

There are violent, dark passages in quite a number of places in both the Bible and the Qur'an, and religion scholar Philip Jenkins insists that it's time to face up to them and seek to understand what they can possibly mean.

So Jenkins, perhaps best known for his insightful book, The Next Christendom, has written Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses.
I. . . . 

Jenkins' book is especially helpful for people who seek a reasoned and educated response to those who want to present, as Jenkins says, "the Qur'an as a terrorist tract loaded with hate propaganda." Indeed, says Jenkins, by comparison to the Bible, the Qur'an is lacking in verses that can be read that way: "If Christians or Jews needed biblical texts to justify deeds of terrorism or ethnic slaughter, their main problem would be an embarrassment of riches."

As Jenkins notes, "Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions -- all are in the Bible, occurring with a far greater frequency than in the Qur'an."

Besides, he writes, many of the problematic texts in any religion have to be understood in their proper historical context and how the religion has developed since those texts were written: "If the founding text shapes the whole religion, then Judaism and Christianity deserve the utmost condemnation as religions of savagery. Of course, they are no such thing; nor is Islam."
. . . .

And we need not look long and hard to find such passages: "The Bible contains many passages that to us seem bloodthirsty or upsetting -- stories of casual murder, mass slaughter, rape, adultery, and treachery. In many cases, these texts are so ugly that they have been dropped out of memory."
. . . .

American-Israeli Wickedness

December 13, 2011
Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir

I have a simple motto when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I love both Israelis and Palestinians, but God save me from some of their American friends — those who want to love them to death, literally.

That thought came to mind last week when Newt Gingrich took the Republican competition to grovel for Jewish votes — by outloving Israel — to a new low by suggesting that the Palestinians are an “invented” people and not a real nation entitled to a state.

This was supposed to show that Newt loves Israel more than Mitt Romney, who only told the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom that he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because “I don’t seek to take actions independent of what our allies think is best, and if Israel’s leaders thought that a move of that nature would be helpful to their efforts, then that’s something I’ll be inclined to do. ... I don’t think America should play the role of the leader of the peace process. Instead, we should stand by our ally.”

That’s right. America’s role is to just applaud whatever Israel does, serve as its A.T.M. and shut up. We have no interests of our own. And this guy’s running for president?

As for Newt, well, let’s see: If the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians are not a real people entitled to their own state, that must mean Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank and that must mean — as far as Newt is concerned — that Israel’s choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state. And this is called being “pro-Israel”?

I’d never claim to speak for American Jews, but I’m certain there are many out there like me, who strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state, who understand that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood yet remains a democracy, but who are deeply worried about where Israel is going today. My guess is we’re the minority when it comes to secular American Jews. We still care. Many other Jews are just drifting away.

I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away, not because they are hostile but because they are confused.

It confuses them to read that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia last Wednesday, was quoted as saying that the recent Russian elections were “absolutely fair, free and democratic.” Yes, those elections — the ones that brought thousands of Russian democrats into the streets to protest the fraud. Israel’s foreign minister sided with Putin.

It confuses them to read that right-wing Jewish settlers attacked an Israeli army base on Tuesday in the West Bank, stoning Israeli soldiers in retaliation for the army removing “illegal” settlements that Jewish extremists establish wherever they want.

It confuses them to read, as the New Israel Fund reports on its Web site, that “more than 10 years ago, the ultra-Orthodox community asked Israel’s public bus company, Egged, to provide segregated buses in their neighborhoods. By early 2009, more than 55 such lines were operating around Israel. Typically, women are required to enter through the bus back doors and sit in the back of the bus, as well as ‘dress modestly.’ ”

It confuses them to read a Financial Times article from Israel on Monday, that said: “In recent weeks, the country has been consumed by an anguished debate over a series of new laws and proposals that many fear are designed to stifle dissent, weaken minority rights, restrict freedom of speech and emasculate the judiciary. They include a law that in effect allows Israeli communities to exclude Arab families; another that imposes penalties on Israelis advocating a boycott of products made in West Bank Jewish settlements; and proposals that would subject the supreme court to greater political oversight.”

And it confuses them to read Gideon Levy, a powerful liberal voice, writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily, this week that “anyone who says this is a matter of a few inconsequential laws is leading others astray. ... What we are witnessing is w-a-r. This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state.”

So while Newt is cynically asking who are the Palestinians, he doesn’t even know that more than a few Israelis are asking, “Who are we?”
Posted on Fri, Dec. 30, 2011

A Brief History of Westport Presbyterian Church: 
A Goodly Heritage and a Lively Faith

[following the fire of Dec 29]

When Westport Presbyterian Church celebrated its 125th Anniversary, Emma Lyman wrote a detailed history of the church titled A Goodly Heritage. The following account is a summary by Marian M. Thomas of her work and of additions for September 1960 through November 1985 by an unknown author. Thomas has written new material for 1986-September, 2010.

In 1835, the same year John Calvin McCoy filed the plot of his “dream town” called West Port in Independence, Missouri, the Rev. Mr. Robert Sloan organized the Westport Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Tradition says the congregation was organized in a log school house at what is now 42nd Street and Pennsylvania. The young church struggled through the next fifty-eight years with various meeting places and itinerant supply preachers. The first building was completed just after the Civil War at 706 Westport Road, one of the highest points in the area.

In 1891, the congregation was again without a pastor. The Rev. Dr. George P. Baity, age 32, had just completed his seminary education at the Cumberland Presbyterian Seminary at Lebanon, Tennessee, after graduating from Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri. He heard about the need for pastoral leadership and contacted Elder L. A. Goodman. Dr. Baity’s first sermon was preached to an apathetic congregation of only forty-six people on July 2, 1893. Under his leadership, the church membership grew so much that a new building was needed. In March 1896, a brick building was erected and dedicated on the present site. On Jan. 11, 1903, in the middle of the night, the building burned to the ground. As a crowd of neighbors and church members gathered to watch, Brother Baity passed the hat and the building fund for a new church was started. During his tenure he worked energetically to close Westport saloons. He helped to establish Boy Scout Troop 60, which was founded in 1914.

The present stone building, including the sanctuary, chapel, and rooms upstairs above these spaces was dedicated on October 2, 1904. In 1916 an educational building was added to provide more classrooms and a gymnasium. Today this addition, named for L. A. Goodman, houses the Scout/Youth Room, office suite, library, Fellowship Class Room and Peace Quest program.

In 1927 a Reuter pipe organ was installed, and Louis Vierne of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, played the dedicatory recital. In 1942, the congregation supported a Japanese student at Park College despite widespread anti-Japanese sentiment. When Dr. Baity retired in 1942, The Rev. Dr. Stuart Paterson, age 32, came to the church as pastor. The congregation grew rapidly, and purchased a manse and made major building improvements without incurring debt. In 1952 the Baity Memorial Building was added on the southside of the original buildings.

During the years of Dr. Paterson’s leadership, a graded choir program was led by Ernest J. and Lucy Remley, and the pipe organ was renovated in 1963 by the Wicks Organ Co. Westport Cooperative Mission Inc. was founded in 1971 to tackle problems facing the aging in the nearby community. This was at a time when some churches decided to move to the suburbs rather than stay in urban locations. The fact that Westport Presbyterian stayed where it was helped to revitalize the Westport area. From 1968 to 1972 the church joined with Roanoke Presbyterian and Calvary Baptist to operate “The Sign” coffee house, in an effort to reach out to area young people who were considered part of the “counter culture,” although some church members worried about possible negative effects on their teens. In March, 1973, The Rev. Ronald L. Patton, age 32, came to lead Westport Presbyterian Church. He continued the strong emphasis on service to the Westport Community. For eight years, Baity Hall was host to a senior citizen nutrition program that served more than 150 meals a day on-site and to the homebound. That program continues today as “Meals on Wheels.” In 1975 the congregation was the first in Kansas City to adopt a Vietnamese refugee family. That family of five, formerly Buddhists, joined the congregation in a bi-lingual baptism service. Westport Ministry in Housing was founded by Westport Presbyterian, St. Paul’s Episcopal, and Immanuel Lutheran churches in order to accept a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant to build Westport House, an apartment building of 90 units which provides quality affordable housing for senior citizens in the Westport community. It was dedicated in April, 1983.

Concern for the influence of the media led the church to house ECUMEDIA, an ecumenical group dedicated to using the media for education and advocacy for faith groups. In 1983 the Baity Building was made available to the Willow Woods Child Development Center because of the need for quality child care in the Westport community. The church also got community leaders and the police together to work on a plan to combat increasing crime in the area. It monitored how the area was zoned, so that the quality of life for residents would be maintained. The church maintained its sponsorship of Boy Scout Troop 60, which is still active and has the oldest continuing charter in the Heart of America Council.

Patton was active in the Presbytery and at the national level in working for the reunion of the “northern” and “southern” bodies of Presbyterians. Westport Presbyterian, originally part of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, had been a leader in the union of that church with the Presbyterian Church in the USA., in 1906. A 1958 merger between that group and the Presbyterian Church in North America created The United Presbyterian Church in the USA. In 1972 Westport Presbyterian encouraged the first meeting of the “northern” and “southern” General Assemblies in the same place at the same time. Patton was on the national committee which worked toward reunion of these two main bodies, which was achieved in 1983 to create The Presbyterian Church, USA. In 1983 the Session adopted “The Westport Declaration:” “We intend to use all resources available, without reservation, to minister to, with, and in the community defined as Westport (31st Street to Brush Creek, Troost to State Line).” This decision launched a $50K capital campaign. New hymnals (The Worshipbook) were purchased and dedicated in April 1984, and building repairs ensued. While serving Westport, Patton completed his Doctor in Ministry degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary, thus becoming The Rev. Dr. Patton on May 25, 1985.

The 150th anniversary of the church was celebrated for one full year (1985), and included many guest preachers, special events, and the purchase of the Kimball grand piano which is still used in the sanctuary. At that time, the church supported many services through the Westport Allen Center: Westport Cooperative Services (Meals on Wheels and Senior Companions), a Chemical Abuse Group, Westport School Age Child Care, the Center for All Men (anger management), the offices and studios of the Kansas City Ballet, Hospice Care of Mid-America, and the Movement Coalition (6 dance groups, including Sufi and Yoga). The Session created a committee on Ministry to work with the congregation to bring about “spiritual rejuvenation in the life of the church.”

Patton left in September 1986 after 13 years and six months of service, and The Rev. Dr. Henry C. Barnett became interim pastor for 11 months. The next pastor, The Rev. Dr. David Winters, focused on Central America, and encouraged the congregation to educate themselves about issues there. He made several mission trips to Guatemala in the course of his six-year tenure. During his leadership, a Young Adult Class grew in numbers, but there were 30 deaths during his first year, and new members were not sufficient to maintain membership growth. Winters initiated a ritual Seder service on Maundy Thursdays, which was followed by a Christian communion service. He sensed a “survival mode” in the church, and worked to change that to a focus on “mission here and everywhere.” A new evening circle was established for working women, and Westport Presbyterian helped in the founding of The Urban Network ~ 16 churches in the city who banded together for mutual encouragement, sharing ideas and working to maintain membership. “White flight” to the Missouri suburbs or to Kansas, as well as the deaths of older members, meant a dwindling number of members. There were encouraging signs, though: the Young Adult Class had 15 members, and a new Sunday School for preschool children had five in attendance. The traditional Turkey Dinner on the Sunday before Thanksgiving had 140 diners in 1989. The choir grew to 19 members, and gave an annual “Choir Sunday” program each year.

1990 brought better handicap access to the church, when a power door was installed at the entrance from the parking lot. Winters convinced the church to hire a half-time minister to work with youth and the homebound, and Susan Hartley joined the staff. (Money was borrowed from the Endowment Fund to pay her salary.) Charles Bruffy, the choir’s tenor soloist, became choir director in 1990, and remained for four years and four months. The church was proud that he was the successful director of The Kansas City Chorale, whose office was at the church. A prayer group concerned itself with the war in the Persian Gulf (“Desert Storm”), and feminism was studied as efforts were made to expand ministry to women. Renovations were made to the Goodman wing to include handicap accessible bathrooms for men and women as well as a new modern kitchen.

Needs of the elderly continued to be important, and when HIV/AIDS became an area of concern, the church educated people and supported efforts to help those affected by the disease: the Session signed a “Covenant to Care,” and made space available for meetings of Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. A new tenant at the church, the Rev. Dr. Vern Barnet, led his new organization, the Center for Religious Experience and Study in work on interfaith issues.The Scout/Youth Room boasted a wooden floor, and the space was rented by dance groups: Irish, Welsh, English, Lithuanian and Dutch. Another tenant was the Heartland All-Species Project, a group teaching care for the earth and ecology. During these years, Scout Troop 60 produced more Eagle Scouts. The church experienced financial difficulties in 1991 and 1992, as many people who made large pledges died, and their pledges were not fulfilled. Salaries of staff had to be frozen, and newsletters were produced only every other week to save money. Mainline churches across the country were experiencing similar loss of members and extremely tight budgets. Two years after she came, Hartley left for another ministerial position, and Westport decided it could not afford two pastors. Soon after that, Winters resigned to go work in Guatemala.

Interim pastor Rev. Terry Hamilton-Poore began work in September 1993 and served for fourteen and a half months. She was the first fulltime female minister the church had hired. During her tenure, the church continued its work in the community. In July 1994, Marian Thomas, the choir director/organist and an adjunct faculty member at Saint Paul School of Theology, was hired as organist. Four months later, in November, 1994, the Rev. Scott Myers became the pastor of Westport Presbyterian Church. Myers continued the church’s active role in the Westport community and also strengthened the congregation’s awareness of the arts as integral to spiritual growth. He launched many new programs including an authentic Passover Seder followed by a dinner, a Neighborhood Learning Center at which students learned to use computers, an investment club called Westport Investors, two film series featuring a discussion of issues raised in the films, a Christian meditation group, live staged readings with professional actors of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, an “Inquiry Service” on Saturday afternoons, a “Spectrum of the Arts” Sunday School class, a chess club for kids, a peacemaking program for elementary school children which came to be called “Peace Quest,” Native American Celebration Weekends with Dennis Yerry, and a group called “Friends of Children Learning” which encouraged the Kansas City Missouri School District to make How Children Learn their focus.

Myers oversaw major renovations to the church property: the remodeling of the sanctuary and creation of a parlor, a new boiler heating system, a lighted front yard sign, handicap access to the choir loft (a lift), pipe organ renovation, new heating and air conditioning in the Day Care Center, new carpet and tile on the first floor, chapel remodeling, new air conditioning for the sanctuary and upstairs offices, remodeling of the Scout/Youth Room, including a new wooden floor, 100 windows and siding, and remodeling of the main church entry and Fellowship Room.

In 1998 he encouraged the church to participate in a “Back to School Project” to provide supply-filled backpacks for needy school children. He spurred an effort to educate the congregation and raise money for Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, to help build schools for girls in Afghanistan and aid women through micro-financing. He encouraged Westport Cooperative Services to move their offices to the church and to provide “Meals-on-Wheels” daily to neighborhood shut-ins, using the church’s kitchen to prepare the meals. Myers strongly supported a community effort to force a nearby nightclub, which continually broke city ordinances, to close, and worked with police to improve security in the area. He encouraged Marian Thomas to begin noon-time Brown Bag Concerts by local performers, and together they produced a booklet called “Invite the Spirit.” They co-taught a Sunday School class which incorporates visual, literary and musical arts in the curriculum. In 2005, Myers won a coveted Lilly Endowment Sabbatical grant to study “Arts and Spirituality” for three months. During those months he traveled to Europe and to art centers in the USA, read a great deal, and returned eager to share his passion for art with the congregation. During his absence, Rev. Hubert Neth, a retired United Methodist minister, led the congregation and frequently shared his own poetry. Myers and Thomas created 10 different “Illuminated Insights” - paintings, sculpture, and photographs to enhance scripture - for which Thomas wrote interpretations. For Christmas Eve and Good Friday services, these presentations were combined with music sung by the congregation and soloists. The church choir presented numerous Christmas concerts and “Choir Sunday” programs, and in 2008 presented the Kansas City premiere of “A Sermon From the Mountain,” a tribute in song and spoken word to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by American composer Alice Parker. During Myers’ tenure the church purchased the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal as well as the supplement Sing the Faith. Thomas taught a class on the new hymnal and created “hymn notes” for worship bulletins; Myers chose a wide variety of hymns for worship, so the congregation increased its hymn repertoire.

Wanting to expand arts programming, Myers and members of the church’s Arts Committee created the Westport Center for the Arts (WCA) in 2006, a non-profit organization which uses the church’s facilities, in order to seek funding from foundations, arts organizations, and individuals. The WCA is now independent of the church, but was born from the commitment of church members and friends to making the church a place where community arts are honored and encouraged. Programs include live staged readings of great literature, monthly Brown Bag noon concerts, a film series, dance groups, art shows, and special events such as concerts and virtual tours of great art museums through internet resources. Two CD’s of African-American spirituals sung by tenor Robert Hughes have been produced. Deanna Capps, a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, serves as secretary of the church and uses her creative skills in that capacity and ably manages the web page of WCA, creating artistic flyers and programs for WCA events.

The church, although diminished in membership from the 1950s, has not lost its zeal for doing ministry in Jesus’ name in the immediate neighborhood, in the city, and in the world. The church continues to provide space for community organizations, children’s day care, Boy Scouts, and many programs essential to building community. The church buildings are in use all week as well as on Sundays; thus does Westport Presbyterian Church provide both “out-reach” and “in-reach” for its members and friends. It is built upon a “Goodly Heritage,” and it continues to thrive with a “Lively Faith”

Column number. YrMoDa  Not all of Vern's courtesy replies are included
Respect citizens of all faiths 

The Kansas City area has become known as a national leader in promoting interfaith understanding. While we desire the moral benefits of a safe and harmonious community, our reputation makes us attractive to companies and institutes with a diverse work force.
     So how does our community respond when the faiths we cherish as Americans are misrepresented in a civic situation?
     In 2005, remarks at the Kansas City Mayors prayer breakfast were offensive to many people. Then-Mayor Kay Barnes declined to attend the following year to make clear her view that all faiths should be welcome at such events. A collection of news reports and commentary running some 10,500 words is on file at Harvard University’s Pluralism Project as a case study of how we  responded to religious prejudice.
     On Nov. 17 this year, the speaker at the Independence Mayors Prayer Breakfast aroused similar offense. The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council and others have expressed concern. I was astonished when I saw the video. At least two groups are planning programs to turn the damage into a positive learning opportunity. In the meantime, numerous objections continue.
     One constructive voice is that of the Rev. Josef Walker, who spoke at the Dec. 5 meeting of the Independence City Council. 
     As a resident of the city, he has attended many of the yearly prayer breakfasts. At none previously had he heard a member of one religion “openly, deliberately and consistently attack another person’s faith,” he said, instead of bringing the community together as Americans.
     Walker told me that a number of citizens fear speaking out now because theirs are minority faiths. “This makes it incumbent on us Christians to deal with the problem,” he said.
     (I recall German Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous utterance in the face of rising Nazi prejudice which concludes, “Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”)
     Walker also provided the City Council with a fact-sheet correcting egregious misstatements by the breakfast speaker. It was prepared by Syed Hasan of the Midland Islamic Council. Hasan, who writes for The Star’s “Voices of Faith” feature, had attended the breakfast.
     Walker recommended that the city’s human relations commission examine concerns about the breakfast and that an audit assure residents that no taxpayer money was entangled with the breakfast.
     As the new year approaches, let our hearts beat strong in civic commitment to a diverse community with safety and respect for everyone of all faiths.

     The speaker was Kamal Saleem, who describes himself as a former Muslim terrorist who has converted to Christianity. The authenticity of his autobiography is very doubtful. The mayor of Indepdence is Don Reimal.

C M writes
     I was confused about the facts of the prayer breakfast controversy mentioned in today's article.  I have no recollection of the problem.

Vern responds
     Most of the coverage (reports, comments, etc)  has been in the Independence Examiner, but here [attached] are three from The Star. The venue folks were deeply embarrassed and issued a statement, and the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council also issued a statement.
     Below I also include Josef Walker's report [attached] on favorable action at the Human Relations Commission meeting last night. Thanks for your interest.

B M writes
         On December 28th you recently made a comment within your interfaith section entitled, “Respect Citizens Of All Faiths”.
            I believe you make reference to an ex-Islam person that converted to follow God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  I personally have heard him speak and of his love for all people.  He, along with other true believing Christians, follow what Jesus taught before and after His resurrection.  It is obvious in His Holy Word that religion based government doesn’t work.  Jesus never demanded that people should follow Him blindly and only follow Him by their own willingness of their heart.  Jesus said beginning in Luke 6:27 “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you – bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”.
            The Islam faith is both a religion and a form of government at the same time.  The Muslim faith outwardly declares war and death on those that are not and will not convert to Islam.  Muslims have the desire to rule the earth by only their religion and they declare that there is no room on earth for other faiths.
            Any religion that allows practices that defies common logic and man’s own inner consciousness is an absolute perversion of faith and religion.  The KC Star needs to examine and accurately report the true motives of the interfaith groups that you report on.

Vern responds
   Thank you for writing.
     I have watched the DVD of the Mayors Prayer Breakfast twice and taken notes on what was said. I have talked to many who attended.
     My opinion, having traveled in many Muslim countries and have many Muslim friends in the Kansas City area, is quite different from yours. I have also studied Islam in seminary and in other ways for over four decades of my ministerial career and feel quite well-informed about the many inflections and expressions of Islam, just as I know about the horrible things done in the name of Christianity and the glories and splendors and blessings of both faiths. I have studied the Islamic faith with Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim scholars, and, as I say, have many Muslim friends locally, who have saved many lives and improved and enriched our community through their work in medicine, teaching, sports, philanthropy, business, and many other fields.
     My concern is that the speech you heard perpetuated exactly the kind of what I regard as misinformation and misunderstanding that I find in your email which is, in my experience and study, terribly misleading and dangerous, especially as we seek to develop public policy as Americans.
     I am looking forward to occasions planned when those such as you will have an opportunity to meet some of these wonderful local Muslims. In the meantime, I hope you will consider reading legitimate material about Islam. A brief book that would be a good start that presents Islam fairly is Karen Armstrong's ISLAM: A SHORT HISTORY.
     I am sure you want to be fair-minded and consider all perspectives, so I hope you will read Armstrong's book and write me again. And I look forward to meeting you at one of the events for the community where you'll have a chance to meet real Muslims. I myself am a Christian and I have never, in all my years and all my travels, ever had a Muslim try to convert me. They express the utmost respect for my faith and are eager to work together to make a better community and world.
     Again, thank you for taking the trouble to write me.


VOR 3 
     I had to research the remarks from the 2005 Mayor’s prayerbreakfast that “were offensive to many people.” This is what I found from the KC Star archives: “In his 10-minutespeech, Dunn (i.e., construction magnate Bill Dunn Sr.) bemoaned "asharp downward trend" in the nation's values and denounced illegitimatebirths, same-sex marriage, activist judges and the American Civil LibertiesUnion.” 
     I have never been to a Mayor’s prayer breakfast, but Iimagine this is a pretty good example of the challenge in putting on such anevent.  In short, how can speakers behonest about controversial aspects of their religious beliefs without offendinga significant portion of the audience?  Inaddition to “illegitimate” births and same-sex marriage, there are a whole hostof issues that could offend and divide the audience (including audience memberswho share a common faith).  Hopefully,speakers will express their views with compassion for those with whom theydisagree, but some controversy appears inevitable if there is going to be asubstantive discussion of people’s beliefs. 

Vern responds
     Further research may lead you to additional reports and opinion about the 2005 event, or email me with your address and I'll send you the material in the Harvard file. Thanks for your interest.

VOR 3 
     The Star article I cited was published in February, 2006,around the time of the 2006 breakfast. The article said “Barnes is sticking by her decision, announced last year, not to attend this year's event because of her displeasure over remarksby last year's keynote speaker, construction magnate Bill Dunn Sr.”  You seem to be suggesting that The Stararticle was, at best, incomplete.  Icertainly have no reason to doubt you.  Ifthere was discrimination against certain religions or beliefs in the conductingof the 2005 breakfast then, clearly, that should not have been tolerated. 

Vern responds
     Articles appeared in The Star 2005 Feb 12, Feb 23, Mar16; 2006 Feb 15, Feb 29, Feb 23, Mar 1. Coverage also appeared in other places such as Ingram's. Because this was a developing story, I do not mean to suggest that any particular article was incomplete. A complete record includes, but is not limited to, the full text of the Mayor's 2005 March 1 statement, correspondence with the sponsoring committee, and other materials. I agree with you, if I understand you correctly, that "discrimination against certain religions or beliefs" should not be part of civic functions held under the banner of public officials. The present case in Independence clearly violates this principle, and the matter is now being pursued by the Independence Human Relations Commission. 

VOR 3 
     I just read Dunn’s comments as published in The Star on March 4, 2005.  I also read your column published on February23, 2005.  While it was certainly interesting to read those columns, I think The Star column I referenced in myprevious comments captured the substance of the controversy.We will just agree to disagree on this matter, and that’s OK.  In your column from 2005, you wrote:  “There is a time and a place for expressing one's personal beliefs, but the Mayors' Prayer Breakfast is not it.”  My opinion is that when people gather at a meeting with a religious focus, that is exactly the time to be honest about one’s personal beliefs. I think Dunn should have been more compassionate in his remarks and less confrontational, and he should have spent more time acknowledging the good that can come from people of diverse backgrounds working together.  But, my basic attitude is that remaining silent about our differences does not make them any less real.  And, I don’t equate a prayer breakfast to an eventsuch as a funeral or a 9/11 commemoration, where emotions are extremely fragile.  People at a prayer breakfastshould be open enough to face the reality that substantive differences do exist. 

Vern responds
     Again, thanks for your interest in this issue. Earlier in the Feb 23 column, I write that "a line is crossed when a prayer breakfast becomes partisan." It is in that context that I meant that "there is a time and place for expressing one's personal beliefs, but the Mayors' Prayer Breakfast is not it." 
     Religious differences are to be cherished, not hidden. Learning to do this honestly and respectfully is a sign of maturing civic pluralism. A civic platform should not be used to demean others, though it can well be an opportunity for recognizing and celebrating differences in a way that helps us think more deeply about the issues before us, including everyone as part of the conversation, even if the speaker reverently and graciously presents one's own perspective as one's best contribution to the larger process acknowledging our different backgrounds and life experiences produce varied insights into spiritual mysteries before which we can easily remain modest. 
     The column concluded with full appreciation for the recognition of our differences: "We should reclaim this event to celebrate our diversity of faiths and our unity as heartland Americans." I completely agree with you that "People at a prayer breakfast should be open enough to face the reality that substantive differences do exist." In my opinion the speaker failed to recognize and respect these real differences.

Signposts for the future 

As I was thinking about Christmas earlier this month, I found myself at the Kansas City opening of an exhibition of Buddhist relics, part of the Maitreya Project Relic Tour around the world.
     Arranged by Janet Taylor at Unity on the Plaza, dozens of relics, some said to be thousands of years old, were welcomed with inspirational speeches by Lama Chuck Stanford and former KC Mayor Kay Barnes.
     In the audience of about 200, I recognized Buddhists from five local groups, but I suppose most folks were not Buddhists.
     All were invited to view the relics close-up. Many chose to remove their shoes as they, one by one, approached the collection. Folks began meditative viewing after pouring water from a bamboo dipper over a small statue of the Buddha as a baby, thus honoring him and his teachings about the reality of suffering and the release from suffering.
     Exactly what this ritual meant was for each person to discover. As I watched for over an hour, I thought about how each person has a life story with different struggles and triumphs, and probably finds different meaning in this simple rite, even if most might agree that in paying homage to the Buddha we are reminded that in blessing others we are blessed ourselves.
     The nativity stories of the baby Buddha and Jesus differ. The one who became the Buddha was the son of an earthly king and royalty surrounded him. Jesus was laid in a manger, not a palace.
     But both taught with full knowledge of the disparities, spiritual and material, that afflict our existence, and both are widely recalled more for the inspiring stories of their lives than for the intricate theologies that later developed as people puzzled out the meaning of their narratives. 
     I love to contemplate theories of incarnation; but when we become as children, Christmas is more a story of wonder than scholarly theses.
     Relics are tangible reminders of stories and traditions, stories of salvation from sin for Christians and of enlightenment from ignorance for Buddhists. Relics are sort of the square roots of symbols.
     But even common symbols can propel us into the timelessness beyond the calendar. Take, for example, the star that sits atop many Christmas trees, a reminder of the travels of those seeking a spiritual king. 
     It need not be a meteorite, a relic from outer space. Even a plastic star can remind us of the guidance we seek on our own journeys, and how our senseless travels suddenly are illumined when we look up.
     Maitreya is the future Buddha. Christ will come again. Relics or symbols of stories of the past may be signposts to a wholesome future. 

Faith & Beliefs @ 900

Q. Why are you interviewing yourself?
     A. This is the 900th Wednesday for the “Faith and Beliefs” column and some questions need answers.
     Who are you?
     Readers have labeled me everything from an atheist to a fundamentalist believer. Some people mistakenly think because I present this or that  view in a particular column, I must agree with it.
     My doctoral work at the University of Chicago, travel in Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East, friendships with local folks of every faith, parish ministry, seminary teaching and a life-long interest in the sciences make me curious, and admiring of those who ask questions about the meaning of life and how to live with one another. 
     Who are your readers?
     The guy behind the parts counter at the auto dealership, the seminary professor, the young bride, the folks in minority faiths and atheists — I like to hear from all sorts of people, whether they approve or condemn what I write. 
     You discuss art, sports, music, literature, film, business, science, civic issues and other topics. You range from the beginning of time to the latest thing. What principles guide you in including them in a column on religion?
     Two. First, my professor, Mircea Eliade, believed we are called “to decipher and explicate every kind of encounter with the sacred, from prehistory to our own day.” He thought that secular phenomena arise from some obscuring of the sacred, cracks in our sense of the whole, the holy. I try to point that out as a step toward putting things together.
     Second, I usually write with a local focus, although sometimes these columns are picked up by other publications. I was surprised when The Interfaith Observer asked to reprint a recent column that listed three things we learned about how to create a successful interfaith conference in Kansas City.
     What column aroused the most responses?
     When I complained about the anti-Semitism, the over-the-top violence and the crude penal theory of atonement in Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” the emails were overwhelming. 
     Do you ever run out of things to write about? How do you pick your subjects?
     Each week I see at least a dozen topic possibilities. I ask myself, “What do my readers need to think about and am I prepared to present it?” — rather like the pastor planning sermons based on what the congregation needs rather than on one’s own interest. As I try to gauge what my readers would find helpful, I’m always grateful for suggestions. 


S T writes
     I just noticed your column in today's paper and thought I would write you as you seem a well rounded person.
     If a person is a Christian, is gambling against God's teachings?  I ask because I am a poker player and a Christian, but I find nothing in The Bible specifically about gambling.
    Thank you for your time.

Vern responds
     Some gambling has a bad association with the soldiers who threw lots (Matt 27:35) for the garments of Jesus at the crucifixion.
     The history of Christianity has generally shown disfavor on gambling.  Modern Christian views generally focus on more nuanced questions such as whether gamblers are harming themselves or others by their gambling. Some denominations, like the Methodists, have been particularly opposed to state-sponsored lotteries because they feel that the poor and needy are sucked into the unrealistic hope for riches and waste their money, even though some of the proceeds benefit state programs. Catholics are often teased about bingo games.
     Other religions have various views. Islam, for example, generally prohibits gambling. Judaism, while wary, has sometimes permitted gambling on certain days.
     A book that might interest you is Chances Are: Adventures in Probabilty Theory by Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan. While there is a chapter devoted to gambling, the overall theme of the book is that life is full of chances, and trying to make sense out of it sometimes gets people into lots of trouble. The last chapter sums up the book with an implicit theology surprising to come out of a mathematical study. 
     Perhaps you saw the Republican debate in which Rick Perry said he was not a gambling man when Mitt Romney offered him a ten thousand dollar bet.
     I am afraid I have not answered your question very well, as I do not think there is a clear answer. It does seem to me that if you have the means and harm no one and derive pleasure from poker playing (which can involve the benefit of social relationships), your gambling is nothing to worry about. Be sure that you do contribute to charity and otherwise find ways to cherish those less fortunate.
     Thanks for reading my column, and for writing me!

S T writes again
     Thanks for the book recommendation.  And your letter, while it may not have answered my question directly, shows there is no easy answer.  But that is the way it is for most things.

S H writes 
     I read your 900th column in the KC Star last Wed.  Wow! what an accomplishment—that is over 17 years of great work.  I can’t wait to see your 1,000th column in less than two years. Congratulations for outstanding service to the KC Faith community.  It is sustained efforts like this that has put Kansas City on the nation’s map as the leader in interfaith relations. Best wishes for an enjoyable holiday season!

Vern responds
     I appreciate your thoughtfulness in noting my 900th column for The Star. I may not be Scheherazade -- but I think I'll go for 1001. I love the relationships I've developed with my readers. Thank you for celebrating this milestone with me! I am grateful that you and others think I have made some contribution to interfaith understanding.
     However, as you know, much work remains. I am deeply distressed by so many who cannot understand why the Independence Mayors Prayer Breakfast was so offensive and damaging, and I hope that early in the next year we can repair some of the damage and maybe use the incident to move everyone forward.
     Best wishes for the New Year to you . . .!

K C writes
     Something very important to write about. 

Vern responds
     I have been an opponent of NCLB from the beginning.  The emphasis on testing rather than nurturing a love of learning is deplorable, as are other aspects of the law and its effects. Thanks for this article!

D T writes
     Hope all is well with you and yours. 
     Here's a potential suggestion. Dr. William Ratliff was my theology professor at Midwestern Seminary here in KC, when it was okay to think, discuss, discourse, muse and otherwise imagine before the so-called fundamentalist take over. 
     Most intriguing for me was our exploration of liberation and process theologies. Where do we still see hints of these today? Liberation in Arab countries? Process possibilities in "The Big Bang Theory"?  Your thoughts?  THANKS!

Vern responds
     Wasn't Milt Ferguson the president in those more charitable years? What a beautiful succession of discriptors you provide:
        think, discuss, discourse, muse and otherwise imagine
     I'm no expert on liberation theology. In fact, I was not clear about the difference between liberation theology and fiesta until I read Elizabeth A. Johnson’s wonderful “Quest for the Living God.”  She also has a good chapter that deals (too briefly) on cosmology. 
     Your connecting the Arab spring with liberation theology is really intriguing. Surely there are Christian and Muslim theologians working on this.
     I'll be watching, and a column or more could appear -- thanks for the suggestions.
     Will the Large Hadron Collider find the Higgs boson, the "God particle"?  (I'm still rooting for the yet-unanaylized data from Batavia!)
     What is there if not process?
     Thanks for reading and writing -- it'd be fun to discuss all this over coffee sometime! 

L M writes
     What a great article today.  I love how you shared yourself on a personal basis with your readers.  I know your spirit and inspiration is still with us at Gift of Life.
     May the Holiday bring you and yours many blessings and a renewed energy to bring our community together

Vern responds
     I appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing about today's column!  You are most generous in assessing my participation on the board of GOL, and please know I found you and the others to inspire me!  I am grateful to have met so many wonderful people through GOL and cherish continuing good wishes. So I'm glad for this occasion to wish you and yours a blessed holiday season as we all give thanks that we are given the opportunity to help one another and strengthen our community.

M S writes
    Congratulations . . . .How did you manage to do that? It is a great accomplishment.

L G writes
     It is amazing to realize that you have birthed 900 columns.  This is kind of like Methuselah. May you live to see 1000!

Vern responds
    Thanks . . . .  I may not be Methuselah -- or Scheherazade -- but I think I'll go for 1001. Then if The Star doesn't start paying again, I'll use my time other ways, though I love the relationships I've developed with my readers. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in celebrating this milestone with me!

C M writes
     I'm a few days tardy, but what an achievement to have written your column for 18 years (more or less).  That you continue to find things to write about demonstrates the breadth of your subject.  I would be interested in a column on what progress you feel has been made in interfaith dialogue as well as how your views have changed over the years. Maybe you ought to pull your best pieces for a book.  Anyway, congratulations, you should be proud 

Vern responds
     Thanks . . . for the congrats -- and also for the idea of an assessment of interfaith progress since the column began and how my views have changed over the years.  And the book idea! I'll work on that. All good projects for the new year !

D H writes
     Some time ago I read in your newspaper column (or perhaps Billy Graham's) about serving God.  You stated that you remembered a conversation with a rabbi who said that it did not matter what occupation one had.  If the person would be honest and do their work to the best of their ability, he/she would be serving God. 
     I am trying to locate that column as I obviously found it very meaningful and wonderful advice for all.  If it was your column, could you please inform me as to how I might get a copy of it.  I sincerely enjoy your columns and thank you for your informative points of view.   Thank you for your time and assistance.  Wishing you the very best in the New Year!

Vern responds
     I certainly agree that honest work done in the service of others is a form of worship. It can be menial or grand, private or public. I remember visiting Japan some years ago and learning about a religious group that went from home to home cleaning (Japanese-style) toilets as an act of devotion. One of the reasons I admire traditional Christian monastic life as well as some of the 60s hippie communes is that they recognize that all sorts of labor is required to make a community flourish, and that everyone has an equal part, even if different roles, in sacred service.
     I have looked through my columns and do not find this idea exactly expressed or attributed to a rabbi, but in 2004 I wrote a series of three columns about work/play/vocations which you can review on my website at
     Perhaps the idea you recall was in a Billy Graham column.
     At any rate, I am grateful that you associate an idea that has been helpful to you with my column.
     If you do read the 2004 columns, I would be grateful to know if they are of any use to you.
     Thank you for reading and for writing me. I appreciate your holiday wishes and wish that you may find this season to be a great blessing to you.


     “As I try to gauge what my readers would find helpful, I’m always grateful for suggestions.”  Ok, here’s a current, localized version of a timeless question:  In a metropolitan area that can find $6,000,000 to send a college football coach packing and hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on an arts center that will overwhelmingly be used to entertain relatively affluent people, why do we still have children coming to school who don’t have 40 cents to buy a reduced price lunch (see “Hunger among teens often goes unnoticed” on Sunday’s front page)?  I know Jesus told us that the poor will always be with us, but that doesn’t mean that both believers and non-believers don’t need to fundamentally change their priorities. 
     P.S.  Advance notice:  I am not going to waste my time responding to the troll who stalks The Star’s Faith articles.

Vern responds
     I think the new Performing Arts Center (with its resident companies) is often used to uplift very poor children. But the core answer to your question in my opinion is exactly what I think you imply: We people of faith are not applying the urgency of our traditions beyond our own selfish interests. This is why I think interfaith challenge is essential to confront and heal the problems of the environment, personhood, and society.

     Thank you for the response, but I don’t think the resident companies
needed a $250 million building in order to uplift very poor children.  All they had to do was hop in their cars and drive a few miles to perform at the schools (which I am sure they already do to a certain extent) and interact with the children.  I think you correctly identified the reason we spend millions of dollars on the wrong priorities, i.e., selfishness.

     A single large church in South Overland Park has done more in the past year for the disadvantaged than ALL of the atheist groups in the Kansas City area have done in the past 20 years.

Vern responds
     A single large church in Johnson County may contain more members, and members of greater wealth, than all the tiny atheist groups in the metro area combined over many years. No argument at all. And I would not be surprised if one foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Bill is a non-believer) does more in one month than the Johnson County church does in ten years.

Views of Incarnation and love 

“God doesn’t play dice with the world.” Although the recent PBS series, “The Elegant Universe,” did deal with Einstein’s famous objection to an interpretation of quantum mechanics, the programs were sloppy scientifically, philosophically and religiously.
     And the breathless succession of claims — wow! amazing! unbelievable! surprising! — made the series more sizzle than steak.
     Still, the programs did jiggle viewers’ minds to see space and time from different perspectives. Are we really three-dimensional space creatures in time or merely a holographic projection? Are there near copies of us in alternate universes?
     After watching one episode, I dreamt that there were several of me, one in KC, the others at the Alhambra, Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal. Although I was able to stay in touch with my selves via cell phone, getting enough sleep was a real problem.
     We can measure the temperature of the sun, but we can never experience it because our bodies cannot withstand it. We can do the math for quantum mechanics but we can never experience the nature of a quark or comprehend quantum behavior within ordinary logic.
     Nor is the Christian sizzling! claim that God became human in Jesus any more a matter of ordinary logic. How can the infinite and omnipotent take on mere flesh with its limitations? Ordinary language falls into contradiction, but those who hold the meaning of Christmas dear find in  love and sacrifice a profound, wonderful and divine reality.
     Why did the Eternal enter into this universe as a person? Augustine said Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s instructions. Through sexual reproduction, we inherit their original sin.
     (The doctrine of original sin is not in the Hebrew Bible. The Genesis story never again is mentioned in it. Christianity is unique among major faiths in developing this teaching.) 
     Dominicans like Aquinas said that God became human in Christ to redeem us from sin. 
     Franciscans like Duns Scotus disagreed. They taught that even if Adam and Eve had not sinned, Jesus would have appeared because God loves the world. The Divine Lover seeks union with the beloved and so enters history to share the human experience.
     Did God, from before the beginning of time, so love us to will his Son into the elegant universe regardless of whether our first parents sinned, or did he throw the dice of freedom to Adam and Eve and plan to give his Son only if they misbehaved?
     I would not presume to know the mind of God. None of my selves can even do quantum calculations. But I’d prefer to think that if God is, God is less like a cosmic repair man and more like an unbelievable! lover. 


S S writes
     I enjoyed your column today, as per usual, but found myself wishing that you had mentioned Irenaeus’s or Athanasius’s theology of the Incarnation: namely, that God became human so that humans might become more like God. (Divinization). Sin is thus understood as separation/alienation from God – a breach which God has longed to heal from the first days of our disobedience (as the BCP puts it.) God reached out to humankind through the Covenant, through the Law and the prophets, through sending his Son. Humankind’s capacity to misuse the gift of free will which God gave our First Parents is the root of sin. We are so “hard wired” to that misuse that it may as well be present in human nature, transmitted to us before we were born. (And that’s as generous an interpretation of Augustine as I am capable oft!!). 

H J writes
     Great article today; you do a great job in showing the alternatives of theology among the traditions. I appreciate you. 

Parallel lives, given for othersHindu parallels

Many Christians are now observing Advent, the season of preparation for the holy day of Christmas, a celebration of the birth of the Christ-child believed to be the human incarnation of God and the Savior of the world.
     The juxtaposition of the Christian story with Hindu themes may illumine both.
     The Hindu Temple in Shawnee recently hosted an interfaith gathering with extraordinary grace and hospitality. The evening included prayers by the priests in the sacred language of Sanskrit.
     That led me to recall the day before when the Philip Glass opera sung in Sanskrit, “Satyagraha,” was transmitted live to cinemas here from the New York Metropolitan Opera. Glass, who worked with Ravi Shankar, uses a musical language informed by Indian techniques. The opera’s title is sometimes translated “truth-force” and refers to Gandhi’s non-violent method of social change.
     The opera opens with the modern Gandhi placed anachronistically in a scene from the ancient scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. The warrior Arjuna is distraught about the battle which cannot be prevented. The god Krishna advises him, “Hold pleasure and pain, profit and loss, victory and defeat to be the same; then brace yourself ready for the fight.” Only by abandoning attachment to personal desires can one align oneself with the truth. 
     The opera is more a series of tableaus than an ordinary story. In the Tolstoy Farm scene, workers learn self-purification, essential to resist the oppression of the South African government. Tolstoy’s ideas on non-violent resistance and the ethical teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, led Gandhi to recover his own Hindu heritage.
     In the act in which Gandhi’s Indian contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore, appears, Gandhi’s South African newspaper enables an informed population ultimately to resist the Black Act, accept jail, flogging and death. (Between acts, a Met commentator compared Gandhi’s burning of the South African registration cards to our own political controversies.)
     The final act presents Martin Luther King Jr, who employed Gandhi’s methods to fight for social change without violence in either the hearts or the acts of those protesting discrimination. Both were assassinated.
     As the King figure gestures as if giving a speech, Gandhi sings the words of Krishna, “For whenever the law of righteousness withers away and lawlessness arises, then do I generate myself on earth.”
     The parallel promise of the Christmas carol that the “hopes and fears of all the years are met” in Jesus suggests the universal beauty of lives given for others. 


     We are wired for happiness when we live our lives for others.  "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it."
     The divine life is counter-cultural... and can only be had 'on the fly'.

Give thanks for silence

Regular readers of this column know I love music. My friends know I love a good conversation. But background music when I’m trying to enjoy a conversation in a restaurant can be annoying. I certainly don’t like people chatting when a concert is in progress. 
     So while I am grateful for both music and conversation, I also give thanks for their absence. Silence is the ground from which music and conversation arise. 
     Of course silence can be awkward, as recent incidents in the political world illustrate. I do like the PBS Newshour’s weekly listing in silence on the TV screen the names of uniformed Americans killed in service to our nation. And I cherish the pauses, the silent moments, as my faith community worships.
     Many faiths like Buddhism and contemplative Christianity teach the value of silence. Unity, whose world headquarters is here, is explicit in advocating “entering the silence.”
     One of the gifts of wilderness camping is the silence through which one may actually hear the voices of nature.
     The architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who in a sense created spaces more than designed buildings, sometimes explained his work by citing the ancient Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching: “The reality of a vessel is the void within it.” The magnificently designed emptiness of the three halls of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts make this point.
     Emptiness creates the possibility of something within it. Some theologians think of God this way — God is not a being, not even a Supreme Being, but simply the ground of being out of which all else arises, like the silence from which music, speech and the sounds of nature can emerge.
     As it is wholesome for our souls to enjoy the gift of silence, so the mystics teach that our spiritual health requires us to encounter the emptiness of God from which the glories of creation arise. The emptiness of God is hard to experience with the cacophony of abstract theological formulations bouncing around in our heads. If the vessels of our minds and hearts are already filled with ideas and determinations, where is the space for God to enter them with fresh possibilities? “Silence is the language of God. All else is poor translation,” wrote the Muslim mystic Jelaluddin  Rumi. 
     At interfaith gatherings, the richness of the many traditions is astounding. But a moment of shared silence finds a singleness [within them] without blurring the diversity.
     So of the blessings we count this Thanksgiving, let’s take a moment of silence to give thanks for silence. 

“Music exists not in the notes, but rather in the silence between them.  Without the off-beats – the silent, restful moments – we would hear no sound.” —Mozart


I C writes
   What a splendid reminder and you stated it so convincingly.  Thank you! ...and all is well...

D Y writes
     Thanks, Vern, for a great column. Happy Thanksgiving.

J A writes
     You had me at 'Thanks for Silence' in the FYI Section today. A thought provoking, informative, clever and positive series of paragraphs to be sure.
     Might there have been a notion or two legitimately borrowed from a certain dissertation on The Void? 

M G writes
   THANKS. . ..  (This is an unlimited, unqulified, all-encompassing thanks) - Your article in the K C Star today made me think about one of my favorite Biblical passages – Psalm 46:10 – be still and know that I am God. I love astronomy but I am an amateur at it; however, I do have a passion for it. I am also an amateur when it comes to religion – I certainly am not an scholar but I am very passionate in my interest in theology. In mixing the two interests here is something I have come up with and will share it with you to store away along with thousands of other ideas you come across. I am always very interested in your column in the paper so hope you find some of this of interest. 

D writes
     Enjoy your column re sweet silence,

G P writes 
     Your article in the K C Star today made me think about one of my favorite Biblical passages – Psalm 46:10 – be still and know that I am God. I love astronomy but I am an amateur at it; however, I do have a passion for it. I am also an amateur when it comes to religion – I certainly am not an scholar but I am very passionate in my interest in theology. In mixing the two interests here is something I have come up with and will share it with you to store away along with thousands of other ideas you come across. I am always very interested in your column in the paper so hope you find some of this of interest. 
     Einstein’s ideas on time and space include the following theory which scientists have been trying to prove. One I am most interested in says that as we travel at a faster speed, time slows down. So in theory if a space traveler were to go near the speed of light and travel to a near star system that is 4 light years away from us and then return, he would come back to an Earth that is several hundred if not thousands of years in the future. Time for the traveler had slowed down while time here on earth had continued at our normal pace.
     If one reverses that example then one would also conclude that if one were to get outside our pull of gravity and slow down then time would go faster for that being. Of course it seems impossible for us to consider getting outside the pull of gravity as gravity seems to be everywhere thus it seems impossible for us to consider slowing down in time. Plus who would want to have time go faster – age faster and die faster etc.?  However, this is where my idea of God comes in. To me God is bigger than anything we can imagine and He/She is also not necessarily a physical being at all. Thus one could imagine God as a Being who exists outside of the pull of gravity and thus a Being who is completely motionless. For that Being time would move so fast that He/She would experience all of time (eternity if you will) every instant and all the time.
     So when the Bible verse says “be still and know that I am God” it takes on a whole new dimension. As I stated earlier, I am certainly not a Bible scholar – I can tell that Psalm 46 talks about wars but it also seems to be talking about a much larger void that God fills in our lives other than winning wars for us. Be still can mean more than being quiet; it can also mean being motionless. And now for scientists being completely motionless can be a clue as to the magnitude of God. He/She is outside the pull of gravity and time is eternal every instant. The other key term in Psalm 46:10 is “know” that I am God. God gave us a brain and we are just now beginning to use our brains to know what our magnificent creation is made of.
     If you have not read “The Privileged Planet” by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards then I highly recommend it. To me one of the most important intellectual concepts we need to make as humans is to realize the difference between (1.) religious centered research and (2.) scientific centered research. Under column 1. we would have those who thought the earth was the center of our universe. We also would have those who believe that the Bible is to be interpreted literally as a history book – the earth is only 6,000 years old and creationism must be believed with all the miracles etc. sacred “musts” to a real salvation. Under column 2. we would have Copernicus and scientists who when looking at scientific evidence have a human moment of awe. What they are learning about life becomes an experience when they realize there is something out there much bigger than we can fathom with our understanding at this time. Too many times scientists who express these feelings are ostracized by their peers for being too emotional – too human – too weak in their research. At the same time those believers snug in their pews are put off by research and science and feel science has nothing to share about the concept of God or the meaning of life.
     I do like the idea of silence, meditation and for humans we all need to learn how to be quiet and listen; listen to others, our enemies, our political opponents, our family members etc. etc. etc. We also are silent when we read, when we focus on the ideas of others in print. So I also like the verse that talks about being still and knowing  God. Thanks for reading and listening. And thanks for all your columns and ideas that you put in the paper all the time, keep it up. 

A J writes 
     Loved your column on silence, and it was a special column to read while walking home on a crisp, fall morning with a slight breeze and partial sunshine with leaves falling around me.

K K writes 
     I have been meaning to write you about last week's column. But we've been kind of busy this Thanksgiving weekend. We had a Siri Akhand Path  which is a 3 to 3 and a half day continuous uninterrupted reading of the Sikh scriptures, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. Very inspiring and just a tad fatiguing. 
     Noting your interest in the concept of silence within religious traditions, I'd like to tell you of the Sikh way, or "shuniya". It can be loosely translated as either "listening" or "silence" . In Jap-ji, Guru Nanak's Song of the Soul prayer, which begins the Sikh scriptures, describing his enlightenment experience, he extolls the the practice of shuniya or suniya in the pauris (or verses) eight through eleven. 
      He says: 
      By listening or remaining silent  we have access to all  spiritual powers,  the enlightened masters, the heros  and the yoga masters. 
     By remaining in silence (meditation) we can understand the earth and its creation and access the akaashic ethers or records. 
     Death cannot touch (or worry if you prefer) the devoted "listener".
     Those who meditate are in bliss for their pain and sins are forgotten, erased, or do not matter!
     The Gods are accessible even to the "foul mouthed sinners" who attempt silence.
     Those who meditate are in bliss for their pain and sins are forgotten, erased, or do not matter!
     All the yogas, all the scriptures are available to those who would remain silent.
     By meditation (silent listening) the truth is available, contentment achievable and wisdom obvious.
     This practice is equal to visiting all holy places and reading and reciting scriptures.
     It brings virtue to the highest and the lowest (even the blind find their way)
    In shuniya, the unreachable is within your grasp
     Those who meditate are in bliss for their pain and sins are forgotten, erased, or do not matter!
     I guess (and it is only a humble guess) what Nanak is saying is that we have merely to quiet the mind and listen to the spiritually pure place within ourselves to gain realization that we are all One and much of our discussions, arguments, disagreements, wars, lawsuits, violence, political differences are just ways to avoid the truth of our Oneness. 

R S writes 
   I'm looking for what I believe is one of your columns from the past few month.  The column spoke about the real challenge of interfaith work is to understand the differences in our faiths and not always accent what we hold in common.  I'm doing a sermon on this on Friday night and I would love to quote you in the sermon.  Can you help? Thanks so much,

Vern responds
   I wonder if you could be recalling this column:
   But I seem to write on this theme at least once a year, so if this is not the column, lemme know and I'll suggest other possibilities.
At any rate, there may also be material of interest at
     I am grateful to know you are a reader of my column!

An 'interfaith exploratorium'

Several readers applauded my recent proposal for an “interfaith exploratorium.”  Our achievements and resources in the arts and sciences here in Kansas City, with the surprising religious diversity in the Heartland, capped by such a facility [a spiritual testament], would be another feature making us a “destination city.”
     But what would an interfaith exploratorium be like? More than a museum of information, time lines, maps and population charts, no matter how cleverly designed in the latest interactive ways, it would present experiences engendering awe, continuing into gratitude and maturing into a desire to serve others.
     For example, one exhibit might explore what it was like for the first human to domesticate fire and to share it with companions. Fire provided light in the darkness, protection from animals, the transformation of unsafe and inedible foods into an expanded diet and eventually the ability to forge objects by heating ores found in the earth. 
     No wonder fire is a symbol of the divine in many faiths. Think of the bush that burned and was not consumed in the story of Moses, the tongues like flames above the apostles on Pentecost, the Hindu fire god Agni (we get the English word ignite from a common language root), the Buddha’s famous “Fire Sermon” and many other examples. The “WaterFire” installation on Brush Creek last month rekindled some sense of wonder and delight, as well as danger, for the thousands drawn to it, recalling in our secular environment something of the fascination of the holy. 
     A very different exhibit might begin with the Jains of ancient in India who may have been among the first to develop the practice of ahimsa. That theme, cast in the story of the Buddha, retold and inflected in many ways through the ages in Manichean, Muslim and Christian tales and picked up by Tolstoy, read by Gandhi, in turn studied by Martin Luther King Jr., is known to us as non-violence, a method that has changed our nation. Such a display would show that religions are not isolated from each other or mere systems of belief, but influence and enrich each other as we seek our common humanity.
     Other exhibits might show how from ancient observations of the gods in the sky we get the names for the days in our week; how the early Hebrew notion of immortality applied to the group, not individuals, until the Babylonian Captivity when Zoroastrian ideas influenced subsequent speculation; how what we call Hinduism changed from locating gods above to finding the divine within; how different faiths have interpreted sexuality and many other intriguing topics.
     And certainly there would be a chamber for us in our community of many faiths to engage one other respectfully and to worship together. What exhibits would you like to experience?


D B writes 
     Your "Exploratorium" idea definitely sounds worth exploring.  I believe there would be a rather widespread interest among folks in the KC area.  Anything that might help to open up more dialogue should be worth the effort.  Do you know of any interfaith discussions currently being held in the KC area? 

Vern responds
     Thanks for your support of this idea! Actually the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council (or its exec committee) is meeting tonight, I believe. This is a long-term project and right now with so many interfaith events this season during the Festival of Faiths, anything beyond consideration might be unlikely.
     We are fortunate to have a number of interfaith organizations and programs in the KC area. Although this list is dated, it gives some idea of possibilities for you to contact if you wish: http://www.cres.org/pubs/KCInterfaithOps.htm#OrgsList.
     I'd suggest especially
        The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
        The Crescent Peace Society
        Cultural Crossroads
        Festival of Faiths
        Institute for Interfaith Dialog
as groups that might be willing to endorse the idea. Then getting the Chamber of Commerce or a major philanthropy interested might be the next step. Keep me posted; and if I can help, I will. If you want to send others the link to The Star column, it is here: http://www.kansascity.com/2011/11/15/3266232/an-interfaith-exploratorium-for.html

MISCL NOTES. Ritual objects foods sacred texts music art  history Most Christians know very little about the devlopment of the Jewish faith since the close of the Hebrew canon charts compare teachings models of practices — mandala, mudra, mantra, topics: water immortality of body etc isues environment/when a person/leagl moral codes characetrr of communities, how organized worship spaces, practices famous people in various faiths Cordoba, Agha Indian Mudghal Akbar  Vivekananda, KC history perhaps beginning with ill-fated MICA.ugly side of history — colonialism, treatment of indians, slavery

Giving credit where credit is due

I don’t think Roman Catholics get enough credit for interfaith activities. While Unitarians founded the first global interfaith organization in 1900, no single interfaith event may have had more impact in our time than Pope John Paul II’s 1986 gathering of leaders of the world’s faiths in Assisi, Italy.
   Three years later, this led to the founding of what is now the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, whose current convener is Catholic.
   I may not always agree with Paul F. Knitter, Raimon Panikkar, Karl Rahner, Thomas Merton, Hans Küng and other Catholic theologians, but they have encouraged the world’s faiths to understand one another.
   Last month Kansas City’s Redemptorist Catholic Church exemplified Catholic hospitality for interfaith experiences when it hosted a magnificent performance of “Lament for Jerusalem,” a work for chorus and orchestra by John Tavener. The text for the piece is drawn from Jewish, Christian and Islamic writings, quite an interfaith project.
   I admit I was shocked to find one sentence combining the Muslim respect for Mary with a Catholic practice of praying to her, which Muslims do not do. Perhaps this is why the Rev. Jarrett McLaughlin of Village Presbyterian Church wisely introduced the piece by saying that the texts sometimes were in uneasy dialogue with one another. Tension in interfaith encounter can be a healthy sign of genuine engagement. 
   The style of the music, “sacred minimalism,” recalled  Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” which choreographer Ulysses Dove used for his ballet, “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven.”
   Before the music began, Zoya Khan, a Muslim freshman at the Catholic Notre Dame de Sion High School, spoke for several minutes. She is part of the city’s Interfaith Youth Alliance. 
   “Muslims have been targeted ever since 9/11; and as a Muslim, I believe it is my job to teach others of the true Islam and not the Islam depicted by the media or a handful of extremists.
   “Because of interfaith (encounters), I have formed a stronger and deeper understanding of not only my own religion, but also of others,” she said.
   After the music, Shakil Haider, chairman of the Midland Islamic Council, chanted from the Qur’an: “O mankind! We . . . made you into nations and tribes (religions and cultures), that ye may know each other . . . . Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous . . . .”
   Following sacred music in the welcoming Catholic edifice, such an Islamic utterance seemed a perfect blessing.

CRES website note: whose as in "the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, whose current convener is Catholic" is the correct genitive form of "which" and is less awkward than the more cumbersome of which. Cf. Writers Guide and Index to English, 3d edition, p763 by Porter G Perrin. 


R B writes
   With appreciation for your column today in the KC Star.

A Catholic Priest writes 
   Greetings. Just a note to thank you very much for writing something positive about the Catholic Church, which you got published in The Star. It was uplifting--something we need for ourselves.

Vern responds
   Thank you very much for taking the trouble to write. I do know about the excommunication of Hans Kung, about Bishop Finn's decision to break the covenant between the Catholic and the Episcopal Cathedrals in KC, and his decision not to allow the consecration of the new Episcopal bishop, Martin Field, at the Redemptorist Church, even though the preceding Episcopal bishop, Barry Howe, was extended that courtesy. And I lament what has happened to Shantivanam.
   Still, I think it is important not to be overwhelmed by unrepresentative events, and when I look at the interfaith traditions within Catholicism, including Nostra Aetate, despite its limitations, and the efforts of my many Catholic friends, it seems important that now and then that I use my regular Wednesday column to recognize the overwhelming good will within the Church toward those of other faiths.
   It means a great deal to me that you that you found the column of value. Especially when the local priests and people of the Catholic Church are having to deal with unfavorable news reports, I am glad to have tried to be a bit constructive.


     Sociological analyses are not enough to bring about justice and peace.  The root of evil is within man's own interior.  The remedy, therefore, has also to come from the heart. - John Paul II
    There is in world history no teaching more radically humanistic than the claim that God became a human being in order that human beings might participate in the life of God, now and forever. - Fr. Richard John Neuhaus
     The Catholic Church claims less authority than any other Christian Church in the world. That is why she is so conservative. Protestant churches feel free to change the deposit of Faith.

Destination: Interfaith Kansas City

I remember not that long ago walking from the newly opened Sprint Center, through the Power and Light entertainment district, taking a path by the new H & R Block world headquarters building. “Am I really in downtown Kansas City?” I could hardly believe it. 
   A year earlier Linda Hall Library, already a world-class scientific research center open to the public, expanded. And Liberty Memorial was enlarged, drawing national attention.
   During the construction of the Bloch wing at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I walked by almost every day and wondered, “Will I live to see this?” Now I show my out-of-town guests not only the building and the art, but in their faces I place the second edition of Richard Weston’s book about recent world architecture because the cover is the Bloch building. 
   Now I’ve been to Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts repeatedly. I heard the Kansas City Symphony premiere “Fountains of Kansas City” by our own world-famous Chen Yi.
   The Friends of Chamber Music world premiere production, “The Darwin Project,” brought science, visual art, music, science and religious questions in one unforgettable evening at the Center.
   There the Kansas City Ballet’s world premiere of “Tom Sawyer” by our own William Whitener conveyed the adventures of boyhood, a refreshing reminder of the innocence of wholesome pranks, infatuation, guilt, redemption and just being alive.
   But the exposition of “destination Kansas City” was not complete in my mind until the conclusion of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s opening production there, when folks whooped and hollered like they do at the Met in New York. 
   Three points. First, Kansas City is an arts town. (I didn’t even mention live theater.) The arts are supported by institutions of business, memory and research.
   Second, you can’t have religion without art. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says the church “is historically and intrinsically an artistic operation,” but that nowadays we are often flattened into literalism while art rounds us out with the mysteries of faith. Throughout history, architecture, music and painting have helped folks praise God [and contemplate what is worthy in our lives.]. [I think the quality of KC art can make us soar.]
   Third, it is time for Kansas City to build upon our astonishing Heartland religious pluralism and surprising expertise in many world faiths. Other cities have interfaith chapels at their airports, but here we lag.
   Decades ago Dallas opened its Thanks-Giving Square, an interfaith center, a few blocks from its art museum. Our recent achievements show that we can surely do better. How about a world-class “interfaith exploratorium” in Union Station?

2006 Linda Hall Library
2006 H & R Block
2006 Dec Liberty Memorial
2007 Oct Sprint Center
2007 Nelson Bloch
2007 Nov  P&L
2011 Sep Kauffman Center


M F writes
  What a lovely idea. I'm in! I'm in!

D N writes
   Great idea . . . . 

G S writes
   I loved your column this morning on the arts in KC.  My sense of spirituality is intimately connected to the arts and nature.  How about a focus on Science City--a project that still needs help--that would address issues of science and spirituality? 

B H writes
   I have followed your column for some time, and want to thank you for the wonderful work you are doing in creating an awareness of the power of interfaith commitment to Kansas City. My husband and I are members of the Walnut Gardens Community of Christ and we celebrate with joy that we  have two Jewish daughters-in-law (who are like our own daughter to us). Our biological daughter, Joy, is an Episcopalian, and her wife (married seven  years ago in Massachusetts), is the rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in downtown Boston, MA. I thought you might enjoy reading our daughter's blog about a recent interfaith service at their church. Thank you so much for the prophetic ministry you are offering.

Vern responds
   I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your daughter's blog! I laughed and laughed a good Episcopalian laugh! . . . . What wonderful parents you must be to have raised such a daughter! Please let her know I think she is a fantastic writer!
   And thanks for your generous comments on my column! which means you are perceptive, too!
   With enormous respect for the peace-making witness of Community of Christ, . . . 

Harvard studies faiths in KC

Kansas Citians are currently being interviewed by Harvard University’s Pluralism Project about one of the most celebrated outcomes of the 2001 Gifts of Pluralism conference I’ve been writing about here the last two Wednesdays. 
   That outcome is “The Hindu and the Cowboy,” a play based on actual stories of folks of all faiths in our area. Playwright Donna Ziegenhorn trained interviewers to collect some 80 stories, more than enough for several versions of the one- or two-act drama, professionally produced 26 times in several venues around the metro since 2003.
   For her work in deepening friendships and interfaith understanding through the play and the process which produced it, Ziegenhorn will be honored Nov. 10 at the annual Table of Faiths luncheon of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
   The play has also become part of the annual Festival of Faiths which emphasizes special programs each fall all around the metro. While some of those events have already been held, many remain. For a complete list and details for the ones I mention here, visit www.festivaloffaithskc.org or phone (913) 671-2320.
   For the evening of Nov. 6, the Interfaith Council, the American Friends Service Committee and Cultural Crossroads have arranged for speakers and art at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church to help us reflect on what we have learned in the ten years since 9/11.
   After lunch on Nov. 9, the Council’s Vital Conversations book club at the Mid-Continent Library, Antioch Branch, will discuss a booklet I wrote for the 10th Anniversary of the Gifts of Pluralism conference. A PDF version can be downloaded from www.cres.org/gifts.
   Nov. 20 the annual Sunday afternoon Harmony Interfaith Concert will be held this year at the Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church. The diversity of race, tradition, faith, culture and musical styles make it a true celebration. 
   That evening, the 27th annual Thanksgiving Sunday Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner will be held this year at the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center. Honored this year will be Barb McAtee, Baha'i member and secretary of the Interfaith Council. For decades she has lovingly labored to enhance interfaith understanding.
   Since the Gifts conference, interfaith organizations and programs have proliferated. They help us learn and celebrate the astonishing religious diversity here in the Heartland. 
   It is no wonder a researcher at Harvard’s Pluralism Project, visiting us here in 2007, said, “At the Pluralism Project, we consider Kansas City to be truly at the forefront of interfaith relations.” And no wonder Kansas City is still being studied.

Faiths affirm three themes

Three themes found in all faiths
Ten years ago this month the area’s only major interfaith conference was held. 
   Last week I cited three reasons for its success: the use of local instead of out-of-town experts, affordable arrangements for a learning experience for folks on both sides of the State Line, and using personal questions leading participants to appreciate one another’s faiths rather than to argue which religion is correct.
   Here are a few more details  and one reason the conference remains important.
   Secular speakers such as then-Congressman Dennis Moore, banker Clyde F. Wendel and “Hub” Hubbard, retired director of the Solar Energy Research Institute, addressed community resources and three crises we face — in the environment, in what it means to be a person and in how society should be ordered.
   With them, folks of 15 faiths and non-believers joined in panel discussions. (By “faith” I don’t mean Baptist or Methodist. I mean Hindu or Muslim.) Each faith prepared a display booth and offered a workshop in two time slots. 
   The conference concluded on Sunday with an interfaith worship experience and other activities leading to a unanimous “Declaration,” edited from earlier comments. This document set forth an understanding of Kansas City — the “Heart of America” — as a model for others.
   It also summarized religious responses to environmental, personal and social crises, three themes that the conference studied. Here is that portion of the document:
   § “The gifts of pluralism have taught us that nature is to be respected rather than controlled; nature is a process that includes us, not a product external to us to be used or disposed of. Our proper attitude toward nature is awe, not utility. . . . 
   § “We have also learned that our true personhood may not be the images of ourselves constrained by any particular social identities. When we realize this, our acts can proceed spontaneously from duty and compassion, and we need not be unduly attached to results beyond control. 
   § “Finally, when persons in community govern themselves less by profit and more by the covenant of service, the flow of history toward to peace and justice is honored and advanced.”
   To my mind, these three paragraphs summarize the wisdom that the world’s primal, Asian and monotheistic faiths have accumulated throughout the ages about nature, selfhood, and society. These words remain important guides to a wholesome future. 
   I remain amazed that those from so many traditions were so open to each other that themes salient in only some faiths were found and affirmed within all faiths.


D N writes
   [G]ood to read the KC Star and, of course, ponder your words. . . . 


   Local atheists display their skills...
   They are real jerks, IMHO

Three tips for interfaith success

A few days before the metro “Gifts of Pluralism” interfaith conference opened ten years ago this month, as one of the planners, I said I thought the effort would be a success if 50 people showed up. Some 250 folks participated and, at the end, applauded.
   The results continue to reverberate and shape how many of us understand the diversity of faiths in our area. A Kansas City Star editorial later called the conference “a model for how to hold an interfaith conversation” about concerns following 9/11.
   Here are three of several features that I think made the conference valuable and worthy of imitation by interfaith leaders a decade later. Another time I’ll outline some disappointments.
   § Local speakers.— Early in the planning, the temptation to bring a “big name” out-of town speaker was resisted, despite the thought that an outside guest might boost interest. Over and over, interfaith authorities say that while information is important, building relationships is primary.
   Out-of-town folks who appear for a speech and then leave may attract an audience, but they do not often directly help the interfaith process as much as the featured involvement of local experts who enlarge a circle of friendships before, during and after a program.
   A sponsor of an interfaith panel earlier this year told me he asked a Christian to discuss the Qur’an because no local Muslim was qualified. In fact, we have nationally known Muslim experts who are part of our community. A chance to build a key relationship was lost.
   § Arrangements.—The “Gifts” planners selected the Pembroke Hill School campus on State Line for the conference to emphasize the entire metro region as a community bridging administrative divisions. It was accessible by public transportation. The school location also emphasized the learning experience the conference offered. And the venue kept the costs down. A $75 fee covered two days and three meals, cultural entertainment, a 3-ring, 100-page printed notebook and other materials.
   § Asking questions.— With  small group sessions following the major presentations, folks met and learned about each other’s faiths. And not just by reciting creeds.
   Instead, the Rev. David E. Nelson, a local “Appreciative Inquiry” expert, trained the conferees to ask each other questions like, “How have you felt the presence of the sacred in your life?” This question was especially fitting because the conference subtitle affirmed, “In a world without direction, we find the sacred.”
   Such personal questions lead not to theological arguments but to friendships. And what better context for understanding others’ faiths is there than friendship?


   Wonderful suggestions.  I'm kicking around ideas for a dedication next summer of a private park and bird/butterfly sanctuary.  I want an invocation, something my own pastor might do, but I'm cognizant of the other faith traditions in my community and might like to include them in community. 
   My pastor had a study series about two years ago on other faith traditions (and a later one on other Christian denominations) where faith leaders were invited to our church and we had open, welcoming discussions and sincere question & answer times -- we all learned much and appreciated much from our neighbors, and for many, minds and hearts were opened. 
   I'm hopeful that more will proceed from efforts to include one another in times when a spiritual moment is called for at an event or any time people gather and wish to be inclusive.  Thanks, I always like your contributions as they frequently set me to thinking.

   “Gifts of Pluralism” sounds like secret code for 'moral relativism'.

  Ah yes, moral relativism.  A good thing. Glad your mind is so open.

   Ah yes, moral relativism. An excuse for immorality.


The Interfaith Observer November 2011

"Darwin Project" offers wonder 

I reconsidered my atheism when, in the summer between high school and college, I heard about the Jesuit paleoanthropologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s reconciliation of evolution with faith. 
   Darwin then became more than a gatherer of the facts of evolution and a weaver of them into an explanatory theory. He now became a guide to the wonder — he used the word “grandeur” — of how nature unfolds.
   The section on nature in Roman Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson’s “Quest for the Living God” begins with the topic of wonder, and she quotes another theologian who says that “Aquinas never knew Darwin’s theory of evolution, but he would have no difficulty in understanding it as the way that God creates.”
   Hers is not a naive or sentimental account of evolution. Johnson relates predation and death, essential to the evolutionary process, to scriptures such as Romans 8:22: “the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth.” In the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus she sees God’s “compassionate solidarity with every living being that suffers” and dies.
   Parallels can be found in the teachings of other world faiths expressing the awesome mystery of nature.
   So I was not surprised when Jeremy M. Lillig, who with Nancy Cervetti, wrote “The Darwin Project,” quoted these words from scholar James Carroll when I phoned him to ask about the Friends of Chamber Music Oct. 14 production: “Religion and science are both grounded in mystery.” 
   The evening performance, a co-presentation of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, with actors, choir, piano, string quartet, projections of works of art and original photography — and even an actual fossil 16 million years old, tells the story of Darwin’s discernment of the mystery of  evolution.
   At Cambridge, Darwin’s afternoon walks often detoured to the chapel at King’s College where he came to love chant and choral music. So the program in Helzberg Hall begins with choral music from the Feast Day of St. Albert the Great, patron saint of science. 
   Darwin’s wife [Emma, née Wedgwood] studied with Chopin. His great nephew was Ralph Vaughan Williams. The musical and literary connections are many.
   Some 40 people in the arts and sciences created this program to celebrate the rich cultural context out of which Darwin’s scientific achievement arose. I think the program will demonstrate that discovering how evolution works removes no mystery, but rather deepens it.
   The point is not whether one is an atheist or a believer. The point is whether one is filled with curiosity and wonder.


MC writes
   You fill me with awe and wonder, never shock and awe. 

P B writes
   A wonderful column today!  It is filled with lots of fun facts (didn’t know the Ralph Vaughan Williams connection) and sound insight into wrestling with evolution and faith.  I don’t know Elizabeth Johnson’s work but a group of us are starting a spiritual reading group and we may have to add her to the list.   I am sorry that I will be out of town on the 14th.   It sounds like a wonderful program.   Your closing sentence is a perfect reminder to all those who end up on one side of the argument or the other.   Keep looking! Thank you.

Vern responds
   I hope the evening of the 14th -- as complicated as it is in terms of production -- somehow will be repeated. So have a good trip, and maybe there'll be another chance!
   Thanks for you generous words about the column. It is fun learning new connections, isn't it!  Darwin was well-connected in other respects as well.
  I certainly recommend Sister Johnson's book, despite the fact that the Bishops have written a Statement against it -- which, in my opinion,. shows they cannot read, or if they can read, they cannot think, or if they can think, they do not know their own Catholic heritage, or if they do, they are more governed by present ecclesiastical politics. Oops, I did not mean to be so uncharitable; they are no doubt doing their best. But I did read her book and their statement, and it is clear which one is valuable, even if I do not agree with everything she says. The spirit of the book is marvelous. It reminds us of the mysteries and wonder out of which our desire to serve others may be energized.

J R writes
   Regarding your column, as one is who is filled with curiosity and wonder, I thank you. As for the rest of the unshakable truths of the ages, well, I can only say:  I believe in you. 

Vern responds
   Thanks for being affected by curiosity and wonder -- and a sense of justice, too!

D T writes
   Wow! Chardin, Darwin, Vaughn Williams--whose works I sang in college--all bring back good memories, especially in light of Chuck Lorre's hit comedy "The Big Bang Theory". Laurie Metcalf plays a great fundamentalist mom from Texas. Wish I could be at the performance. I will be officiating football under those beautiful stars and sky at the same time. 

Vern responds
   Big Bang Theory is about the only sitcom I watch! I think Darwin would watch it with us!
   I hope the Darwin production will be repeated so you and others will have another chance.

K L writes
   Just a quick note to let you know how much I enjoyed your thoughtful column today. I believe a sense of curiosity and wonder are essential ingredients in life!

Vern responds
   Thanks for taking the trouble to write! I'm pretty proud to have you as a reader! 

P B writes
   which of de Chardin's books do you refer to in this latest piece in the KC Star? I looked in Amazon books and found several of his books that sounded like they would have the content you described: a reconciliation of evolution with faith.
   This is one of the central ideas that I seek to explain and revise within  myself. I welcome the thoughts of such a man as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
  thanks for the ideas you offer each time I read you.

Vern responds
   The book I heard about and then later read had just been translated into English: The Phenomenon of Man. I would not call it an easy book, but I found the theme inspiring. Now I am not so interested in the specifics he outlines as the general notion of God as creative process.
   This is confusing, but he is called "Teilhard" by those wishing to refer to him by his last name, as you'll see in the Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teilhard_de_Chardin, although an entry in the bibliography does not use the correct form, at least at this time.  His first name is Pierre and sometimes the title Pere, French for Father, is also used.
   His superiors would not permit the book to be published in his lifetime, so he never knew the influence he was to have in religious circles, although his scientific work was known. His expressly mystical writings
   Thank you for reading my column and for taking the trouble to write! And I am grateful to know that you are a regular reader of my Wednesday column!
   Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

B M writes
   Thank you for your constant efforts in your weekly column and your life work to keep us open and aware of the richness of the living God present and active in all of God's people.


   The sciences emerged and flourished precisely in the context of the great Christian universities of the West.  Copernicus - Priest, Mendel - Monk, The Big Bang Theory came from a priest.
All Truth comes from God... there can be no conflict. 
   Einstein declared:  "the situation may be expressed by an image:  science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

   The majority of the winners for the Nobel Prize for science are/were atheists.  For example, Watson and Crick who discovered the double helix structure of DNA,  Linus Pauling who made huge contributions to biochemisty, and Richard Feynman, who was a quantum physicist, all won the Nobel Prize, and all were unrepentant atheists.
   It is not that all scientific knowledge comes from god.  Rather, it is still possible to believe in god and do good things in science.

   Well... I mean... He invented it!

   Reading Teilhard's "The Phenomenon of Man" is what kept me, too, in my early twenties, from giving up on faith.  I found a way to hold trust in both faith and science and to recognize that neither will ever have some ultimate, final, total answer.  They really are not at war with each other; one does not supplant the other.  Science illuminates pieces of the mystery of God's creation and makes it more wonderous, more complex, and therefore shows God is more wonderous and complex than we ever dreamed.  I also think that if we ever think we have pinned down creation, we have made a mistake that will later come to light.

Steve Greene
   The remark "Religion and science are both grounded in mystery" is half right and half wrong. Religious faith is "grounded" in mystery. (The problem, of course, is that mystery can't "ground" anything, which is why it is mystery.) Science on the other hand is grounded by rational analysis and empirical evidence.
   It never ceases to amaze me how much religious believers try desperately to pretend religion and science are the same, despite the fact that they are fundamentally different.

Vern responds
   I quoted the word "granduer" from Darwin. This is the final sentence in THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES: "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."
   "The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is." --Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1949)
   The relationship between science and religion is historically and philosophically complex, as I have learned from many encounters at research labs as well as within religious organizations. I cherish my doctoral work at the Center for the Advanced Study of Religion in an Age of Science at the University of Chicago. A good introduction to this topic is the revised classic work by Ian G Barbour: RELIGION IN AN AGE OF SCIENCE: HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY ISSUES. 
   I am not arguing that science and religion are the same -- that is, as I say, a complicated issue -- but rather that they both spring of the sense of wonder which obviously motivated Darwin and Einstein and many other scientists. One can be an atheist and still be motivated by such awe. The point of my column is not that science and religion are the same, but that if they are genuine, both arise from wonder.

   Darwin was an elitist racist who never held an academic post, was independently wealthy, and thought women were intellectually inferior.
   He also promoted obscenities like "vaccination weakens the race", and the eugenics policies of his cousin Franis Galton.

   All of the founding fathers owned slaves, Lincoln thought blacks were inferior and needed to be protected, and the civil rights act wasn't passed until 1964.  Were most people before 1900 bigoted and at least a little racist?   Probably.  You are exaggerating a few things, but the point is that all men and women are products of their times.
   Einstein developed a big chunk of his theory of relativity while he was patent clerk.  Does that make it any less valid?  He was also a terrible father and left his first wife.  Does this make his science any less valid?
   You are replacing valid debate with ad hominem attacks.  This is a common fallacy used by people who wish to dismiss someone's ideas without actually disproving them.  Modern evolutionary biology has nothing to do with 19th century race relations.  Move on!

Paths to peaceful coexistence

How do we move forward as a pluralistic nation still shaken by 9/11? Experts visiting our town this month offered some observations.
   *Miroslav Volf, a Christian who teaches at Yale, spoke at Central Baptist Theological Seminary here. A native of Croatia, he saw up close the hatred and violence from the breakup of Yugoslavia. 
   He warned against our becoming the mirror image of those we identify as our enemies, and worried that many who call themselves Christians “worship America more than the crucified Christ.” 
   *The Crescent Peace Society was formed five years before 9/11 to enhance understanding of Islam. This year its annual Eid Dinner featured Corey Saylor from the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. 
   He reminded the ballroom audience, perhaps of equal numbers of Muslim and non-Muslim friends, that our nation was founded on [ciivic] ideals, not on a particular religion or ethnic identity.
   He cited polls that show that even with the recent rise in Islamophobia, Muslims are still better liked than Congress.
   The dinner was held in southern Overland Park. I mention this because Kansas City Mayor Sly James crossed over the State Line to attend. Even interfaith activity is often inhibited by State Line, and those who reach over it merit applause.
   *How did the controversy about Sharia suddenly appear from nowhere so that folks who never before heard the word were suddenly afraid Sharia would be forced on them, and politicians began advocating laws against something they knew nothing accurate about? 
   Scholar and frequent TV guest Reza Aslan was eager to address this question during his Rockhurst University speech.
   Aslan said a “cabal of seven non-profit organizations” financed with 40 million dollars created a fake study and marketed it <to Fox News>. Then the echo chamber took over.
   However, after reviewing earlier prejudice and violence against Jews, Catholics and others, for which we now feel shame, he said he was certain that Muslims would become just as much a part of the American story as those groups are now.
   But education alone does not overcome prejudice. Evidence will not convince the 20% of Americans who think President Obama is Muslim that he is actually a Christian, he said. 
   The real path to understanding is through acquaintance. Most Americans know nothing about Judaism except what they picked up from Seinfeld, he said. But Catholics, Protestants, Jews and others have developed friendships, and he said this process is more powerful than education in advancing American pluralism.


J P writes
   You have stated before that the Bible does not hold great authority for you and that is your right.  The statements that you quote as fact are by misguided people miroslav volf is absurd Christians contray to your belief worship Christ and they do pray for the US and its leaders. Then corey saylor is very much misinformed to think that today Americans think more highly of muslims than they do of congress granted many are disappointed with our congress but to say they esteem muslins more is wrong
   Yes Sharia is a new term but again contrary to your thinking most Americans and especially Christians understand this term and what it means. We have all read quotes both good and bad we see on the news how sharia law is used in muslim countries
   To say that America was founded on ideals shows a lack of knowledge of America it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, mostly by Christian men this maybe offenseive to you but it is fact Check on the information supplied by David Barton if you are interested.
   I am not sure what your objective is to denigrate Christianity, when if you have contact with these people to talk with them about accepsting Jesus Christ as savior which I would think would be your top concern for these lost souls.
   You will be in our prayers.

Vern responds
   You have substantial disagreement with Wednesday's column. It appears to you that I do not adequately respect the Bible. I am not exactly sure about statement about Miroslav Volf as I am unable to discern the structure of the sentence about him or why you would point out that Christians pray for the US and its leaders. The point Saylor made is not that Americans think highly of Muslims; on the contrary, prejudice is deep, but recent polls show that even Congress is less liked.
  My experience is different from yours regarding general understanding of Sharia as I have ill-informed folks writing me on the subject frequently and most of the information in the media about Sharia is grossly inadequate. 
   That the US was founded on Judeo-Christian principles is not obvious to me, though I am familiar with the Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and others who drew it up, with the political principles of the Iroquois Confederation serving in some respects as a model. The Constitution prohibits religious tests and does not incorporate any particular faith in the structure of government; the text never mentions God; it is an entirely secular document stating clearly that Constitution is ordained and established by the people (it does not say ordained by God); and the Bill of Rights forbids governmental establishment of any religion while protecting the free exercise thereof, of all faiths and none.
   My object is not to denigrate Christianity. For me to love Christianity is to respect others as Jesus himself respected and commended those not of his own tradition. You do seem to assume that other faiths would be interested in salvation, which seemed to me to impose Christian categories of thought onto other religions rather than seeking to understand them on their own terms. Many Buddhists, for example, have no need for a Creator God to explain the universe and do not affirm that each person possesses an eternal soul; they have no wish for personal existence in heaven as many Christians do, nor fear of such a hell.
   I do not expect you to change any of your thinking as a result of my response. I simply wanted you to know I have read your email, thought about it, and wanted to express my appreciation for your taking the trouble to write me, even though we continue to disagree and no doubt could engage in a lengthy exchange, but probably to no different outcome. You are most welcome to follow-up by making your criticism public by writing a letter to the editor or an "As I See It" column? --http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/letters/.
   And thank you for your remembering me in your prayers. I shall also pray for you.


Raza Siddiqui
   So, a couple of examples now taints the entire religion and its followers ? Strange how the religion of some of the worst criminals in history never had their religion correlated with their crimes ?
  Judaism, Christianity and Islam have the same roots - they are reaffirmations of the same message - the oneness of a supreme being. There's not a whole lot of difference from the Mutli-millennia old customs in Judaism and Islam, both are practiced today.
   As for so-called examples of violence in the Quran, its obvious many haven't read the old and new testaments of the Bible and Torah; or would I be accused of quoting out of context ? Even the holy book of Hinduism (Gita) propagates intense violence against its adversaries.
   In the Quran, God says "..I have made mankind different, so they may know one another". It appears folks would rather exploit the differences than our commonalities.
   We should learn the many lessons from the past.

You will know them by their fruit...

Hal Rogers
   I think the problem facing Islam in the USA is that people DO understand Islam, and are learning more every day. Any cult that teaches the sort of 7th century tribal hatred toward others is dangerous, and will face considerable backlash from formerly tolerant people who, at one time, welcomed Peaceful muslims into their countries. Unfortunately, the search for "peaceful muslims" tends to produce people who know very little about the history of Islam, and the way it was spread by the sword, and continues to be spread by violence and hate.

   Where is the outrage from our government? Islamabad: September 26, 2011 The 8th grader Christian girl expelled from her school on accusation of blasphemy on misspelling poetry term dedicated to praise Prophet Mohammad fled from her hometown with her family for safety of life.

   An Iranian pastor who has refused to renounce his Christian faith faces execution as early as Wednesday afterhis sentence was upheld by an Iranian court.  Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who maintains he has never been a Muslim as an adult, has Islamic ancestry and therefore must recant his faith in Jesus Christ, the 11th branch of Iran's Gilan Provincial Court ruled. Iran's Supreme Court had ordered the trial court to determine whether Nadarkhani had been a Muslim prior to converting to Christianity.

Hal Rogers
   So much for "peaceful" and "tolerant" islam. Apostacy is simply leaving Islam and adopting another more reasonable and tolerant religion. How this is the job of a mob of Muslims to kill such people is beyond the scope of understanding for civilized society, but it seems to fit well within the tribal, 7th century belief system of the cult following known as Islam.  Is anyone surprised by this Iranian court proceeding? Where are the "moderate" muslims in the USA denouncing this? Where is CAIR ??



Spiritual journey has Missouri ties

If the Lord God offered me my pick of any angel of heaven to spend an evening with, I would say, “No, thanks. Just send me Huston Smith.”
   That is how I began an evening of conversation with Smith before an appreciative audience in Kansas City some years ago.
   Smith’s life-long, world-wide spiritual journey is sketched in his autobiography, “Tales of Wonder,” and Missouri has keys to the story.
    Smith invited Martin Luther King Jr to speak at Washington University in St. Louis before that school was integrated. He introduced the nation to world religions on ETV, the forerunner of PBS, and some 40 years later shared his wisdom in a 5-part PBS series with Bill Moyers. He saw the founding of the United Nations and the uprising in Tiananmen Square. He flew with Thomas Merton just before he died, befriended the Dalai Lama and dropped acid with Timothy Leary.
   Smith’s book on world religions was my text when I first studied the subject. As a student over 40 years ago, I first met Smith when he returned to the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he had earlier obtained his PhD.
   Smith was fresh from Tibet where, with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, he had documented the multiphonic chants of the monks, which Smith’s colleagues at MIT, where he was then teaching, said was impossible.
   Smith had enrolled at Chicago because he wanted to study with Henry Nelson Wieman, known for his naturalistic theology. [Wieman was born in Rich Hill, Missouri, studied at Park Univerity and pastored in St. Joseph.]
   Smith writes, “I thought there was nothing better than Wieman’s philosophy. But then I discovered there was something better. Wieman’s daughter. . . . I met, I marveled, I married.”
   The book discloses their bliss and anguish as a couple, as parents and as grandparents.
   Wieman who, many years later was also my teacher, was, along with Paul Tillich, the subject of King’s doctoral dissertation.
   Smith was raised in China where his parents were missionaries from Missouri. His graduated from Central Methodist College in Fayette, MO. In 2005 Harold Johnson and I took Smith, then 86, to visit his parents’ graves in Marshall, MO. 
   Smith’s own Christianity began a deepening when he met the St. Louis Vedanta Society’s Swami Satprakashananda, recommended by Aldous Huxley. 
   In the 1950s, Missouri’s William H. Danforth, founder of Ralston Purina and grandfather of former U.S. Senator Jack Danforth, offered Smith a gift to travel the world to study religions up close. These adventures enlarged the outpouring of his love. 
   Huston, every minute I’ve spent with you has been like heaven.


Vern responds

C C writes
   I enjoyed your piece on Huston Smith. Athena just released the Bill Moyers series you referenced on DVD. Please see the press release below. I thought some of Bill Moyers other releases might interest you for future pieces.

Newest release from Bill Moyers’ acclaimed library:
Featuring enlightening discussions about world religion with an eminent scholar
On DVD from Athena September 20, 2011
   “Thoughtful and absorbing” —The New York Times
   “Spiritual travelogue” —Newsweek
Silver Spring, MD — A revealing exploration of world religions, the Emmy-nominated interview program broadcast on PBS, Bill Moyers: The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith arrives to DVD from Athena on September 20, 2011. Bestselling author and professor of comparative religion Huston Smith (The World’s Religions) sits down with legendary Emmy® and Peabody Award-winning journalist Bill Moyers (PBS, NBC, CBS, Newsday) for a series of lively and engrossing interviews about the universal truths of the world’s religions. Broadcast in late 1990s, this series of conversations provides thoughtful insights into the world’s largest religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—and how, taken at their best, they provide universal truths that unite and define the human spirit. The 2-Vol. DVD set includes a viewers’ guide, biographies, and more (5 episodes, $49.99, www.AcornOnline.com). The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith is Athena’s eighth release from Moyers’ acclaimed library of programs.
   All religions, at their core, are the same: this remarkable claim is made by Huston Smith, bestselling author and former professor of comparative religion at Syracuse University, MIT, and the University of California, Berkeley. Raised by Christian missionaries, Smith also practices yoga, embraced his daughter’s conversion to Judaism, and, for a decade, adopted the Islamic tradition of praying five times a day. He has traveled around the world, visiting ashrams and temples, synagogues and mosques, zen masters and swamis.
   Smith’s book The World’s Religions has sold more than 2 ½ million copies worldwide since 1958, and is considered one of the defining treatises on the subject.
   EPISODES: Hinduism & Buddhism, Confucianism; Christianity & Judaism; Islam; A Personal Philosophy
   BONUS FEATURES: 12-page viewer’s guide with an examination of god in different religions and articles on religious rules, the concept of service, and the Architecture of Faith; Biographies of Huston Smith and Bill Moyers and a gallery of religious iconography, plus more at AthenaLearning.com 
   Street Date: Sept. 20, 2011                                SRP: $49.99 
   DVD 2-Vol. Boxed Set – 5 Episodes - Approx. 276 minutes – SDH subtitles
   . . . 
Vern responds
   Thank you for your kind words about my column! I certainly cherish the Moyers programs and have often showed excerpts in my teaching. I am glad to know they are now available on DVD!
   I quote below an email responding to an earlier column from Jon Monday who disputes statements such as this which appears in your press release, "All religions, at their core, are the same: this remarkable claim is made by Huston Smith,"
   I thought you would want to know I have never heard Smith say this, and in fact, I frequently quote Smith's discussion of this:
      "How fully has the proponent [of the view that all religions are at their core the same] tried and succeeded in understanding Christianity’s claim that Christ was the only begotten Son of God, or the Muslim’s claim that Muhammad is the Seal of the prophets, or the Jews’ sense of their being the Chosen People? How does he propose to reconcile Hinduism’s conviction that this will always remain a ‘middle world’ with Judaism’s promethean faith that it can be decidedly improved? How does the Buddha’s ‘anatta doctrine’ of no-soul square with Christianity’s belief in . . . individual destiny in eternity? How does Theravada Buddhism’s rejection of every form of personal God find echo in Christ’s sense of relationship to his Heavenly Father? How does the Indian view of Nirguna Brahman, the God who stands completely aloof from time and history, fit with the Biblical view that the very essence of God is contained in his historical acts? Are these beliefs really only accretions, tangential to the main concern of spirit? The religions . . . may fit together, but they do not do so easily."  Religions of Man [1958], p 352-3
   In a later edition of the book, as The World's Religions, Smith says this view "founders on the fact that the religions differ in what they consider essential and what negotiable." He then elaborates, p 385.
   Thanks for writing, and congratulations on your part in making Smith's wisdom more widely accessible!
-------- Original Message --------
Subject:     God Is Not One  Date:     Tue, 14 Jun 2011
From:     J M    To:     <vern@cres.org>
   I read your post in the Kansas Star with interest and had these thoughts.
   As an introduction, I wrote this review on Amazon when God Is Not One first came out:
   I work closely with Huston Smith and created and maintain his official website. Stephen Prothero grossly misrepresents Smith's statements and position on this subject.
   Huston, Huxley, or Campbell have never said that "all religions are the same" or anything like that. What they say is that there is one underlying reality (call it God, Creator, Self, Ground of Reality, etc.) that the different religions, in their distinctive ways, refer to.
   To suggest otherwise is to ignore the very definition of God, or believe that there is more than one God, or claim that only one religion has it right, and the others have it wrong.
   Prothero says that the one God idea was, "a defense mechanism developed by Hindus to reject 19th Century Christian missionaries and fostered by the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893." The reality is that the idea reaches back to the ancient Vedas which declared, "Truth is one; sages call it by various names." This cannot be translated as "all the religions are the same". The Vedantic version of this idea was expressed by Swami Vivekananda at the 1893 gathering, but it was well established by the Transcendentalist in the US well before then, and is also expressed in the mystical branches of all the other religions.
  When pinned on these facts, Prothero admits he's talking more about how he, as a college student, and others have mistakenly interpreted the Perennial Philosophy as "all religions are the same".
   Prothero attributes Huxley, Smith, and Campbell as saying the differences between the religions are, "accidental." I am not aware of any of these three, or any Perennial Philosopher, saying anything of the sort. In fact, they address the differences as being very real and important to the practice of each faith.
   Prothero says, "People don't lump communism and democracy as the same, just slightly different. Why should they do it with religions?"
   Again, no one but Prothero is saying the various religions are the same, but in any case, Communism and democracy are the same in that they are different means to govern people - religions are the same in that they are different means to connect one's Self with its Source. It's a matter of defining what the underlying subject matter is.
   The ONLY way that Huxley, Smith, and Campbell say that religions are the same, is that they are all religions.
   Since I wrote that, I have heard from D S, who wrote the definitive biography of Aldous Huxley and is working on the authorized biography of Huston Smith, who pointed out that Huxley and Smith should not be lumped together in any case, as Smith thought all religions were basically good, and Huxley thought that all formal religions were basically corrupt and bad for spiritual growth – and if any good came of them, it was in spite of the institutions. Campbell had a whole other take on the subject.
   Of course, I also heard directly from Huston, who adamantly states that not only has he never said all religions are the same, but that neither did Huxley or Campbell – both long-time friends of his.
   A writer who was about to interview Prothero, who read my review, asked me what she should ask. I said, If God is not one, is Prothero proposing that there is no God, or that there are many Gods, or that only one religion has it right, and the rest have it wrong. As far as I can imagine, those are the only choices, if God is not one.
   She did ask the question, and this was his answer, “I'm religiously confused now. I don't have any real answers to any of these important questions. I think the reason that I keep studying them is because I don't have answers…”
   What stumps me is that someone who is confused about their main subject can teach it, and be sought out as an expert on the field. He’s confused, yet adamantly states that “God is not one”. How can he be so sure of that, but be confused on the subject?
  In your article you say, “I agree that religions are not different paths to the mountain top; they are different mountains.”
   Perhaps this is a matter of terminology or definition, but again, isn’t the very definition of God: the One creator? To borrow your analogy, upon what do the mountains stand?
   I look forward to hearing from you.

E W writes
    I loved your piece in "Faith & Beliefs" this week regarding Huston Smith. What a wonderful example Huston Smith has been regarding interfaith work, science and compassion. Not sure why I pick these 3 things to highlight but it just seems right.
   I volunteer with an organization that uses all walks of spirituality/religions, or no religion, to glean fields after the harvest. These activities gets much needed fresh, local and nutritious food into food banks. I wish that more efforts were made to integrate all types of faith beliefs in an effort to support our community. This in turn builds compassion and understanding rather than drawing the lines around "faith"/religion.
   Thank you for acknowledging the gifts that Huston Smith has given the world and what lucky person you are to have met such a gentle soul.
   If you are interested in learning more about the gleaning group, please visit http://www.endhunger.org/sosawest/. If you'd like even more information, please be my guest on October 13 at Grace & Holy Trinity's Founder's Hall, 13th & Broadway at 8 a.m. for a free breakfast. I'd love to have you at my table, please just let me know!
   Thank you again for your work to build interfaith.

Vern responds
   Thanks for your generous comment on my column -- and congratulations and thanks to you for the work you are doing gleaning!
For information about the Interfaith Council, see http://www.kcinterfaith.org/ or the link on the home page of my website, http://www.cres.org .
I may do a follow-up column about Smith as I have so many stories to tell. I have never met a person who better fits the label "gentleman" -- and brilliant at that.
   I actually plan to be at GHTC at 7 that morning and possibly may be able to stop by to meet you after my meeting concludes.
   Again, thanks for the work you do and taking the trouble to comment on this installment of my weekly Wednesday column!

M  F writes
   Missouri Ties that Bind--How wonderful after breast gawking to be able to read about you and Huston, meeting marveling and marrying, Martining and Moyering, multiphoning and Methoding. 
     After dropping acid with Leary, did he need a plane to fly with Merton?  I often fly with Merton. 

B C writes
   Sir: your column today was an interesting item with a good local angle.  Your reference to MLK's dissertation was a bit casual, given the dissertation's controversial status.  Perhaps you could do another column about your assessment of the controversy surrounding Dr. King's doctoral studies &  eventual degree.

Vern responds— 
   Actually I've mentioned King's dissertation in passing several times, as Wieman was born in Missouri (Rich Hill).
   While I have read some of the dissertation, I am not competent, nor do I have the time, to produce an independent analysis of King's plagiarism. My little window on the matter is that the ideas King discussed were accurately analyzed and to great purpose, though I disagree with King on some points, having studied with Wieman and also having spent a year studying Tillich's Systematic Theology.  I am also ill-equipped to judge how severely the plagiarism should be condemned in the context of the time and preacherly habits, how much deliberate, accidental, unconscious -- I am unable to address such questions.
   The column today, of course, was about Huston Smith, about which I am better acquainted. I only met King once.
 Thanks for reading this installment of my weekly (Wednesday) column and for taking the trouble to write. I wish I were sufficiently expert to address your suggestion, but I am not, and I best admit it.

B C writes again
   Well said.  Thanks & keep up the good work.

C R writes [Dec 28!]
      I am writing to thank you for your article of September 21.   I am a native of Saline County.  When I was a teen-ager, I read Houston Smith's first book on the religions of the world and had no idea of his connections to this area.
     In my middle years, I encountered his writing again and realized that I knew two elderly Smith women. . .I thought they were both his aunts.     After reading your article, I began to ask questions and do a little research.     I knew his Aunt Bertha, the missionary to Korea, and I knew his mother.   Both went to a rural Methodist church near Marshall, Smith Chapel, named for his ancestors who were early pioneers in the area.    Some young men in my Methodist church here in Marshall
> cut wood every fall for the winter heating for his mother who lived a spartan existence as a widow on the family property near Napton.    I recall someone saying they had been in the house and there was one bare lightbulb. 
    I ordered "Tales of Wonder" on inter-library loan and I simply loved it.    After reading his comments about his parents, I can understand why they lived without luxury.     I am determined to read some others of his books.   I shared half a dozen copies  of your article with other local people, some of whom are distant relatives of his.   You added to my life.   Thank you. 

Vern responds— 
     Your email was heart-warming to me! I am very grateful to took the trouble to let me know that the column led you into discovering relationships and to more of Huston's writings! Happy New Year!

Be aware of what counts

The problem with the sacred—the source of life’s meaning—is that it usually lies outside our awareness. So religions have developed techniques to bring the sacred from the periphery into focus. 
   But techniques can fail. A seeker complained to his teacher that nothing he tried—fasting, chastity, charity—brought him Enlightenment. “Have you noticed the sunset?” the master asked.
   Disasters like 9/11 can suddenly make us aware of what counts. When they work, religious techniques bring us not only to the gate of awareness of what counts but open us to a cosmic arena.
   In 1995, many of us watched in amazement as two Tibetan monks at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, over a month’s time, constructed an intricate mandala of colored sand as a diagram of the spiritual universe. In my bedroom I see a poster of that “Wheel of Compassion” when I wake each morning.
   “Mandala” is Sanskrit for “circle.” As elaborated by Tibetans and others, this technique becomes a way of presenting and integrating sacred powers within the hoop of the universe. In Buddhism, a mandala is a two-dimensional picture of the multi-dimensional home palace of the Buddha. A central image, perhaps a lotus, symbolizes the final stage of Enlightenment.
   After a sand mandala is completed, it is destroyed or “deconstructed” despite its beauty, in keeping with the Buddhist insight into Enlightenment that all things are impermanent. Our desire for unchanging things, relationships and even an image of ourselves, is a source of suffering.
   The West has sometimes interpreted the mandala as a meditative device to balance psychological powers, such as the four modes of perception named by Carl Jung: thinking, emotion, sensation, intuition.
   Nine monks from the Drepung Gomang College in India are now visiting the U.S. Hosted by the Rime Buddhist Center here last week, they were constructing an innovative mandala at the Volker Campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 
   Mandalas are so traditional that they must be formed from memory. The monks told me that the new mandala was commissioned by the present Dali Lama. It departs from tradition by placing and honoring symbols of world religions around the center.
   I marveled at the monks’ patience and care as they, virtually grain by grain, created this novel interfaith mandala as an emblem and example of compassion and peace embracing all religions.
   Now is the time for each faith to find such vivid techniques within one’s own tradition to celebrate the many ways the other  faiths also direct our attention to what really counts.


 M F writes
   Wonder-full column today -- 
   Colored sand
   Fleeting glimpse
   Sacred now

B M writes
   I read with great interest your "Be Aware of What Counts' column in today's (9/14) kansasCity Star.
   I was baptized as a Protestant in the Congregational church and attended faithfully, but never managed to attain the source of life's meaning you refer to as the Sacred.  Wven now, after having read your column, I am puzzled abut how to attain this mysterious thing that is  outside my awareness.
   The obvious question I am leading up to is, "What ideas do you have for how to pursue and reach that state of Understanding the Meaning of  life?
   An age-old question, isn't it?
   What is the meaning of life?
   So, how about if you dash off a quick e-mail to me explaining the Meaning of Life?
  No?  Well then,  getting serious, have you any ideas on Where I could  find a guide?  I am willing to believe that God exists, but not that his presence  constitutes the meaning of life, and that our lives exist to serve Him.
   To me, that seems to narrow it down to why some chunks of material were knocked loose from our sun, and evolved into our planet, with life eventually evolving on our planet. 
   As I write this note to you, my thinking is evolving.  I don't know if the question of why we exist on the Earth has an answer beyond the scientific " Natural bio-chemical events created life in the ocean, etc." , But that may be irrelevant.  I am starting to see that the answer to Meaning of Life starts with "Now that we are here what should we do to make our lives relevant?
   But yet, I feel that I am missing a big chunk of the puzzle.
   So, maybe I have already  found the path to follow, and my request of you is simply to suggest a guide to help me focus on the other things that are part of The Meaning Of Life.
   Thanks for whatever you might suggest. I would very much appreciate it

Vern responds
   The meaning of life, huh?
   Well, I don't think there is a One-Size-Fits-All answer. The sunset mentioned in the column doesn't work for you? -- or the awareness it represents?
   For me, religion begins with experiences of awe and wonder, matures into gratitude for those experiences, and manifests in service to others. You might call it love.
   But after working many years with many religions and traveling around the world studying them, I appreciate the rich variety of responses people have to a Mystery we can never understand. And even in our own culture, the differences can be mutually enriching as we each search for a deeper understanding or more intimate awareness of the sacred -- what really counts.
   I have lots more to say about this -- but what is important is not the way I work it out but your own search.  I am glad for your openness and processing, even as you wrote to me.
   You request a guide to help you find the missing piece. There are so many guides, without knowing you I hesitate to make a suggestion for fear of steering you in a thorny or barren path, even if that path might be fruitful for others.
   But I can't see much harm in recommending the autobiography of my friend Huston Smith, now 92 years old. In fact, I'll write about him a bit in my column next Wednesday (incidentally, you can find all of my weekly columns going back to 1994 on my website, as well as other information and contacts that might be useful). You can find an advance draft of my column about him (which doesn't begin to do justice to him, so I may write another) on the right side of this page: http://www.cres.org/star/star2011.htm#888.  His autobiography, "Tales of Wonder," charts a path no one else can take, but may somehow be suggestive. I especially like his account of his serious Zen training, pages 127-134. The conclusion to his training, which surprised him, is exactly the way I understand Zen from my own Zen teacher, Chen Chi Chang. Smith's encounters with other religions lead to other angles on the question you ask, as do my own experiences with other faiths. The KCMO library has the book, and I imagine other libraries do as well or can get it for you. . . .
   Thanks very much for reading my column and your thoughtful response. I wish I could be of more direct help to you via cyberspace, but at least I want to do no harm. I certainly enjoyed reading your note, wish you well, and would be glad to hear from you again.

In 2002, we healed one another

Baha’i, Sufi, Sikh and every other faith joined in the first anniversary observance of 9/11, a day-long central event with satellite ceremonies around the metro. I’ve previously written about those sunrise and daytime activities.

  881. 110803  9/11: Faiths link in crisis -- That day and the next Sunday
  883. 110817  9/11 lessons still to be learned -- metaphors; local study
  884. 110824  Shaping the meaning of 9/11 -- first anniversary morning

   In the evening, Jewish and Muslim children sang together songs of peace, the scene as the CBS-TV special opened its half-hour focus on how Kansas City responded to 9/11. 
   A few details to make a point, and then a second point.
   § After an American Indian prelude at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral that evening, an imam chanted the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. Later a Hindu sang a prayer and a Kansas City pianist performed the jazz number, “Peace Piece.”
   Barry Howe, then Episcopal diocesan bishop, welcomed the multi-faith gathering including Bob Holden, then Missouri governor, and his family. Speakers included Kay Barnes, then Kansas City mayor, and Bill Tammeus, then Kansas City Star faith columnist, whose nephew was killed in the 9/11 horrors.
   After the main observance, workshops and artistic offerings were presented, including performances by a string quartet from the Kansas City Symphony and a dance from the Kansas City Ballet.
   I detail a few such items to point out that, while interfaith offerings have multiplied in 2011, the power of the 2002 civic and faith coordination is little evident now. In 2011, a time of national political fraction and spiritual suspicion, have we have lost what we were reaching for then?
   § Toward a larger point. In the morning waters brought from the 13 Interfaith Council traditions had been poured from their 13 vessels into the pool across from City Hall, along with waters from many rivers around the globe and from fountains around the Kansas City area. Then from the pool, the mingled waters were gathered into a large vessel and taken to the Cathedral. 
   In the evening, these mingled waters were ladled out to each of the smaller 13 vessels for each member of the Council to take back to his or her own faith community as ritual words respecting each faith were spoken.
   The waters symbolized our tears. Mingled to douse the fires of hatred, they were meant to wash away our self-righteousness and to purify our community.
   God did not avert the disaster, as slavery, the decimation of the American Indian, the Holocaust and more recent horrors around the world have not been prevented. 
   But in the year following 9/11, we did see a sacred power transforming suffering into compassion. To wash each other’s wounds is to touch the infinite, and thus to start to heal.

NOTE: Photos from the events mentioned in this series can be found at
www.cres.org/911. with more photos at http://www.cres.org/911/911a/.


D T writes 
   Am reminded of the words of another peacenik: "But if you want money for people with minds that hate, all I can tell you is brother you'll have to wait!"   "Peace, like war, is waged."

J S writes
   Very much enjoy reading your weekly column in the Star. You are one of the very few media writers at any level who realize how much the spiritual aspects of our lives is so much more important than the physical… How it really controls how we feel about ourselves, our communities and our nation, and gives direction to our actions.  You are also very keen on perceiving how sometimes very subtle incidents wound us, or elevate us, spiritually.
   Therefore, I, personally, am a little miffed about how you and most of the current American media are focusing upon the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as the genesis of the current national zeitgeist, most apparent in our economic decay and political fractiousness.To be sure, the event was sensational and emotional… And it wears well in sight and sound when being told and retold. Politicians are all too quick to focus on, and use, sensational things like that, and, undoubtedly, there will be much of this over the next several days.
   However, I do not share that focus, or the importance accorded to the events of 9/11. Sure, buildings were destroyed in spectacular Hollywood FX fashion and the human cost was high. Very much like Pearl Harbor in 1941. But, in that respect it is analogous to any natural destructive event such as flood, fire or earthquake, hurricane, etc. It is mostly just physical damage. When it is over people bind together, clear away the rubble and rebuild. [Witness: Greensberg, Kansas] Their spirits have not been wounded to the point of significantly affecting the national zeitgeist.
   So, for a more accurate first cause of our present zeitgeist we have to look for an incident that would have sufficient spiritual import to turn it into what it is today. I suggest we need look no further than the evening of December 12, 2000, the date the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Bush versus Gore.
   Everyone on television that evening, of whatever political persuasion, spoke with a quivering, cracking voice accompanied by visual shaking:  shock. They perceived, correctly, that the American identification with its most precious institution – democracy – had been trashed by those assigned to preserve it. They perceived that the counting of the votes in so close an election was a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the world that the leadership of the most powerful nation on earth quite possibly would be decided by one person's vote: the essence of democracy. And, the opportunity was thrown away contemptuously by judicial ideologues to achieve their arbitrary, selfish, venal desires: the same as in any Third World country. Americans were truly hurt by that and I don't believe they have recovered. The cavalier method used to decide Bush versus Gore is what now passes for acceptable political style and discourse: getting one's way at any cost by any method. Bush versus Gore changed the zeitgeist – it wounded people spirits. And since there was no way to correct and reestablish Americans sense of justice, hope was dashed. There was no way to recover what had been thrown away.
   So, I put the question to you with all respect. Just considering World War II what has had a more lingering effect upon humankind: the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the incomprehensible, horrifying evil unleashed by Nazi-ism in the concentration camps of Eastern Europe? I submit, Pearl Harbor does not trouble us anymore. It was a sudden, dramatic spectacular Hollywood FX event in which lives were lost tragically. Yet, the evil of the concentration camps remains inexplicable, and horrifying. It's current resurgence in places like Kosovo: Rwanda, Sudan makes us all too aware that evil is insidious and transient. It has small beginnings in one idea whose consequences are not always easily predictable or identifiable.
   Vern, what Americans are currently reaping isn't the destruction of 9/11. It is the appreciation that an idea that produces Third World traits was once used in this country and has become an acceptable method of political style and discourse.
   I'm very sorry I couldn't word this better. But, I'm sure you'll get the idea.
   Prayers, smiles and best wishes,

Vern responds
   While I think the Supremes have provided two body-blows to democracy in the last dozen years -- the 5-4 Bush-Gore usurpation and the Citizens United outrage, I would trace the problem back to Ronald Reagan's cynical use of the slogan, "government isn't the solution; it's the problem." Others would trace it back to Nixon; I suppose the Gulf of Tonkin lie from Johnson could also qualify as a milestone in the mess we now see.
   Sunday is the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and my focus has been on interfaith response to that. Alas, we are not observing the anniversary of these other outrages. As an astute reader, you surely can read in between the lines of today's column about the degeneration since 9/11, even here locally. And I commend my column on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, which I summarized in the Aug 16 column this year.
   I think if you reread today's column you will not find me "focusing upon the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as the genesis of the current national zeitgeist, most apparent in our economic decay and political fractiousness."  I specifically mention what has been lost since 2002 locally, not since 2001. However, that is surely part of the larger picture, so I won't quibble too much about your complaint.
   Given my circumscribed assignment, it is very difficult for me to venture into the political arena. I hope you can understand the limits in my situation.
   Instead, I am grateful to you for reading my column faithfully and thoughtfully, and taking the trouble to write with such appropriate feeling.
   I wish you would put your sentiments -- even complaining about me by name --  in a letter to the editor as an "As I See It" column: 
   Also I commend the material and links at http://www.cres.org/911/index.htm.
   I do appreciate your writing and giving me a chance to applaud your words and to clarify mine. 

J S writes
  Thank you so much for your kind, thoughtful and articulate reply to my e-mail yesterday. I believe we are in agreement that the seemingly small events that affect us spiritually are more profound, and lasting, than sensational spectacles such as 9/11.
   Your mentioning of Ronald Reagan's script that "government is the problem" is a prime example as are the other examples you mentioned, such as the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. I truly believe they have no idea of the ultimate consequences of their simpleton nostrums ... how they threaten the Republic. 
  To what we have already mentioned I should like to add one or two more examples. In the 1980 presidential debates between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan's glib line "There You Go Again" is often cited with mirth. To the popular media’s credit they now consistently point out that line was delivered in response to a statement Carter made which was the truth.
   However, what is often overlooked from that presidential debate is a line delivered by President Carter that should now be mentioned daily. As I recall it was during that debate that President Carter told the American people that "if Ronald Reagan was elected then within a generation of Americans will be at each other's throats". I foresaw the profound truth of that prediction  that when I heard the line spoken. Now, look what we have. How prescient President. Carter was! But then, he has always been astute to spiritual matters.
   And, to the bizarre Supreme Court decisions in Bush vs. Gore and Citizens United which have dealt a 1-2 punch of this nation’s soul, should be added one more. I don't remember the name of the case and it has been little remarked in the media. But, I remember the facts. They are simple.
   I believe the case came from Chicago. Three or four black middle-aged men were gathered peaceably conversing on a street corner. Two blocks away a police cruiser turned the corner and started coming in their direction. Seeing this, one of the black men left the group and sauntered on down the street. The police cruiser came up alongside him and one of the officers began interrogating him. The issue was whether the brief detention and interrogation was constitutionally justified. There are no other facts. The detainee was not running, there was no evidence the area was high crime. There was no evidence any of the men had criminal records or past associations with the police. That is the sum total of the evidence.
   The issue before the Supreme Court was whether peaceably leaving a group and walking away after spotting the police coming toward you was reasonable grounds to suspect that criminal activity was afoot.The Supreme Court ruled that it was a justified stop and interrogation.
   Outrageous! Being a free man the detainee did not have to have any reason for choosing to disassociate himself from his companions or  the police. The First Amendment guarantees the right of association. That means nothing if one is required to give a reason to the police why you choose to associate or disassociate from certain people.
   More than anything else we have discussed this is the case most offensive to me.
   And, yes, I understood your Wednesday column to be mostly a lament that the beautifully elegant way in which the spiritual community observed the first anniversary of 9/11 has not been followed since.
   Looking forward to reading more of your wonderful columns in the future, . . . 


   Lets not forget that the 9/11 attacks were not an INTERFAITH effort.
   The participants were all Muslims.

   Those killed on 9/11 were of every faith, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist . . . and those of no faith at all. The column is about our response to the horrors of 9/11 -- and also reminds us of horrors perpetrated or permitted by Christians such as the Inquisition, the Crusades, the decimation of the American Indian, the colonization and exploitation of South America and Africa, the Holocaust, and other injustices, oppressions, and exploitations. Jesus said, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you." 

   Those killed were of every faith, but those who carried it out were not...they were all Muslims.
   It was not an interfaith project.  If you want to remind us of things perpetrated or committed by Christians who were, according you your own quote from Jesus, behaving inconsistently with his teachings, then I am going to remind you that the followers of Muhammed listen to a man who used warfare as a means of expansion.
   (Oh, and as to the Holocaust, you know good and well that Hitler killed millions of Christians...three million Catholics in Poland alone.)

   No one to my knowledge has ever claimed the 9/11 terrorism was an "interfaith project" so I remain puzzled why this idea is repeatedly set forth. The column is not about the terrorists but about a response to it. Hitler killed many people, many Jews, many homosexuals, many Gypsies, many political dissidents who were Christian. No one said he did not kill Christians. Christians often kill Christians. Muslims have killed many Muslims. As I understand history, Muhammad did not use warfare as a means of expansion. And Islamic rules for war are strict: one cannot attack non-combatants, one may not pursue a fleeing enemy, one may not destroy property, one may fight only defensively, not preemptively as we did in Iraq. Islam expanded mainly because at the time it had a superior culture and non-Muslims wanted to be part of it, sometimes converting, often not. Just as within Christianity, a great variation by time and place, but generally speaking, Islam has been less violent than Christianity since the conversion of Constantine. It was the Christians, not the Muslims, who developed the concept of "holy war."

Rabbi an asset to our community

Eleven years ago a Jewish friend excitedly told me I must meet her new rabbi. I did not then know how much I would come to admire his gifts both to the Jewish community and to interfaith understanding.
   So when I learned recently that Jacques Cukierkorn was asked to lead a new congregation here, I was relieved that he had fallen in love with the area and declined an opportunity to leave.
   When I have asked Jacques to speak at interfaith gatherings, his humor and humanity have appealed to the audience so strongly that, even though I’ve warned him to bring plenty of copies of his book, “Accessible Judaism: A Concise Guide,” his supplies sometimes ran out.
   He and former Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus wrote “They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust,” published in 2009.
   Originally from Brazil, his historical studies and travels to Jewish communities around the world give him a wide perspective on Jewish and interfaith possibilities for the future.
   I discovered this anew when I recently attended a Temple Israel Sabbath service held at St. Thomas the Apostle in Overland Park. The Episcopal church welcomed the Jewish group because of its open policy and the relationship developed over several years between the rector, the Rev. Gar Demo, and Jacques.
   Now the new group has found a permanent home, sharing space with the oldest synagogue founded in Kansas, Ohev Sholom, in Prairie Village, an unusual model of cooperation between Reform and Conservative congregations, but typical of the work Jacques does in bringing folks together.
   Whenever I have a question about Judaism or a need <(as when I needed a Jewish lesbian to be a panelist after a screening of a film)>, all I do is call Jacques. 
   Among the many rich expressions of Judaism in our area, from Reform to Orthodox, Temple Israel now offers a new style, which Jacques calls “concierge Judaism.”
   “The idea is to give people the tools and experiences to enhance their Jewish knowledge, practice and commitment on their own terms. Rather than telling members what to learn, practice and believe, our congregants can make decisions based on their lifestyles, beliefs and preferences, while at the same time, each individual is guided to reach one’s full potential. 
   “This model requires a major commitment on the part of the rabbi to be readily available to his congregation, which I am overjoyed to do,” he explained.
   Our community is blessed by this gifted leader and the new congregation as they continue to model cooperation and innovation in our community. 


A P writes
   Thanks for your column today about Jacques.  Do you have his current email?

J C writes
   Wow! Can't wait to meet this rabbi!

Shaping the meaning of 9/11

We are still dealing with the failures of Reconstruction after the Civil War, begun 150 years ago. We should not be surprised that it is taking us a while to learn from 9/11.
   For months after that day of horror, interfaith leaders had intense discussions about how to frame an observance of its first anniversary.
   With some 50 cooperating congregations and folks ranging from a student at Shawnee Mission East High School to an executive at United Way, planners quickly decided that revenge was an unthinkable theme, though anger and grief should be recognized. 
They asked the Interfaith Council to take the lead. The Council designed a full day of “Remembrance and Renewal.”
   The day began before dawn at Ilus Davis Park, at the pool across the street from City Hall, where the 13 members of the Interfaith Council and 200 others had assembled. At the other end of the park is the Federal Courthouse. This civic setting contains a monument to the First Amendment.
   A brass ensemble with percussion from the Kansas City Symphony played and the entire event was broadcast live on radio and portions later shown on national TV. 
   At sunrise the crowd, including first responders, AmeriCorp volunteers and a youth choir, sang “America, the Beautiful.”
   The heart of the simple ceremony was a water rite. Since water is important in all faiths and often used in various rituals, all members of the Interfaith Council, American Indian to Zoroastrian, brought containers of water from their traditions, and poured them into the pool, to say that ultimately our lives flow together. To answer the fireball of the previous year, fountains of tears washing away wrath became the emblem of hope, refreshment and healing. 
   Since Kansas City is the “City of Fountains,” waters from fountains in Independence, Lenexa, KCK and elsewhere in the metro, previously consecrated at an interfaith conference six weeks after 9/11, were mixed with waters from the Ganges, Nile, Thames, Amazon and dozens of other rivers in a sacred collection, symbolizing how peoples from across this planet have come to be part of our nation and our city.
   Then the mingled waters were scooped up from the pool into vessels for distribution around the city for evening events, about which I’ll write soon.
   With police escort, the crowd, carrying the vessels and a banner proclaiming “Hope,” processed  through the streets to Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral where the day was spent naming and praying for each victim of the terrorist attacks.
   Ten years after 9/11, we are still shaping the meaning of that day. It is up to us to bring good out of iniquity.


D T writes
   This reminded me of Langston Hughes poem in which "my soul has grown deep like the rivers".  THANKS!

Anonymous writes by snail mail
   I read your column on 9/11 in the AUg 24 KC Star. When I read about the water pouring event, I thought I must have been at a Jr Hi Summer camp. I barely restrained myself from bursting out singin, "Kum Bah Yah."


   9/11 was not an interfaith event. It was carried out my Muslims. Jesus taught us to love our enemies. Muhammed taught his followers to make their enemies submit.

   The victims of 9/11 were of many faiths, including Muslims. 
   It is wrong to judge 2 billion people for the actions of a few who claim to be part of that group. Remember, the terrorist in Norway several weeks ago professed to be Christian. I believe Timothy McVeigh claimed the same. Fred Phelps claims to be a Baptist. Hitler claimed to be Catholic. It is no more accurate to believe the 9/11 terrorists represented all Muslims than to believe that these four represent all Christians.

   The Norway killer wrote a 1500 page manifesto in which he claimed to be everything, including an atheist. McVeigh was an atheist. Phelps is is insane. Hitler killed Millions of Catholicis, and expressed contempt for Christianity to his private associates like Albert Speer and Joseph Goebbells. Muhammed called for his followers to make the enemy submit.  We are submitting. Jesus called for his followers to love their enemies; and you are rejecting him.

   And actually, Tim McVeigh was raised Catholic. In 1996 (after the bombing), he stated that he believed in God but had lost touch with his catholic roots saying "I never really picked it up, however I do maintain core beliefs." In 2001 he wrote a letter to a newspaper claiming to be agnostic (not atheist) the day before his execution, but then when it came time to be executed he requested and received the Catholic sacrament, the Annointing of the Sick.
   The Oslo terrorist, Anders Breivik, actually stated that he is "100 percent Christian" but not "excessively religious", more of a "cultural Christian". He also stated that he prayed to God to seek help during his attacks. He stated that he wants the protestants to convert back to Catholicism. He called for a Great Christian Congress to overthrow the current hierarchies of the protestant and catholic demonimatinos and reform them into a new European Church. He felt very strongly that that Christians should throw them out of Europe and Hindus should throw them out of India. Basically, he condemned all Muslims, and let that fuel his political and religious stances that resulted in the murder of 77 people, mostly teenagers.

   Hsit, you need to cite your sources.  I refer to the Wikipedia article on McVeigh, and he clearly stated that "science" was his God.  He was no Christian. And neither was the Norway shooter: his manifesto was 1500 pages and you can quote mine him to make him say anything.  He was nuts. And they certainly were not following the teaching of Jesus to "love your enemies", now were they?

   Sure thing. Since I'm not sure if the Star will let me post links to outside media outlets, I'll place the article information in this post and then do a subsequent post with the links.
   In a CNN article entitled "McVeigh took last rights before execution", published June , 2001, it is discussed that he was baptised into the Catholic Church as a boy, and though he proclaimed himself an agnostic shortly before his execution, he actually received Sacrament immediatley prior to his execution, including confession and forgiveness of sins.
   The statement about him believing in a God and maintaining core beliefs was from a Time article entitled "A look back in TIME: Interview with Tim McVeigh," published March 30, 1996.
   Again, the links will follow.

   The CNN article: http://articles.cnn.com/2001-0... The TIME article: (having issues with this comment page freezing up every time I click on another browser window, so will hit Post, then will edit in a moment with the TIME link)

   Yep, the post with the links went away.  The articles are searchable on google.

   No, I do not reject Christ.  You obviously know nothing about me, and you are selectively ignoring a large part of Christ's message. Loving our enemies was a prominant topic in his sermon on the mount. As was not judging others, not focusing on personal gain and instead focusing on your personal relationship with God.
   Condemning 2 billion people for the behavior of extremists is not "loving". Deciding that those 2 billion people are somehow your enemy contradicts his restatement of the commandments, to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself." 
   You appear to be judging all Muslims, even the victims of 9/11 and their family members, by the actions of the extremist terrorists. That does not qualify as "loving".
   You say that Phelps is insane; is that a clinical diagnosis? In my eyes, he is a man who has taken a very evil stance and misuses passages of scripture to justify his hateful behavior. The Muslims I know believe the same to be true about the terrorists and extremist clerics.
   The irony is, your claim that I am "rejecting" Christ because I disagree with your condemnation of an entire group of people is very similar to the stance of the Popes and other religious leaders (including John Calvin) in the 1500-1600s, that because a group of people believed baptism should be a personal choice made by someone old enough to make that choice, that it was ok for the church to round up these men, women and children and infants, torture, maim and murder them. If you can get ahold of the book, read "The Martyrs' Mirror" (Full title: "The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Savior, from the time of Christ to the year AD 1660", by Thieleman J. van Braght). I have read portions of the massive book translated into English, and I believe it is also available online (at least in part). The entire second half of the book is about the brutal massacres of the precursors of today's Mennonites, Amish, Friends, Baptists, and others at the hands of the other Christian denominations of that day. 
   And after reading the gruesome details of what was done in the name of the Church in the 1600 years after Christ, then tell me if you want Christians and Christianity to be judged by the actions of the tormentors or by the actions of their victims, the martyrs.

   By supporting the Muslim religion, you deny Christ.  His teachings were diametrically opposed to Muhammed's.
   I am not for doing anything to them, I am just saying they are wrong.  For you to pretend that they are not is not "loving' them.  They are following a false prophet, who did such things as marry an eight year old girl.
   The right thing to do is to stand for the truth, not excuse their wrongs. 
   As for asking me if I wanted Christians to be judged by the actions of those you name, you have already done that.
   The Church is not Christianity. The Popes are not Christ.
   Christianity should be judged by the ethics of Jesus.
   Islam will be judged by the ethics of Muhammed.

   I am not supporting the Muslim religion, I am saying it is wrong to judge all Muslims on the behaviors of the terrorists.  You implied that 9/11 was a Muslim event, rather than a terrorist event. You did not acknowledge that there were many different religions reflected in the victims, including Muslims. I provided examples of people who claim to be Christian, who use passages out of the Bible to support the evil that they do. And as I said, my Muslim friends feel even more strongly about the extremist terrorists than I do about Phelps and his ilk.
   And according to Christ, Paul, and others, we will not be judged by the title of the religion that we (or others) name us to be in, but by our actions AND our relationship with God.  Those who profess to be Muslims will be judged on an individual basis, not as a group. Likewise, those who profess to be Christians will be judged on an individual basis, not as a group. 
   And the Bible specifically states that this judging is not going to be done by us, but by God alone. We are not worthy to make that judgement.

9/11 lessons still to be learned

In the first of this series on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 for us in Kansas City, I noted the grim coincidence of the Interfaith’s Council announcement on that day of plans for the area’s first all-faiths conference. I also recalled the large public interfaith gathering for “Remembering and Renewing” on the following Sunday.
   Here are two more interfaith markers trailing that day of horror.
   § After several weeks of sharing the shock and revulsion of 9/11 with folks of many faiths, I wrote in this space that “In religious literature we can find at least three metaphors to describe what happened Sept. 11: crime, war and disease. Each metaphor has its virtue, and the situation is so complex that no one metaphor is sufficient.
   “One advantage of the disease metaphor is that it suggests that all humanity is a body, and the ailment arises from poisons such as greed, ignorance and hate. We then can ask, What is the best prescription to effect the cure?”
   While terrorism had previously been considered a crime, the war metaphor instead became a costly reality, and a cure has hardly been considered.
   The Buddha said, “Hatred does not cease by hatred but only by love.” Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you.” It is a teaching found in many faiths, but we make exceptions when we are threatened. We cannot see clearly when we allow fear rather than faith to rule our lives. We have not yet learned this lesson. 
  §Early in 2002, Katheryn Shields, then Jackson County Executive, tasked a group of faith and civic leaders to study concerns created by 9/11 within local faith communities. I was elected chair. Our 35,000-word, 77-page report was issued Sept. 10, 2002, just before the first anniversary. It can be found at www.cres.org/study.
   The task force included a prominent black Protestant minister, an Islamic scholar, a Sikh leader, the chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, a prominent Buddhist leader, the rabbi of our largest Jewish synagogue and several civic leaders. The County provided legal counsel and we hired a staff assistant.
   Our months of study included work with the FBI and public hearings in the five-county area we surveyed. Portions of one of the public sessions were shown on network television.
   For governmental units, religious organizations and civic groups, the report included ten recommendations involving a crisis response plan, a public education program and a tolerance monitoring proposal, totaling 27 specific bullet points. None have been fully implemented. 
   However, this intermittent series may nonetheless reveal a positive conclusion.


M F writes
   And a cure has hardly been considered . . . . Powerful phrase there . . . .

J B writes
    I really like your two articles on the upcoming anniversary of 9/11.  The universality of the teaching in religions, to love your enemy, combined with the knowledge that “we make exceptions when we are threatened,” really strikes a note with me.  Seems not unrelated to the need for a truthful mirror (that you wrote about elsewhere), aka community, that does the difficult work of naming such truths to each other.  I wonder if the growing isolation of people (comfortable people in particular) in western societies produces a greater likelihood of fearful responses to situations of threat and difference.  At any rate, thank you for these thought-provoking articles.

R W writes 
   I read  your column this morning and wanted to share this website with you.  The quote is from Brian McLaren’s website (www.brianmclaren.net). Brian is a leader in the Emergent Christianity Movement. His writings have had a wonderful effect on my spiritual development.
   A month from yesterday is the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01. One of my good friends, Bart Campolo, is organizing a truly constructive way to commemorate that day. The idea is simple - demonstrate a positive alternative to violence by walking side by side with people of different faiths.
   Perhaps you should consider being involved? You can find walks to join - or how to organize one in your area. Learn more here: http://www.The911Walks.org/
   "Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand. It is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy." - Wendell Berry

Vern responds
   I had a chance to meet and hear Brian in 2007, and respect his approach greatly, so I am not surprised by your appreciation of him.
   There are several different programs planned to observe the tenth anniversary of 9/11 here in KC that I already have heard about, and I will be writing about the amazing city-wide observance on the first anniversary here in KC in one or two future columns. I like Bart Campolo's idea and hope you will communicate it to the Interfaith Council--http://www.kcinterfaith.org/ -- there seems to be some problem with their website at the moment (Bob Bacic, Convener --- --- ----). Also, do you know about our "Passport" program? -- http://www.cres.org/passport/
   Thanks for reading this installment of my weekly (Wednesday) column, and for writing with your helpful comments! May I suggest you follow up publicizing Bart's idea by writing a letter to the editor or an "As I See It" column? -- http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/letters/
   And thanks for the Wendell Berry quotation!

T W writes
   . . . In your opinion what is the root cause of our political dysfunction?

Vern responds
   . . . In my opinion: Theologically it is the overwhelming over-secularism in which we are immersed. I do not mean secular in the political sense; I cherish "separation of church and state." I'm speaking theologically, ie, fragmented, broken, partial, unrelated, disconnected from a vision of the sacred;  the profane. This is evident in all dimensions of society, including religion, much of which is actually secular as I have used the term. Politically, as applies to this foolish idea of furthering disrespect for the offices of those who should be bringing our nation together, it fails to get at the sources of fragmentation, one of which is the corrupt influence of corporate interests on the Supreme Court, on the Congress (both House and Senate. and on their aids and the lobbyists), and within the Executive Branch, though that currently is the least exposed to these influences. The astonishing gap between the extremely wealthy and the growing number of poor. and the decline of the middle class is the result of a capitalistic system inadequately joined to an ethic of fairness and aid to those truly in need. Part of this arises from the narcissism of popular culture fed by the media, part of this is permitted by religious leaders who have abandoned their prophetic roles.  Part of this is the notion that we work for money instead of providing useful goods and services to others (a loss of a sense of vocation). This is a multi-dimensional problem because, in my opinion, all things are interconnected. I oppose the suggestion you have emailed because it is a false solution that would only increase the power of the congressional staff and the lobbyists and demean the offices which should be held in respect. When the solution you propose, were it enacted, fails, it would only increase cynicism and hopelessness.
   I will not write much more here except to mention the most destructive decision by the Supreme Court in the last few years: Please read my column and the notes following it at  http://www.cres.org/star/star2010.htm#807 . 
   To put these few political words in a theological context, and for an overview of why I think interfaith encounters may be one way toward progress, see
   first, this chart  http://www.cres.org/index1.html#chart,   and
   second, this text: http://www.cres.org/pubs/WorldReligsPiecesOrPattern.htm.
   Most people who disagree with such emails as you sent will not take the time to respond. Please know I did respond not because I am certain of my perspective -- this is my opinion,  but because I respect your good will and efforts to make us aware of the situation, of our options, and of the challenge we have to learn to govern ourselves. 


   The 9/11 attack was not an interfaith event.  The perpetrators were all Muslims.

Vern responds
   Interfaith responses to 9/11 were significant, nationally and locally. Many Muslims, including local leaders who spoke on 9/11, noted that the perpetrators had violated basic norms of Islam and had therefore exited the faith.

   Thats your interpretation, Vern,  Millions of Muslims disagree.

   Muhammed married an 8 year old girl, we would call that pedophilia.

 Vern responds
   I'm not sure how this comment relates to the column, but I have prepared a response for any who wish to request it by emailing me at the address given at the end of the column.
   And It appears here:
   I'm not sure how this comment relates to the column any more than reporting that, in the words of Thomas Paine, God committed debauchery with an engaged woman, Mary, or that David had a man killed so he could marry his wife, or that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (political alliances, procreation, property rights, honored servants, companionship, sexual opportunities, love?), or that Abraham heard a voice telling him to kill his own son and was prepared to do so. 
   Muhammad had but one wife (actually she proposed to him) while she lived; after she died, he took many wives, some widows, in order to provide for them. Aisha was the daughter of Abu Bakr who made the marriage contract when she was 6 and he 50. Tribal and other alliances then were similar to European Christian practices. She was not present at the marriage contract and the wedding itself when she was 9 and then consummation with evidence of puberty, which indicates an age beyond childhood. 
   If Christians can approve of an exceptional story in which God Himself violates (in some non-Christian views) or blesses (in the Christian view) a very young woman engaged to another, why cannot Muslims approve of an exceptional circumstance which made Aisha ready for Muhammed and later to her extraordiary role in the development of Islam after her husband's death?
   On the other hand, in the context of the time, non-Muslim scholars note that such unions were part of the Bedouin culture. Many cultures in the past and some today still recognize the development of puberty as readiness for marriage. (See Ezekiel 16:4–8.) The Bible offers no age requirement for marriage and often assumes decisions over a daughter are to be made by her father. Many Biblical practices would be condemned by many Christian norms today. Again, I have no idea how this topic relates to the column.
   NOTE summarizing selected material: While in the United States today the age of consent varies among the states from 16 to 18 years of age, the traditions reached back to canon law as young as 8. In practice, judges honored marriages as young as 2 and 3 years. 
   Mary Hathaway was 9 when she married Williams in 1689 in the Virginia colony. Sir Edward Coke in 17th Century England observed that "the marriage of girls under 12 was normal, and even if she were only 9 and her husband 4, she would be entitled to dower. 
   By the 1880's most states in the USA set the age of consent between 10 and 12 years, but evidence exists that in Deleware of the age of consent was only 7. 

   Islam has Alla which is master (slave owner) rather than Abba which is Father.

Vern responds
   The English word "God" becomes "Dieu" in French, "Gott" in German, "Dios" in Spanish and "Allah" in Arabic. Christian translations of the Holy Bible use the word "Allah" for "God" because that is what "Allah" means. "Ab" and "Abba" in many Semitic languages means "father." In Islam, God is neither male nor female, though, as in Christianity, often spoken of using masculine grammar, though I think referring to God as Father in Islam is not as common as in Christianity since God is beyond personhood. In Islam, one submits only to Allah, to God. Some 1200 years before the United States ended slavery, Muhammad encouraged slave owners to free their slaves and those who had the means, to buy slaves in order to free them.

  Like the Sanhedrin of Jesus' time, Muslims take offense at Christians calling God 'Father'.  I wonder if Ishmael held contempt for Isaac?

Vern responds
  I've traveled the Muslim world for years and know many Muslims locally and have never witnessed a Muslim being offended by a Christian referring to God as "Father." Please share the experiences you are reporting or cite scholarly studies. And I am sorry that I cannot understand the relevance of Ishmael and Isaac to this discussion, so please clarify. Thank you.

   Scott Hahn gave a talk where he referenced a discussion with a Muslim scholar who was insulted at him referring to God as Our Father who asked him to stop doing that.
I understand that some Muslim's believe that Abraham took Ishmael up the mountain and not Isaac.  I was implying with my 'contempt' comment that Muslim contempt for infidels started at the beginning with Ishmael.

Vern responds
   Rather than a third-hand report, the citation and context would be helpful.

It was part of his weekly satellite radio broadcast 'Scripture Matters Live" that was put into a talk he gave called 'Un-holy War'.

Vern responds
   This remains a third-hand report. Credibility is established by specific and undisputed citation and context of the original conversation. I would be grateful if this could be provided. Then we would compare this example with the many contrary examples to make a judgment about how well the matter in question is best characterized.

   Vern, I am not trying to debate you.  The source is credible to me. I'm not trying to denigrate Muslim views... I'm just trying to illustrate that they are fundamentally different from a Christians.

Vern responds
   Even if the credibility of the source could be established, one single instance hardly outweighs the overwhelming testimony of others. As to whether Islam is fundamentally different than Christianity -- it depends on how one makes comparisons. Obviously Islam is much closer to Christianity than it is to, say, Buddhism, because it, also like Judaism, is monotheistic and considers Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others to be genuine prophets.



A new center for social capital

Religions in all times and places have employed the arts to answer the question, What does it mean to be human? Often without words, answers from music, dance and abstract plastic arts create personal and communal resonances that shape our stories of the human spirit.
   John Donne, Dean of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, offered a famous insight into the human spirit when he preached “No man is an island.” Perhaps he anticipated modern studies of “social capital,” described as the value of our relationships and civic spirit.
   Our civic spirit is about to swell when a new performance space opens here Sept. 16.
   Jane Chu, a musician and a doctoral candidate in philanthropic studies, is president and CEO of the new facility. I asked her, “How will the performing arts in this beautiful new building enhance and enlarge our understanding of what it means to be human?” She replied:
  “Music is one of the most meaningful ways to experience being human. I started playing the piano when I was eight years old. At age nine, when my father died, I didn’t have enough words to articulate my grief. But music gave me another language to express myself. 
   “That same interest in music as a child motivated me to examine the ways others use the arts to express themselves. 
   “From the beginning, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts has wanted to be a place for extraordinary and diverse performing arts experiences, a place to build social capital, and to increase our understanding of what it means to be human. 
   “The new Kauffman Center provides a role in honoring the many different ways we can express ourselves and build our understanding of our human experience.
   “Robert Putnam and others have, in their own ways, emphasized that creating social capital includes a sense of goodwill and trust. And social capital requires a framework and places where we feel safe and comfortable enough together to engage in the experience at hand.
   “Social capital can bring together different kinds of people with a shared purpose. This is exactly what we want to do: to serve as a venue where people can be comfortable enough to come together, to appreciate the diverse forms of creative expression, and to use the arts to honor what it means to be human,” she said.
   Facilities of various faiths offer their own particular artistic expressions of the human story and human capital. Now, as never before in our city, the world-class Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts enhances a full exploration of our spiritual capacities, individually and as a diverse community.


J A writes
   The new Performing Arts Center offers more than a spectacular venue for multidimensional experiences. It also serves to focus thought for consideration of important meaning, and for contemplations that can sail beyond the understood. Your column today points to potential, and gently prods the reader to reflect and to reach. Bravo! 


   'Spirituality' is not religion.

9/11: Faiths link in crisis

The single most salient event to shape interfaith relations in our lifetimes may be 9/11. And six weeks later, the only all-faiths conference to date in Kansas City was held. Next month the tenth anniversary of 9/11 will be observed. This column is the first of several to offer recollections and perspectives about these events. Here are two.
   § Early in the summer of 2001, the Kansas City Interfaith Council, which at that time I headed, set Sept. 11 as the date for a press conference to announce plans for the Oct. 27-28 “Gifts of Pluralism” interfaith conference. 
   That morning, just before leaving home for the announcement at Pembroke Hill School, I turned on the news and was horrified. I did not want to take a chance that the Muslim member of the Council could not make it to participate, so I phoned another Muslim leader as a back-up. I rushed to the school.
   All 13 members of the Council, American Indian to Zoroastrian,  spoke to the gathered media with new urgency about the critical importance of the interfaith conference, as images of terror were repeated over and over on the TV near the platform. 
   Both Muslims spoke movingly about Islam as a religion of peace, about their love for this country and about the violation of their faith by the terrorists. 
   The “Gifts” conference, which had been in planning for two years, suddenly became a far more momentous opportunity than even the most ardent sponsors could have conceived.
  § The office of Dennis Moore, then Kansas congressman, contacted the Council to arrange a more immediate public event which Johnson County Community College agreed to host Sept. 16 in the Carlsen Center. 
   That Sunday afternoon all 13 faiths presented an observance of “Remembering and Renewing.” Prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders spoke, and the Council performed a candle-lighting ritual.
   But the most moving part for many of the hundreds in the audience, some of whom had dared leave their homes for the first time since that day of horror, was when each person listened and spoke with someone nearby, one-on-one, in response to this invitation:
   Since “the tragic events of Sept. 11, where have you seen signs of compassion, peace and hope? . . . How can we nurture more of these signs, to insure that compassion, peace and hope become our promise to the future?”
   Interfaith understanding comes by listening to ourselves and to others as we consider such questions as persons of faith, and as a community of many faiths.
   The strength thus generated here following 9/11 led to national recognition. I’ll write about that in a future column.


   It would be prudent if we read the Muslim scriptures ourselves to learn for ourselves... its not that I doubt there are peaceful muslims... "you will know them by their fruits".

  9/11 was not an interfaith project.  All of the hijackers were Muslims.

Vern responds
   Because their actions violated numerous Islamic principles, Muslims and others dispute that the hijackers should be considered Muslims, a point immediately made by the two Muslim speakers noted in the column. A similar issue is whether Norway's Anders Brievik should be considered a Christian just because his terrorist writings made Christian claims. 
   However, the responses in Kansas City, as  the two examples mentioned in the column, were clearly and undeniably "interfaith," as were many responses to 9/11 around the nation.

Three faiths, one nation

Confucius, Laozi and the Buddha greet you as you open the doors to Gallery 222 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. They appear together in a single celebrated painting. An inscription on it suggests the name for the free exhibition, “The Sacred Tripod: Buddhism, Confucianism & Taoism in Harmony.”
  You have to see it before the show ends Aug. 14 because, although all 30 objects are drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection of over 8,000 Chinese works from the last six thousand years, only about five percent are on display at any one time.
   The “tripod” is the three faiths on which much of Chinese civilization rests. While we usually  think of religions as exclusive and competitive, these faiths were often seen as complimenting each other, as they are again in today’s China.
   Colin Mackenzie, senior curator of Chinese art, cites a saying, “Confucian in office, Taoist in retirement and Buddhist as death draws near,” to indicate how these faiths fit with social, personal and ultimate stages of life.
   A fine example is a stele rubbing illustrating a public conversation scene from the Vimalakirti Sutra. The Buddhist figure is presented “as an ideal personality embodying both Taoist individuality and Confucian social responsibility as a family man,” according to Ling-en Lu, who curated the show.
   Behind Vimalakirti is a painting of a landscape, a subtle sign that he is a cultivated man, unifying the spontaneity of nature, social ritual and profound thought.
   You don’t have to be a Buddhist to enjoy other exquisite paintings and calligraphy from  the Lotus, Hua Yen (Avatamsaka) and Mahaparinirvana sutras.
   And everyone will love Luo Ping’s world-famous hanging scroll, “Hanshan and Shide.” These two eccentrics, inseparable friends, are laughing and are likely to make you smile. The painting reminds me of the Zen master who said, “There is nothing left to you at this moment but to have a good laugh.”
   Use the magnifying glass the Museum provides to enjoy the details in “Mountains of Longevity in the Sea of Felicity” and “One Hundred Immortals on a Journey.”
   Some years ago I walked the “Marathon Monk” route on Mt. Hiei, Japan. The swift Buddhist runners pause and pray not just at Buddhist markers, but also in respect for Shinto sites there.
   Here in the West faithful Jews practice Buddhist meditation. Committed Christians do Hindu yoga. All of us use Arabic numerals, transmitted though the Muslim faith.
    Art is a path that leads to understanding other faiths, thus enriching our own. “The Sacred Tripod” can inspire us individually—and as a pluralistic nation—to find harmony.


J P writes
   Our Sunday lesson today was on tithing.  The Rev. Patricia Bass told how important it is to tithe the source of our spiritual food.  As part of the lesson, UCOP handed out $10 to each congregant, so we could tithe another source that inspires us not just UCOP.  I immediately thought of your articles in the KC Star, and how much I enjoy them.  You pick tough topics without any black or white answers.  I like that - life is like that.  You always give me spiritual food for thought!  May I donate my $10 to your organization?  Should I send it to the PO Box on your web page?  Thank you!

L S writes
   I enjoyed reading your article in this morning's Star, as usual, and I was, of course, interested in what you wrote about Mt. Hiei. A number of years ago I had a wonderful visit to Mt. Hiei, early one morning when the cherry blossoms were out.
   But there has also been a lot of religious strife on Mt. Hiei, and violence done in Kyoto by the warrior monks who lived there.  A good summary, which is quite accurate I think, is under "sohei" on Wikipedia.  One of the things I remember best from studying Japanese religious history is how Mt. Hiei was completely razed by Oda Nobunaga in 1571 to quell the warrior monks.  Sometimes it is easy to overlook the dark side of other religions, and even Buddhism has certainly not always been peaceful. . . .

Vern responds
   As you know, today the "Marathon Monks" are much loved in Kyoto, and some of them are regarded as rock stars, although they eschew such attention. I recommend the book, The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei,  by John Stevens. I had the chance to visit with T. Utsumi, one of the gyoja monks pictured in the book, during my study there. He was as holy a man as I have ever met. In my skepticism, I tried to trick him,  but he was perfect.
   I'm glad the horrible centuries of feuding and fighting are long over, and that both you and I had pleasant encounters with Enryaku-ji.
   I wish it were possible to have such pleasant encounters in the so-called Holy Land today. . . . 

T S writes
   I greatly enjoyed your piece in the Star Wed. 7-27. Here is what I put on my FB:
  There was an excellent article in the Kansas City Star Wed. the 27th of July. Three Faiths, One Nation by Vern Barnet.
  There is an art exhibit at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art right now on Chinese History. In it there is a piece that has an inscription "The Sacred Tripod: Buddhism, Confucianism & Taoism in Harmony".
   He says that these three faiths are "What much of Chinese civilization rests. While we usually think of religions as exclusive & competative, these faiths were often seen as complimenting each other". Colin Mackenzie, Senior Curator of Chinese art, cites a saying, " Confucian in office, Taoist in retirement & Buddhist as death draws near," to indicate how these faiths fit with social, personal & ultimate stages of life".
   I have taken the time to read writings of many different religions. I find them to be very full of wisdom & of great help while trying to navigate this journey in life.
   To me what is really sad is that America which was birthed on one faith & religion is so divided. There are some 38,000 different Christian denominations. None of which compliment each other. Instead they each puff themselves up as the one true Christian Faith. They spend much time pointing out all the things they see wrong in the other Christian denominations & Religions as well. Jesus Himself said " By this shall all men know you are my deciples, if you have love one to another". Jn 13:35. What all men of this world see within the Christian church as a whole is not Love. They can see hypocrisy, Division & Bitterness towards one another. Many churches are unfortunately led by wolves in sheeps clothing. Dont' allow yourself to be led astray. Be diligent to seek His truth. "He is a rewarder of them that dilegently seek Him". Heb. 11:6b
   May the God you serve bring peace to your life. Keep your mind open & your eyes on Heaven. I myself am a servant of the God of Abraham, Issac & Jacob. peace to you and yours, . . .


   You have left out the ATHEISTIC FAITH on which Chinese civilization now rests.

Vern responds
   The show at the Nelson does not deal with modern history and does not include art from "the atheistic faith" unless you consider Taoism and Buddhism (which some might consider non-theistic faiths) and Confucianism (which some might say treats the notion of divinity as a convention) as "atheistic."
  However, in today's China, the government generally encourages religious traditions so long as they do not challenge the government. This is a change from previous policies.

Wrestling with Job’s questions

A few weeks back a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim met around a table to discuss Job. Job appears in the scriptures of all three faiths.
   Job is a righteous man afflicted with disease and the loss of family and possessions. The story has fascinated the West because it seems God unjustly allows Job to suffer. Why?
   Why do bad things happen to good people? In his play, “J. B.,”  Archibald MacLeish reduces the problem to two lines, understanding God as all-powerful: “If God, he is not good. If God is good, he is not God.”
   Rabbi Alan Cohen noted that the book of Job, unlike much of Hebrew scripture, has a “minimal” liturgical role in the synagogue. However, one line (Job 1:21) is often used at the time of death: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
   Milton Horne, professor of religion at William Jewell College, added that the familiar phrase in James 5:11, “the patience of Job,” perhaps comes from a non-canonical version of the story.
   Rauf Mir, the Muslim member of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. In the context of the story, Mir said that the righteous is one who is content regardless of the adversity one faces.
   About a dozen others were listening to the discussion. I asked  Brandon Winstead, who has taught at the Nazarene Theological Seminary and is an adjunct at the St. Paul School of Theology, for his reaction because he has served as youth minister in both wealthy and poverty-stricken communities here and elsewhere around the county.
   He said,. “The panel raised key questions. What does evil say about the omnipotence of God? Is faith worth the risk in the midst of human suffering?
   “I wondered where youth find a safe, supportive place to wrestle with these questions. I thought about the kids I have known over the years. So many of them, regardless of their racial background, class status or religious affiliation, found it extremely difficult to express their doubts about a benevolent God in a religious setting.
   “Adults told them that their issues were simply a result of immaturity, teen drama, or lack of knowledge about the real world.
   “The materialistic focus in the rich communities and the despair and hopelessness sometimes found in the urban core led them to air their doubts about God’s goodness instead in poetry, coffee shop discussions, texting, rap, drunken episodes and even murder.
   ["Churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions must do a better job in encouraging young people in their urgent quests for faith," he said.]
   All of us at some point in our lives need to wrestle with the questions Job raises. I think a religious community, especially for young people with their urgent concerns, is the best place for such exploration. 


B S writes
   Your latest column got me thinking about the following paragraph from a Disciples of Christ youth ministry website that puts the Book of Job into a delightful context:
   [Can a question be a prayer?  I imagine most prayers are questions: Why God? How God? When God? Who God? We've only to look to the book of Job or many of the Psalms to know this was true of our spiritual ancestors. Sometimes, it's enough to ask the question and accept that easy answers are not part of what we can expect from God.  But perhaps if one person's prayer can be a question, another person's prayer can be an answer.]
   Click here: RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY: Creating a Life of Prayer: Questioning
   Keep up the good work. 

A C writes
  Just wanted to say that you did a nice piece on the Job session and some of the questions raised by the text and the discussion we had. 

M W writes
  Thanks for the thoughtful column.

J A writes
   Likely the best sermon I ever heard was by a black minister on Father's Day. He pointed out that the "feast" in Chapter 1 was actually an orgy among Job's sons and daughters explaining why Job felt he should sacrifice "in case a son may have sinned." (Note the lack of concerns that the daughters may have sinned.) He concluded that Job wasn't a very good father and told the congregation that he expected them to do better. 
   It's also interesting that Satan and the Lord are buddies in Job. It appears to be a pagan, multiple god environment . Satan gets much of the blame (Chapter 2 is titled "The 2nd assault of Satan.) but the Lord, who presumably is the superior, has approved. The inescapable fact is that the Lord behaves very badly in Job. Of course, it is also forbidden to acknowledge that God can behave badly.

Vern responds
   I've not encountered this perspective that Job was not a good father before, as most folks seem to find that the text implies the opposite. But the Bible can be read many different ways, as can so much of the world's religious literature! Thanks for this new angle!
   Your second paragraph does a very good job, in my opinion, of opening the discussion of the problem as most of us read the Book of Job. . . .

D M writes
   Just read your artical Wednesday, July 20th, about the three different religous leaders meeting to dicuss Job. These three major religion views, I realize, are what most of the people believe. However, it's not what I believe.  Here are my thoughts.
   I believe that God is a ball of PURE energy, a bright and glowing orb of goodness and rightenous. We, or our souls, are little sparks of God's energy that are sent out to learn the lessons of the universe. Whether we use that energy for good or evil is up to us. That's why God gave us the freedom of choice. Of course, there's always the temptations to give into, whether it's lust, greed, jelousey, power, disbelief or whatever, God has left it up to us to make the right choice for ourselves. Since I believe that my relationship with my God is longer than this mortal body can last, I beleive that I live on and on to do God's work and to keep working on my own soul.  I think it would be hard to learn all the lessons and virtures of God in the 72.5 years that our mortal bodies last. I believe in reincarnation because, I feel, that it will take several tries to once again become that PURE spark of energy to be able to reunite with God.
   Back to Job. To me, he represents someone who perhaps in a previous life, wasn't a model of God's virtures. Maybe the afflictions he suffered that were noted in the Bible, he had imposed on other people in a previous life and now it was time for him to learn his lessons. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. That's between him and God. In my belief, if he didn't learn, he would be back to try it again and again and again. The human part of us is weak. That's why it's such a struggle to do the right thing, and why now we live in a world that seems to be spinning out of control. It's so much easier to be bad that it is to be good. It's so much easier to give in to that human side of us than to listen to the soul or God part of us. That's why I think we need more than one mortal lifetime to get it right. God does not make us do anything. God is not evil or mean. God is good, kind and patient. It's up to us how we live our lives, but He will always is there to forgive, to listen, to understand. And to give us another chance.
   I know that Christians believe that we only live once and then it's over. I believe that is a very narrow view and very limiting to peoples souls. If people could realize that they are in control of thier own destiny, the world would be a different place for us to live. DO UNTO OTHERS is the MOST important rule to learn, more than any other in the religious world. I was born and raised a Catholic and I am glad that they gave me the freedom to seek my own spirtiual journey. In my soul, I knew there was more to God than the Pope, the Bible, and all the rules therein. As backward as the Catholic Church is, the did not dismiss the theory.
   Sorry I've rambled and thank you for reading my secular opinion. Thank You for Your Time 

 Vern responds
   You have obviously thought about some major theological issues, so I appreciate your sharing a bit of your spiritual development with me. While there are indeed many perspectives, I think it is important for people to find a way that helps them deal with the perplexities of life that works for them and is (as you say, DO UNTO OTHERS) helpful for others as well. I do not think that a single perspective works for everyone.
   So I welcome your comments on Job as they express how you make sense out of the problem of evil in the world. And I am glad you have your eye on the good! . . . 

A M writes
   Fortunately I recieve Star from Wed thru Sun & am able to learn from your columns.

J P writes
   Our Sunday lesson today was on tithing.  The Rev. --- told how important it is to tithe the source of our spiritual food.  As part of the lesson, --- handed out $10 to each congregant, so we could tithe another source that inspires us not just UCOP.  I immediately thought of your articles in the KC Star, and how much I enjoy them.  You pick tough topics without any black or white answers.  I like that - life is like that.  You always give me spiritual food for thought!  May I donate my $10 to your organization?  Should I send it to the PO Box on your web page?  Thank you!


   Vern, if you believed in the God of the Bible, your questions would make sense. But, from what I can tell, you don't. So why do you go on and on about Him?

Vern responds
   Dear JonHarker: The purpose of the column is to recognize the range of faiths and beliefs in the Kansas City area and the world.  Sincerely, Vern Barnet

   "For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord." Isaiah 55:8 
   When Mary and Joseph had lost Jesus at the Finding in the Temple... "And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father's business?" Luke 2:49

from EMAIL to one of the authors of "The Faith Club"

J B writes
. . . Thanks to all of you again, so much, for the book.  It has certainly had an impact on our lives and I know it will continue to do so.  Also, I want to thank Vern Barnett at the Kansas City Star for his assistance on creating our survey, and his quick response and feedback when I had questions. . . . .

Technology shapes religion

Will technology effect spirituality in the future? I put this question to the Rev. Robert Brumet, whose latest book, “Birthing a Great Reality,” was published last year. He teaches at the Unity Institute and Seminary.
   “Two examples of technology changing human consciousness are television and the internet,” he said. 
   “Now we have far more information instantly available than ever before, bringing the world into our own homes.
   “The medium has become more than the message. It is changing the very way our minds work. For ages we have communicated by story-telling. Story telling evoked imagination. Even with radio, to participate in the experience of receiving information, imagination was required.
   “With television our imagination has become more passive. We simply receive, rather than co-create, the stories that we are given,” he said.
   Unlike TV, video games require participation. Brumet questions the behavior some games model.
   “The internet has no censor, no editor, and no credentialing body to validate the information we can receive on line. All opinions are equally available for everyone, from the profound wisdom of the ages to the most insane ranting imaginable.
   “Private parts of individual minds—as well as bodies—are now accessible to anyone.
   “And almost anything on the internet can be replicated or modified instantly. The term virus no longer refers solely to a biological organism. Secrecy and safety are threatened in ways never before imagined and we are vulnerable in new ways.
   “And yet, democratic movements, such as the ‘Arab Spring’ are made possible by these same technologies. Time and space are rapidly shrinking, and we discover that we are not as separate and insulated as we once believed. 
   “The paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) developed a theory of the evolution of consciousness. An invisible sphere of human thought-energy increasingly surrounds the earth, like the biosphere. Although he did not specify a technology, his theory seems to point to what we now call cyberspace. 
   “He called this sphere of information the noosphere (from the Greek, nous, mind). Technology strengthens the noosphere. 
   “Indeed, technology and spiritual evolution are intrinsically woven together,” Brumet said.
   Some scholars think a pre-electronic medium, the printing press, was a democratizing force that fueled, or even created, the Reformation, so I think Brumet’s observation that technology and spiritual evolution are entwined is important as we consider how to use new media.


M F writes
     Well done! Using technology to affirm my spiritual love for both of you [Robert, Vern] today!!!! 

 K L writes
    Can you please let me know the name of your newest book? I want to get it for my brother.  Thank you so much!

Vern responds
 My latest book, a collection of sonnets, was published in 1992, so I wonder if you are thinking of Bill Tammeus, whose books are listed on his blog, http://billtammeus.typepad.com/. I do have several other books in the works, but I'm not ready to make any announcements yet. Thank you for your interest.

K L writes again
   My mom was actually looking for the book for my brother. She insisted it was you, but I finally found the book she wanted, which was one you named in one of your columns: "Religion and the Critical Mind: A Journey for Seekers, Doubters, and the Curious," by Anton K. Jacobs. Thanks so much for your suggestion. I found it by reading your blogs one by one. 

Vern responds
   Thanks for solving the mystery! And thanks for your valuing of my columns!


   "Some scholars think the printing press was a democratizing force that
fueled, or even created, the Reformation, so I think Brumet’s 
observation that technology and spiritual evolution are entwined is 
important as we consider how to use new media."
This may be true but 'The Faith' is not a democracy and therefore not up for a vote... the reformation was man-made.

   Technology will allow complete control of mankind by a central power...making the rule of the AntiChrist possible.


http://muslimnewsdigest.com/ for 2011 July 20

A complex path to freedom

Monday was Independence Day, but citizenship means giving thanks every day for the blessings of liberty. Religious freedom is the first guarantee in the Bill of Rights.
   How did this blessing come to us? Here are three points in a complicated history.
   *As Constantine prepared for the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, he saw a cross in the sky with the words, “By this conquer.” He became emperor and converted to Christianity. Pacifist Christians who opposed Rome’s oppressive and militaristic culture became part of the empire.
   Other religions were suppressed, and centuries of tortuously entangling faith and government began, with horrors such as the Crusades, the Inquisition and the enslavement and colonization of others.
   *The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years’ War and confirmed that a single church could no longer dominate politics in Calvinistic, Lutheran and Catholic  territories. Your religion would be decided by the ruler of your nation.
   This was the situation in many of the American colonies. If you did not subscribe to the official church, you were not a full citizen. In Boston, Puritans made celebrating Christmas a crime.
   *But when the colonies joined as the United States, none of the different religions of the various states were able to compel the others on the national level. Many of the founders already favored toleration, which was the only practical settlement anyhow. By 1833 all state religious establishments ended, and faith became a personal matter.
   But the balance between prohibiting state control of religion and protecting its free exercise shifts as society changes.
   Americans of faith have argued about slavery, evolution, prohibition and abortion.
   The Catholic bishops of New York recently illustrated the continuing tension between church and state when they opposed “any attempt to redefine the sacred institution of marriage.... Marriage has always been, is now, and always will be the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong, life-giving union. Government does not have the authority to change this most basic of truths.”
   However, in the past many marriages were about property rights, not the sacred union described. Many marriages involved more than one man and one woman (Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines).
   Marriage is both a legal and, for many, a religious institution. While states do have authority to change the civil meaning of marriage (as in permitting divorce and marriage of mixed races, and now in places, same-sex couples), government cannot tamper with the spiritual meanings of marriage. This is an American blessing of religious freedom.


  “The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally.” 
   “To choose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent”. 
   “As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.” -Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
   “Christians are,” Leo continues, “born for combat.” It is part of their nature to follow Christ by espousing unpopular ideas and by defending the truth at great cost to themselves. One of their main duties is “professing openly and unflinchingly the Catholic doctrine”; a second is “propagating it to the utmost of their power.” As many today insist, they should preach the Catholic faith through personal example; at the same time, though, they should also preach the faith “by open and constant profession of the obligations it imposes.” A negative reaction from the public, far from being a sign of mistaken ideas, can serve as evidence of exactly the opposite fact. “Jesus Christ,” the pope points out, “has clearly intimated that the hatred and hostility of men, which he first and foremost experienced, would be shown in like degree toward the work founded by him.” -Pope Leo XIII is best known for his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum,

Religion begins with a vision

Is religion best understood by its ideas or by originating experiences?
   Eugene Lowry, professor emeritus at the St. Paul School of Theology, and author of six books on preaching, responds to this question, raised in an earlier column. is publications are six books on preaching. He also was the Yale University Lyman Beecher lecturer in 2009. He writes:
   “The column set awe and ideation on a collision course—asking which one is primary in formative power and ongoing life of religious movements.
   “Robert P. Roth, in his ‘Story and Reality,’ writes, ‘The shift from animal existence to human civilization did not really occur with the invention of tools and weapons . .  .’ but rather happened when people ‘conceived a vision of reality.’ He named four stages to the process.
   “‘First came the religious vision, then the aesthetic expression of it, then the ethical emulation of it, and finally the philosophical rationalization as explanation . . . .’
   “Following his lead, we might understand the Exodus (when the Hebrew people fled Egyptian bondage) as the Jewish ongoing vision of reality. 
   “Passover (the yearly ritual meal commemorating the Exodus) is the aesthetic expression of this vision.
   “The Ten Commandments present the ethical emulation of the experience, rules by which to live.
   “Rabbinic thought is the explanation, the ideas growing from the tradition.
   “The story of the Incarnation—God become human in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—is the Christian vision.
   “The Eucharist (communion),  is the ritual aesthetic expression of this vision. The Great Commandment (love God and your neighbor, Matt. 22:36-40) is the ethical emulation of the story of God loving the world so much God entered it and became as one of us. Then Church theology develops to explain all of this. 
   “Roth thinks the same process operates in other traditions, first the story, then the ritual, next the ethics and finally the explanation.
   “To make it obvious, this means that ideas about what happens follows after what happens. The problem for the Jews was not some abstract idea, but rather their slavery in Egypt!
   “The entire 4-stage process happens culturally, corporately, not simply individually. This is because individuals are formed by the group, not the other way around. Even something as personal as the native language we speak arises from our group.
   “Religions begin with a holistic revolution of vision, a new story from the experience of a people, not by an abstract reasoning process, as valuable as it may be. It all begins with the vision.”
   I think Lowry hit the mark.


E  B writes
   Good stuff today. WHen we were very young, Gene Lowry and I were colleages at First Methodist, Wichita. He as associate pastor, moi as drector of music. Brilliant guy!

S H writes
   First let me say I wish they gave you more space in the paper.  I find your openness to other ways to dance so much more agreeable than, say, the position represented by Billy Graham.  That said, allow me to ask what exactly it is about Mr. Lowry’s position that makes you think he “hit the mark”?  I, for one, don’t quite get what he is talking about.  I mean, in both the Jewish and Christian examples of the “vision” which he says begins the religion-making process, the “vision” appears to be no more than a story a group tells itself that makes the group feel special.  Okay, I guess, if a fiction with no basis in actual experience qualifies as a “vision.”  But surely a group buying into a feel good story about itself does not represent the shift from “animal existence to human civilization,” as Mr. Roth and Mr. Lowry would have it.  After all, didn’t our animal existence cease the moment the species became self-conscious?  And in that moment, didn’t the instinctive impulse to reconnect with our source spring to life?  And wasn’t that impulse being satisfied for thousands of years before civilization and religion appeared in the world?  As I understand it, one characteristic of tribal life around in the world is the tribe’s sense of its specialness.  If that qualifies as a “conceived vision of reality,” so be it, but I would not agree that primal people are religious except in the broadest sense of the word.  Instead, as distinct from being religious, primal people, I would say, are spiritual—creative, imaginative—playful, let’s say.  And they do not take their myths literally.  They take them seriously, to be sure, but they are perfectly willing to let other tribes have their stories, too.  Religion begins, I would argue, when the group takes itself and its myths too seriously, when water becomes ice and the dance becomes a march. 
   Furthermore, as Mr. Roth would have it, “first the story, then the ritual, next the ethics, then the explanation.”  According to Carl Jung, we were doing things ritually long before we became self-reflective and needed to account for our behavior with a story!  That is, according to Jung, our ritual behaviors have their genesis in the shape of the human mind, and the germ or spark of these behaviors is most often our contact with the environment, which is to say our moments of awe elicited by the wonder inherent in the creation.  To this day, I would argue, spiritual health can be defined as the degree to which we are aware of and responsive to the wonder, the mystery, in which we live, move, and have our being.  So it is that a person can be religious and not spiritual.  He can remain unresponsive to the wonder of creation and still be esteemed as an erudite representative of his religious traditions.  The position which both Mr. Lowry and Mr. Roth really seem to be advancing, therefore, is the legitimacy of reconnecting with God their way, via the head instead of the heart, concept over percept.  And doesn’t that reduce their erudition to be mere propaganda for their particular faith?
   So again, Mr. Barnet, in precisely what way does Mr. Lowry “hit the mark” for you?  I’d really like to know. 

Vern responds
   Thank you for reading my column and your generous words about my tiny space in the paper.
   And I really appreciate your giving me the chance to try to clarify the intent of Wednesday's column.
   To place it in context, the column to which Lowry referred appeared two weeks earlier, and was really Lowry's agreement with me in the context of the discussion of the latest book by Stephen Prothero:
  874. 110615
   I tried to make last Wednesday's column stand on its own, but obviously it did not.
  You, Lowry and I seem to be in agreement, opposing "the Western tendency to understand religions largely through concepts and beliefs," as you put it, "spiritual health can be defined as the degree to which we are aware of and responsive to the wonder, the mystery, in which we live, move, and have our being." Except for your distinction between religion and spirituality (which I do not accept), your statement is akin on mine in the column, "As I think about prehistoric humans being awe-struck with the sun, with rivers, with fire,  or about the wonderment a toddler feels trying to grasp a stream of water from a faucet in the bathtub, I suspect different religions begin with different arenas in which the sacred is unaccountably experienced and valued."
   In brief, we three seem to agree that experiences of awe and wonder are basic to the spirit, not the theological concepts that develop, in Roth's scheme, in the fourth stage. Because Lowry pointed this out, I thought he it the mark.
   The rub for me in what you raise is the troublesome phenomenon of the story that "makes the group feel special" in, I think you imply with substantial historical support, an unhealthy way, sometimes violent. I agree this is a problem, though even in the Hebrew scriptures there are repeated admonitions to treat the "stranger" well because the Hebrews were themselves "strangers in Egypt." However, every normal person and every normal group as a story which provides a sense of identity. My complaint is that stories of awe and wonder are too often perverted into weapons against others. But this is not always the case. It certainly is not typical of Buddhism or Taoism, for example, and it would be open to argument as to whether the ministry to the sick and poor carried out by good Christians and Muslims is more characteristic of their faiths than the clear perversions.
  You and I might disagree about Primal faiths (I do not think we have ever left our animal nature) as we disagree about the terms "religion" and "spirituality." (For various views and definitions, see my website at
http://www.cres.org/pubs/ReligionSpiritualityDescribed.htm )
   Perhaps I also value fiction more than some. I really like the statement by insurance executive/poet Wallace Stevens: "The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction, and that you believe it willingly."  A major problem in the way religion is currently understood in the West is that the story is a factual, scientifc account of reality in a naive sense, rather than a model of reality, which all stories -- or visions -- are. We can "be-lieve" them in the sense that the word was originally used -- "to love," as in the related German word, "lieben," or the English word "credo," from the Latin, and earlier, the Greek, for heart, as in cardiology -- give one's heart to -- a story. I commit myself to a story which reconnects me to the awe and wonder (and totality of existence, including its puzzles and horrors) in order to give thanks for existence and to express that gratitude in service to others.  You mention play, and for me that is an essential characteristic of the liturgy. That is one reason why I appreciate your citation of Jung who, in your words, says, "we were doing things ritually long before we became self-reflective and needed to account for our behavior with a story!"  This reflects the 19th century debate among scholars as to whether the myth was ritualized or the ritual was justified by myth. The way I put it is that the experience of awe and wonder is primary, and we find ourselves dancing a jig, and with that comes a story, an account of our dance. This vision, to use Roth's term, is the first stage of the development that follows with the aesthetic elaboration (liturgy), then the ethical ideas about how to live together, then the theology: the final abstraction of the initial experience.
   I actually tried to develop these ideas in last week's column, which, in case you missed it, follows:
  875. 110622 
   I hope you feel I have considered your kind email and found areas of agreement and disagreement, and that the "conversation" has been useful to you. It has been so for me. Thanks again.

J F writes
   First let me introduce myself, so this won't be coming from an anonymous crackpot . . . . Anyway, I wrote a short piece about it, which I may post to my blog . . .  and then realized, as a non-Christian, that I didn't know who to show it to, who might be interested, who might correct wrong assumptions. So I picked you. If you choose to bother to read it, I'd be interested in your comments. Obviously, I (non-religiously!) read your weekly column in The Star. . . . 

Vern responds
  I don't mean to quibble about words, but in my language, you seem deeply "religious." You care about justice and about people, and even are brave enough to write about expanding Medicare!  I can't think of a single religion that does not require caring for one another. So I question your description of yourself as "individualistic"; you seem motivated by a personal integrity that embraces the welfare of others.
   Alas, Christianity and many other faiths are perverted by sectarian and political agenda, and it is a grievous situation that you describe . . . so it is not too surprising that the situation has become what it has.
   I'd be interested in the exact chapters/verses of the Biblical citations. If I were with you, instead of what may be out-of-context quotations, I might find a way to distribute or overlay Biblical passages which point to the values that you and I share.
   Thanks for your kind words about my column, and for your social justice work as well as your healing profession itself. I am glad you wrote. . . .


   Christianity is not as much a religion as it is a relationship.

Where did our religions begin?

“The Birth of Religion” is announced on the cover of the National Geographic June issue. Inside we learn about “the world’s first temple” in what is now southern Turkey, built some 11,600 years ago, 7,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza and more than 9,000 years older than Stonehenge, which it resembles.
   The article asks the question whether religion led to farming or whether farming led to religion. I like its headline, “Now the world’s oldest temple suggests the urge to worship sparked civilization.”
   But religion is older than this temple and older than farming.
Rock art from 30,000 years ago indicates religious sensibility, and intentional burials from 400,000 years ago are configured to suggest religious intent. The mystery of fire, implicit in many persisting religious rituals, goes back before its domestication perhaps a million years ago.
   The urge to worship began even earlier, with the miracle of birth, the mystery of dreams, marvels of the sky like lightning and clouds, and observations of the rising and setting of the sun and phases of the moon.
   To make my point, I could take you on a wilderness camping trip. Or you could visit the new “Heavens: Photographs of the Sky & Cosmos” show at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. 
   From the 39 photos, two examples, one of the moon, one of the sun.
   The famous “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” by Ansel Adams, presents that ephemeral and precious moment of dusk when the sun still illumines the foreground as shadows gather behind the vegetation. A church and other structures in a vast landscape remind us that the human adventure is dwarfed by the majesty of distant mountains. The transience of life itself is suggested by the many crosses in the graveyard. 
   And above the mountains, near the center of the photo is the moon, in a vast darkness placing everything, including the viewer, in an enormous and unutterable spiritual perspective.
   We dare not look directly at the sun, so Jerry Spagnoli used a pinhole camera to create “Yosemite,” a surprisingly large ink-jet color print of what we cannot see with the naked eye.
   Just as the distant sun illumines our world and makes all things possible, is there a spiritual power that shines upon an inner, personal landscape, and presides over the process of the nations throughout history? If this power is even mightier than the sun, are our best ways of perceiving it as but through a pinhole? 
   Religion may have begun with awe. In our distracted age, such art can help us renew our ability to feel it. The Tao Te Ching warns, “Where there is no sense of wonder, there will be disaster.”


R A writes
   Very much liked your column today!

K writes
   Wonderful piece! I had to write and tell you what a beautiful column you wrote today. You captured the essence of the majesty of the photographs. Well done!

R L writes 
  I liked the subject matter in your column this week as I find that my interests keep turning to the histories of religion and gods. Many people just want to except and not have to think about the path(s) that brought them to this juncture. You start looking and you see how adaptable and creative man kind can be- none of which has any thing to do with correctness. I'm beginning to think that Hadad Ba'al might have been among the best of the old gods and by the new testament the god of the Jews had turned into Ba'al, except for that strange but interesting temple stuff. I look forward to getting more inspirations from your column. By the by, one of my favorite verses in the Tao Te Ching is, " No face to meet and no back to follow," I always liked the thought that when we get to Heaven it will be what it is, not what we think it is...Keep the columns coming. 

E B writes
   Great column this morning! We have just retirned from the Utah Natl. Parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands) where the grandeur of God has no equal. It certainly supported your statement that "worship began with awe." Keep up the good writing!

H writes
   Plain and simple, the first religion began with Adam and Eve worshiping God.

J A writes to a third party with a copy to Vern
      . . . A typically good [column] appears in today's edition . . . .

J W writes to a third party with a copy to Vern
   Vern writes the wonderful weekly spirituality column for the STAR (see below).

R L writes 
  I liked the subject matter in your column this week as I find that my interests keep turning to the histories of religion and gods. Many people just want to except and not have to think about the path(s) that brought them to this juncture. You start looking and you see how adaptable and creative man kind can be- none of which has any thing to do with correctness. I'm beginning to think that Hadad Ba'al might have been among the best of the old gods and by the new testament the god of the Jews had turned into Ba'al, except for that strange but interesting temple stuff. I look forward to getting more inspirations from your column. By the by, one of my favorite verses in the Tao Te Ching is, " No face to meet and no back to follow," I always liked the thought that when we get to Heaven it will be what it is, not what we think it is...Keep the columns coming.

P B writes
   Perhaps you saw the Newsweek article of March 1, 2010.  It was "History in the Remaking" and it included Gobekli Tepe, the world's oldest temple.  It is worth looking up if you have not read it.  I would be glad to mail you the article if not.
   Please, keep sharing your interesting work.  Understanding places and times in a person's backgrounds can lead to peace or at the very least tolerance.

Vern responds
   I had not seen the Newsweek story, and I just now went on line and found it and printed it out. So I won't ask you to send me the article, but I am very grateful to you for writing me about it!
  A few years ago I was just a few miles away from Gobekli Tepe at another archeological site, but then I knew nothing of this ancient temple. Makes me wanna go back!
   Thank you for your encouragement for my column! Not everyone is as appreciative as you. I like the way you express the purpose: "Understanding places and times in a person's backgrounds can lead to peace or at the very least tolerance." I'm grateful to have you as a reader!

   http://billtammeus.typepad.com/ for 2011 July 7
    . . . As my friend Vern Barnet likes to say, religion finds its roots in awe and wonder, and that's certainly true. But is religion simply a made-up response to the awe one feels looking at the creation or is there some foundational truth or truths that call forth the religious response? It's too simple to put it this way, but often science would say it's the first while people of faith would say it's the latter. Whatever its origin, religion is here to stay. The job of people of faith is to make sure it's a force for good in the world, not (as it's often been) a force for evil. . . .

Is it religion, concept, or both?

Does religion arise from experiences of awe and wonder, or does it emerge as people seek solutions to fundamental human problems?
   This was one of the questions posed last week at the “Vital Conversations” monthly book club conducted by the Rev. David E. Nelson at the Mid-Continent Library in Gladstone.
   The book was “God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter” by Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University.
   Nelson selected the book because he thought “the title is provocative and we need to look at religions from different angles.”
   Several folks in the discussion compared the book to Huston Smith’s 1958 classic, “The Religions of Man.” But while Smith presents the best of the world religions, Prothero, who cites Smith, seeks to complete the record by including the quarrels within and among the world’s faiths and asks us to see religions “in all their gore and glory,” a force for both good and evil.
   To do this, Prothero identifies a characteristic problem that each faith seeks to solve. For example, Islam, which appears first in his book because he thinks it is most influential, seeks to solve the problem of pride by submission to God’s will. 
   Christianity, number 2 on his list, says the problem is sin and the remedy is salvation. His third faith is Confucianism, concerned with chaos, resolved with social order. He also treats Hinduism, Buddhism, an African tradition, Judaism, Taoism and Atheism.
   Prothero’s method of identifying (1) the problem each faith seeks to solve, (2) with its remedy, (3) its techniques for achieving the remedy and (4) its exemplars, aims to undercut the view, in the Dalai Lama’s words, that “the essential message of all religions is very much the same.”
   I agree that religions are not different paths to the mountain top; they are different mountains. Still, I joined others who were somewhat uncomfortable viewing religions as primarily responses to problems. 
   Some thought this approach was overly “conceptual.” Religion is much more than just thinking about problems. While Prothero would surely agree, his method too often seems infected with the Western tendency to understand religions largely through concepts and beliefs.
   As I think about prehistoric humans being awe-struck with the sun, with rivers, with fire,  or about the wonderment a toddler feels trying to grasp a stream of water from a faucet in the bathtub, I suspect different religions begin with different arenas in which the sacred is unaccountably experienced and valued. This leads to giving thanks, expressed in sharing and service to others.

J M writes
   I read your post in the Kansas Star with interest and had these thoughts.
   As an introduction, I wrote this review on Amazon when God Is Not One first came out:

   I work closely with Huston Smith and created and maintain his official website. Stephen Prothero grossly misrepresents Smith's statements and position on this subject.
   Huston, Huxley, or Campbell have never said that "all religions are the same" or anything like that. What they say is that there is one underlying reality (call it God, Creator, Self, Ground of Reality, etc.) that the different religions, in their distinctive ways, refer to.
   To suggest otherwise is to ignore the very definition of God, or believe that there is more than one God, or claim that only one religion has it right, and the others have it wrong.
   Prothero says that the one God idea was, "a defense mechanism developed by Hindus to reject 19th Century Christian missionaries and fostered by the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893." The reality is that the idea reaches back to the ancient Vedas which declared, "Truth is one; sages call it by various names." This cannot be translated as "all the religions are the same". The Vedantic version of this idea was expressed by Swami Vivekananda at the 1893 gathering, but it was well established by the Transcendentalist in the US well before then, and is also expressed in the mystical branches of all the other religions.
   When pinned on these facts, Prothero admits he's talking more about how he, as a college student, and others have mistakenly interpreted the Perennial Philosophy as "all religions are the same".
   Prothero attributes Huxley, Smith, and Campbell as saying the differences between the religions are, "accidental." I am not aware of any of these three, or any Perennial Philosopher, saying anything of the sort. In fact, they address the differences as being very real and important to the practice of each faith.
   Prothero says, "People don't lump communism and democracy as the same, just slightly different. Why should they do it with religions?"
   Again, no one but Prothero is saying the various religions are the same, but in any case, Communism and democracy are the same in that they are different means to govern people - religions are the same in that they are different means to connect one's Self with its Source. It's a matter of defining what the underlying subject matter is.
   The ONLY way that Huxley, Smith, and Campbell say that religions are the same, is that they are all religions.
   Since I wrote that, I have heard from Dana Sawyer, who wrote the definitive biography of Aldous Huxley and is working on the authorized biography of Huston Smith, who pointed out that Huxley and Smith should not be lumped together in any case, as Smith thought all religions were basically good, and Huxley thought that all formal religions were basically corrupt and bad for spiritual growth – and if any good came of them, it was in spite of the institutions. Campbell had a whole other take on the subject.
   Of course, I also heard directly from Huston, who adamantly states that not only has he never said all religions are the same, but that neither did Huxley or Campbell – both long-time friends of his.
   A writer who was about to interview Prothero, who read my review, asked me what she should ask. I said, If God is not one, is Prothero proposing that there is no God, or that there are many Gods, or that only one religion has it right, and the rest have it wrong. As far as I can imagine, those are the only choices, if God is not one.
   She did ask the question, and this was his answer, “I'm religiously confused now. I don't have any real answers to any of these important questions. I think the reason that I keep studying them is because I don't have answers…”
   What stumps me is that someone who is confused about their main subject can teach it, and be sought out as an expert on the field. He’s confused, yet adamantly states that “God is not one”. How can he be so sure of that, but be confused on the subject?
   In your article you say, “I agree that religions are not different paths to the mountain top; they are different mountains.”
   Perhaps this is a matter of terminology or definition, but again, isn’t the very definition of God: the One creator? To borrow your analogy, upon what do the mountains stand?
   I look forward to hearing from you.
   Jon Monday, mondayMEDIA

Vern responds
   Thank you for writing, and my respects to Huston, who has been most gracious to me on many occasions (for my column, with programs, and in permitting a friend and me to take him to his parents' grave site in Marshall, MO).
   I often quote Smith in saying:

   "How fully has the proponent [of the view that all religions are at their core the same] tried and succeeded in understanding Christianity’s claim that Christ was the only begotten Son of God, or the Muslim’s claim that Muhammad is the Seal of the prophets, or the Jews’ sense of their being the Chosen People? How does he propose to reconcile Hinduism’s conviction that this will always remain a ‘middle world’ with Judaism’s promethean faith that it can be decidedly improved? How does the Buddha’s ‘anatta doctrine’ of no-soul square with Christianity’s belief in . . . individual destiny in eternity? How does Theravada Buddhism’s rejection of every form of personal God find echo in Christ’s sense of relationship to his Heavenly Father? How does the Indian view of Nirguna Brahman, the God who stands completely aloof from time and history, fit with the Biblical view that the very essence of God is contained in his historical acts? Are these beliefs really only accretions, tangential to the main concern of spirit? The religions . . . may fit together, but they do not do so easily."  Religions of Man [1958], p 352-3
   I follow by saying Smith, like others (including myself), finds a common thread among the mystical expressions of various traditions, but I do not find the mystical expressions to be normative in all faiths. It is not normative in Christianity and Islam, the world's two largest faiths, for example, though the mystical thread is significant.
   As for Prothero, I think my column levels a severe criticism of his "conceptual" method, which I deplore.
   I have numerous other objections, including his irresponsible misconstruction of William Blake on page 1. The injection of unenlightening personal details is sometimes too cute, irrelevant, and distracts from the passages of brilliance. I could list a number of errors or questionable statements -- from confusing Christians about Hinduism by unclearly calling the trimurti a trinity, his misdating of the pyramids, etc etc etc. He needed a content editor and a stylistic editor, in my opinion. The index is a mess. Unless it is buried somewhere in the notes, I find no acknowledgment of the important work of S Mark Heim (from down the street where he teaches), whose theme he has apparently stolen or borrowed (and distorted).
   There is much in the book that I do like, including his chapter on atheism.
   So while I share in your outrage about Smith being misrepresented, it should be noted that Prothero has been irresponsible elsewhere as well and misrepresented others.
   As for your question about my post-modern metaphor of different mountains, no need to reify it or take it literally. I also think you may be subjecting Prothero's book title to undue stress; it is a permissible, if inelegant, rhetorical excess. Nor do I find Prothero's response to your question disqualifies him from teaching if what he meant is that it is difficult for him to find words to express the Inexpressible Mystery of existence. Perhaps this recent column (May 18) (despite its localisms) will explain my perspective in brief:  http://www/star/star2011.htm#870.
   My own attempt to understand how the religions of the world fit together is charted at http://www.cres.org/index1.html#chart and explained at http://www.cres.org/pubs/WorldReligsPiecesOrPattern.htm.
inspired, in part, from Smith's statement, [B]ecoming God ”happens individually, communally, and cosmically." —Huston Smith, The Soul of Christianity, p124.
   I very much appreciate your writing. And my highest respects to Huston, who is a gentleman and a saint like no other, without whom my personal, professional, and spiritual life would have been impoverished.

J M writes again
   Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Just time for a few notes today – I’m heading out to spend a couple of days at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Trabuco monastery – where Huston first met Gerald Heard, who introduced Huston to Huxley and pointed him to Swami Satprakashananda in St. Louis.
   I didn’t mention in my email that for nearly 10 years I’ve been working on the authorized documentary film of Huston – we’ve become very close. I’ll pass along your best wishes to him. My wife and I communicate with Huston a couple of times a week, mostly by fax, as his hearing is shot. If you want to send him a note, his fax number is --- --- ----.
   I’m obviously a big fan of Huston as well, and see him standing at the front of a long line of Perennial Philosophers, giving context to the idea of the real religious experience. That line extends back, in the US, through Huxley, Campbell, Swami Vivekananda, the Transcendentalists, and many others.
   I’ll just make one short comment about the puzzlement of how to reconcile the various religions and seeming contradictions. The solution only comes at the point of the transcendental experience – these questions and contradictions melt away. As you suggest, the route to understanding this is through the mystical branches.
   I think Huston would say, and I totally agree, that the differences in the religions are precious and absolutely necessary – which is why he reacts so strongly to being accused of saying, “all religions are the same”. But, at the point of the transcendental experience, arrived at by the various methods, those differences drop in significance.
   I have to go now – and will check out your links over the next day or so.

L S writes 
   . . . I was, of course, happy that you wrote about Vital Conservations and last week's meeting in your newspaper column for today. I agree that religion is closely related to a sense of awe. And at the VC meeting, I should have linked Tillich's emphasis on "ultimate concern" to your definition of religion. But I also think that many people turn to religion at times when they face a crisis. Thus, I like the statement I made at VC (which is original as far as I know, but it probably isn't). The idea was (and I am re-stating it here): Religion is not only the result of being awe-struck, it also comes from being struck with the awful.
   You might be interested in a post (on my other blog) about a fine book on interfaith dialogue. It is at http://lifelovelightliberty.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/who-can-stop-the-wind/. (The the previous post on that blog was a bit about God Is Not One.)

A J writes
   One of the most important books I've ever read was Dag Hammarskjöld's Markings. This evening I've come across a quotation from the book that made me think of the Vital Conversations discussion as well as your column today. If you're not familiar with the quotation, I thought you might like to know it:
   “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.” -- p. 56, Hammarskjöld, Dag. Markings. Trans. Leif Sjöberg & W.H.Auden. N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964. 

A message apparently forwarded through a series of emails:
   Vern Barnet is a fine thinker who writes a Wednesday column for the KC Star ... Faiths and Beliefs.
   In writing about a book study of a work that attributes the rise of religion to humans trying to solve basic  problems -- pride, chaos, sin ...
Vern ends with his fine (to me) interpretation ...
   As I think about prehistoric humans being awe-struck with the
   or about the wonderment a toddler feels trying to contain a stream of water from a faucet in a bathtub,
   I suspect different religions begin with different arenas in which the sacred
is unaccountably experienced and valued.
   This leads to
   giving thanks,
   expressed in sharing it in service to others.     (KC Str, 6/15)
thanks that spills over and around for you this day,

G L writes
   Your last column was/is wonderful.  I have an additonal affirmative source you may be intrested in. I cannot find your telephone number in the telephone directory, so if you can call me at xxx xxx xxxx,  I"ll be happy for a five minute call.

A need for diverse voices

I asked the Rev. Rob Carr, pastor of North Oak Christian Church, why he thought so many people took a recent end-of-the-world prediction seriously. This is his response:
   “I can sympathize with lots of those who gave credence to the radio Bible teacher who continues to offer his listeners a date for the rapture (now October 21) based on his understanding of the texts.
   “As a college student I first encountered the somewhat similar writings of Hal Lindsey. I was intrigued for a time.
   “I had grown up in mainline Protestantism and had some grasp of Biblical content, but my Sunday school teachers (not surprisingly) had not devoted much time to the apocalyptic portions of the Bible. So I had little basis from which to evaluate Lindsey.  As I asked questions of campus ministers and my own pastor, I realized Lindsey’s views were at odds with much Biblical scholarship.
   “I can’t claim to know much about the followers of this radio evangelist. But I hunch that many of them have accepted his teaching because, like me 35 years ago, they lacked a basis upon which to evaluate what they heard. This argues for the importance of diverse voices and perspectives in faith communities that encourage questions. This was the gift my church gave me as a young person.
   “Modernity, driven by Newtonian laws of physics, offered Western culture a sense of machine-like predictability or mathematical certainty about the material world.
   “Post-modernity has been shaped by more recent 'new science' or 'new physics.' For example, subatomic matter can behave in surprising and mysterious ways. Post-modernity is more open-ended and more evolutionary in its approach than modernity.
   “The radio preacher seems to approach Scripture in a modern way, to predict the actions of a God who has designed a machine-like universe and who has given us the Bible to understand  how the machine was put together, how it functions and the mathematically predictable direction in which it is headed.
   “Post-modernism is reclaiming what the pre-modern writers and editors of Scripture seem to have deeply understood: truths about God and the universe do not lend themselves to simple formulations. They are most deeply expressed and experienced via story and symbol, read and interpreted not in isolation but among a community where differences are valued and questions are encouraged.
   “In our search for truth our task is not to choose between math or mystery, but to recognize when it’s appropriate to utilize either or both of them to further our understanding and spiritual growth.”


M M writes to Rob Carr
  Well done, very thoughtful. I celebrate the math and mystery that you bring to the world. 

J W writes
   Yesterday's column was great - it provided my Facebook post today - thanks for dispatching that task quickly :)

R L  writes
   I wanted to tell you that I enjoy your columns, even when as todays most was a quote from Rob Carr. It's important that someone is trying to get relegion to share their stories. Which brings me around to why I am writting today. I know how fond you are of parables, so here is one- This morning when I went out to get the paper the sun was just rising. It shown a brilliant orange, nestled in a u-shaped space between two darkened green trees. refelcting it's light on the pearly gray sky, It really was quite striking, My camera was on the desk next to the door so I picked it up and centered it on this exquisite sight.- there was no sun in the view screen. I checked again and it was still there as beautiful as before. I centered the pix where it should be and took the picture. In the review screen I had the trees, the sky, but no sun, I can tell you that it was there and how wonderous it was- but it doesn't exist in the picture. I showed my wife and she said I think I see a light spot. Telling others about your beliefs and religion is a lot the same. It is hard to make someone else see the glory that you see. Good luck with your calling.

R R writes
   Well, Rob Carr feels Hal lindsey views are at odds with "much biblical scholarship".Whose biblical scholarship? I bet it is the same people who say the bible does not condemn homosexuality and there is no hell,even though this is plainly taught in scripture.Remember the scripture in the new testament about the falling away and people who will not listen to sound doctrine.No Vern,we don,t need "diverse voices,we need Gods Word the way he said it.Let God be true and every man a liar. You might try reading the bible if you are going to be commenting on scripture.

Vern responds
   I appreciate people reading my column whether they agree or not. It is clear you do not agree with the guest in my space today. The overwhelming majority of Biblical scholars would agree with Rob, and, as concerns the occasion of the column, the prediction of a date and time for the Rapture, the Scripture reports Jesus himself saying, "But of that day and hour knoweth no  man,  no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." (Matthew 24:36) It is from such knowledge of the Bible that folks can be cautioned against the predictions which have been made repeatedly throughout history, most recently by the radio preacher Harold Camping, who predicted May 21, now passed.
   I have myself taught in several seminaries including courses on the Bible, so I am not completely ignorant of issues involved in understanding inspired texts.
   The fact of many denominations within Christianity and the multiple views on various passages and indeed how to interpret Scripture suggests that folks whop find Scripture authoritative disagree about what the plain meaning of scripture is on matters you cite as well as many others. Perhaps diligent communities, informed by scholars who understand the original language, can discern the historical and literary circumstances and configurations, may be a helpful guide as we modestly seek to understand God speaking to us today through holy writ.  I personally don't think the devil is necessarily responsible for diversity, any more than the claim that he is responsible for the light of the sun breaking into the diverse colors of the rainbow.
   Again, thank you for writing. I do not expect that my response will change your perspective, but I did want to acknowledge your taking the trouble to share your views with me.

C M writes
   I completely understand what your guest was saying.  But what a lost chance to explore the history of apocalyptic activity in Christianity.  Jesus, Paul and many in the early church looked for the end of times.  Through the middle ages and into the reformation there was always some group standing on a hill waiting for the rapture.  I believe the Millerites were one such group, the members going home disappointed after selling or giving away all their belongings. There will always be those who think they can predict the end, though the gospels would say otherwise.   The thrust of Christianity is to the end of times when Jesus will return.  We say this as part of the eucharist.  I believe people like the radio preacher are a little bit crazy, but they do give the faith a little jostle evey now and then, and they are marginal.  Much better than some of the secular religions out there that can do real damage.  Scientism seems to be one that believes science has all the answers, yet this has not been particularly satisfying.  A really interesting old book is the "Anthropic Principal" written a number of years ago by two cosmologists/nuclear physicists that traces the origins of religious and scientific thought to our own times and includes great discussions on Aquinas, DesCartes and others.  One of the tenants is that the universe makes no sense unless there is someone to observe it.  I have it if you would like to read it.

Vern responds
   I wish I had more space to present a fuller picture of the subjects that appear in my column, so I agree much more could have been done on the subject of eschatological hopes in the Early Church and since, into our own time.
   I wonder if the Anthropic Principle (of which there are, as you know, several forms) may be a contemporary variation on the teleological argument. I'm really interested in the material you mention as several years ago I heard a lot about the Anthropic Principle at a week-long training conference on science and religion. I agree with you that Scientism fails our human needs. Thanks for your offer to lend me your book -- when I catch up with my present booklist, I'll let you know and review the material -- I could use a refresher!
   I'm very grateful to Rob Carr for so skillfully presenting two reasons for his reservations about predictions of the Rapture for my column, and I'm glad what he did sparked your writing me, so I'm forwarding your comments on to him as well.
   I appreciate having you as a reader and thank you for taking the trouble to write as you have!


   We can thank Martin Luther for this phenomenon...
   St. Peter the first Pope who Jesus gave the keys of His Kingdom to said, "This then you must understand first of all, that NO PROPHECY OF SCRIPTURE IS MADE BY PRIVATE INTERPRETATION." 2 Peter 1:20


"Tommy"s' religious upbringing

After a performance in which he played the title role in “Tommy,”  I told Samn Wright that I’d been waiting 40 years to see this show. As part of my 1970 500-page doctoral dissertation I had written more about The Who’s “rock opera” than about theologian Paul Tillich.
   I asked Karen Paisley, who directed the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s ingenious production, why she decided on a large cast of nearly 30 actors. She told me that many of those auditioning for parts said things like “I’ve wanted to be in this show all my life.” Such comments from 24-year olds are especially delicious for those of us who remember the excitement of the 1969 album release long before they were born.
   In my dissertation, I compared “Tommy” to Handel’s oratorio, “Messiah.” Both works are concerned with suffering and salvation. Both are centered around a redemptive figure for the world. Both use explicitly Christian language.
   But Tommy’s story is far more psychologically centered. The life and teaching of Sufi master Meher Baba shapes the work.
   Baba was born in India in 1894. His schoolmates nicknamed him Electricity. For the last 44 years of his life, he practiced silence and never uttered a word; he taught through gestures and an alphabet board.
   He gave special attention to people others considered crazy but who he thought were “intoxicated with God,” echoed in the opera’s line, “sickness will surely take the mind where minds can’t usually go.” 
   Baba died the year the album was released. 
   Just as many interpretations of scripture are worth considering, so “Tommy” can be understood from many perspectives. Pete Townshend, its creator, has himself reworked and reinterpreted the material. 
   As a child, Tommy witnesses a murder that his parents want to keep secret, so they tell him he never saw a thing and won’t say a thing about it. Paisley calls this “the original sin of the story." I call it adultism, when an adult, not the child’s actual experience, defines and enforces “reality”—a key word in this story of liberation.
   In keeping the secret, Tommy becomes blind, deaf and dumb. Others torment him.
   All attempted cures fail. His remaining sense of feeling enables him to become a “pinball wizard,” a messiah, but the cult that develops around him, like Jesus, ultimately deserts him. 
   His cure begins when his mother smashes the mirror transfixing Tommy, which I interpret as a release from the concealment of truth imposed upon him by his parents--the sin--and he discovers his unlimited self in his caring for others. 
   Visit www.metkc.org for updates on the performance schedule.

   I disliked the 1975 Ken Russell movie: it was a sacrilege.
   A precise word for the particular adultism inflicted on Tommy is omerta, a requirement that prohibits divulging certain information.
   Interesting articles about "Tommy" can be found at 


B K writes
   You're quite right about the MET.  I discovered them for myself a few years ago, and have attended about every play since. It's a great company and a wonderfully small space. Every time I leave a performance, I find myself thinking that it was the best one yet!

K A writes
   For all the wisdom you have dispensed over the years, the one that gets people to send me emails is your commentary on Tommy today! Great job. . . . 

M writes
    Wow. Fascinating column today. You never cease to amaze me with depth and breadth. . . .

D C writes to a third party with a copy to CRES
   . . . I want to be sure you've seen/heard about Vern's article in today's KC Star, "Tommys' Religious Upbringing". You've been major supporters of MET and Vern is a long time family friend. I wasn't impressed by [other] articles about the play until his article gave me a whole new perspective. . . .  .

R C writes
   I’ve just read and enjoyed your article on “Tommy.”  I am a longtime follower of Meher Baba as well as a longtime friend of Pete, and over the years I have developed an organization called MEHER BABA INFORMATION, which is a non-profit information clearinghouse for literature by and about Avatar Meher Baba.  We would be delighted to have a copy or two of the original newspaper article, if you could provide it, for our archives, and in return I’ll be happy to send you one of our books about Meher Baba.  Our website is
 www.MeherBabaInformation.org and our mailing address is
   P.O. Box 1101
   Berkeley, CA 94701.
Many thanks! With best regards, 
Rick Chapman 

Vern responded, and then . . .

R C writes again
   Hi, Vern, what a swell message!  I’m delighted both with the pdf and especially with the tear sheet or hard copy of the article for our archives.  (You’re now immortal, sort of....)  Born in Wichita just when things were getting interesting, I celebrate my Kansanisity and its automatic endowment of a generous portion of common sense and non-coastal sensibilities. I’d like to leave the book selection to you: each of my recent books is described (and pictured) on the Meher Baba Information website (www.MeherBabaInformation.org), so simply let me know and it’s on its way—here’s a list, descriptions online:
Tough choice, I know, but keep in mind that we’ll likely not run out of the others in case you want to come back for more!
Best regards,Rick
   P.S.  Gathering that you’re a Who fan, you’ll be familiar with Pete’s WHO CAME FIRST, Pete’s first commercial solo album, and the earlier HAPPY BIRTHDAY and I AM albums, non-commercial projects of the London Baba group which were distributed through Meher Baba Information in the U.S.  Things were exciting in the extreme back then, late 60s-early 70s, but believe it or not, the wave appears to be returning, and I’m thinking that it will be bigger than ever.  The 60s were unique and special indeed, but they can’t have existed just to be lost in history, don’t you think? [Rick Chapman -- MEHER BABA INFORMATION]

J B writes
Just rereading your article from [2010] August 18..."I fear for my Muslim friends..."
   Has the killing of Bin Ladon had an impact on the feared upcoming violence now and into this fall?  Have your concerns increased or decreased?

Vern responds
   I hope your book club is rewarding.
   I don't know how to calculate my concerns. The "Arab Spring" may be more important than the death of bin Laden, but no one can say for certain how that will play out. I continue to worry about the Saudi totalitarian compact with the Wahhabi and the intransigence in the Israeli-Palestinian situation, all of which affects us in the US as well as others around the world. The continuing settlements have made important kinds of interfaith activities difficult. On the other hand, there are now better resources for understanding than before. I hope your group continues to be part of them. The local 9/11 ten-year observances fall short of what I think is needed, but the ones I am aware of are nonetheless positive.

J B writes again
   Thank you so much.  Our meeting on Monday is "Facing our Communities" and I'm giving your article as a handout; also, the one you wrote on July 28 "Knowledge Conquers Fear".
   We have one more meeting to go, and I just received an update from Priscilla Warner a few minutes ago on what the authors are doing now, the books they have coming out, etc.
   I will send you a final report on the growth of our group, post survey results and attitude changes.
   I do appreciate so much your assistance and continuing dialogue in the KCStar.  It is quite common for someone to ask "Did you see what Vern said last week about ...?"  And what a good conversation we have!
   Was hopeful that Daisy Khan might be coming to Kansas City this summer.  Any chance?

J F writes
   Vern, can you explain to me the main source of tension between the Sufis and the Salafis, or point me to someone who can? 

Vern responds
   As I understand it, to grossly simplify: Sufis are more focused on the interior spiritual experience (though there have been exceptions) and the Salafis are concerned to reform Islam with what they understand as original Qur'anic and Sunnah teachings (as opposed to the system of precedent as it developed) as the basis of personal and political decisions and behavior. One form of Salaf is the Wahhabi power in Saudi Arabia, another is the modernist reform movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood. The word "Sufi" has many meanings. As a movement, it has been in and out of favor with officials throughout history, but in one sense, many Muslims can claim to be Sufi insofar as their heart is full of devotion to God. There are many theological issues that Islamic philosophers and theologians have dealt with over the centuries concerning whether Sufism is a correct expression of Islam,  so difficulties between Sufis and Salafis are not unique. I am no expert, and my characterization could be marked with error. For further direction, you might contact ---, the Muslim member of the Interfaith Council, or scholar ---, both of whom, as you'll see, are receiving a copy of this email so they can correct my characterization.

J F writes again
   Thanks, Vern. That helps a lot.

Teen's actions are an act of faith

I don’t meet many 18-year olds who are as determined as Russ Helder to become a priest, and even fewer who can discuss the mystery of entering sacred space and time. 
   Russ, who graduates this week from Pembroke Hill School, serves his church as an acolyte, and he initiated a prison ministry for his church.
   I’ve run into Russ many times in the past year and he is consistently cheerful, even buoyant. When I asked how he can be so cheerful when the world is full of wickedness and suffering, he said he is “always depressed about the world.” 
   His cheer comes from faithfulness to God in working to make things better. But “rather than letting the reward for our actions be their results, we see our actions as acts of faith in themselves.” This means loving others as God loves us — unconditionally, regardless of results we may or may not see.
   Russ interprets “The Maxtrix” movie as a way of describing the illusory world based on prejudices, desires and possessiveness that people fight to maintain because they think it brings happiness.
   Ministry, whether by laity or the ordained, can help free us from these delusions of seeking happiness in the creation itself, and instead guide us to peace within the love of the Creator. This love means caring for each other, and applies for people of all faiths and those of none, Russ says. 
   Russ, who is mastering Latin and studying the organ, says that for him worshipping and committing oneself to the “Lord of Heaven and Earth” is best done through a liturgy with a heritage of careful design and intellectual stimulation, with the best offerings of beauty in music, language, movement, gesture and the physical setting.
   Russ especially cherishes the liturgical churches, Episcopal, Catholic, Lutheran and others, because of the care they bring to worship, and particularly the experience of God in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist one enters sacred time when the suffering and joyous resurrection of Christ are always present and in which we partake and participate, transforming our everyday lives with sacrificial love.
   Last summer Russ studied the “philosophy of mind” at Stanford University. He traveled  to Turkey on a school trip and to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. He is considering  school this fall at Macalester College, noted for its many students from abroad.
   Interfaith relationships “couldn’t be more important” because “no sect has a full grasp of God. Each religion has things to teach the others, and cooperating in our diversity brings us closer to the full truth,” he said.
   To him and all those now graduating and considering their vocations: Godspeed.

   Trying to change the world is part of our faithfulness to God, but rather than focusing on the results of our efforts, the acts of faith are in themselves worthy.


   Where Peter is, there is the Church. St. Ambrose

Let's celebrate our differences

I don’t want to be invited to another “interfaith” event where the keynote speaker drones on, saying that what we have in common is so much more [important] than our differences.
   A recent such speaker cited her husband as a special person. I wondered why she married that particular man. Since what we have in common is so much more important than our differences, why couldn’t she have married me or the man in the office adjoining hers or just about anyone, male or female?
   Actually, I like the differences between men and women. I like the differences between Hinduism and Islam.
   I am grateful that Steely Dan sounds distinct from Mozart. I like how the new Roxy Paine branching structure, “Ferment,” outside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, differs from the 2,900-year old branches of the Assyrian “Winged Genie Fertilizing a Date Tree” inside.
   I don’t want French cooking and Chinese and Arthur Bryant’s to taste the same. 
   You invite me for dinner. In accepting, I tell you that I have a serious allergy to, say, avocados.
   I arrive. You’ve prepared an elegant avocado-crab-grapefruit salad. I pick around the avocado. Insulted, you say, “The avocado is food, and like all other food, it is nutritious. You are being silly, focusing on the difference between the avocado and the crab.”
   But my life depends on noticing such differences. I’d decline your next invitation.
   To tell a Christian that his faith is really not that much different from a Buddhist’s, or that what Jews and Sikhs have in common is more important than any difference between them is as questionable as marrying the next person who gets on the bus.
   I once had a call from someone who started reading this column. She said she just loved it.
   “Why?” I asked. She said she liked my message that all religions are basically the same. I asked her how many religions she was acquainted with. She replied she didn’t need to learn about any religion other than her own because they all say the same thing.
   How would she know?
   In the 15 years since that call,  much misinformation about some faiths has multiplied through the internet and by emails, so I can understand why folks would want to say to themselves, “Surely this can’t be true. Surely we are basically the same, and all religions must teach peace and justice.” Yes, they do. And all people need to eat.
   But as our tastes may vary, so our spiritual diets may differ. [We need not forbid grocers from selling avocados. Buddhists need not be outlawed.] You don’t get harmony if everyone sings the same note. Instead of fearing differences, let’s give thanks for them. Invite me to meetings where our varied paths to the sacred are displayed and celebrated.


C M writes
   A strength of Chrisianity is the development of theological differences and interpretations within a central framework of belief.  This has been true since the religion's earliest days.  In spite of the agreements at Nicea and Chalcedon early on, the church was able to expand in all directions under different interpretations of the trinity and the person of Jesus, for example,  in the early Syriac Church .  We tend to think of Western Christianity, and its reformation, and protestant splits in more modern times, but theological controversy is a hallmark of Christianity throughout history and the many differences emerging have allowed accomodation to local interests.  There is really no "orthodoxy" in Christianity and this has made it the most successful religion in the last 100 years.  I await the developments in Asia, Africa and S. America as a new emergent church evolves.

Vern responds
   Your point is well taken! In fact, there was probably more diversity -- at least a wider range -- in what Christians thought and practiced within the First Century than there is today!  We tend to think that the "funnel of belief" has widened over the ages, where the funnel was actually quite large at the beginning, as the early letters of Paul partly indicate. And during the Middle Ages, wonderful controversies were maintained within the church, with the probability that power issues, rather than the filioque dispute, led to the split in "1054." Certainly the church is changing in Asian and other cultures (as well as the changing culture in which we live), and the tension between local adaptations and mondialized proscriptions will continue. Thank you for pointing this ecumenical parallel to interfaith experience!
   I am interested in your assessment that Christianity has been the most successful of religions in the past 100 years.

C M writes again
   My source is Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of the recent "Christianity, The First Three Thousand Years".  Writing at the conclusion at page 1016 is this statement.  "Most of Christianity's problems at the beginning of the twenty-first century are the problems of success; in 2009 it has more than two billion adherents, almost four times its numbers in 1900, a third of the world's population, and more than half a billion more than than its current nearest rival, Islam." I recommend the book.  MacCulloch's discussion of early church history in the east is fascinating.  Remnants still exist.  Although there is indifference to religion in Europe, Canada, Australia and much of the United States, there is a cycle of ups and downs throughout history.  Now, too many secularists believe that Christianity is the enemy.  The irony is that many Western values have been shaped by our religious traditions, a fact often ignored by the misinformed.

Vern responds again
    Thanks for the reference!

K P writes 
   To be honest Vern, I have to disagree that our differences are more important than our commonalities. There are many, many differences between us, not only for you and I, but betwixt all people. I see no need to emphasize and study and work and worry them like a portion of overwrought bread dough, and knead it into a tough, tasteless oblivion. If a choirmaster at a European cathedral were to listen to a ragi (musician) who normally played at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. He might well appreciate the differences of tone, scale and rhythm, but i think he might be a bit more interested in those things he could more readily understand like the meaning of the words and the way in which they refer to the deity. After that "understanding" blossoms, then too will appreciation of what is different.
   The one thing that I do know with certainty is that Sikhism is as different from Buddhism as it is from Christianity and Paganism. What I prefer to glory in is how each of them worships what or if they do "worship"! I think we all share the common humanity that enables us to recognize the infinite within the finite. Our world is mortal and temporary and sometimes degrading. Spiritual pursuits as we find them offer us a respite from the reality of everyday human behavior such as war, greed, lust, etc. I think to know that you and I share a common belief in a "better" spirit is comfort and solace in the face of a life that as the philosopher says, is "nasty, brutal and short."

Vern responds
   Thank you for taking the trouble to write and share your perspective on the question of commonalities and differences. I like the fact that your subject heading uses the words, "I beg to differ!" as you promote the idea of commonality.
   I can only reiterate my point. Yes, it is true that "all religions must teach peace and justice." -- "And all people need to eat. -- But as our tastes may vary, so our spiritual diets may differ." I think it is terribly disrespectful to ignore the special genius and qualities of each faith, put them in a metaphorical blender and expect them to be alike. I urge you please to reread the column. I do not think you will find the sentiment you attribute to me, "that our differences are more important than our commonalities," appears anywhere in the column. To be it is obvious that both differences and similarities are important. Take the food analogy. Obviously my host is correct in saying that all food is nutritious, but I would also be correct in saying, that in the case of an allergy to avocados, my life depends on noticing the differences. Similarly, respecting differences between and among faiths is essential if we are to understand each other. I seriously question if it is useful for a Hindu vegetarian to ignore the meaning of the Christian love of the Eucharist, the very body and blood of Christ, or for an Orthodox Jew to violate his or her prohibition on blood, or the Muslim to be forced into drinking the wine/blood. These are not trivial differences but are avenues by which the sacred is disclosed. This does not mean we must fight; on the contrary, you know that I believe we are mutually enriched by differences within our common humanity. Please do not read into my column what I did not say.What I objected to is the view that commonalities are MORE important than our differences. Again, to quote myself, this time with emphasis:
   "To tell a Christian that his faith is really not that much different than a Buddhist’s, or that what Jews and Sikhs have in common is MORE important than any difference between them is as questionable as marrying the next person who gets on the bus."
   I grant that some scholars like my friend Huston Smith often find AT THE CORE of each faith a commonality. I respect this view, but I disagree because mysticism is not at the core of normative Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, for example, even though some might wish it to be. I'm looking at the facts. And even Smith writes,
    How fully has the proponent [of the view that all religions are at their core the same] tried and succeeded in understanding Christianity’s claim that Christ was the only begotten Son of God, or the Muslim’s claim that Muhammad is the Seal of the prophets, or the Jews’ sense of their being the Chosen People? How does he propose to reconcile Hinduism’s conviction that this will always remain a ‘middle world’ with Judaism’s promethean faith that it can be decidedly improved? How does the Buddha’s ‘anatta doctrine’ of no-soul square with Christianity’s belief in . . . individual destiny in eternity? How does Theravada Buddhism’s rejection of every form of personal God find echo in Christ’s sense of relationship to his Heavenly Father? How does the Indian view of Nirguna Brahman, the God who stands completely aloof from time and history, fit with the Biblical view that the very essence of God is contained in his historical acts? Are these beliefs really only accretions, tangential to the main concern of spirit? The religions . . . may fit together, but they do not do so easily.
   I deeply resent the laziness of people who have decided all religions are basically alike and then show no interest in learning about them, such as the caller to which I referred in my column.
   Yes, we are all alike -- we are alike in that we are different. To neglect either pole of this paradox is to demean the richness of humanity and the divine diversity with which the human race has been blessed.
   Again, thank you for initiating an important exchange of perspectives.
   Do feel free to complain or comment about the column on The Star's website or in a letter to the editor. I would be more pleased for additional discussion of this question to take place than for only my own perspective to be therein represented.

Public servants should seek 'great harmony'

In the polite and mutually respectful general election mayoral contest between Sly James and Mike Burke, Confucius would find considerable virtue.
   Outside the Council chambers on the 26th floor of Kansas City City Hall stands a statue of Confucius, given by sister city Xi’an, China. An inscription underneath the image reads, in part, “Public officials are selected according to their wisdom and ability. Mutual confidence is promoted and good neighborliness cultivated.”
   Those of good character, the quotation continues, “do not like to see wealth lying idle, yet they do not keep it for their own gratification. They despise indolence, yet they do not use their energies for their own benefit. . . . This is called the Great Harmony.”
   One element of “the Great Harmony” is civility. No religion is more explicit about how one person modeling thoughtfulness can affects the social order than Confucianism. Decorum, alas, is often absent in politics these days, but the statue reminds us that real community is not possible without manners.
   In ancient China, the ruler was regarded as the son of Heaven.  Confucius adapted this idea by insisting that a ruler’s success depended on his gravely and reverently facing south to honor Heaven, which might be roughly translated into our terms as honoring our cosmic heritage.
   Since the ruler acknowledged he was dependent on something greater than himself, and thus showed respect, those around the ruler were inclined by his example to show respect to him. And those around the ruler’s associates showed respect to them, all the way down to children imitating respect for their parents and for one another.
   Confucius, of course, wanted the respect to be heart-felt. And now we know from neuroscience that behaving in a certain way even when we do not feel it can eventually produce the feeling the ritual behavior indicates.
   One Saturday morning, I opened the mail that had piled up on my desk during a very busy week. I discovered an urgent matter that required me run a complicated errand when I had planned on staying home. I was grumpy. 
   I was even grumpier when I discovered I needed gas which added another unwelcome step to my morning itinerary. My tasks now seemed endless. 
   After impatiently pumping the gas, I went into the station to pay. The clerk looked at me, smiled and said, “Good morning.”
   I suddenly realized I had been greeted not as an economic unit but as an actual human being. The clerk’s polite comportment helped me recover myself. The self exists only in relationships, honored in even such trivial rituals.
   By the way, the statue on the 26th floor of City Hall faces south.


R D writes
  Thank you so much for your column in the K.C. Star this morning about Confucius. I rarely cut articles out of the newspaper and save them but this one is now hanging on my refrigerator. It is a reminder of how I can create my own "trivial rituals" that are inspired by collective traditional rituals to bring spiritual healing to myself so that I can share it with my community and to create Sacred space in all that I do. I am not an academic scholar, a theologian, or even an ecstatic Shaman, but I have learned that no matter how humble my talents are I have the ability to be a co-creator and to be a participant in the beauty of nature. Thank you for all of your teachings and gifts to the Kansas City community. 

Vern responds
   Thank you for your kind email. I am proud to have you as a reader! I'm glad you especially liked this morning's Confucius column and that it is on your refrigerator! I like your point that everyone can be a co-creator.
   I appreciate your taking the trouble to write, and may many be blessed by your work.

T S writes:
   Good column.  You have a very pleasant, stirring prose style.

Vern responds
   Thanks for reading the column and for taking the trouble to send me your kind note!

Finding meaning in the practice

At springtime each year, my friend John Shelton asks me “What is the meaning of Easter?” Each year I evade the question. The words are too difficult.
   After hearing the Easter Vigil sermon of the Rt. Rev. Martin S. Field, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri, Shelton told me, “I guess we now have an answer.”
   Citing award-winning author Nora Gallagher, Field wondered “whether we in the church spend too much time discussing whether we do or do not believe in the resurrection, and by so doing, miss the point.” 
   The point, Field said, adapting her phrase, is “practicing resurrection.”
   As an example, he told of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s response when, during the era of apartheid, the notorious armed South African Security Police invaded the cathedral where Tutu, recently released from jail, was preaching. The congregation was terrified.
   Tutu paused, said he served a greater power, and invited the oppressors to join the “winning side.” His resurrection message transformed the cowering crowd into such rejoicing that the astonished police made way for worshippers dancing out of the cathedral and into the streets. Apartheid’s spiritual cessation ultimately led to its political end.
   Field’s sermon reminded me of my years at the University of Chicago. One Maundy Thursday during the Vietnam War, the dean of Rockefeller Chapel invited students into the huge Gothic chancel. His homily challenged us to ask how we follow Jesus.
   The question shook me to the depths.
   Could I partake of the  Eucharistic gifts, to become a member of the body of Christ, unless I were willing to love as Jesus loved — which meant, at times, condemning the iniquity of Christ's own age? How could I witness for holiness in the midst of a war I believed was based on lies, killing multitudes of innocent Vietnamese and corrupting the political life of our nation? My earlier Navy service made me especially agonize over those in U.S. uniform being killed and maimed.
   How could I say the war was over while it raged?
   At a Sunday service, with several other students, I ended my complicity with the war system by surrendering my draft card, placing it on the altar. The FBI soon contacted me and its investigation led to my draft board withdrawing my deferment. But eventually, with millions of others protesting, the war ended.
   Whatever our faith or none, we can be entombed in some remote past, or we can practice living outside distress or privilege and embrace the call to live beyond ourselves. Not words but our practice is what counts.


P writes
   Thanks for your review of the motion picture "Of Gods and Men."  You
might remember me as having taught for nearly 30 years on the faculty of [seminary]. I am now a Family Brother of the Trappist Order, and am in charge of the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center location]. When the event happened in Algeria, it was a shock to all of us. It is probably as
close to having saints as our order has had in a century. They were for
real. I hope all is well with you and your interfaith work.

L writes
   . . . A personal spiritual note has been appearing more in your columns in recent months, and this morning especially.  I hope that many who have followed the column faithfully, and who have marveled at your reflections on the doings of all other religious traditions, now appreciate the singularity and importance of your own experiences.  I do and appreciate the sensitivity of your sharing both privately and publicly. It's the revelation the instructor in religious studies at the university doesn't have to make.
   I don't expect a whit of change in the breadth and depth of your understanding and appreciation of all traditions, and expect current experiences will bring increased insight into the way any one tradition can illumine the divine mysteries (the sacred, what is the most important thing in our lives) while also being illumined by the shared experience of others. And I expect the sensitivity of these relationships will also be intensified. . . . 

C M writes 
. . . . I'm keeping up with your column.  You're a lot of fun. . . . 

C B writes 
   I read your column every week in the Kansas City Star and have found them to be pretty interesting. I appreciate the call to treat all religions with respect. I did have a question regarding how to do this, particularly with religions that have competing truth claims. I am most familiar with those between Christianity, Islam and Mormonism. Each of them claim that their books are the inspired truth from God/Allah and no other. How does one from one of those groups show respect toward those of the other even though that person feels that their books are not truly inspired? How does someone outside either of those faiths show proper respect toward adherents of one of those faiths, if one believes that all of the books are fine and offer truths for us to benefit from? Isn't that disrespectful of their views toward their "scriptures"? When I say, I love the writings of your prophets and value them with the writings of these other faiths, aren't I diminishing their beliefs in some way?
   Since you have a lot of experience in interfaith dialogue, I was wondering how you handle this. Thanks.

Vern responds
   Christianity and Islam are sprawling traditions, with many viewpoints within. Many Christians would say that the Bible is the authoritative word of God mediated through human lives and language, but that does not mean that scientific and historical statements found in the Bible are there as factual reports. The Bible demonstrates the stories of God working through the Hebrew people and, later, the early church, and from those stories (which are sometimes contradictory in their message, many believe) we have materials from which to discern God's will for our own time. Following the Gospel of John, the Word (Logos) is not the Bible but Jesus. Muslims accept the Bible (the Torah [Tanakh] and the New Testament Testament) as the word of God, but they often say that the text has been corrupted from its original form. The Qur'an, almost all Muslims believe, contains the actual words of God speaking in Arabic. But those words are poetic and subject to much interpretation (hence for main legal traditions in Sunni Islam alone), mediated by the Sunna/the Hadith, etc. The Qur'an occupies a place in Islamic thought much as Jesus does in Christianity, so a comparison of Bible to Qur'an is apples and oranges. I know many Christians who cheerfully grant that the Qur'an is inspired and almost all Muslims would grant that the Bible is inspired. The Qur'an commands respect for "people of the Book," originally interpreted to be Jews and Christians, and later enlarged to include Zoroastrians, etc. One passage says that God created different peoples so they could know (benefit from) each other; the differences are created by God. Historically, Christians have been less tolerant, sometimes murderously exclusive (think Spain in 1492, for example), though nowadays the media present an opposite picture. From my travels and studies, it seems to me that the historical pattern still holds, but with severe exceptions.
   Your question can be approached from many angles with different answers, so here I am just proposing one because I have much on my desk to attend to yet today. Christians say God is love. Imitating God certainly includes loving those who are different from us.
   You are not ultimately responsible for the feelings of others. No Muslim I know feels diminished if I place the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita or the Heart Sutra on the same level as the Qur'an, nor need anyone, any more than my enjoying both Chinese and Italian food need insult the Chinese or the Italian. Getting to this place of mutual respect is what interfaith work is about, building friendships. In Kansas City metro I am fortunate to have received awards of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist communities, and never once have I been asked to hold their scriptures superior to my own. Conversion is not an issue.
   I do not know enough about Mormonism and its many splinter groups to make appropriate comment.
   A 2-page text about interfaith in Kansas City:  http://www.cres.org/pubs/UnityMag2011MarApr.htm
   A link to some thoughts about interfaith work: http://www.cres.org/pubs/primers.htm
   A serialized explanation of why I think it is important: http://www.cres.org/pubs/WorldReligsPiecesOrPattern.htm
   Thanks for writing. I appreciate knowing you read my column. I'll keep your questions in mind and perhaps over the course of time be able to address bits and pieces of an answer to your inquiry better than I have just now.


   The disciples were transformed by their conviction that God had raised him up, many giving their lives in witness to this truth; such a commitment is impossible from a conspiracy of fond hopes. - Thomas H. Groome

   "Each year I evade the questions".
   Yep, Vern, thats what I have always said.
   And yet you keep writing about it. And its amusing how you shift from that to a political rant about the Vietnam war, and give a confused account of your military service.
   Since you are rambling, I will ask, do you know many of the members of the local Vietnamese Community...like those who had to run for their lives after the Communists took over and began slaughtering people? Even the liberal media admit that there were mass executions, and I have talked to people who saw it.
   What do you like best about the Communist system? Its Official Atheism or its outright attempts to eliminate religion?

  As Vern admits, each year he evades the question.
   And in doing so, although he does not realize it, he gives his answer.

Nuns' prayers fill an empty space

Without the nuns, Kansas City would not be as it is — in providing for the poor, in peace-making, in education, in career transition, in health care, in human rights, in representing humane and loving concerns.
   One of Kansas City’s own, Sister of Mercy Donna Ryan, whose multiple ministries include work through St. James Catholic Church on Troost, recently joined 40 other members of her order in Phoenix to pray at St. Joseph Medical Center.
   This is the hospital where a decision in late 2009 to save the life of a 27-year old mother of four led to the excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride who served on the ethics panel deciding that the woman’s emergency medical condition required termination of her 11-week pregnancy.
   After Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted learned of the procedure, he announced that the nun was “automatically excommunicated.” He stated that “an unborn child is not a disease. . . . The Catholic Church will continue to defend life and proclaim the evil of abortion without compromise, and must act to correct even her own members if they fail in this duty.”
   New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof quoted a doctor at the hospital saying that McBride “is a kind, soft-spoken, humble, caring, spiritual woman whose spot in heaven was reserved years ago. . . . The idea that she could be ex-communicated after decades of service to the Church and humanity literally makes me nauseated.”
   Four Sisters of Mercy founded the hospital in 1895 especially for the poor. Because of this case, Bishop Olmsted decreed that the hospital could no longer be considered Catholic. Although it remains part of the Catholic Healthcare West system, Mass is no longer celebrated in the chapel where Ryan and her sisters gathered to pray, she said.
   The gathering was not only a gesture of solidarity among the sisters but also an opportunity to renew their commitment to their mission of serving others. 
   While this particular service of saving a mother’s life led to emptying the hospital of a proclaimed Catholic presence, Ryan composed a poem, used at the gathering, that reinterprets that emptiness:
   “Empty space is not absent space. Empty space is purified, prepared for presence. Stripped of all that takes attention to the surface of things. We are left rather to hunger for the depth of within-ness. . . . Space that is empty makes room for Transforming Light,” she wrote.
   Whether you side with the Sisters of Mercy or with the bishop, the quiet presence of the nuns from all over the country praying in a room emptied of Catholic sacrament, may seem, paradoxically, holy. I’m glad Kansas City was well represented.


P D writes
   Thank you so much for this morning's column in the "Kansas City Star'.  I can't think of anyone group that is doing a better job of alienating Catholics than the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.   In addition to the excommunication of Sr. Margaret McBride the Vatican investigation of women religious orders only in the US is another travesty.

Vern responds
  I really appreciate your taking the trouble to write me and let me know the column was meaningful to you. I read the independent theological analysis of the situation requested by the bishop. It was a thorough study of the situation with application of Catholic teaching. It came down squarely on the side of McBride, and yet the bishop, like much in the Church, seems immune to either reason or a common sense of basic human feeling. I am so sorry the faithful women religious have to be examined by the patriarchy.

J S writes
   Thanks so much for your sensitive article. How sad Bishop Olmsted is so caught  up in the letter of the rule, rather than the sprit. Years ago I was given a  very thick procedural manual . On the first page in large letters it said “Nothing in this Manual supersedes the use of common sense. “
  In a related item, a recent PEW research study revealed that the largest Christian group is the Roman Catholic, second place to the Baptist, third place former Catholics.

 Vern responds
   I really appreciate your taking the trouble to write me and let me know the column was meaningful to you. Bishop Olmsted requested an independent theological analysis of the situation. It was a superb and thorough study of the application of Catholic teaching. It came down squarely on the side of McBride, and yet the bishop, like much in the Church, seems immune to either basic human feeling or the common sense your procedural manual began with. I had not seen the Pew study; thanks for mentioning it! -- No wonder that the third largest faith group consists of former Catholics -- what a shame for such a wonderful and rich tradition to be abused so often by many of those in the current hierarchy. My faithful Catholic friends keep telling me, "The Church is not the hierarchy; it is the people," but a lot of the people get discouraged by the clear bull-headed and mean nonsense such as demonstrated by Olmsted.

D R writes
   The article was perfect. 

J K writes
   Hi Vern, I’m not sure if you remember me but we met years ago while I was serving as the . . . .  I was impressed with your perspective and the breadth and depth of your knowledge when we met, and I have followed your column over the years and enjoy it very much. I can’t begin to tell you how many times  I have read one of your columns and have said to myself, “You ought to send him a note and tell him how much you enjoy his perspective and efforts to get us to think.” I thought the same thing when reading your recent column about Sister Ryan and her efforts with the St. Joe Medical Center in Arizona. I remember being outraged by the actions of the bishop back then, and was glad you wrote about the recent activity of Sister Ryan. Thank you for all you do!

Vern responds
   I do remember you with pleasure and gratitude, and now I write with added pride in knowing you are one my faithful readers! I was glad Sister Donna Ryan permitted me to write about the situation as I am certain her witness is creating some discomfort in certain circles. I am glad for your a sense of moral outrage, and thankful for your contributions to civic life and particularly . . . .

H M  writes
   I too am glad we were represented. Well written.

Vern responds
    Thank you for letting me know the column was meaningful to you. We are fortunate to have Sr Ryan in Kansas City, and many other devoted workers of faith.
    I appreciate your taking the trouble to write me!

J B writes
   Your today's column is excellent as usual.  My father's family was Catholic and I grew close to a great aunt, a teaching nun who would visit from Texas in the summer.  I also took piano lessons from the nuns.  I'm sure you can guess that I consider the excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride terribly poor judgment.

Vern responds
Thank you for your thoughts about my column in today's paper. I read the independent theological analysis of the situation requested by the bishop. It was a thorough study of the situation with application of Catholic teaching. It came down squarely on the side of McBride, and yet the bishop, like much in the Church, seems immune to either reason or a common sense of basic human feeling. Would that the patriarchy kept a closer eye on pedophile priests.

M S writes
   I was so pleased to read your article in the Wednesay edition of the Kansas City Star regarding  the Nun's prayers.

T M writes
   Another good column yesterday.  I like the deft touch you employ so easily and regularly.  I’d be inclined to just bash the church for its over-the-top actions, which isn’t nearly as effective as your approach.

A J writes
Thanks, Vern, for the copy of your column on the Nuns' prayers. It's terrific. 

A L writes
   Loved your column...Donna Ryan is a personal friend and it was lovely to see her and her sisters written about as only you can!  Thank you for giving time to such wonderful everyday acts of GOODNESS and COMPASSION....

Vern responds
   I'm grateful to Sr Donna for giving me permission to write about the prayers she and her sisters offered. Thanks for writing!

I M  writes
   How is your spring progressing?? Tired of rain yet? or welcoming every reminder that everyday it is getting further and further from being cold enough to snow?
   With the change of seasons always comes a strong current of significant events.  I have recently lost 2 employees, one to cancer, and one apparently took his own life.. I have a grandfather who is in and out of hospitalization these past weeks, as is the same situation with 4 of my friends, slowly but surely losing loved ones.. Everywhere around me, I see currents of similar behaviors and situations flowing in a synchronous migration that rises to the surface long enough to be noticed, then fades from view again, sometimes as abrupt and brief as the behavior of drivers on a single night on my way to work (6 cars blew by me tonight on my way to work doing at least 20 mph over the speed limit and flow of traffic, all driving dangerously, cutting lanes, tailgating, passing on the shoulder.. normally there is only 1 or 2)  ..
   Sure, calendar events play a role in behaviors, as do local influences such as concerts or promotions that encourage or influence behavior in a predictable or parallel fashion, but I am more and more convinced that there is definitely more at play than just the superficial stimulants and explanations for these synchronous changes in behavior.  Years ago, my cousin wrote to me about my thoughts on synchronicity.  Her timing was amusing because I had recently been musing on why some events all come to fruition at the same time and how it resembles the output of a refinement process or program.  My cousin and I used to talk a lot about philosophical and spiritual matters, but at that time we had not spoken for over a year, and that pattern seems to be holding even today.  She and I are on opposite poles of spiritual inquiry and explorations, yet we keep coming to the same topics and the same revaluations in synchronous cycles.
   I may seem to be rambling here, but in the interests of keeping this as brief as possible (I certainly do respect your time and attention) I am just hitting the high points of the thought processes and personal notes that bring me to the point of committing my thoughts to (virtual) paper...
   A group of nuns, praying in an empty room.. a place stripped of blessing, and cleansed of distraction.. spirituality in humans is changing again, (some more) like it did in many dark chapters of human "history".  My problem is that although I feel this change in the wind, I have no idea where it will take me, or you, or any of us.. (I gave up tarot cards for Lent).. I feel like a sailor on a dark and moonless night, knowing there is a storm somewhere, but having no idea when it will overtake me or where it might send me.  In this moment, yes, I am concerned.  Worry about the future, those I care about, those close to me, nags at my mind, but at the same time I am energized, alert, watchful.. I both dread and anticipate with excitement the wave that I feel building in world events, disasters, politics, right down to personal experience at work and home.. something is moving in the dark just beyond my vision and every sense I have is screaming at me to be more alert than I have ever been in my life.
   My question is;
   Could it be that something is about to happen? that like every other animal on this planet I am responding to subtle changes that awaken instincts bred into every animal that has evolved to survive on this planet?
   Is something happening to ME to make things I observe seem more significant and present a perception of impending significance?
   I hope some of this makes sense.. it would take me pages and pages to tie everything together neatly and bring you to where I am in some semblance of organized communication.  I just want to type an e-mail, not a doctoral thesis.. and I am certain you would probably prefer some lighter subject matter once in a while.. I suppose you are constantly bombarded with people coming to you for answers.. and while I am happy enough to seek my own answers, I sometimes like to know if I am wandering out in left field .. and I don't really even like baseball..
   Maybe I just need a bonfire, a well companied bed under a starry sky, and a new tattoo.. 

Vern responds
   I enjoyed reading your poetic email up until the point you put me on the spot by asking my opinion! If you removed your question marks, you would be like one of the Hebrew prophets who beautifully expressed the quandary of his time. Alas, I am no prophet! but I understand both the personal and social/global portents -- but what do they mean?
   About all I can offer are
   1. This link to a recent NYTimes column referring to Yeat's famous poem, The Second Coming: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/opinion/26iht-edcohen26.html
   2.  the What Is Synchonicity The Movie web site link, at the end of my "signature" below.
   3. my opinion that there are more than enough tattoos already.
   Please send me any answers as they occur to you!
Cast member of future  WhatIsSynchonicityTheMovie

I M  writes again
   Glad to hear from you. I always get a nice little jolt seeing a response in my inbox, much preferred to the sea of spam trying to convince me to make parts of myself bigger or smaller, humans are funny animals.. .. I suppose that means I respect your insight and opinions enough to be excited whether you agree with me or not, so long as we "talk".. thank you for that.
   I also got some unexpected input yesterday morning from a facebook friend, --- in ---.. she had posted a really interesting photo of the setting sun casting shadows through her window, and we were musing about what we saw in the light and shadows projected on the wall.. I checked the thread tonight for further comments and there was a link to "Interfaith of Topeka" on her wall, so I clicked it.. top post on that wall is a link to "Synchronized Universe" posted by Jackie Lakin.. made me smile that my unfolding topic is a relative discussion of itself.. from my point of view anyway.
  So it appears that 2 things are front and center in my experience these days..
   1. Synchronicity, cause, effect, or both.. I think I still have something I blasted down on paper shortly after talking to my cousin about the topic several years ago.. I may revisit that and see how I feel about it now...
   2.The significance of Interfaith Relationships, what my role is as an over-opinionated layman, and where to find fellowship to explore it..
   Many years ago now, my wife and I have had some very negative experiences that ended our relationship with an organized "church" but, from some late night conversations this weekend, we both feel the need to find fellowship somewhere.. we just approach it with terrible trepidation.
  I appreciate your time spent reading my many rants and musings and offering your comments.  I did impose a bit by asking your opinion, but sometimes I feel that I talk to much and ask too few questions.. I don't believe I expected a pat answer, but exactly what you generously offered.. a direction and resources from which to draw my own conclusions on a topic at the front of my mind.
   Thank you Vern, yer allright..
   Oh, and if there was any spiritual significance attached to just 1 percent of the tattoos out there today, interfaith spirituality would have more of a mainstream following than Oprah.  Ink, piercings, scarification, sweat lodges.. our ancestors used these things as milestones, markers on a life journey, focal points from which to find a path through an unsure and frightening journey through life... if only those willing to endure such an ordeal for a fad, would find something of relevance for their life.  Pity really.. I mourn lost potential wherever I see it.
  Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.. or is that "gather ye rosebuds while ye may.."

Vern responds again
  A beautiful day to recall the Herrick poem!
   I live steps from a tattoo parlor, and I remember being tempted by my peers on leave in the Navy. You are right about so much religious symbolism in tattoos. I found this old column meditating in part on Sean Vasquez and his Sacred Body Arts Emporium:
   186. 980318  THE STAR’S HEADLINE: Are fashion and faith a search for identity?
   NEW YORK—In 1970 the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima demonstrated his traditional values by seppuku,
   The video is part of a show of the work of Gianni Versace, the famed designer, murdered last year.
   Versace said, “I think beauty will save the world.” But these extravagant dresses seem more the “insulting splendor of the rich,” a phrase Georges Bataille uses in his essay on expenditures, rather than the path to redemption.
   In his Theory of Religion, Bataille says faith is “the search for lost intimacy.” The excess of the video and the rest of the exhibition suggests that fashion is used to create a personal identity by drawing attention to oneself. To some extent we all do this.
   But does the fashion which draws attention [to ourselves] ultimately [reveal us or conceal us,] recover or defeat faith and intimacy?
   Now on Canal Street, I meet Sean Vasquez at his Sacred Body Arts Emporium. Vasquez, whose tattoo work is documented [even in a Russian magazine], shows me his arm which displays both the Christian Virgin of Guadalupe and the Buddhist figure Manjusri.
  As I talk with him and his staff, and mentally review what I know of tribal cultures, I think that perhaps tattooing, like fashion, is a search for personal identity.
   Will fashion and tattoos save us? Do they help us to discover sincerit ritual disembowelment. Here at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a video portrays his suicide with fashion pumps cascading from the actor’s abdomen. It mocks Mishima’s ultimate sincerity. y and lost intimacy? or do they distract us?
   I share the worry that the tattoo replaces the real ordeal.

Don’t take relativist path
   In Vern Barnet’s column in the April 27th Star, he expresses sympathy with a nun excommunicated from the church. The excommunication stemmed from her decision while working at a Catholic hospital to allow an abortion for a woman in an emergency medical crisis.
  This situation brought to mind a childhood friend, who was advised by her doctor to have an abortion because he believed her child would be born disabled. My friend’s belief in the sanctity of life would not allow her to follow through on that advice. Months later her child was born healthy and whole.
   I realize these situations are not direct comparisons, in that my friend’s health was never threatened. Mr. Barnet’s judgmental column is a typical relativistic response. It did not specify the end result, though the assumption implied that the mother’s life was spared. That is cause for joy.
   But this nun took a relativist’s route. We’ll never know if there would be twice the joy had she not played God.
   Relativism is a very slippery slope. The church has remained consistent in its position of supporting life. I suspect that is why she was excommunicated.
   Joyce Kallenberger, Weatherby Lake


   Abortion is evil any time... any where.
   "Dr. Paul A. Byrne, Director of Neonatology and Pediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, disputes the claim that an abortion is ever a procedure necessary to save the life of the mother, or carries less risk than birth.
   Dr. Byrne said, "I don't know of any [situation where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother].
   "I know that a lot of people talk about these things, but I don't know of any. The principle always is preserve and protect the life of the mother and the baby."
   Byrne has the distinction of being a pioneer in the field of neonatology, beginning his work in the field in 1963 and becoming a board-certified neonatologist in 1975. He invented one of the first oxygen masks for babies, an incubator monitor, and a blood-pressure tester for premature babies, which he and a colleague adapted from the finger blood pressure checkers used for astronauts.
   Byrne emphasized that he was not commentating on what the woman's particular treatment should have been under the circumstances, given that she is not his patient. 
   "But given just pulmonary hypertension, the answer is no" to abortion, said Byrne.
   Byrne emphasized that the unborn child at 11 weeks gestation would have a negligible impact on the woman's cardiovascular system. He said that pregnancy in the first and second trimesters would not expose a woman with even severe pulmonary hypertension - which puts stress on the heart and the longs - to any serious danger.
   "The only reason to kill the baby at 11 weeks is because it is smaller," which makes the abortion easier to perform, he said, not because the mother's life is in immediate danger.
   "I've done this work just about as long as neonatology has existed," said Byrne. "The key is we must protect and preserve life, and we have to do that from conception to the natural end." 
- Peter J. Smith
   If abortion isn't wrong, what is wrong? - Mother Theresa

VERN responds
   "On August 5, 2010, Bishop Olmsted requested that CHW obtain an independent moral analysis of the case. He specified that the analysis be 'based upon the objective and universally valid moral principles in play, and their application in this most grave situation, to the moral analysis provided by the NCBC [the National Catholic Bioethics Center from which the bishop also requested a moral analysis]. Understandably, such moral principles would be consistent with, in particular, the teaching of Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae." -- from the Catholic Healthcare West website 
   An Independent Moral Analysis by Therese Lysaught, PhD, is a 24-page, single-spaced document, with copious footnotes and citations, historical and contemporary, presenting a view supporting the decision to save the life of the mother. The parents eagerly desired the pregnancy to be successful and at first resisted an intervention. The presentation in the comment above ignores two medical conditions that complicated the pulmonary hypertension. The Analysis concludes:
   "It is my opinion that the intervention performed at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center on November 5, 2009 cannot properly be described as an abortion. The moral object of the intervention was to save the life of the mother. The death of the fetus was, at maximum, non-direct and praeter intentionem. More likely, the fetus was already dying due to the pathological situation prior to the intervention; as such, it is inaccurate to understand the death of the fetus as an accessory consequence to the intervention. I conclude that St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center acted in accord with the Ethical and Religious Directives, Catholic moral tradition, and universally valid moral precepts, in working to respect the sanctity and dignity of life, first doing what they could to foster the lives of both the mother and the child and then, when it was clear the child had begun the dying process, to do what they could to save the mother."
   The full Analysis can be found on the Catholic Healthcare West website or I will forward it or the link to anyone contacting me through the email address at the end of my column.

   I firmly believe that St. Joseph’s Medical Center took the morally correct action in terminating the pregnancy. That said, I also think this statement by Therese Lysaught is absolute nonsense: “it is inaccurate to understand the death of the fetus as an accessory consequence to the intervention.” Given the Q&A below from the Catholic Healthcare West website, it is abundantly clear that the medical personnel knew that the death of the fetus was an accessory consequence to the intervention. Tragically, this was yet one more situation where people had no good options to choose from. 
   Q. Would St. Joseph’s do the same thing again? Is there anything you could have done differently? 
   A. In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy. Had there been a way to save both the mother and the fetus, we would have done it. We are convinced there was not. We would do the same thing again.

VERN responds
   As I understand it, the fetus was dying before the intervention. Therefore, given the theological apparatus of the Catholic Church, which Dr Lysaught details, the death of the fetus was not caused by the intervention and therefore was not an accessory consequence thereof. Dr Lysaught discusses this matter in the context of language used by Pius XII, Aquinas, William J. Murphy, Jr.'s insights into Veritatis Splendor, Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, and Germain Grisez. The question of "accessory consequence" is not just a physical but more a moral issue, and in Catholic theology can appear to be somewhat technical. I am no expert on Catholic theology, but as I understand the situation with respect to the teachings of the church, the death of the fetus was not an accessory consequence of the intervention.

  I appreciate your civil response, and I will try to be relatively brief in my response. We agree that St. Joseph’s took the correct action in terminating the pregnancy. We apparently disagree on the appropriate way to defend the hospital’s actions. You wrote “given the theological apparatus of the Catholic Church, which Dr Lysaught details, the death of the fetus was not caused by the intervention.” First, there is absolutely no doubt that the intervention was the immediate cause of the fetus’ death. At the point of the intervention, the fetus may have been “dying,” but it was not yet “dead.” I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that aspect of things played a role in the bishop’s actions. I assume that, at a minimum, he wanted the hospital to give the fetus longer to live in hopes that the situation would miraculously improve. In any event, the bishop obviously does not believe that the theological apparatus of the Catholic Church justified the hospital’s actions.
  Second, just from briefly reading Lysaught’s and others’ writings, this whole debate on exactly how the theological apparatus pertains to abortions seems dangerously close to degenerating into the equivalent of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Many of the distinctions they make between acceptable and unacceptable terminations of pregnancy seem extremely arbitrary, and more focused on academic dueling than the reality that the lives of a mother and fetus were at risk.
   To me, the issue is heartbreaking but simple. Given that the mother was almost certainly going to die if the pregnancy continued, the induced abortion was the morally correct decision. I don’t need legions of theologians and lawyers to figure that out for me.

VERN responds
   Two points and a summary:
   1. I am not a Catholic theologian, and I am simply reporting and trying in brief to explain the result of the independent Catholic evaluation.
  2. I certainly can understand why the distinctions sometimes made can be regarded as splitting hairs or arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. However, this was the kind of analysis the bishop requested; and the news, it seems to me, whether you appreciate the technical analysis or not, is that the bishop disregarded the assessment he requested.
   In the column, I am not defending or criticizing the theological basis on which the procedure was justified or condemned. Although I'm not sure the actual medical facts are fully factored, I appreciate your perspective and respect your disagreement with the theologian's independent analysis, though I also admire the integrity of that effort within the Roman Catholic tradition.
   Thank you for writing with obvious concern and intelligence.


India Times

NEB  Roadrunner


A terror movie of another kind

There is no better day than Good Friday for the prize-winning film, “Of Gods and Men” to open here at the Tivoli Cinemas. Christians and Muslims will want to see it, as will anyone interested in living spiritually with the terror of our age.
   Based on events in the 1990s in Algeria, the film shows how French Cistercian monks serving a poor Muslim community are caught between a military government and terrorists who slaughter foreign workers.
   As the movie begins, the affection among the monks and the Muslims is signaled when a boy’s father invites the monk physician, and all the monks, to a khatna (circumcision) celebration.
   In a surprisingly lyrical scene, we see a young Muslim woman, urged by her father to marry a certain young man, confide in one of the monks. She asks him, “How do you know when you’re in love?”
   The monk replies, “There’s something inside you that comes alive. The presence of someone. It’s irrepressible and makes your heart beat faster, usually. It’s an attraction, a desire. It’s very beautiful. No use in asking too many questions. It just happens. Things are as usual, then suddenly — happiness arrives, or the hope of it.”
   She asks, “Have you been in love?”
   “Several times,” says the monk. “And then I encountered another love, even greater. And I answered that love. It’s been a while now,” he says, referring to his sixty years as a monk.
   As the story progresses that love is tested unto death.
   Quotations from the Qur’an and the simple music of monastic daily devotions frame this film with a spiritual maturity, eloquence and relevance far, far deeper than Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
   On Christmas eve, the abbot turns back the sudden demands of the terrorists by asserting the monastery will admit no one with guns. But he cannot control what happens outside.
   At one meal, one monk reads the following as the others eat:
   “Accepting our powerlessness and our extreme poverty is an invitation, an urgent appeal to create with others relationships not based on power. . . .
    “Weakness in itself is not a virtue. (It expresses) a fundamental reality which must constantly be refashioned by faith, hope and love. 
   “The apostle’s weakness is like Christ’s, rooted in the mystery of Easter . . . . It is neither passivity nor resignation. It requires great courage and incites one to defend justice and truth and to denounce the temptation of force and power,” the text concludes.
   This message of fulfillment by making oneself empty through service answers the spiritual poverty of our age. 

*** Trappists form the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance.
*** According to the filmmaker's press materials, 2009 November 20, "Declassification of certain French documents, after the former French Defense Attaché in Algiers affirms that the seven monks were the victims of a mistake make by the Algerian army," and not by the terrorist group." 
*** The book The Monks of Tibhirine by John W. Kiser contains Ibrahim Younessi's analysis that "Islam says you can kill only those who threaten you.You never kill women, children or religious people unless they are themselves in combat."


P B writes
   Your movie review was very intriguing (Of Gods and Men), particularly, the reference to Mel Gibson’s movie. . . . [Gibson] and his father have the most amazing vision of Christianity, which almost disregards the resurrection in favor of this horror-filled Passion, replete with thinly-veiled anti-Semitic references.  There is something almost childish in their relationship to their faith in which unfortunately I find many Catholics are stuck.  Somewhere around the fourth grade, they memorized the Baltimore Catechism and feel that would nurture them for the rest of their lives. 
   Catholics like to brush off their Latin for the season so, “Resurrexit sicut dixit!”  He has risen as he said he would or something like that.  Not sure about Episcopalians!

Vern responds
   I agree with you about Mel's approach to Christianity. I got more mail from the column I wrote about "The Passion of the Christ" than anything I've ever written.
   One of my favorite Episcopalians favors the Latin, but the chancel window (photo attached) at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral uses -- you guessed it -- English. But I do like the way the word "risen" is placed above the others!
   Thanks for reading my column and for writing!

E M writes 
   Your column in the KC Star is one of my favorites and I've been a faithful reader of yours for years.
   I am increasingly distressed with negative, divisive comments regarding Sharia law and am asking you to explain it more fully.  I'm searching for specifics. Are there readings you could suggest as reference material? What does Sharia law command of the Muslim people?  How do you interpret what it means in terms of "threatening" the American way of life?
   Thank you for your time and the light you are able to shine on this topic. 

Vern responds
   Thank you for your kind words. I am proud to have you as a reader!
  I want at some point to do a column on Sharia. I've sketched some thoughts at
http://www.cres.org/star/star2010.htm#sharia (left-hand column)
and I've included several articles below my own summary which come at the question from different perspectives.
   If you have any difficulty accessing this material, write me again, please.
   I hope this is useful. Please let me know.
   Again, thank you for reading my column faithfully!

A L writes 
   I read your column and just had to go see the movie....invited my friend, Pat, also!  It was powerful...
   I also asked a women's group that I belong to to see it and we are going to talk about it at our next session, so I need your help!  First of all, I didn't quite understand the letter that was written in the movie
...who wrote it and to whom was it sent......we also couldn't tell which other monk had stayed behind with the elderly one who hid under the bed?
   WHat kinds of questions or thoughts would you suggest for me to give the women ahead of time so our sharing can be RICH and MEANINGFUL for us....
   HOpe EASter is cracking open with lots of ALLELUIAS of different colors, textures and meanings for you!
   much peace,.... I continue to read your column faithfully.....thank you always for the challenge and wisdom and knowing that you share.......

Vern responds
   . . . .
  I need to see the movie again before trying to answer your question about the letter. As I remember, a letter was sent to urge someone to leave the country but the person didn't have a photo required for obtaining a passport. Or was there another letter, later in the movie?
   I attach the presskit which has some interesting material you may wish to share. The questions below may generate others. These are off the top of my head, and it's been several weeks since I previewed the movie.
   1. What scene sticks most in your mind? What was the most threatening scene for you? What was the most inspirational? What did you not understand or found confusing? 
   2. Did Christian do the right thing in refusing to help the terrorists when they arrived on Christmas Eve? Should he have acted without consulting the other monks?  How did his leadership change during the movie?
   2. Have you ever been in a situation where you or something you valued greatly was threatened and you were uncertain about what to decide how to respond to the situation?/ If you had been the monks, how would you have voted? -- to stay or leave?
   3. What was appealing to you about monastic life?  the service, being close to the ground, the daily offices, the people's love of the monks?
  4. What does the movie say about how Christians and Muslims, when left unmolested by oppressive governments and violent opposition groups, can live together?
  5. According to a recent report, as I understand it, the monks were killed by mistake by the government, not the terrorists. Does that make a difference in considering this movie based on history made before this fact came out?
   6. How would you have responded to the young girl who asked, "Have you ever been in love?" 
   7. The column quotes most of a passage read during a meal about powerlessness for Christians. Do you think this message accurately expresses Christian / religious insights?  Why is such an approach so unusual in our secular culture?  How does one respond to a culture where human relationships are often based on power and the economic and political system is also based on power, exploitation, deception, and greed?
‘Of Gods and Men’: Humanity amid the horror | 3½ stars
The Kansas City Star
   Lambert Wilson plays Brother Christian, abbot of a small Trappist monastery in wartorn Algeria.
  Durng the 1996 Algerian civil war, Islamic rebels kidnapped several Trappist monks and beheaded them.
   You might expect the film based on the incident, “Of Gods and Men,” to be the tremendously dramatic story of pious men bravely facing death in the name of their religion.
   And it is. Sort of.
   But filmmaker Xavier Beauvois is far less interested in the monks’ deaths than in their lives.
   The bulk of this sublimely beautiful work simply depicts the brothers going about their daily chores. They garden, prepare meals, harvest honey and sell it at a local bazaar. Several times each day they gather in the chapel of their modest monastery for prayer and chanting.
   Most important, they serve others, providing desperately needed medical services to the impoverished villagers who share their wooded mountain.
   The film is less melodramatic than observational — it reminds of the superb documentary “Into Great Silence.” It’s an attempt to capture the essence of monasticism: self-sacrifice, introspection, obedience and achingly lovely moments of quiet brotherhood.
   The film’s only onscreen violence comes early when armed jihadists show up at a construction site manned by a Croatian crew and methodically slash the guest workers’ throats.
   News of the atrocity quickly reaches the Trappists — Frenchmen who realize their tenuous position in this former French colony. These noncombatants are caught in the middle, beholden to neither the secular government nor the Islamic rebels. In fact, both sides see the European holy men as interlopers.
  Over meals the brothers discuss their situation. Some say that they never signed on for martyrdom, that they’re thinking of going back to France. Others are resigned to whatever fate awaits them; they won’t abandon the people who depend upon them or the faith that sustains them.
   When a rebel leader demands that the monastery’s doctor treat a wounded comrade, the brothers face a conundrum. By providing medical care, they may be defying the will of the Algerian government, but are they also fulfilling the will of God?
   Two characters stand out. The head monk, Christian (Lambert Wilson), is a quiet middle-aged man who leads by example. He stays up late studying the Qur’an, not because he hopes to convert the locals but because he wants to better understand the people he has vowed to serve.
   The aged Luc (Michael Lonsdale), the monastery’s physician, daily treats dozens of patients. He doesn’t seem all that God-fearing. Luc might even be an old humanist — he can be grumpy toward his fellow monks and at one point lets fly with a string of profanities. But he has endless patience with the women and children who inundate his clinic.
   While the film gravitates around these two individuals, it’s obvious that extreme care has been taken in casting all the roles. Fear, resignation, amusement, concern — these haunting faces don’t need much dialogue to definitively nail their characters.
   There is terror in this film, certainly. But what you’ll remember about “Of Gods and Men” is its joyful depiction of brotherhood. Dying in such company might not be so bad.

A L writes again 
   My Spiritual Sisterhood had a wonderful morning with "Of Gods and Men"...thank you for all of your input.....Now I have suggested that we do the same with the film I AM...I saw it and was so moved!
   So now I am once again seeking any kind of reflection that you might help us with...in particular there were so many quotes used....Rumi, Emerson, etc.....and I was wondering if you have seen anything written about this film that would include any of this kind of input...it was dark in the theater and there was no way to write anything...plus...I was so immersed and just trying to keep up with the next thought that was coming......The SUN is SHINING today.....


   Father Robert Barron (of You Tube fame) suggests with the scriptural title (check your old testament) the message is a warning to 'false gods' and the evil done in their name. Take that however you like. Contrasted with the freedom of complete trust in Jesus Christ in the face of said false gods.
   Perhaps a re-viewing is in order as this art might even be edgier than you thought...

Vern responds
   Actually the title of the film comes from Psalm 82 (81 in the Vulgate), verses 6 and 7:
   "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince."
   I previewed the film several times before writing the column and transcribing the English text that I used from the subtitles. The film is indeed "edgy."

   I apologize Vern. My last comment was snotty and unnecessary.
   I know you are well versed in Holy Scripture... I get defensive when I feel Jesus is ignored or under-emphasized (not an indictment of you but of all of us).
   He is not an ingredient, not even a 'key' ingredient, in the formula for our lives. He IS 'the life'... Everything is an ingredient in Him." - Peter Kreeft

 Vern responds
   No apology necessary, but nonetheless of course accepted. The movie is about sacrificial love which Christians find perfectly revealed in Christ. The monks, in their human struggles, even as Christ struggled in the garden, bring their best efforts to understand and imitate divine love. They did this not by preaching but through lives of sacrificial service. A blessed Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter to you.

   Vern, you deliver mixed messages, depending on the group you speak to. At a Skeptics Meetup you defintely derided Christianity.
   Do you believe the Resurrection was a literal event, that Jesus really rose from the dead?
   Prediction...you will not give a direct answer but try to avoid answering either way.

 Vern responds
I have prepared an answer for you too long to appear in this space. Email me at the address at the end of my column and I will respond this time. Anyone else wishing to see the response can do the same. In the future, I will not respond to questions that do not relate to the column under which you write. Best wishes, Vern Barnet.

JonHarker again
   Vern, since this is Easter weekend the question DOES relate to your column.
   And, as predicted, you did not give a direct answer.

Vern responds again
   The column is about a film, not my personal approach to the question you asked. I have nonetheless prepared an answer, too long for this space. If you wish, you can easily obtain it as I indicated above. Best wishes and Happy Easter to you. 



World News

muslimnewsdigest.com/  2011 April 23

Ties boost faith friendshps

A Florida man who claims to be Christian burns a Qur’an and thereby incites Afghans claiming to be Muslim to kill uninvolved U.N. workers. Similar senseless horrors seem to equate religion with hatred and violence.
   How can the various traditions best purify themselves of such iniquity?
   One powerful answer is the development of interfaith friendships. Consider the American situation. Our laws protect every faith. And traditions originating elsewhere, including Christianity, are now part of the American story, our neighborhoods, our  workplaces. We can be a model of loving diversity for other nations.
   As a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, I learned about global interfaith activities and later traveled abroad and even made presentations at several international interfaith conferences. 
   But I became disillusioned. Although I will always esteem scholarship, the meeting of intellectuals once a year did not seem to produce much progress on the ground, where ordinary people rubbed shoulders with each other every day.
   That is why planners for the Gifts of Pluralism interfaith conference here ten years ago avoided  bringing expensive, big-name speakers to town. Instead, using local experts seems to have sparked much of the growing interfaith activities in our town. Getting to know our neighbors is far more important than hearing famous speakers untethered to our life as a community.
   Almost every week now at least one interfaith program is offered here, a remarkable change in the ten years since the community conference. 
   Some programs are one-time events. Others are extended series, like the current 10-week program Dowe Harris planned for the Shepherd’s Center at South Broadland Presbyterian Church Fridays at 11 a.m. (For information, call 816-444-1121.) 
   Harris used the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council’s Speakers Bureau to schedule local leaders in American Indian, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other faiths.
   Many of these leaders are also scholarly, speak excellent English, know not only their own particular branch or denomination but also their entire tradition, and understand the kind of questions likely to be asked about their faiths by those of the majority culture.
   For example, from the more than a dozen mosques, the Kansas City area can boast nationally-recognized Muslim leaders, scholars and writers that would be the envy of many communities our size.
   We cannot expect peace elsewhere unless we know and learn to love our neighbors here at home.


D H wrote
   I read your article every Wednesday in the KC Star newspaper, and was so surprised you mention the series of religions we are currently having at the South Broadland Presbyterian Church. I was hoping you would say something about our series in your weekly article and you did, by the way you layout your article, was so professional. By mentioning all the people that help coordinator this series, was very generous on your part. I am so grateful you gave credit to the Greater KC Interfaith Council Speakers Bureau, Shepherd Center, South Broadland Presbyterian Church, and mentioning the individual religions and my name. As you know our group (Shepherd Center) is a interfaith organization, and it has been our dream to have a series of religions for several years, and now our dream has come true.
   We  started the series on April 1st with Susan Choucroun on Judaism, and April 8th with Dr. Kara Hawkins and we had very good attendance. So I expect the remaining religious speaker's attendance will have the same responds. If the series is successful, then we will get together with Dr. Kara Hawkins (GKCIC) ,and have another 10 week series with new religions.
   Vern, I personally want to Thank You so much for your kindness in your article. --Dowe Harris, Shepherd Center Committee

P B wrote
   I just finished reading your column this morning.  It was very thought-provoking and one that generates lots of water cooler discussion-violence perpetuated under the guise of religious zealotry.  This time of the year is a particularly rich season for interfaith activities.  I attended a Seder last year and it takes a bit of courage to show up at a Jewish temple and rub shoulders with the regulars.  --PB

R W wrote
This is Fr. Richard Rohr's daily meditation from this morning. I think it addresses a lot of the issues in your column this morning. 
   Early-stage religion is more about belonging and believing than about transformation.  When belonging and believing are the primary concerns, people don’t see their need for growth, healing, or basic spiritual curiosity.  Once we let the group substitute for an inner life or our own faith journey, all we need to do is “attend.”  For several centuries, church has been more a matter of attendance at a service than an observably different lifestyle.  Membership requirements and penalties predominated, not the change-your-life message that Jesus so clearly preached.
   Membership questions lead to endless arguments about who is in and who is out, who is right and who is wrong, who is worthy of our God, and who is not.  Such distinctions appeal to our ego and its need to feel worthy and superior and to be part of a group that defines itself by exclusion.  The church ends up a gated country club, giving people a false sense of superiority.  This is why Jesus walks to those on the edges: the handicapped, the sinners, the excluded ones.
   From On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men

M O wrote
   I'm sure you're right that familiarity with members of other faiths tends to improve respect and understanding of one another's points of view, traditions, etc.  It's good that you and others like you devote so much time to facilitating those interactions. 
   Here's my (small) complaint about the article.  The rather pathetic Florida preacher and the Afghans whom he incited to kill UN workers do not just "claim" to be, respectively, Christian and Muslims -- they are members of their faiths.  Just as more than a few somewhat nasty folks belong to UU churches and fellowships, nearly all faiths are stuck with pretty much whoever signs the book.  You and I may not like it, but it's not up to us to decide for any faith who its members are.

VERN responded
   When folks tell me that Catholics are not Christian, or that so-and-so cannot be right in using the label that person applies to oneself, I often respond somewhat as you do, which is why I worded the sentence as I did, reporting, rather than judging. Perhaps you read the sentence not as a statement of fact but as an irony or reproach. It is not necessary to read it as more than a report.
   And when a bishop who excommunicates a life-long devoted nun who serves on a hospital ethics panel and decides that a fetus which is poisoning the mother must be aborted to save the mother's life as the fetus itself cannot be cured, I'm inclined to receive the witness of the nun who claims to be Catholic as worthy of respect, even if she is formally excommunicated.
   But I also respect Muslims who say when terrorists violate the Qur'an's requirements for behavior that the terrorists have exited Islam, as a way of saying: Those actions do not represent how we understand and live our faith, but rather violate it.
   I see no need for me to get into the argument you raise, as to whether the preacher or the Muslims were what they claim they were. I think it is sufficient for my point simply to report what their claims were, and you, the reader, can decide for yourself. So I reject your (small) complaint that these folks do not just claim particular identities as something that needed to be part of the column, or, if you implied this, that the wording was somehow misleading or inadequate.
   Then there are situations where "just signing the book" fails completely to indicate certain faith's understanding of their membership. Unless your mother was a Jew or you go through a rather deliberate conversion process, you are not a Jew. Period. Other faiths have various ways of deciding who is "in" and who its not. You don't go into a sanctified Mormon Temple unless you are a Mormon, and the process for deciding whether you are a Mormon is a lot more rigorous than signing some book. In an increasingly diverse global situation, these questions are sometimes controversial even within several religious groups.
   Nonetheless, this is why I generally think that in circumstances such as the column dealt with, reporting self-attribution without judgment can be appropriate.
   I hope this is helpful.
   And thank you for your kind words about my efforts in the interfaith field!

M O wrote again
   Can we now assume that your future columns will identify someone as a Jew if and only if he can prove to your satisfaction that he has a Jewish mother?  That a Roman Catholic will identified as such only after you have been convinced that she has not been excommunicated?  That Muslims can only "claim" to be Muslims until they produce evidence that they have done whatever Muslims must do to be certified as such (I have no idea what that is)?
   I will take you at your word that there was no "irony or reproach" intended in your choice of words.  But that's not how it came across to me. 

VERN responded again
  Thank you for letting me know how the way I worded the column came across to you. Different readers (even headline writers) bring their own experience, knowledge, concerns, and agenda to what they read, just as writers do to what they write. The breath of my background enables me to consider a greater range of viewpoints than some folks without similar experience, and so they will read what is designed for that wide view from the narrower perspective their experience provides. Of course I keep trying to widen my own understanding, and so I welcome communications from readers. However, I guess I'm a bit of a Postmodernist or Deconstructionist when it comes to communication theory.
   I wrote: "A Florida man who claims to be Christian burns a Qur’an and thereby incites Afghans claiming to be Muslim to kill uninvolved U.N. workers."
   If I had written, "A Florida Christian burns a Qur’an and thereby incites Afghan Muslims to kill uninvolved U.N. workers," I would have received complains from at least Christians and Muslims telling me I had no right to identify those people with the religious cited because they were violating the very principles of their faiths.
   If I had written, "A Florida man disowned by many Christians burns a Qur’an and thereby incites Afghans who many Muslims denounce to kill uninvolved U.N. workers," I would have received complains from at least Christians and Muslims telling me I had no right not to accept at face value the identify those people themselves used.
   So I chose a middle path, an accurate report.
   However, people can read into the wording their own experience, knowledge, concerns, and agenda. And you have every right to do so. My columns sometimes act as Rorschach ink blots, and when I am fortunate to hear from readers, I sometimes learn about them as much as myself.
   In my previous reply, perhaps I've failed in my convoluted explanation about religious identity. It's a complicated question, and rather than wading in deeper, maybe I best let it be for now.

M O wrote a third time
   Well, here are the "facts" as I see them:  The Florida Christian minister was compelled by his beliefs to burn a single copy of a Qur'an.  This act was regarded by Afghans was sufficiently offensive to their Muslim sensibilities to justify rioting with such ferocity that several UN workers with no connection to the minister or to the act itself were killed. 
   Since I'm neither Christian nor Muslim, I don't have a dog in this fight.  But the fact of the matter is that the behavior of both the individual minister and the Afghans was motivated by their religious beliefs.  One hopes that most adherents to both Christianity and Islam are appalled by acts done in the names of their faiths; however, we both know that many Christians applauded Rev. Jones' act and many Muslims firmly believe the Afghan Muslims' behavior was completely justified and the results were celebrated.
   It's sad that the great teachings of the world's religions so often are overshadowed by the ugly behavior of their members.

VERN responded a third time
   And the point of the column was that interfaith understanding is a powerful antidote to the violence we both condemn.
   With limited space, I tried in one single sentence of 24 words, to describe this particular situation. Using your wording of two sentences of 53 words would have required removal of other text. Perhaps in your judgment this should have been done. 

M O wrote a fourth time
   I don't want to beat this thing to death.  I hope you know how much I admire your efforts to increase understanding and cooperation among people of different faiths.  That said,in my opinion it doesn't help, in the long run, to avoid candor when it comes to dealing with inevitable conflicts.  The Muslim response was disproportionate to the injury; it doesn't help to pretend otherwise.
   Keep on keepin' on!

VERN responded a fourth time
   You are correct -- of course--:  the "Muslim" response to the burning of the Qur'an was disproportionate, and obviously so even from the bare facts recited in my opening sentence. Stating something so evident is unnecessary and would gobble up my precious space in print. A book was burned; uninvolved people were killed because of it. How much more obvious could the disproportionality be? It is horrific that burning a book could lead to murder, and even more horrific that the people murdered were in no way involved with the burning (and some, at least, probably Buddhist or Hindu, not Christian). I don't know anyone defending the murders or guilty of pretending otherwise, certainly not my Muslim friends, or avoiding candor on this point. Do you? Is there anyone likely to be reading my column who would need it explained that it is not nice to murder people as a response to an act by a fool condemned in advance by officials in the US government? I assumed that one sentence for anyone with any humanity would be sufficient to "peg" my basic column theme to a significant "current event" and remind readers of the urgency for folks with different faith backgrounds getting to know each other personally. I'm sure many readers understood the implication, even with the limited space I had, that if the Florida preacher had Muslim friends, he might not have been so stupid.
  If I were writing a political column, I would have bitterly complained about Karzai's role in inflaming some of the Afghan "religious" leaders who in turn inflamed the murderers. I think the complicated political dimension of the atrocities deserves more attention than it has received.
   Thank you for your kind words about my interfaith efforts. And I appreciate having you as a reader.
   And remember, please, that you are invited to write a contrary view, a supporting statement, or a sideways amplification in the Letters section of the paper or under the column on The Star's website.


   While you are talking about Koran burnings, how about a word for the Christians being persecuted in Officially Atheistic States?
   A local atheist group, that you have spoken to, regulary posts verbal attacks and ridicule on their site, and ridicules Christians in their meetings.
   Any word to your friends there?

VERN responded
   Like most people, I condemn all religious violence regardless who the persecutor is and who the victim is. Thanks for the reminder that a few people may need to have this restated.

Joe in reply to JonHarker
   Christianity was FOUNDED on religious persecution. I'd think a little "name calling" would be a welcome reinforcement to your beliefs.
  Or do you just feel so entitled that you believe everyone should do what you want? Just like the Muslims demanding that no one burn their holy book.
  Speaking of which, I just downloaded several copies each of the Bible, the Korah, and the Torah. I then selected them all and pressed Shift-DEL.

Joe in reply to vbarnet
   "Like most people, I condemn all religions."

JonHarker in reply to Joe
   The statement that Christianity was founded on religious persecution is utterly false.
   The early Christians were routinely persecuted by the Roman Empire.


http://muslimnewsdigest.com/ for Apr 16, 2011

He knows is Roman Catholic Stuff

What is the future of the Roman Catholic Church? No one can better answer this question than John L. Allen, Jr., the prize-winning senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, senior Vatican analyst for CNN and a frequent commentator for other media. 
   He completed his masters degree at the University of Kansas in 1992. He returns Apr. 11 at 7:30 p.m. to the Kansas Union where he will discuss ten “megatrends” from his sixth book, “The Future Church.”
   He wrote me that, fresh from a trip to Ireland, he’ll “probably also have some thoughts on how Ireland is reacting to what is probably the most massive sexual abuse crisis anywhere in the Catholic world.”
   I asked him how he worked in such a way as to gain access to sometimes secretive Vatican sources while maintaining objective and fair reporting.
   “I know my reporting sometimes strikes people as favorable to the Vatican and to the bishops, but that’s honestly not my aim. (A lot) of reporting on the Catholic Church is so sloppy, and the Church itself is often so bad at PR, that any halfway balanced presentation is going to end up making them look better than they usually do,” he said.
   I wondered how his work affected his own spiritual life.
   “Most people assume that knowing how the sausage is ground is hazardous to your spiritual health, but in my case it’s had the opposite effect. I already knew there were politics and careerism and petty jealousies in the Church before I started this gig, so there weren’t too many scales to fall from my eyes.
   “The surprise has been how much more I’ve discovered. . . . I’ve seen how the Catholic faith has inspired ordinary people to do mind-blowing things, such as serving the poor and healing divisions and fighting corruption and saving souls.
   “My experience has helped me to see beyond the normal preoccupation with scandals and division and heavy-handed exercises of authority, as important and unavoidable as those stories are, to how much more there is to Catholic life.
   “In the end, that’s deepened my faith rather than causing some existential crisis,” he said.
   Allen praised his preparation in Lawrence. “The Department of Religious Studies, in my humble opinion, is one of KU’s crown jewels,” he said. His training “taught me to think sympathetically yet critically about religious realities, and it gave me the tools to frame the right questions and to know where to look for answers. Moreover, several of the professors under whom I studied have become sources for me because they’re world-class experts in their fields,” he said.
   For my full interview with him, see www.cres.org/allen.


   "When we speak of the Church we cannot ignore the fact of Christ's rejection, which never should have been. We cannot ignore the terrible means by which we came to salvation; the consequences have penetrated deep into existence. Accordingly, we have neither the Church we might have had, nor the Church we on day will have. We have the Church scarred by that most tragic of all decisions.
Nevertheless, she is and remains the mystery of the new creation, Mother constantly bearing and rebearing heavenly life. Between Christ and herself flows the mystery of love. She is his Bride. When St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians speaks of the mystery of Christian Marriage, he grounds it in the greater mystery of Christ and his Church. (The image should not be used lightly, for it is indeed a "high mystery" and renders the sacrament of human marriage only the more impenetrable.) The Church of the Holy City of the Apocalypse, blazing in an unutterable mystery of beauty and love, when suddenly transformed into a shimmering Bride, she steps down to receive the Bridegroom.
   All this exists, and with them the flaws, the abuses, the rigors. We have no choice but to accept the whole, as it is. The Church is a mystery of faith and can be experienced only in love."
   --Fr. Romano Guardini - from The Lord - 1954

Involve all faiths in public issues

I try to know folks from every faith tradition and keep up with their concerns. 
   A couple weeks ago I ran into Sheikh Aasim Baheyadeen. After exchanging personal greetings, I asked him if Al-Inshirah Islamic Center was experiencing any distress because of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee hearings about Islam in America.
   I was also concerned because some state legislatures, including Missouri’s, are considering matters that seem to arise from misunderstandings of Sharia, Islamic law.
   It is the kind of question I’ve asked folks of many faiths many times since I chaired the Jackson County Diversity Task Force following 9/11.
   Baheyadeen replied that I might be called on for help. 
   A day or so later, Imam Bilal Muhammed asked me to join him at a media conference at Community Christian Church.
   At that meeting, Muhammed began by recognizing the disasters in Japan, and then spoke to the issue:
   “Leaders in the Muslim Community feel it our obligation to protect our Muslim public living in this great land, the land we love and proudly call home, from living under a cloud of suspicion. 
   “While we share an agreement with Congressman (Peter T.) King that ‘The responsibility of this committee is to protect America from a terrorist attack,’ we register strong objection to the singling out of the Islamic American community for and in these hearings,” he said.
   Christians joining Muhammed and other Muslims with supporting remarks were the Rev. Bob Hill, host minister, and the Rev. Sam Mann of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
   Speaking from Jewish Community Relations Bureau/ American Jewish Committee was Rabbi Alan L. Cohen.
   I suppose I was included because of my work with other religious traditions as well.
   I make the point about the various faiths being represented because it is a healthy model for interfaith cooperation addressing a public issue.
   If, on the other hand, you are studying the Bhagavad Gita, it makes sense to include a Hindu among your presenters. If Christians want to experience a seder, best not try a do-it-yourself version. Ask a rabbi about what the seder means for Jews, and maybe get invited to a Jewish home.
   As it turned out, folks after the media event wanted photos of the occasion. [Outside the church the cameras were aimed.] 
   In the background was Giralda Tower on the Country Club Plaza, a scaled replica from what was once a minaret attached to a mosque in Seville, Spain — another kind of reply, a Kansas City response, to any who question the beauty of Islam.


http://muslimnewsdigest.com/ for 2011 Apr 3

Looking for spiritual authority

When a seminary professor is elevated to dean, why not celebrate with a lecture of interest not only to the particular school but to folks everywhere concerned with the future of religious leadership?
   That’s what Robert E. Johnson did when he spoke last fall on “Theological Education in an Age of Transition” as the new dean of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Other area seminaries sent faculty members to listen and respond.
   Johnson previously taught in Russia and Brazil. His book, Global Introduction to Baptist Churches, was published last year to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Baptist movement, the largest world-wide label for evangelical Protestants. He also edits The American Baptist Quarterly.
   The lecture begins some 2600 years ago, when worshipers of Yahweh, captive exiles, awoke to a strange land, Babylon, with strange rituals. Johnson traces the twists and turns of the “theological vocation of spiritual ministry” from that ancient scene of drastic change through history and into a future we are making.
   I was so impressed that I’ve placed his full text and his illustrative chart along with a follow-up interview with him at cres.org/johnson.
   In our fragmented age, where can we find the spiritual authority to address our troubles?
   In the interview, Johnson suggests that no longer can we depend upon a resident “theological expert” to guide us. While he frankly addressed theological stagnation and dissolution, his lecture finds a path forward.
   That path is itself a process. He says, “The student cannot be given a definitive theology, but can be assisted with the tools for the process of a lifetime of theological exploration and development.
   “The student cannot be given the definitive model for devising the successful church, but can be assisted with the tools for understanding the faith community in context, and growing in leadership skills that evolve over a lifetime of ministry,” he says.
   Johnson is intrigued by the concept of a global village. He believes “Diversity has the power to generate new community. . . in new, better and healthier ways.”
   Nowadays, “We can no longer think only in nationalistic terms, or even in regional terms. In every instance the local and national has to be interpreted in relation to the global. Consequently, theological education . . . must pursue its tasks in light of the whole of humanity.
   “Truth cannot reside complete in my group, my church, my denomination, my country, my race, nor in any one group, church, denomination, country or race,” Johnson says.
   If God is Lord of all, how could it be otherwise?


J E writes
   As usual, I always read anything that I can get my hands on that you write.  I was particularly intrigued by your comments in today's issue of The Star about Robert E. Johnson.   As you know, the Baptists, particularly Southern Baptists, have been characterized by their devotion to The Bible and it presumed inerrency. 
   In my later years I have really enjoyed the thoughts of theologians like Bishop Spong and Bart Erman who point out very persuasively that "The Bible" is a very human book and was not created by God as divine revelation.  I just wonder how Reverend Johnson proposes to share these kinds of empirical facts to his faithful Baptist members?  I am not being critical or cynical; just honestly curious.  It just seems to me that Christianity will never reach its moral potential until it comes to grips with an honest understanding of its origins.

VERN responds
   Thanks for continuing your generosity about my columns. You might be especially interested in Johnson's answer to my "interview" question #3 at http://www.cres.org/johnson/. I'm sure you'd also find his full lecture of interest http://www.cres.org/johnson/#text  -- and if you don't have time for that, do at least glance at his chart at http://www.cres.org/johnson/#chart which seems interesting and suggestive to me. I think Spong and Ehrman and Pagels and Brueggemann and Crossen many others are at last making their way into the minds and hearts of sincere and open Christians. I think Professor Johnson's work seems to create a context for both minister and congregation to explore questions about the Bible that make it far more valuable than a reinforcer of previous prejudice.

J E writes again
   You are correct in observing that, particularly as a Baptist, Johnson is trying to open the door to "more truth and light" about the Bible, etc.  I wish him every success, but I am afraid that like many others who start to speak out about theological weaknesses in their own churches, he will be sidelined, reprimanded, punished, excluded, fired, etc. such as so many others have experienced before him.  He certainly has my admiration. 

C R writes
   The Holy Bible and asking for the Holy Spirit to Guide you is all the Spiritual Authority any person needs. We need to be sure to tell prople to read from and pray for guidance only the King James version of the Bible. The Holy Spirit will teach. All other version eliminate the name "Lucifer" from Isaiah 14. While the other versions may contain some truth, they all also have errors when one compares Scripture with scripture. The devil truly tries to deceive and is helped when his name is not in Isaiah 14.
   Further, the word Baptist originated with the term Anabaptists who along with many others opposed infant baptism and still do as all should today. Biblical Baptism can occur only after one has received Jesus Christ and become born again. Romans 6: 1-9 explains this fact. In addition Baptists were never a part of the Protestant movement period. I am surprised that Helen Gray lets you publish the lie that Baptists were and are Protestants. Baptists have nothing to do with Protestants and were even in the Dark Ages persecuted and murderted by Protestants and Catholics. You and Robert E. Johnson need to study church history. You all need to understand Matthew 13: 33. The three mearusres of meal in that parable are the Protestants, the Roman Catholics and the Greek and Eastern Orthdox churches.

VERN responds
   Thank you for reading my column and taking the trouble to write me about it.
   Here are my responses to your thoughts.
   I prefer the best original Hebrew and Greek texts to the English translation done in the name of King James.
   By the way, did you know some scholars think that the king was a flaming homosexual? He often said, "Christ had his John, and I have my George." The George was George Villars, Earl of Buckingham. Their bed chambers had a secret passageway connecting them. Other scholars deny any sexual relationship, but the King was also associated with Esme Stewart and Robert Carr romantically.
   The name "Lucifer" is not Hebrew but rather Latin in origin. The Hebrew text echoes material in Canaanite myths, specifically the myth of Helal, the Day Star, son of Shahar or Dawn, mentioned in Ugaritic texts. The point is that Dawn cannot compete with the Sun, which is a way of saying that the defeated lesser light will be cast into the Pit of Sheol.
   Most scholars consider Baptists to be Protestant. A  very few Baptists do not, just as some Protestants do not consider Catholics to be Christian. These views are highly prejudicial and deviant. I have scores of books by Baptists and other church historians and they overwhelmingly consider Baptists as Protestants. Baptists certainly are not Catholic, either Roman or Orthodox. The Anabaptists were in fact on the left wing of the Protestant Reformation. There were no Baptists in the sense in which the term is commonly used during the "Dark Ages"; the Anabaptists originated in the Modern Era, though some like the Hussites and Waldensians prefigured the Anabaptists in some of their beliefs. The origin of Baptists is complicated by time and county. Some claim that Baptists have existed since the Early Church, but most scholars find this view misleading.
  I would suggest you read Robert Johnson's full lecture at cres.org/johnsonbefore further comment; and even better, read his book. If you'd like to write me again, please do so after reading this material and studying your Bible carefully. Thank you.
   Again, I appreciate your responding to my column with your thoughts and I hope my reply merits your consideration.


   Of course, the keep point is that he beleives "God is Lord of all".
   Atheists who try to subvert that can only bring ruin, as shown by the fact that every atheist government becomes a totalitarian dictatorship that murders believers of all kinds, and tends toward self destruction.



KC's Interfaith image examined

What do Kansas City mayoral candidates Mike Burke and Sly James think about the interfaith reputation Kansas City has gained throughout the country?
   That reputation began to build when, in 2002, CBS-TV devoted a half-hour special to how the metro area responded to the 9/11 attacks. It grew with an article that year in the National Catholic Reporter.
   In 2005 the Rockefeller Foundation funded the development of Kansas City Interfaith Council into an independent, stand-alone organization.
   In 2007 Harvard University’s Pluralism Project and Religions for Peace-USA at the United Nations Plaza selected the metro as the site for the nation’s first “interfaith academies” for an international assembly of scholars.
  A Harvard researcher said, “we consider Kansas City to be truly at the forefront of interfaith relations.”
   With leadership from Kansas City, a multi-faith spiritual rehabilitation program at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, KS, has been cited as the model for other such programs of the federal government. 
   In 2009, the North American Interfaith Network convened here for its annual conference.
   In the current issue of Unity Magazine, distributed nation-wide, at its editor’s request, I told stories illustrating why Kansas City has become a model for interfaith relationships.
   What role does a mayor play in the social concord of such interfaith developments?
   Mayor Kay Barnes appeared on the CBS special and supported interfaith activities in many ways. An exemplar, she declined to attend the Mayors Prayer Breakfast the year after sectarian remarks came from the platform. She insisted on reforms to assure respect for all faiths.
   I asked the two current candidates for their thoughts.
   Burke said, “One of my joys in campaigning for mayor has been attending worship services of all different types, meeting people of the Muslim faith, attending African American services. This has really impressed upon me what wonderful faith communities we have in Kansas City.” 
   He cited area seminaries and world headquarters as part of “our rich heritage” and says Kansas City is a “great location” for religious meetings.
   James said, “I believe our diversity is part of our strength as a city.”
   James believes that “building a stronger interfaith community could be an important part of our long-term vision as a city. One thing we can do to raise our national profile . . . is to lead by example. By bringing people from diverse faith backgrounds to the table in our city, we send a message to the rest of the country that Kansas City respects all beliefs,” he said.


A. [of Sly James campaign]
   Vern, Thank you for passing this along. It's a nice piece.
   Hopefully we'll see you on Tuesday!

Mike Burke
   Thank you for the link, Vern, and for this wonderful column.
   I truly appreciate your time.


Muslim News Digest for 2011 Mar 20


IKC wrote
   Saw your piece on this. Any word on his position how to interfaith with non believers?

VERN responded
  My position is set forth at cres.org/pubs/Freethinkers.htm
   I do not know how Sly James would respond specifically.
   Here is his complete response to my questions:
  What would you do as mayor to assure and promote the safety of, and respect for, people of all faiths?
   As mayor, my job will be to work on behalf of everyone in Kansas City, and that includes people of all faiths.  I believe our diversity is part of our strength as a city.  As I have throughout my career and this campaign, when I’m mayor I will seek the input and counsel of diverse individuals, representing different backgrounds, ethnicities, and faiths.
  What might you do to raise the profile of Kansas City as a national leader in interfaith activities within our own community?
   Kansas City is fortunate to be home to many diverse communities of faith, and I believe that building a stronger interfaith community could be an important part of our long-term vision as a city.  One thing we can do to raise our national profile in that respect is to lead by example.  By bringing people from diverse faith backgrounds to the table in our city, we send a message to the rest of the country that Kansas City respects all beliefs.
   Furthermore, by working together to propel our city forward we can have a positive impact on our efforts to improve our schools, make our streets safer, create a more vibrant local economy, and make sure our city government is accountable to the people.

Spiritual lessons from YouTube

How about a class on spirituality based not on the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita or the Qur’an or Buddhist sutras but rather on YouTube videos?
   I recently visited such a class, called Attention Deficit Dharma, at the invitation of high school theater teacher and musician Victor Dougherty. It is one of the offerings of the American Buddhist Center, housed at St. Garabed Armenian Church in Westport. The class meets about twice a month.
   The first video of the evening lasted less than three minutes, beginning with a quotation attributed to Norman Vincent Peale: “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”
   The video was a humorous animation of a samurai trying to meditate with a fly buzzing around his face. I remember such a situation when some years ago I was studying meditation at Mount Hiei, Japan, so I was fascinated to hear class members share their own struggles with their meditation practices. 
   Many thought the fly was an apt metaphor for a troublesome thought that will not leave you. One person summarized the lesson this way: “What we resist persists.”
   The class of 16 that night included a grandfather and his grandson. We sat around a circular rug with a TV monitor showing the videos from a computer.
   Dougherty encourages the participants to pause the video clip “if something within it peaks their curiosity, tugs on a heart string or has any kind of an emotional charge.”
   He says folks learn from each other, stimulated by the clips.
   Dougherty told me, “I originally was searching for footage of some of my favorite teachers, Eckart Tolle, Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, Gangaji, Jon Kabat-Zinn — but what I found was so much more! For evidence of a global shift in consciousness you have no farther to look than YouTube.”
   He wanted to share the videos and also learn from what others thought about them, so he developed the class.
   “Some of the videos are funny, some sad and some leave you going “huh?” — but all provide good discussions for people opening up to their own higher consciousness,” he said.
    The last video, only 42 seconds long, showed one monk proudly levitating himself above another, and then a third monk higher than either of the first two.  When the video disclosed itself as a commercial for a product to energize the body and mind, the foolishness of the spiritual competition was clear.
   “Well, at times we do try to show our spiritual superiority,” someone said. Everyone had a good laugh.
      I’ve placed links to the videos I saw that night with other information at cres.org/attention or call 816.210.3378. Tonight’s class runs 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.


   If you want the Truth then check out Father Barron's You Tube posts. It might also be under 'Word on Fire'.



Hindi dedication may be a first

I’ve visited the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Shawnee many times since the 1985 bhumi puja (groundbreaking ceremony), but the rite I witnessed Feb. 12 was different. In fact, participants from the Kansas City Bengali Association wondered if the event were unprecedented.
   A statue created by an artist with a Christian heritage was venerated in an annual Hindu festival with Hindu priests accepting it and honoring the non-Hindu artist as well. No one knew of any other such interfaith collaboration.
   The Bengali Assocation’s Bhaswati Ray said, “I see this event as a bridge to open up our minds and to greet people from other cultures.”
   The statue portrays Saraswati, the goddess of learning, the sciences and the arts. Westerners might find partial parallels by thinking of Luke, patron saint of artists, physicians and students, or the Greek muses from which our word museum derives.
   During the elaborate ceremony with chants and food offerings, I noticed a small boy holding a student’s slate with both English and Devanagari (Sanskrit) characters, fitting for Saraswati as a role model for education.
   As a graduate student, the artist, Laura Harris-Gascogne, had gone “temple-hopping” around India. She now teaches at Johnson County Community College. 
   The artist followed a tradition in presenting Saraswati with four arms. One hand holds mala (beads or lotus seeds, like a rosary), another a book. The other two hands play the vina, a kind of lute. At her feet is a swan, said to be able to separate milk from water, a metaphor for Saraswati’s ability to discriminate the eternal from the transient.
   Of course the four arms do not mean Hindus are anatomically ignorant. This is, after all, an image of divinity, and all images are inadequate.
   Yet through the consecration ritual the deity can be awakened within the image as we ourselves are awakened.
   Westerners might compare the transformation from statue to goddess with rituals like weddings where the performance of certain words and actions creates a new reality, a marriage from two single people.
   Harris-Gascogne told me that in India she “found the figurative forms to be the most curious and auspicious elements of the temples, . . . how the yogic forms often appeared anatomically impossible, yet how they flowed seamlessly in stone as if alive and moving.”
   She also said that she tries to capture “a universal spirituality” that starts with “the beauty of the human form, . . . spiritual in and of itself.” 
   While the provenance of this Saraswati is unique, discerning the divine through human actions is a universal theme.

CRES WEBSITE ONLY NOTES:  Saraswati images with two hands can be found in Bengal, but four arms are more common in Southern India.
   In Bengal, one practice involves creating images from unfired clay and, following the annual festival, allowing them to dissolve in a sacred river. Some have suggested this demonstrates the goddess returning to her source -- the source of all things. Others suggest this means that Hindus understand that the physical object is not the final manifestation of divinity, and its destruction is a refusal of "idolatry" in the Western sense of that term.
  "Saraswati" derives from saras, flow and wati, woman -- thus connoting the flow of alluring knowledge like a river, so important in India as the source of life. Now an invisible river, the Saraswati joins the Ganga and the Yamuna at Prayag (Allahabad) where, at their confluence, Triveni Sangam, with the invitation of Pandurang Athavale, I had the pleasure of addressing 500,000 folks at the Tirthraj Milan, following the Kumbh Mela, in 1986.


A pleasure to meet you Saturday Congratulations on Saraswati!
   Thank you... It was a real amazing experience and a pleasure to meet you there.
   . . . I also enjoyed looking at your website, www.lauragascogne.com/. I could see your affection for Indian forms, shapes, and twists, and even decoration. (Did you go to Khajuraho?) 
  I did visit Khajuraho...via a 6 hour bus ride from Jhansi...I recall it being the hottest part of my time in India, but worth it completely.
   1. When you visited India during graduate school, what intrigued you about the contortive and mystical qualities of figurative Hindu temple sculptures?
   I found the figurative forms to be the most curious and auspicious elements of the temples, and also how much they varied from the central part of the country in the state Madya Pradesh down to the Dravidian South, in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. What I found to be most intriguing was not only how the yogic forms often appeared anatomically impossible, yet how they flowed seamlessly in stone as if alive and moving. While "temple-hopping", throughout India, I  remember thinking how I might go about creating forms in clay that were inspired by this concept of precariously balanced forms, and yet  have them possess a quality of weightlessness at the same time. For me, it's almost impossible to deny feeling  a spiritual presence when a heavy material such as stone or clay has been transformed into figurative piece in such a way, and that quality is what I most admired and wanted to metaphorically portray in my work.
  2. When you were given the chance to create a murti for the Bengali Assn, how did you decide on Saraswati?
   Bhaswati Ray, a member of the Association, came to the JCCC Art department in mid December 2010 seeking help in the making of a sculpture of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of Art and Learning. When Bhaswati and I became acquainted, I informed her of my travels to India and my interest in Indian temple sculpture. Once  I learned that she was from the east Indian state of Bengal, I remembered reading in Stephen Huyler's Gifts of Earth how the ceremonial murtis (icons) there were made on a large scale from unfired clay and straw dug from the Gangetic plain, and then allowed to dissolve in a sacred rivers such as the Ganges following the ceremony. Since it was too expensive and difficult to ship a clay murti in time, I told Bhaswati right away that I would make the piece since I was comfortable handbuilding figure sculptures. Both Bhaswati and I found it to be an amazing consequence that I had recently begun to develop connections in Bengal  a year or two earlier with the intent of studying folk terracotta sculptures there at some point.
   Bhaswati did not inform me that the piece was for Saraswati Puja, or the Holy day of Saraswati. She only told me that it was for the Bengali Community Center, that she needed the sculpture to be at least two feet in height, that it was fine to fire the piece, and that I had about a month to get it finished. It was only after the piece was built and fired that I learned the what the purpose of the sculpture was to be.
  3. From the advance notices, I understand you are Christian. If you are comfortable  answering, how is your own spiritual life enriched by acquaintance with Hinduism? The Bengali Assn considers it a singularly important act, perhaps unprecedented, of interfaith comity for a Christian to create a Hindu sculpture. In what ways does your work express or model the affection folks of different faiths can have for each other's traditions and expressions? Do you consider it an honor to have been asked to perform this service for the Bengali community here?
   It is correct that my childhood had Christian (Anglican-Episcopalian) roots, but I do not practise or subscribe to any organized religion. My stepfather of 20 years was English, and had done medical charity work on a Fulbright in Burma for a year, during which time he formally became a Buddhist. I was reared believing that Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion, and this was reinforced by the fact that my stepfather continued to practice Anglican Christianity. His interest and practise of Buddhist philosophy and meditation led to my own curiosity of Asian art and culture. So I guess that was the seed that started my lifelong interest in Asian, namely Indian sculpture, where, ironically, Buddhism had its origins.
   I traveled most of my childhood, which became rather eccentric after my mothers fifth marriage to my stepfather, a retired medical professor from England. I was twelve when we expunged everything we owned to live on a sailboat. The travels I partook in transformed me from a low-income non-cultured kid from Cobb County, Georgia into a curious explorer. So by the time I got into graduate school, going to India alone to visit temples was not too daunting. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the closeness to the culture I experienced living on $10 a day for two months there, traveling on crowded buses, trains and rickshaws. I stayed in everything from Buddhist monasteries in Sanchi to Dravidian Hindu-Shaivite hostels. Despite all this, I felt an affinity with the Indian people like I had nowhere else. Despite all the physical discomforts, I felt very comfortable with the culture. I guess my love of the Indian people and the art and culture of India is what made the Saraswati project for the Hindu Association an easy decision for me, and yet a very big honor and extremely humbling at the same time. The Puja was so beautiful and touching, and I could not help but feel a spiritual aura and connection during the ceremony. I developed a real friendship and connection with Bhaswati Ray throughout this whole process and her friendship and connection to the beautiful Bengali community in Kansas City has been so invaluable. I treasure it very much and always will.
   In my own figurative sculpture, I try to capture, for lack of better words, a universal spirituality without the confines of religion. I've tried tinkering with religion in my work, and it always seems to come out trite and dishonest. I guess it starts with the idea that the the beauty of the human form is spiritual in and of itself, and through appropriating the memories from my travels and life experiences, I am left with a lot of room for many possibilities in my work.

New Ideas on God, really

If you think the Bible is not just a book of stories about the past but also offers guidance for the present and future, you will want to hear Walter Brueggemann when he speaks at the Village Presbyterian Church Friday evening and Saturday morning.
   Brueggemann, professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, author of 60 books hundreds of articles and featured on PBS, has been called “the world’s leading interpreter of the Old Testament.”
   Brueggemann’s theme here is “The Church Where God Has Now Put Us.”
   I asked him how he explains a new method of studying the Bible, “rhetorical criticism” which finds historical and other forms of analysis inadequate to the full theological possibilities of Biblical texts. 
   He said it “watches for how words are placed and function in a text, assuming that the whole of the text is an artistic offer that evokes fresh imaginative possibilities. Attention is given to parallels, repetitions, disjunctive turns, the name of God, etc.”
   For example, a historian might say that the temple-centered society of ancient Judah was terminated by Babylonian captivity, but Brueggemann’s method makes it possible to say it was upset by God, even as he notes ways in which the text shows God had resisted kingship and temple worship.
   This is not a fundamentalist or literal reading of scripture, but rather an imaginative interpretation which can be instructive as we consider the contemporary situation with church, state and culture.
   When I asked Brueggemann for a perspective on today’s social issues, he said, “A top-down political economy is out of bounds for biblical faith. . . .Prophetic faith warns against arrogance and the assumption that the powerful can have life on their own terms. God, in the Bible, is closely allied with the well-being of the marginal, and any state or power that disregards that will end in big trouble. 
   “It is crucial to develop a capacity for self-criticism, and that capacity remains underdeveloped for most of us when we have wealth and power,” he said.
   In his reading of the Bible,  “the earth belongs to God, not to any of us. It must therefore be honored, respected and cared for. And the economy must be organized to protect the earth.”
   When I wrote Brueggemann, I asked him what he’d like my readers to know about him. He responded, “I grew up in Blackburn, just outside Marshall, Missouri, an hour from KC. That is still the ‘home of my heart’ and I am glad to be ‘back home’ again.”
   For information visit villagepres.org and click on “Visiting Scholar” or call 913-262-4200.


   1. You have been associated with "rhetorical criticism." How would you explain this method to my readers?
   Rhetorical criticism is a study that watches for how words are placed and function in a text, assuming that the whole of the text is an artistic offer that evokes fresh imaginative possibilities. Attention is given to parallels, repetitions, disjunctive turns, the name of God, etc.
    2. How important are interfaith relations to the future of the church? How should they be pursued and with what attitude? How important are they? (I'm asking specifically about interfaith rather than ecumenical relations, but feel free to comment on that as well if you wish.)
   Clearly interfaith interaction is crucial for the future. It is imperative that we seek to understand and communicate and learn from each other, and give up the idea that any one of us has a monopoly on the truth of faith.
   3. What models of the church may be most appropriate for our situation today in dealing with political and economic issues such as universal health care as we build toward the city of God? What are the Biblical, historical, and/or theological resources for such considerations? Is there a Biblical basis for democracy as a form of government?
   Biblical faith does not endorse any form of political organization. But it surely believes that the marginal and weak must have a voice in order to maintain dignity, respect and security. A top-down political economy is out of bounds for biblical faith.
   4. What wisdom from the scriptures and theology can inform foreign policy issues such as our support for Israel and our relation to oppressed, exploited, and threatened peoples around the globe? How do those of us in the church learn to see ourselves better when others accuse us of creating, supporting, or ignoring conditions which violate human dignity?
   Prophetic faith warns against arrogance and the assumption that the powerful can have life on their own terms.  God, in the Bible, is closely allied with the well-being of the marginal, and any state or power that disregards that will end in big trouble.  It is crucial to develop a capacity for self-criticism, and that capacity remains underdeveloped for most of us when we have wealth and power.
    5. What is the role of the church in guiding our relationship with the land, the earth as God's creation?
   Biblical faith is very strong in the conviction that the earth belongs to God, not to any of us. It must therefore be honored, respected, and cared for. And the economy must be organized to protect the earth. War is one of the great devastators of the earth.
   What would you like my readers to know about yourself and/or your forthcoming presentations here?
 I grew up in Blackburn, just outside Marshall, Missouri, an hour from KC. That is still the "home of my heart" and I am glad to be "back home" again.


   “Prophetic faith warns against arrogance and the assumption that the powerful can have life on their own terms. God, in the Bible, is closely allied with the well-being of the marginal, and any state or power that disregards that will end in big trouble.” That’s not a new idea. Jesus said basically the same thing 2000 years ago, only much more succinctly: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Zoning issue smacks of bigotry

A Laotian Buddhist group wants to purchase property in Johnson County, but some neighbors object. Is this just a typical zoning issue or a case of subtle religious bigotry?
   The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, representing virtually all faiths in the metro area, explored this question in a statement [left column] last week. In part, the council said: “Our community is threatened when any faith is misrepresented. . . .
   “We also understand that two plans for the use of the property have been approved by the professional staff of the county, that all similar plans and purchases in similar neighborhoods have always been approved for over a dozen Christian institutions, but that unfavorable sentiments expressed by some of the neighbors indicate that they may not be accurately informed about the Buddhist faith, appear to ignore our American tradition of religious liberty and may damage the interfaith civility the council seeks to assure for all who live in the metro area.”
   The statement concludes by urging the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners “to take whatever steps may be appropriate to assure that both proper . . . zoning requirements are met in accommodating the Buddhist group, parallel to requirements for all other faiths and that the principles of religious liberty are fully respected . . . .”
   I’ve read through relevant public documents including a transcript of the Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board’s meeting with constituents Jan. 24 — 62 pages long.
   Many of the objections about light pollution, water pressure, traffic noise, sewage, rural character, open spaces, fires, floods, wildlife, livestock and water run-off seem to have been satisfactorily addressed by the Johnson County Department of Planning, Development Codes staff.
   Other concerns—about gongs, animal sacrifice, “spirit worship” and “up to 87 days” of festivals each year—seem unusual topics for a zoning hearing and suggest a lack of knowledge of the Buddhist group, which has met in Olathe for 15 years.
   One speaker treated the Buddhist group a social club. She said, “The bible teaches that churches are not to be social clubs, but are (1) a place where Christians gather together, to learn of and worship God. (2) A place for any who are struggling and unsaved can hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
   At least eight other Buddhist groups have been practicing in the metro area, most for decades. They make excellent neighbors.
   Beyond upholding the Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty, getting to know folks of other faiths can be a gift that deepens our own spiritual life.


L wrote
It was a good article.  Sure hope this whole matter gets a positive review. Publicity like the article and now maybe more TV coverage will help.

C wrote
It was an excellent article.  The Laotian Buddhist community greatly appreciates your support.

K wrote
   Thank you for today's column. . . . . I think that the Christians who object for various reasons really need to be studying their Bibles a little more deeply and find out what Jesus really said.

C wrote
   Thanks for bringing this to mine - and the Council's attention. This is something the public should know about. . . . 
   I plan to attend and speak at the County Commissioners meeting on the 24th. . . . . Thanks for your work and diligence on this matter.

R wrote
   Thank you for your comments.  After being informed of the predominant tone of the initial Zoning Board hearing I was disgusted by the outright bigotry of people who profess to be otherwise.  If those with negative views attended just one gathering at the Rime Buddhist Center they would see for themselves the peace and openness that this particular faith offers.

F wrote
  Dear Sir:  I would like to thank you for your most excellent article on the 16th of February.  I would like to present my two cents on this matter.
   I would add that any opposition to this Temple Project, beyond legitimate zoning issues, is un-American and harms the City of Olathe and the Kansas City Area.
   First less than 30 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor Franklin Roosevelt, in an address to Congress, defined the ideological goals that the United States was fighting for.  These are the Four Freedoms.  The second is the Freedom of Worship.  The Fascists' record towards the Jews and Christian Clergy who opposed Fascist repression requires no further discussion.
   However it is important to review the religous issues of the Cold War. Perhaps the younger or uninformed do not understand that Ronald Regan did not just snap his fingers and the Soviet Union fell.  The Cold War lasted more than forty years.  This fight was against Communism.  One of the main reasons for fighting Communism was its repression of religous freedom.  For instance:
   Vladimir Lenin said religion was the opiate of the people.
   The Communist Chinese say that religion is poison.
   These two statements are examples of Communist oppression against people exercising their religious freedom.  Communism is a Godless system/government.  Communists tell their people to believe that technology and engineering will solve all of mankind's problems.  Just believe in the Government and it will make everything alright.  Are most Americans willing to accept this?  I think not.
   During the Cold War the United States fought two wars against Communism, Korea and Vietnam.  Why?  One reason was for the defense of religous freedom.  This was so important to President Eisenhower that he had the Pledge of Allegiance changed to include the clause "One Nation Under God".
   Many of the Laotians who want to build this new temple came to this Country for one simple reason.  Had they not fled Southeast Asia when the United States abandoned Vietnam the Communists would have killed them.  Why? Because many Laotians fought alongside United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War.  These Laotians were told that America was a land where all people exercised their right to worship as they thought fit.  They are now wanting to redeem part of their American Dream.
  Now some of the residents of Olathe have decided that unless the Laotians build Christian Churches they will build no churches at all.  This is bigotry against Buddhists and Buddhism straight up.  Nothing else!  This dishonors all Cold War Warriors and the American People.  When will the fire bombings and lynching's begin?
   If this is allowed to continue Olathe will find itself in the news as a city of ignorance and intolerance.  It already has in the Kansas City Star.
   Think not?  It can happen.  I lived in Indianapolis when Ryan White died. Ryan White was a hemophilic who had contracted HIV from tainted blood.  He was also a young child who attended middle school in Kokomo, IN.  Now some of the good people of Kokomo decided to reward Ryan by expelling him from school because of ignorance about how HIV/AIDS is contracted.  Because of their actions Ryan White became a national poster child for HIV/AIDS patients.  Thank God that a school district in a nearby city invited Ryan and his mother to live in their town and let Ryan attend school with their children.  Because of this city's action it proved to the country that Indiana was not a land of ignorance and bigotry.
  Want another example?  Look at Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. He and the members of his church have gotten the national attention they so desperately need.  Protesting at the funerals of American Service Men who have given the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.  Many of the people on the East and West Coasts think that the people of Kansas and the Mid-West are back woods hicks that have no education or sense.  It's a land of Dorothy and the Wizard of OZ.
   So go ahead Olathe oppose the building of the Laotian Temple and who knows you can do all of the people of Kansas City proud.  Make this part of the country a waste land for ignorance, intolerance and bigotry.

P wrote
   Again the worst instincts come out for display.
   These people ought to be considered as if they were just another Christian church looking to expand.
   Instead, they are subjected to the ignorant litmus test of "Christianity is the only way, and the only way we limited morons understand"
    Nothing that the Buddhists do in the course of their "worship" , really in the course of their being a community, is subject to a veto by folks who don't bother to understand them.
   And the very statement of disapproval goes completely contrary to what our master, Jesus, taught and practiced.
   That is the irony and the idiocy

Vern replied
   Thanks for taking the trouble to write -- and to write so forcefully.
   I was especially glad to read your statement that "These people ought to be considered as if they were just another Christian church looking to expand."
   The Constitution makes no distinction between the various faiths and guarantees equal protection.
   While some of the folks at the Jan 24 meeting possibly have legitimate zoning questions (although they seem to have been addressed by the County professional staff), it seems clear from the tone of others that there is considerable misunderstanding about the Buddhists.
   Again, your point about the example of Jesus seems very appropriate -- if I were looking for a religion and some of the folks calling themselves Christian behaved in such discourteous and ignorant ways, I would not be very drawn toward them.
   Thanks for reading my column, for taking the trouble to write me, and for your concern about this issue!

S wrote
   First let me thank you and all the others at the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council for your work. 
  I just spoke to . . . who is a member of the group that wants to build the temple.  I have been apart of the Lao community in the Kansas City area since 1975.  I know them to be outstanding members of the community.  The opposition to the temple certainly smacks of bigotry.
   My wife and I are leaving to return to Laos in a few hours.  We have been trying for over 6 years to get approval for a health improvement project. It appears that we have finally been successful.  I am sure that at least part of the opposition is because I am a foreigner and we are Christians.  I am sure that many who oppose the temple would be highly critical of the way the Lao government treats Christians.
   I do not think that my friends will want to fight if the next meeting does not go their way but if they do I might be able to generate some community support from Lao Christians and friends of Lao.  Please let me know if there is anything that I can do.
  I would like to get a copy of the transcript if it can be easily emailed to me.
  Thank you again for your efforts.

bigrig1969@hotmail.com wrote
   You are grossly misinformed. The heart of this issue is not who this is or what religion this is. This is about a fundamental change to the zoning of our neighborhood that would be the foothold to allowing commercial development in our rural area.
   Also, I would like to point out that while you said that you had read the Zoning Board minutes from the last meeting you obviously missed the point that the County Planning Department had grossy mis-stated several facts. Facts that those from the neighborhood exposed as baseless and blatant misinformation. Perhaps you should re-read the minutes and look at what the outside Planner hired by the neighborhood had to say about the proposed CUP.
  Maybe next time you should look at the issue with impartiality and without needing to cultivate an attention grabbing headline for your article.

Vern replied
  Dear Unsigned Correspondent -- Thank you for reading the column this morning and for writing. I recognize there are two sides (at least) to this issue and in no place does the column say one side is right and the other is wrong. I am reporting a controversy highlighted by the Interfaith Council. The Council itself calls on respect for zoning while also desiring to assure that the Buddhists are treated in the same manner that those of any other faith would be treated.
   As I understand the situation, the Buddhist group is not asking for Commercial zoning but rather respecting the RUR zoning classification.
  I have read and reread the documents and recognize that it is possible for different interpretations to be made of them.
   I do not write or even suggest headlines. Headlines are written by those who prepare the page, taking into account such things as ad space, story placement, typographical consistency and variety, and other matters that I have no knowledge of or control over.
   I am glad that your own opposition to the Buddhist's request has nothing to do with religious bias, and I would urge you to help those who obviously have religious concerns (such as have in fact been voiced) to become better acquainted with that faith and its practitioners.
   Again, Unsigned Correspondent, thank you for taking the trouble to write.

B wrote
Come on, Vern: The United States is filled with people who have a small brain attached to a big mouth.  Good examples are:
    people who like to tell you that poor people are poor because they are too lazy to get jobs, and
   those who will tell you that the best way to manage a child is to beat him until he respects you.
   I was at the Zoning Board meeting on January 24th, and distinctly remember several members of the above-noted group  sharing with us observations such as the "social club" dissertation, and a variety of other observations that" these Buddhist  people do not seem to be Good Christians", and will therefore be rejected by God and become unwelcome in  Olathe.
It was this same group of morons that suggested the Buddhists will bang gongs, engage in animal sacrifice, and engage in all maner of other horrid things that no self-respecting Christian would do.
   Those of us (most everyone else in the room)    who respect Buddhism as a worthy religion that is certainly equal to the other world religions  cringed when we heard those idiots trying to reject the Buddhists because they were the wrong religion.
   I was at the meeting because I am a neighbor of the site (across the street and two blocks West). I will not address the various comments regarding water pressure, sewage, water runoff, etc. because although most of the comments make sense to me, I think it best to defer to  the JoCo department of planning because they know far more about such things than do I. I also will not comment on parades and bell ringing because I have no first-hand or specific knowledge that those things will occur, or be a problem if they do.
   I do share the other's concerns about light pollution and traffic, solely because it seems to me that there is a significant possibility of them being a problem.
   In fact, the primary objection of the majority of us neighbors is that we feel it would be like plopping a Walmart down in our community.  WE  feel that a project of this size will  unavoidably bring with it unwanted noise and traffic. None of the people I have discussed it with has the slightest care about Buddhists or how they practice their religion. Our sole concern is the disruption to the community that anything (Walmart, Boy Scout Camp, Christian Mega-curch, or whatever.) will bring to the area.
   So, Vern, thanks for listening to me. I read your column regularly, and thank you for elequantly expressing your thoughts on the Buddhist church.

Vern replied
   Thanks for taking the trouble to write. I was especially glad to read in your note that many folks at the Jan 24 meeting respect Buddhism. I certainly detected some of that in reading through the transcript. I also noted the comments from [name last name, address], recognizing the great deal of emotion in the room and advancing the view that "this CUP will violate the health, safety and welfare of our community."
   That, it seems to me, is a legitimate question and the neighbors certainly can question the professional staff's report. But any anti-Buddhist rants deserve no place in such a discussion, and I think that is what the Interfaith Council was saying -- this issue should be decided on its merits, not out of prejudice. That certainly was the tack I took in the column, although folks have interpreted it various ways.
   Thanks for your generous words about my column. I'm proud to have you as a regular reader!

C wrote
   I am writing you in response to your article "Zoning issue smacks of bigotry," from February 16, 2010. As a resident of the community in which the proposed conditional use permit (CUP) is being suggested, I find your article offensive and biased, and as an attorney, I find your lack of evaluation of the applicable zoning ordinances--which is the real issue regarding this zoning matter, NOT religion--ignorant. 
    I was at the meeting in which you quoted the one--out of dozens--of residents who brought up religion. That you say my entire neighborhood is bigoted is flat out wrong and disrespectful. Had you been at the meeting, perhaps you would have learned that the neighborhood is zoned residential-rural/agricultural and many of the residents of the neighborhood still farm and/or raise livestock.  Our concerns have NOTHING to do with religion--and in fact, most of us stated this was so, yet you ignored that fact in your article.  Rather, our concerns are based upon violations to the health, safety, and welfare of our community, which the zoning regulations were promulgated to protect.   The proposed CUP violates multiple provisions of the current zoning regulations (you also brushed this aside in your article without questioning whether the planning board are experts in this area, nor did you mention the engineer that provided a report that had greatly different results than the planning board's report).  The other residents and I have legitimate concerns regarding traffic, sewage, watershed, and other issues. For example, a parking lot of the size that is being proposed will greatly increase runoff into the neighboring creek, which will greatly increase flood risk to the neighboring homes. Additionally, the large amount of traffic that is increased raises safety concerns--if you have ever lived in the country, you would know our pets are not on leashes and as we don't have sidewalks, we walk and ride our horses on the roads.  If you had really read the minutes, you would have seen that these were our concerns, not "subtle religious bigotry."  If you had delved into the history of our neighborhood you would have learned that we have successfully objected to three other conditional use permits--a juvenile halfway house, a corporate retreat, and a cell phone tower.  Please don't tell me you are going to accuse us of ageism, bias against the upper socio-economic class, or God forbid, bigotry against cell phone providers.
  Furthermore, if you would have been at the meeting you would have learned that property already has one variance in a neighborhood where variances are generally not allowed--in fact, one of my neighbors has to tear down her mother's house, the house she grew up in, because the zoning board would not issue a variance.  I understand you are not an attorney, but for the county commission to issue a CUP on top of a variance does not follow precedent and is generally not allowed.  Additionally, it is likely that putting such an large CUP in an area zoned rural-residential is spot zoning, which is illegal.
   So, basically you are accusing me, my neighbors, and the Olathe zoning board of bigotry because we don't want to violate Kansas law?  Like I mentioned before, I understand you are not an attorney.  However, you are a journalist, so please get your facts straight.

Vern responds
   While I certainly appreciate your writing about my column,. I respectfully suggest there are other ways of reading it than the interpretation you seem to be conveying. I would invite you to re-read what I actually wrote.
   1. First, I did read your testimony, included below, from the last meeting. I read the entire transcript of the Jan 24 meeting, the Nov 28 staff report, the Nov 15 minutes, and other materials.
   2. I do not write headlines: http://www.cres.org/star/guestcol.htm#headline
  3. The question seems to be whether the critical issue is zoning or religious bias. I did not side with one view or the other. Calling me ignorant does not change the fact that I did not even try to evaluate zoning ordinances; I am not competent to do that. I reported on the dispute. It is not my place to judge zoning ordinances as seem to be applicable in the area of dispute. I did report the fact that many of the use issues seem to have been addressed by the professional staff.
   4. You write me thus: "you say my entire neighborhood is bigoted." Where do you find such a statement? Again, I urge you to read what I actually wrote. Some folks, comparing my column with your statement, might wonder if you could possibly be over-reacting.  Not only did I not make the statement which you attribute to me, neither did the Interfaith Council make such a statement.
   5. Both the Council and I advocate the fair application of zoning to this particular applicant, without prejudging the situation except to say that religious bias is inappropriate. Surely you agree with that, especially if you are correct that most of the opposition has nothing to do with religious bias. The Council stated its hope that "zoning requirements are met in accommodating the Buddhist group, parallel to requirements for all other faiths and that the principles of religious liberty are fully respected." Do you find fault with this balanced statement?
  6. You ask me to get my facts straight. I have reviewed my column and your letter and I find no misstatements of fact. I have pointed out that you seem to have misstated what I actually wrote.
   7. In my opinion, even a single instance of religious bias -- and there certainly are several indications in the transcript -- deserves to be condemned and a better way envisioned. That is what my column was intended to do. It does not characterize all opposition to the application and in fact lists many reasons other than religious concerns that the neighbors raised.
   I hope this clarifies what I actually wrote and my intent, which seems consonant with yours, namely, that the application be approved or denied on the basis of legitimate concerns, and that religion is not a legitimate concern.
   I appreciate your giving me a chance to respond to your "consideration" (last word in your statement).

[NAME, address] appeared  before the zoning board and made the following comments:
  Ms. [NAME]: I just wanted to remind everybody, there’s a lot of emotional charge in this room, and everybody is speaking from their heart. I want to remind you all that everything they say, everything that we say, that our community says, is about the fact that this church does not meet
the zoning ordinances. It doesn’t. I mean, it may have to do with pollution, it may have to do with nuisance, it may have to do with view. Applicant’s counsel has brought up many other applications for CUPs, which is fine and all, but that doesn’t matter with our CUP. It doesn’t make a difference. The ordinance itself says that other CUPs can’t be used as grounds to admit or deny this one. So, what we need to remember is to take into our consideration our argument that this CUP will violate the health, safety and welfare of our community. I want  to make  sure  that gets taken into consideration.

P writes
I can understand why you might suggest this to be the case from the few details you have gleaned. 
   I hope you attend the meeting tomorrow night so that you can be fully informed as to why the neighbors are resistant.  (I for one am completely opposed--and I have a Zen Buddhist monk as a dearly beloved cousin.  To suggest that this is because of the faith is similar to saying that I disagree with you because you are a white male--utterly irrelevant!) 
   The church's attorney compared apples to oranges in his case.
   1. The rural churches he cited are on busier through streets; the Buddhists want to locate in a non-easy access area.
   2. The property being discussed is zoned as residential and agricultural; the church is circumventing law by coming in commercially under the argument "but it's a church."
   3. Those of us who chose to live in a rural, residential zone are having the very lifestyle we signed up for impinged upon by bringing in more traffic, energy usage, signage-not-under-Johnson-county-code (to name a few).  The religion itself does not matter--this location is not suitable for Baptists, Mormons, Jews, Islamists.  We don't want a Quik Trip or a gas station either.  You have completely missed the point.
   I challenge you to 1) drive by and see where this location is and 2) sit through the entire meeting tomorrow evening.  The surrounding neighbors' arguments are far more compelling than you have insinuated in the article you wrote in the Star.
   Thank you for considering looking at both sides of the issue.

Vern responds
  I've received lots of mail on this column, and I appreciate everyone, including yours. I'll do my best to respond briefly, and you can also read the other material on my website where I have posted your email as well. You ask me to visit the site. I do not have a car but I have studied the area using maps and GoogleEarth. I have read the appropriate documents.
   1. I do not write headlines. Please see http://www.cres.org/star/guestcol.htm#headline.
   2. You ask me to attend the hearing. I have a long-standing church commitment am unable to reschedule to attend the hearing which was originally set for the morning.
   3. I recognize that neighbors may have legitimate zoning/nuisance concerns. I listed some in the column, noting also that the Planning Staff seems to have found that the applicant has met the requirements. I am not qualified to making zoning judgments.
   4. It is clear from reading the transcript of the meeting and other materials that religious prejudice is a part of the opposition by some people. The column gives an example. My position is that when religious prejudice appears in public discussions, it is often appropriate to identify it as such.
   5. Neither the Interfaith Council nor I suggest either approval or denial of the application. We both say that religious prejudice should not be part of the process used in deciding this matter.
  6. You say I "completely missed the point." I wonder, if you re-read what I actually wrote, if you might discover that I have not missed the point about religious prejudice, and that I make no point about the outcome except that it should be arrived at on the merits without reference to religion. That the planning staff has one opinion and you and others have another opinion is in itself not newsworthy. It is the religious prejudice that is the issue for me.
   7. You want me to look at both sides of the issue. I am not going to do that because I am not competent to judge zoning issues, one side or the other. I have written within my area of competence and will not go outside of it. I hope the column is useful in helping the neighbors to focus exclusively on appropriate issues which can be reasonably discussed with input from the law, the zoning requirements, the professional assessment, precedent, and neighbor sentiment.
  I do appreciate your writing, and writing politely, and giving me a chance to seek to clarify my intent in writing the column, which has perhaps been misunderstood or over-interpreted.

P writes a second time --
   Thank you for your response, Mr. Barnet.
    We might have to agree to disagree, because of the following responses I've made under those you've enumerated below:
   3. The neighbors do, indeed, have legitimate zoning concerns (and I'm not even including the "nuisance" portion).  This is actually a key component of the issue with the current zoning/planning staff.  In a perfect world, we would have a perfect planning staff; in this case, we strongly believe that they are bending current laws and holding the word "church" over our collective heads.  The composition of the planning staff is flawed.
    4. If you did, in fact, read the entire meeting transcipt [which I did attend], it is NOT clear that religious prejudice is a part of the opposition......and that is where I believe that the premise of your position (and the media) is flawed.  The opposition to which you refer are words used by the temple's attorney.  He is the one who suggested this--not one person opposed to the temple intimated, said, inferred or wrote otherwise.  And this is where the dominoes began to fall.  Curtis Howard made this accusation, then his unjustified comment made the headlines, then he "won" public sentiment by virtue of speaking an untruth.  [I'm shaking my head here.]  While I do understand that when "religious prejudice appears in public discussions it is your position to identify it as such," I believe that you did not present the facts accurately.
     5.  I agree.  The neighbors agree.  Please understand that Mr. Howard has created the misperception by announcing a bold-faced lie.
     6.  I must de-bunk this point due to the fact that I believe that by incorrectly addressing #4 (above), the subsequent series of points are moot.
     7. I completely understand what you are saying......yet the transcripts do show the myriad of exceptions being given by the planning staff.  We (the neighbors) are also concerned about precedence.  If this were altering your own personal way of life, you would be singing from my hymnal.
     *  This is what is so interesting (to me) about journalism.  I shared your response with a few neighbors......none of them from the same background or intent as I........and we must all have misunderstood or over-interpreted.  This tells me that perhaps you wrote in a way that could be modified with clarity and ease of interpretation.  Perhaps what you meant to say is clear to you.  We only read bias in your words, and the bias is based on an untruth.  And that is why I thought (and still think) that you missed the point.
   Thank you so much for taking the time to respond.  I am literally praying for the JoCo Commission to make a wise decision and one based on fact.  (Considering the unprecedented amount of opposition to the vote, I would seek land elsewhere if I were the applicant!  But I'm more of a peaceful person.)

Vern responds a second time
According to the minutes transcript, this was heard at the meeting, from which I quoted in my column the material I have highlighted:

  Jeri Jackson, 11780 Moonlight Terrace, appeared before the zoning board and made the following comments:
   Ms. Jackson: Good evening. I speak for myself alone. Should the second proposal for a Buddhisttemple campus be approved? No. The proposal is for a campus that would hope to grow, by their own words. Having said that, alleged smaller size isn’t the issue. Concept is. Continuing concerns are being heard this evening,  including whether the campus  would at some point house an educational center, per the customary use of a Wat Lao facility. This CUP represents a changed use of property from residential to commercial-institutional. If only one neighbor was adversely affected, it would be too much to expect. Multiple revisions and CUP cycles of this proposal couldn’t make it better. It’s the wrong thing, wrong place, wrong time. It makes no sense. We’re on the side street of a side street, but we’re five miles from the edge of any town proper.
   I’m told that the recently paved roads had a direct impact on why we’re here this evening. Importantly, this proposal is commercial and that spiritual entities operate in some ways like businesses. Take up space and use resources like businesses. And attract businesses as time passes. The result of all this? Death of a very special rural area with all of its wide-open spaces and pleasant, relaxed way of life. Johnson County’s land use plan cites the importance of protecting the rural character of the unincorporated areas. Such protection must be purposed, or it won’t happen. There is still time.
   Folks out here should not have to spend  valuable time and money protecting the rural lifestyle they bought when they moved out here. We shouldn’t have to be looking over our shoulders, wondering what will the planners want to do to us next.
  Last but not least, reading from the plan, one’s right to worship cuts both ways. I see in the plan, in the staff report, multiple references to churches and how they benefit society, and that churches are generally considered to be integral to neighborhoods as gathering areas. Generally and historically, churches are a benefit to communities. The fact is, not all are the same. Some are harmful. The bible teaches that churches are not to be social clubs, but are (1) a place where Christians gather together, to learn of and worship God. (2) A place for any who are strugglingand unsaved can hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Is a mere social gathering place reason enough to begin turning our area into something else? It seems to me that’s what this plan says. We may as well call it a church, a mosque, a synagogue – whatever. It almost seems like the word “church” has been used conveniently to make it more palatable, when what they’re really saying is any of these, come say, come saw, they’re just gathering areas anyway, one or another. It doesn’t matter.
   So, I ask that you all reject this CUP because to approve it for gathering, for gathering’s sake, change for change’s sake, or diversity for diversity’s sake, would be irresponsible. Please reject this CUP. There are other issues.
   So I do not understand how you can say these were the words of Mr Holland.
   They are not attributed to him nor do they sound like him.
   Because this is a factual issue, you should demand that the record is corrected if you believe it is in error and that Ms Jackson did not speak the words ascribed to her.
   And if that were the only instance of prejudice I found in the transcript, I would not have written the column. I suspect the Interfaith Council would not have made its statement, either.
   It is not surprising at all to me that those to whom you showed the column shared the same perspective on it as you, especially given the headline, which I did not write. People with a shared point of view tend to interpret articles from a similar perspective, or if they guess your perspective from the manner in which material is put before them, they are naturally inclined to agree, especially with the headline.  That is true on the other side as well, as you might glean from the responses I've put on my website. I am not a schemer who tries to say you neighbors are bad people and write that in such a way as to evade responsibility for saying that.
   What I hope for, and where we agree, is that the decision should not be made on the basis of religious prejudice but rather within applicable legal protections for both the applicant and the neighbors.
   I just had a call -- as I was completing this response to your email -- from someone in the area involved with commerce. My caller asserts that she encounters religious prejudice in the area frequently. If her assessment is correct, it is important for folks like you to work with your neighbors and perhaps with the Interfaith Council to eliminate it.
   Please don't judge journalists by me. I am not a member of The Star staff. I write from home. I am a columnist, not a news reporter. I appear in the features section of the paper. Still, I want to be absolutely accurate in what I write. Since 1994, when I began the column, I have not always been perfect, but I have been meticulous in owning mistakes. For that reason I appreciate you writing me, as I want to examine any claim that I erred. You have not convinced me that anything I wrote is wrong, even if you continue to disagree, which is a right I respect.

P writes a third time --
  Actually, you don't have to respect my point of view--I STAND CORRECTED.
  I had forgotten about Jeri Jackson!  She was an EMBARRASSMENT to the neighbors--in fact, a collective sigh went out as she spoke!  I APOLOGIZE to you!!  If this passes, I hope that she understands that she did it!
   HOWEVER, Curtis Howard, in his opening remarks, bluntly stated that he believed that the prejudice was because of their faith.  Speaking as a child [insert snicker here], "he started it."
    But now I know that you'll take a call and believe the caller according to what she runs into in her business.  Vern, I want to trust your experience and passion for what you do--I really do.  Perhaps at the very core here is a style--inductive vs deductive reasoning.  I am presenting inductively; you are presenting deductively: 
  Arguments can be separated into two categories: deductive and inductive. A deductive argument is one in which it is impossible for the premises to be true but the conclusion false. Thus, the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises and inferences. In this way, it is supposed to be a definitive proof of the truth of the claim (conclusion). Here is a classic example:
     1. All men are mortal. (premise)
     2. Socrates was a man. (premise)
      3. Socrates was mortal. (conclusion)
   As you can see, if the premises are true (and they are), then it simply isn't possible for the conclusion to be false. If you have a deductive argument and you accept the truth of the premises, then you must also accept the truth of the conclusion; if you reject it, then you are rejecting logic itself.
   An inductive argument is one in which the premises are supposed to support the conclusion in such a way that if the premises are true, it is improbable that the conclusion would be false. Thus, the conclusion follows probably from the premises and inferences. Here is an example:
     1. Socrates was Greek. (premise)
      2. Most Greeks eat fish. (premise)
     3. Socrates ate fish. (conclusion) 
   In this example, even if both premises are true, it is still possible for the conclusion to be false (maybe Socrates was allergic to fish, for example). Words which tend to mark an argument as inductive — and hence probabilistic rather than necessary — include probably, likely, possibly and reasonably.
   It may seem that inductive arguments are weaker than deductive arguments because there must always remain the possibility of their arriving at false conclusions, but that is not entirely true. With deductive arguments, our conclusions are already contained, even if implicitly, in our premises. This means that we don't arrive at new information — at best, we are shown information which was obscured or unrecognized previously. Thus, the sure truth-preserving nature of deductive arguments comes at a cost.
   Inductive arguments, on the other hand, do provide us with new ideas and thus may expand our knowledge about the world in a way that is impossible for deductive arguments to achieve. Thus, while deductive arguments may be used most often with mathematics, most other fields of research make extensive use of inductive arguments. 

Vern responds a third time
 Thanks much! As a former teacher of logic (as a grad student), I appreciate the refresher course! And in exchange I attach an image of the first page from one of my most favorite books of all time [cover and first page of Chances Are . . . Adventures in Probability by Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan discussing how, until 1660, one had to reason either deductively or inductively, and afterward probability/statistics provided a third way of reasoning].

P writes a third time --
   I'm still bugged about Jeri Jackson and why she "gets to" represent the supposed neighboring views.........Does this mean that Fred Phelps represents Christians, too?

K writes
   I am the author of the Reformed Buddhist Blog, and was curious if you had a link to the Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board’s meeting with constituents Jan. 24 record? I've looked through the JoCo website for links, but was unable to find it.
    Thanks for the article and your help!

Vern responds 
   Here is the link: http://planning.jocogov.org/minutes
   Thanks for your good work!


Buddhist temple flap
   A Laotian Buddhist temple has been in a residential part of Olathe since 1997 and its officials are now trying to expand it by purchasing a 10-acre tract of land in a rural area of Olathe. The group has a 30-year plan for the land including a temple, residential buildings for monks, and a park and walking trail that are open to the public (2/16, FYI, “Zoning issue smacks of bigotry”).
   There has been an extremely vitriolic response from the rural neighbors around the proposed site. A zoning hearing last month was packed with Olathe residents protesting against the construction of this temple. There were things said like, “Will there be any animals sacrificed?” as well as sneers and heckling from the audience because of the Laotian peoples’ heavy accents.
   I implore the residents of Olathe to make your voices heard to let these people know we are Americans who do not approve of religious intolerance. This unbridled bigotry and lashing out at what we do not understand are both childish and abhorrent.
   The hearing on this matter is at 9:30 a.m. Thursday on the third floor of the county administrative building in Olathe. I encourage other religions to support these kind people.
  Eric Fitch, Independence

NOTE: Because of the expected interest, the hearing has been rescheduled to 5:30 pm.


   ignorance bred with change gives birth to fear. Hopefully ignorance is not allowed to prevail.

   Obviously, this is a shining example of Christian 'tolerance' so often championed by the fervently religious in the US. Of course, by tolerance they mean 'putting up with' others' viewpoints until such time that they cannot readily ignore it. 
  When did we become a society of idiocy? I seem to remember something about religious oppression in Europe that, in part, caused a group of people to abandon their homeland in order that they might enjoy greater individual freedom.
   Oh, and reality check here. . . I have not EVER been into a Judeo-Christian church (any of the 10,000 denominations) that was NOT treated like a social club. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that many people DO treat their church as a social club, and then proceed to conduct themselves in whatever way happens to please them once the services are over. 
   I would rather attend a Buddhist temple than a Christian church . . . and I'm not Buddhist. They're nicer people.

   Oh yeah, Baphomet, and atheists are really tolerant of Christians. Your bigotry is showing.
   But I will say this, I would rather be around Buddhists than atheists, the Buddhists are nicer people.

   As usual, you mistook most all of what I said... and I'm NOT an atheist. Nice, guess, though.
   Where's that other cheek you're supposed to give me?

Hi, I live up the road in Leavenworth, KS. I was raised a Baptist in Liberty, Mo. I loved my church and upbringing. Mostly I love my mother who LIVES her faith through loving kindness. As an adult, I was pleased at how the practices of meditation in Buddhism enriched my spiritual life. I feel a closeness with the teachings of loving kindness and compassion that are at the heart of Buddhist teachings. I did not know this about Buddhism before reading some books by the Dalai Lama. I recently became a member of the Rime Center Monastery in Kansas City after taking classes there. Having been raised a Baptist, I understand exactly where the opponents in Olathe are coming from. I heard this kind of discussion among the adults in the churches I grew up in. I was raised that only ONE religion was the right one -- and that was Baptist. (TOLERATED the Methodists and the Presbyterians, etc., but were wary of the Catholics because they had all these statues and you weren't supposed to worship statues, according to many of those in my church.) These beliefs were taught with fierce conviction and struck fear into the hearts of those who would disagree - that only those who were Christians would go to heaven. Yet, I ALSO heard every Sunday how we Christians had been persecuted and had suffered gravely at the hands of those who would not tolerate the teachings of Christianity -- jailed, even killed. This hate was a terrible tragedy that was inflicted upon Christians. Would we, after attaining the right to worship without fears, turn around and inflict the same suffering upon others? It is a moral dilemma that some are facing now. The Laotians are beautiful, peaceful people. In Leavenworth, we have many different people of so very many countries. We have residents from Thailand, Korea, Japan, and countless other countries, partly perhaps because of the luck of our neighbor Ft. Leavenworth. We are proud of our diversity. Please, Olathe Christians, I beseech you to consider, through prayer, what your position is on this situation. WWJD. Finding God has many pathways. Love, kindness, compassion to you as you work through this.


Fox-4 TV Story Link Feb 18
Buddhist Group Claims Discrimination Behind Zoning Problems

Buddhists take case to county
   The Olathe News Feb 23
   A Buddhist association will ask the Johnson County Commission on Thursday to keep alive its proposed move from Olathe to rural Johnson County.
   The commission has set aside extra time and space for a public hearing on the issue, which earlier drew dozens of comments as well as accusations of religious intolerance and unsuitable development.
   The Lao Buddhist Association of Olathe has maintained a church at 721 Spruce St., Olathe, since 1997. The association wants to move to a 14-acre plot of land west of Olathe, a zone where churches need conditional-use permits. The Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board voted unanimously to recommend denial of the permit at a meeting Jan. 24. That meeting lasted five hours and drew 160 people, 40 of whom spoke publicly, according to the county.
   On Thursday, the seven county commissioners can vote to deny the permit or — with a super-majority vote of six members — return it to the zoning board for further consideration. The board may also continue the meeting to a later date.
   The applicant on the permit request is Urban Architecture Studio and the landowners are Alfred and Jeannie Rolf.
   Curtis Holland, the attorney representing the applicants, said most of the church members are of Laotian descent and from Olathe, De Soto and surrounding communities. He said many of them do not speak English.
   Holland said the permit request faced more opposition than any case he had ever been involved with, including cases involving landfills, quarries and the Kansas Speedway.
   “I think it’s not a question of what it is, but who it is,” Holland said.
   Dean Palos, director of the Department of Planning, Development and Codes, said the zoning board’s vote was in response to criticisms made by members of the public.
   “We’re now very clearly aware that the neighbors are opposed,” Palos said.
   The department of planning has recommended that the requested permit be approved. Palos said the department had found no problems with the requested permit, which involved an addition to an existing structure but no new buildings.
   “We felt that it was a compatible use,” Palos said. He added that many churches are located throughout the unincorporated area.
   Cindee Johannsen of Olathe said she has opposed the permit.
   “Our concern is that once you’ve got development started, it’s just going to expand,” she said.
   The Lao Buddhist Association has withdrawn an earlier permit request, submitted in November, which described future plans to build new structures.
   Palos and Holland both said the new permit was reduced in scope and involved no new structures on the property.

Public hearing 
   The County Commission meeting has been moved from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday. It will be in the commission’s hearing room on the third floor of the Johnson County Administration Building, 111 S. Cherry St., Olathe. Public comments will be limited to three minutes for individuals and 30 minutes for the attorneys. The board of commissioners has asked citizens attending the meeting to use the east entrance on Cherry Street.
The county will provide additional seating in the hearing room, as well as television and audio transmission of the meeting to Room 200 on the administration building’s lower level. The meeting will be broadcast on the Internet at www.jocogov.org.

Johnson County vote gives Buddhist temple proposal another chance
Special to The Star Feb 24
   A vote tonight by the Johnson County Commission kept alive a proposal by a local Buddhist association to move its temple from Olathe to a rural location nearby.
   Before an overflow crowd, the commission voted 6-1 to send the proposal back to a county zoning board, which earlier had rejected the request.
   Residents crowded into two meeting rooms and lined the hallways outside the meeting room doors tonight. More than 25 residents spoke against allowing the Lao Buddhist Association to purchase and occupy 14 acres at 29500 W. 119th Street, which is west of Olathe in an area where churches need a conditional use permit.
   A handful of people spoke in favor of approving the permit.
   The request, made on behalf of Urban Architecture Studio and landowners Alfred and Jeannie Rolf, came before the commissioners after the permit was denied Jan. 24 by the Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board. That meeting lasted five hours and drew 160 people, 40 of whom spoke publicly, according to the county.
   Dean Palos, director of the department of planning, development and codes, said tonight’s request was a scaled-down version of what was originally proposed. The plan no longer includes a future 9.600-square-foot worship space, a separate Buddha temple or a ceremonial gateway, among other smaller elements.
   Palos said staff is recommending approval of the request.
   “We felt it met infrastructure requirements as well as we felt it was compatible with the area,” he said. “We know many disagree with us, especially on the second point.”
   The commissioners had the options of denying the request, continuing discussion to another day or returning the request to the zoning board with a summary of items that need to be reconsidered.
   Curtis Holland, the attorney representing the applicants, said the permit request has faced more opposition than any case he has worked on.
   “This case has generated a lot more interest than most church applications, I’m sure you agree,” he told commissioners. “... This is nothing more than an application for a small church. “
   Holland noted that neighbors of the association’s current location have spoken favorably of them.


Johnson County, Kansas - The Nasty Side of Entitled Community Ownership

Johnson County, Laotian Buddhists and White Privilege

Human love can be divine

Valentine’s Day usually means romantic love, but sometimes even erotic love can be interpreted as a spiritual consummation. 
   Jews have often seen the Song of Songs as the love God has for Israel. Christians, who may know the scripture as the Song of Solomon, have often understood its sensual poetry as the love of Christ for his church. 
   Many Hindus celebrate the passion between the god Krishna and his consort Radha. Krishna may enchant the world, but Radha enchants Krishna. United as one being, Krishna-Radha evokes the human fervor for the divine.
   We sometimes speak of marriage partners as one flesh, and one may introduce one’s spouse as “my better half.”
   This metaphorical unity between partners is expanded in the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Lev. 19:18 and Matt. 22:39) and suggests a level of commitment few of us can summon. Yet in extraordinary moments and circumstances, sometimes people will give even their own lives for another or for a cause larger than themselves.
   Mystics of many faiths report experiences in which love becomes so overwhelming that they no longer sense their identities as separate beings.
   Love seems to involve a kind of trust that vaporizes barriers that normally define who we are. With the beloved, we are able to shed inhibitions that otherwise clothe and mask our inmost being.
   Some mystics write about this love as a nakedness or even an emptiness so complete that the self is consumed in love’s fire.
   Some years ago in New Delhi I saw Yamini Krishnamurthy dance a story that arose from Gandhi’s love of the Indian untouchables. She danced the part of a devout worshipper of the god Shiva as well as the part of Shiva himself, whose cosmic dance is portrayed in bronze in the middle of the Indian temple room at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
   The devotee was an untouchable in the north of India. He desired to behold Shiva dancing on the altar in his temple at Chidambaram in southern India, a thousand miles away.
   The devotee, often hungry, walked all the way, overcoming many obstacles. At last he came to the temple on the other side of the road.
   But because he was an untouchable, he was not permitted to cross the road to see the object of his pious journey.
   Then Shiva, perceiving the man’s selfless passion, left dancing on the altar, exited the temple, crossed the road and consumed the man into himself. The ecstatic untouchable was united with the divine.
   The love on the altar of our hearts ignites in glorious consummation when it dances across the roads of prejudice and separation.

J wrote
   I want to thank you for writing the Wednesday articles on Faith and Beliefs.  It is wonderful to live in a community where this kind of encouragement and enlightenment is available in a daily newspaper.  I look for it each Wednesday and say a quiet Thank You, that you never hear.  Just thought, I'd take the opportunity to do it now.


Our society's view of love is often a counterfeit one. St. Thomas Aquinas suggests that true love derives less from emotion and more from decision. It is an act of the will as much as the heart. Love, according to Aquinas, is willing the good of another.

So why are you arguing?

The mailbag was overflowing before I went to bed last Wednesday in response to my column that day. I had written about my failure, after years of trying, to find common ground with a persistent correspondent concerned that I am leading readers astray. I called it quits with that reader.
   Like some other critics, he insists on understanding religion largely in terms of true or false statements. 
   Instead, I try to appreciate the meaning statements have in the lives of those who make them, and whether they assist folks in serving others compassionately. 
   Sharing our stories can enlarge us, but winning a theological argument is not likely to make us better people.
   ? The first post asked, “So why are you arguing, Vern? After all, that is what you are doing, and for years you have argued against various aspects of Christianity.”
   Good point. Indeed, I have questioned aspects of my own beloved tradition and of other faiths I also admire when they are used to justify ignorance, oppression or violence. 
   Most emails were favorable and expanded on last week’s column.  Here are excerpts from two:
   ? “Perhaps you could advise (your critic) that your definitive statement on the topics in question will be presented . . . if and when the Almighty provides you with the facts on the afterlife, including a dissertation on how . . . other traditions have it wrong.
   “I suspect this advice could come by way of golden (or) stone tablets . . . or email; probably not enough available characters in a Twitter account.
   “Failing that, we must rely on the written records of several traditions, which are not internally consistent but seem to have a lot of plain guidance for dealing with others, and most seem to agree at least in the broad sense. As John McCutcheon puts it, what part of ‘love your enemies’ do you people not understand?”
   ? “(In your column, you wrote) ‘Words can point to a sacred reality, but words cannot capture that reality. Our vocabulary is puny in comparison.’ Bravo! 
   “Sometimes though, words hit the bulls eye, and yours this morning did just that, again. 
   “Your critics need not worry about your soul nor the souls of your readers—you continually do justice to truth by offering a rational, sober and non-superstitious peek at the whole of reality. 
   “It’s easy to articulate the physical side of reality, but to do so about metaphysical reality is a gift—one which you have and I appreciate very much! The need for literal and absolute doctrine is a dependency of our species, and people like you are the directors of rehab.”
   It feels a little immodest to do this, but I’m posting comments from all perspectives at cres.org/comments. Many are surprising and instructive.


H writes
  Vern, your columns are delightful for many reasons, not least among them being their openness to many traditions.  I am a Catholic Christian because, well, it just seems to fit my needs so well.  However, my vision of God as omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent simply does not comport with the idea that God somehow left more than four billion people out of the mix when deciding who gets the prize.  The relationship between God and God’s creation is unavoidably the law of the universe.  Whether or not I get it figured out right or not won’t do much to alter that law, and I enjoy the comfort that your affirming columns give me.
   Anyway, people of a fundamentalist Christian bent are in a logically untenable dilemma.  Anyone who reads chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel either has to reject out of hand the direct instructions of Jesus or admit that they simply cannot follow Jesus and look into Scientology or something.  Leo Tolstoy took those chapters to heart and managed to get himself excommunicated.  “…resist ye not evil” is an instruction from Jesus which, if followed, would completely do in our political system, to say nothing of our defense budget.  I get Matthew’s point, I love the philosophy, but I am plenty comfortable piously loving my neighbor and letting my soldiers and police resist the dickens out of evil on my behalf.  If I and most honest Christians find it impossible to follow the direct commands, delivered in the imperative voice, of Jesus, none of us should proclaim that people of other faith traditions have it all wrong and will suffer for their error. 
   So that’s where you come in – a voice of reason in a field of mystery.  Thanks.

D writes
   Please keep trumpeting the word!  I grew up within the arena of the mindset of your critic. Fortunately, I had epiphanies with significant persons of faith: parents, friends, seminary professors, authors and mentors . . . . 
   These experiences have taken my faith to a level I never imagined and sometimes seems unfathomable to those from my early life whose spiritual life has stagnated, become stratified or otherwise become the true/false, dualistic mindset that seems to rely on cliches, platitudes or easy answers that rarely address life's issues in an authentic manner.


   God says to us in the Old Testament, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!"
  Yes, mankind is absolutely free to choose between good and evil... he is not free to determine or change what is good and what is evil. There can be no ambiguity about that... so seek The Truth (not one of many).

   So why ARE you arguing, Vern?
   Is it just to keep donations coming in to CRES, or what?==

Vern replied
  I have responded to the first question from JonHarker in the column itself. 
   Concerning the second question, which has persisted from previous posts, for the record I respond. In none of the 850+ columns that have appeared has there ever been an appeal for donations for CRES. To my knowledge never has CRES received a single contribution in response to a column. For years I have been a full-time volunteer for CRES. Since 2004, when CRES asked the Interfaith Council, which CRES had hosted since its founding in 1989, to become independent, CRES has been downsizing with the pleasure of seeing other, new organizations taking over interfaith leadership in various ways. THE CRES 12-page color monthly publication, MANY PATHS, ended in 2008. The last special program CRES offered was Apr 18, 2009, and the 25th and last CRES-sponsored Interfaith Thanksgiving Sunday Family Ritual Meal was Nov 22, 2009. So the answer to the second question is No. The column not only does not "keep" donations "coming in to CRES," to my knowledge it never has generated even one single donation to CRES. My purpose in all my work, including writing for The Star, is not to build an organization but to assist folks in learning about all faiths.
  I do post comments in my real name.
   Vern Barnet

   Actually, Vern, you did not really answer the question about why you are arguing.
   As to donations, your answer seems a little misleading, since CRES does in fact get donations, does it not?
   And your column provides publicity, does it not?

Vern replied 
   I cannot improve upon the answer given in the column to the first question: "I have questioned aspects of my own beloved tradition and of other faiths I also admire when they are used to justify ignorance, oppression or violence." If this is unsatisfactory, it will have to be unsatisfactory.
  To the second and third questions: CRES has never solicited or received donations through my column. Yes, the column does provide publicity, in the last three months, for example:publicity for Jews, Christians, the Bible, Hindus, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King Jr, Henry Nelson Wieman, Park University, Brookdale Presbyterian Church in St. Joseph, Paul Tillich, the University of Chicago, the Hallmark Hall of Fame, Alfred Jacob Miller, Ilus Davis Park, City Hall, Charles Evans Whittaker U.S. Courthouse, Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Islam, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Kansas City International Airport, atheism, Romans, African art, Matthew, Luba initiation rituals, Albert Schweitzer, Elvis Presley, the Chewa, Dennis Moore, the Pledge of Allegiance, American Indians, Zoroastrians, Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, Jelaluddin Rumi, Turkey, Sufism, Buddhism, the Bhagavad Gita, Rabindranath Tagore, Thanksgiving, Abraham Lincoln, the Kansas City Art Institute, the University of Notre Dame, Epicurus, Lucretius, Erasmus, Luther, Voltaire, Marx, Nietzsche, Durkheim, Freud, Bertrand Russell, Postmodernists, and others. I do not use the column to publicize my organization for which I am a full-time volunteer. I focus on building interfaith understanding, not on building an institution, which, as I previously explained, is deliberately moving toward shutting down as other organizations take over various aspects of interfaith work.
   I feel I have responded to such questions faithfully and sufficiently and it is unlikely I can spend the time to do so again.
   Vern Barnet, my real name

Arguing about faith brings no profit

Regular readers of this column know I passionately promote religious dialogue. We are often enlarged and deepened in our own faiths when we are stimulated by others’ experiences.
   But I don’t think winning an argument is helpful. Disputes about God, for example, are not likely to make us better people. Sharing experiences of awe, mystery, alignment, perspective, fitness, love, service, holiness—these are more likely to transform us than a theological contest.
   Words can point to a sacred reality, but words cannot capture that reality. Our vocabulary is puny in comparison.
   In the West, this insight is expressed by the very name by which God reveals himself: Yahweh, which means “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be,” a way of saying God is best named when specific descriptions are avoided.
   In the East, one of many parallels is found in the Tao Te Ching, “The way which can be spoken is not the Way.”
   But some folks are displeased with this column’s approach and want a definite statement of a particular literal doctrine on such topics as God, sin and afterlife. 
   One correspondent who has written me for years says his “persistence is rooted in compassion and love for (me) and the readers (I) influence.” He sees religion as expressing facts and divides statements into right and wrong.
   For me religion is far more glorious than mere factual assertions. When Jesus is called “the lamb of God,” no one should think Jesus is covered with wool. The image makes sense in the context of the Israelite sacrifice tradition of substituting animals to expiate sin. To treat the statement that Jesus is the lamb of God as a fact misses the point.
   While the bread and wine of the Eucharist are deeply meaningful to many Christians as the body and blood of the Savior, they are poor images for someone from a vegetarian culture who might find the idea revolting and even cannibalistic.
   Imagine the plight of a 6-year old girl raped nightly by her father. To insist she must think of God as her heavenly father only adds to the abuse.
   Are religious statements mere facts or as signs to something beyond facts and images? Facts are like shadows on the wall, but genuine spiritual experiences are full-color, 3D with sounds, smells, textures and presence.
   While I appreciate my critics’ concern for my soul and the souls of my readers, after many attempts and failures at finding common ground, I can only tell them this:
   “Arguing brings no profit. Please do not insist that your words must be my words. I am blessed to hear your own stories. I am happy you have found a spiritual path that nurtures you. Please, now go in peace, but go.”


M writes
   I liked your latest article.. Conflict seems to be the gatekeeper to the constant fist-fight between entrenched dogma and revolutionary epiphany. Were it not for the audience to this ever evolving pugilistic contest of wills and ideas, we would all still believe that the sun rotated around the earth and that evil spirits or divine will granted health or brought disease.  It is not the fighters in this process that decide the path of truth, but the consensus of the audience.  The fight may change, but it is always on.
   Humans, as inquisitive and investigative as the modern monkey-man may be, are as addicted to resisting change as they are driven to seek out and explore strange new ways to argue with each other.  While the animal instincts of man (oh yes...and woman too!!) drive us to tooth and claw conflict where sniffing and posturing fail, it is the sometimes-open eye of self awareness that drives us to attempt to resolve those conflicting sensual worlds into a harmonious tribal heartbeat of understanding.  We fight.. with the formost intention to unite.  It is only the perversion of ego that leads to the loss of this ultimate goal of normal conflict of ideology, the misled attachment to what is "mine" and the resulting perception that you are trying to take something from me..
   If both sides accept what the human ape is trying to do, carry the conflicting concepts to reasonable levels of debate and ritualized "combat" and then sort through the reasonable compromises leading to a harmonious truth, it would be frightening how quickly our world could change.  Once you realize that banging rocks together with some violence can in fact produce a tool that changes life entirely, you learn how to bang the rocks properly to produce a result you can use.
  Do you think someday we might embrace the barbaric along with the enlightenment and therein find a wellspring of healthy human truth?  I would love to live in a world where we attend a fancy dress dinner party for our favorite charity, then go home with our freinds and beat drums in celebration and dance naked around the fire in the moonlight.. and both behaviors are appreciated and accepted as human.

L writes
   This is a long overdue thank you for your always thought-provoking and interesting columns!  My husband and I have been on an surprising spiritual journey the past several years, leaving a large mainstream denomination to first spend time with others who were ostracized from the same institution in a small group/home church setting, and finally landing in a small church that is a wonderful fit (and with which you are familiar, Southwood United Church of Christ in Raytown; we very much enjoyed your Interfaith Thanksgiving service message).  I loved today's column, and will probably send it out to that same small group we continue to meet with weekly.  The Tao Te Ching quote had an effect on me similar to when I contemplate what is beyond the universe...mind blowing.  Loved it. 
   As humans, we are limited.  We tend to limit God as well, putting him/her in a box that we can understand and contemplate without blowing our minds.  My husband, Dave, and I have become fans of Donald Miller, whose "Blue Like Jazz" surfaces frequently in our conversations.  This is not an exact quote, because we've loaned out our book I can't copy it, but the gist of it is:  We don't know if we are right, and the chances are tremendous that we're not, but we know our Creator has the answers.  And that's all that matters.
   Thank you for your voice.

K writes
  I enjoy your column and know you would not wish to be confrontational with your persistent correspondent.  Perhaps you could advise that your definitive statement on the topics in question will be presented in your column if and when the Almighty provides you with the facts on the afterlife, including a dissertation on how worshippers of other traditions have it wrong.  I suspect this advice could come by way of golden tablets with a messenger, stone tablets without a messenger, e-mail (probably not enough available characters in a Twitter account).  Failing that, we must rely on the written records of several traditions, which are not internally consistent but seem to have a lot of plain guidance for dealing with others, and most seem to agree at least in the broad sense.  (As John McCutcheon puts it, what part of "love your enemies" do you people not understand?) 

R writes 
   You really don't want people to leave you alone do you? Let me at least say that I did/do like today's column and will in all probability will add it to my cut out collection. Most people do tend to get up set by facts, and if you read history instead of pages from religious examples you get a completely different picture. I thought for a while about the remark you made sometime back about Moses and after a little reading found out you were right about the Jews becoming Jews in the sixth century BC and that in all probability Abraham, Joseph and  Moses were works of imagination. I find that most of the old testament was not written neither when nor where we have been taught it was. But we are told it is all right to believe in things that are not true. Personally I find it fascinating that most of Christianity is based on Zoroastrianism and I just don't understand why this upsets people, but it is really fun to present these "facts." Then when they start to turn red I point out that you probably don't want to hear about Jesus' twin brother or his wife Mary of Magdala and his daughter. I realize with your extended knowledge of all the other religions that you can have this much fun with all the religions, but then the powers that be would probably not let you write your column anymore. I have realized that while I remain with the . . . Church my religious bent has turned towards Pantheism only with a little more personalization. Enjoying it while I can, . . .

D writes
   I am speaking as a (former) opinion writer who was often told by readers, in effect: "Interesting article, but I still don't know whether you liked the show" ...
   I had to enjoy you, forever striving for balance and understanding, finally throwing up your hands and quoting, "Please, now go in peace, but go."
  It is always impressive when someone who fully understands the blurred boundaries between right and wrong reaches the point of putting one's foot down. In effect: "I WILL continue to seek common ground; on that I will not compromise!"
   Nicely done, Vern.

T writes
   “Words can point to a sacred reality, but words cannot capture that reality.  Our vocabulary is puny in comparison”.
   Sometimes though, words hit the bulls eye and yours this morning did just that. (Again)  Your critic(s) need not worry about your soul nor the souls of your readers – you continually do justice to Truth by offering a rational, sober and non-superstitious peek at the whole of reality.  It’s easy to articulate the physical side of reality but to do so about metaphysical reality is a gift - one which you have and I appreciate very much!  The need for literal and absolute doctrine is a dependency of our species and people like you are the directors of rehab.  Keep up the great work!
   Just seems like you might be in the mood for some “fan” mail.

A writes
   I loved your column, “Arguing About Faith…”  I have attached a recent blog that I wrote because of similar disappointments in the faith community.
   Enjoy the read and thanks again for your column!
   BLOG: http://www.crackedpotts.blogspot.com/
  I've been reflecting lately on the origin of my faith in God and it seems that unlike some, I'm unable to really pinpoint a day or time when I had that "aha" moment.  All I know is that at a very young age I would listen to the voices of the meadowlark and the red-winged blackbird; curious to know what made them sing.  I believe that God's voice in the wind called me away from the angry voices of people to come out and  dance with the little stream on the edge of town. It was God who called me to safety then and it is He who calls me to a deeper place today.  It was God and it is God.
   I went away to a monastery recently to reflect on this faith and some things occurred to me.  For many years I worshiped in an evangelical setting.  I don't know how many times a congregation would rejoice when they learned that someone had come out of "Catholicism" to the true Christian experience. So many times I would hear pastors refer to the "other" denominations in a negative light; as if to say that "our way" was the only way.  It bothered me then and it bothers me today.  While I was in prayer with the nuns at the monastery I was in awe of the reverence while we were singing the Holy scripture.  It was a solemn time; a sacred time.  It was a blessed form of worship.  God is alive in the Catholic church just as He is in other paths of faith.  I say paths because in my observation of faith settings over the years, we are really all on a significant journey to seek the ultimate experience or path to find meaning for our lives as it relates to God.  Why are we here?  How can my life bring meaning to another?  Who is this "One" who made us all in His image; while we are all so very different are we from one another? We all are in pursuit of the perfect way to worship this God, yet not one of us can claim the identity of another seeker when we attempt to identify our individual relationship with God.  Why?  I believe it's simply not possible.  Our walk with the living Christ is as unique as the finger prints on our hands and as unique as the very DNA of our souls.  We are uniquely and individually designed.  That is something in which to celebrate. 
   So what makes us think that there is but one approach to the blessed presence of God and the worship we bring?  I hope I never know the answer to that question, because once that happens I fear I too will stop seeking the special place that I long for.  A place I began seeking as a little girl; a place in my soul that makes me know the unending presence of the living Christ, Emmanuel, God with us!
   Blessings to you, my unique and wonderful friends.
   Amy --http://crackedpotts.blogspot.com/2010/12/my-way.html

T writes
  We think alike. An academic, I have just completed a manuscript, The Face of God Opens to Humanity: Being Human, Being Religious.

PhD writes
   I wanted to express my empathy related to “Arguing About Faith Brings No Profit” on January 26th.
   Sounds like some of the fundamentals are really after you—my sympathies. I can imagine some of the responses you must get since I hear about some of the hate mail . . . . receives!
  I think your outlook and approach is pretty perfect and I always enjoy reading your columns! “Sharing experiences of awe, mystery and alignment…” is very much in keeping with my attitude. Literal interpretations don’t work and sometimes we need to embrace mystery and accept what the Tao says about the way which can be spoke is not the Way! . . . 


   So why are you arguing, Vern? After all, that is what you are doing, and for years you have argued against various aspects of Christianity.
  And that touch about telling people to "go" is hilarious. 
   Maybe they should. And stop reading your column, too. How about that/ 

   Almighty and merciful God, grant that the anxieties of this life may not impede us as we hasten to meet your Son. Fill us instead with your heavenly wisdom so that we may come to be united with Him. Amen


senorchipotle -- posted 11:03p, 01/27/11
   what i get out of this story is this guy doesn't want people questioning their beliefs. he doesn't want people to ask why, and keep asking why until they get an answer. he's saying there is no answer, so you should stop asking questions and just have faith because it makes you feel better.

professor gradoo -- posted 7:49a, 01/28/11
   Reminds me of when Carl Jung traveled to New Mexico (taos) and tried to get the Indians to talk about their religion... most of the time they would walk away, remain silent, or sometimes start crying. It was THEIR religion, not Jungs.

opk -- posted 8:06a, 01/28/11
   senorchipotle: quote: what i get out of this story is this guy doesn't want people questioning their beliefs. he doesn't want people to ask why, and keep asking why until they get an answer. he's saying there is no answer, so you should stop asking questions and just have faith because it makes you feel better.
   Really? That is not my perception at all. [...to be cont'd] 

Let's heal, not wound

I don’t know if violent speech causes violence. Still, I’m pretty sure that talk of death panels, blood libel, reloading, second-amendment remedies and on-air contemplation of murdering one’s opponents — such talk fails to burnish the “shining city on a hill,” a phrase Ronald Reagan adapted from Jesus to characterize America as a religious nation.
   While the conversation about our language is occurring in the political arena, people of faith might examine the language of religion as well, because, as the Reagan quotation illustrates, faith talk and political talk can overlap.
   Case in point: A respected local minister, in honor of King, in these very pages within the last month wrote, “We have to fight for what we know is right. . . . We have to fight for the dream and we have to fight to keep the dream alive. . . . We have to fight poverty . . . . We have to fight for the education of our children. . . .”
   Why must we fight? Why not speak of healing or working for what is right? The fight metaphor often divides us into good and evil, friends and enemies; the healing metaphor brings us together. 
   The scriptures of many faiths use both metaphors of violence and of healing. They are our heritage, ways of knowing who we have been. But will we, without any sense of irony, “win the war against violence” or, to use Lincoln’s phrase, “bind up the nation's wounds”?
   The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., killed by an assassin’s bullet after many threats, used not a single violent metaphor in his famous “I have a dream” speech. He was able to move the nation without recourse to such language.
   His famous 7,000-word “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” addressed his opponents as “men of genuine good will” and never uses the word “fight” as an injunction, as the local minister has done. The word “enemies” appears only in quoting Jesus, “Love your enemies.”
   King’s non-violent method of social change required self-purification, not demonizing the opponent.
   Even in hymns, we unconsciously perpetuate violence, as in this favorite: 

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal master, leads against the foe;
forward into battle, see his banners go!
   Jesus told Peter to put away his sword. Perhaps it would it be more Christlike to sing this: 
Onward Christian servants, healing wounds of war, 
True peace for the fallen his love can restore. 
Christ the humble shepherd seeks all souls to save; 
we his church perform his work as He rose from the grave.
   Religion should heal and restore, not wound and kill. 

NOTE: Here are re-worked second and third verses:

     Pride and power resist Him; wealth and lust deceive;
     but the wounds of Jesus call us to believe:
     He can cure the wicked, make the thoughtless whole
     when our ministrations by His grace can heal the soul.

     Our physician, Jesus, tends us with great care,
     Therefore let us cherish everyone one in prayer.
     We bring His elixir to each pain and strife,
     Abundant holy water, it can cleanse and bring new life.

This column was posted on 2ARights4All.com.


A writes
   Great column today!  Thanks.

K writes
   I enjoyed today's column - as usual.  As a Lutheran, we sang "Onward  Christian Soldiers" often, and I shuddered at the terms battle  and soldier.  I was young during WWII, but I remember when the young  man next door returned with shell shock which we now call PTSD.  I  organized a parade with a band using kitchen utensils when we heard the war was  over.  Vern, could I use the more appropriate words at my church the next  time I have the chance?
   I also shuddered when my granddaughter and  her husband (both brainwashed in the Navy, (she from [ ] and he from [ ], so that makes a difference, too ) bought "toy" plastic guns for their  three children, ages 3, 6, and 9.  I said what I needed to say about  affecting little brains, but it had no effect. GUNS for Christmas??? What is this world coming to? (The favorite phrase a little old lady  friend and I use,)

J writes
  Good word in yesterday's paper! I've had this conversation with friends more often recently as the Lord is changing my heart, so this was very cool to see in my daily news.
   'Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.' 
   'Life and death are in the power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.'
   Jesus himself said,' I came that they might have life...'
   How do we, who claim to love and proclaim this same Jesus, so often justify such deadly rhetoric?
  This was a refreshing message to read on my lunch break at work.  Thank you for the encouragement. Blessing and abundant life to you.

A writes
   Thanks for your column that ran in last Wednesday’s Star.  I was especially moved by your observation that ML King’s speech and Letter from Birmingham Jail contained no violent imagery or metaphors.  Thanks for all you do to make KC a welcoming place for all and to position religion as a healing source.


   Barnet makes a good point, but he won’t win this battle. The Bible is full of violent images, so people who consider themselves religious feel justified in thinking and speaking in such terms. In particular, it is tragic that Jesus wasn’t more consistent in preaching his "turn the other cheek" message.
  Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matthew 10:34).
   Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. (Matthew 21:12)

   Nice but a little soft Vern. Your solution is not practical without a common deference toward Natural Law. Many of us are relativists and have gotten very good at suppressing our consciences (where Natural Law is known by all of us). In the letter you speak of MLK wrote: "To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust." Our country’s forefathers new this as well. As long as we let 'special interests' unmoor us from Natural Laws your vision is impossible because we are not singing "Kumbayah" from the same sheet of music.
   Our Blessed Lord told us to love our enemies he did not say don’t have any. I can (in fact I am commanded to) love those people around me who choose to create their own morality but I cannot call an evil a good (Isaiah. 5:20-21). 

  The remarks of VOR both Quote mine and Misrepresent the bible, and he knows it...thats why he does it!
   He is a well know local atheist who had frequently remarked that Christians need to "Shut Up", "Crawl Under a Rock", and "Die".
   There is nothing consistent about his own vile rantings, and he need not be taken seriously.

   JonHarker is an idiot and a liar, and his rantings are totally predictable. Not only have I never misquoted the Bible, I have never “remarked that Christians need to "Shut Up", "Crawl Under a Rock", and "Die".” 

JonHarker in reply to VOR
   BS. You post exactly those things under a variety of names.
   And I said you QUOTEMINED the bible...look it up. That means you ignore history and context.
   You are so predictable! LOL!

VOR in reply to JonHarker 
   “BS. You post exactly those things under a variety of names.”
   In addition to being moronic and incapable of telling the truth, you are delusional. That is a total and complete lie, and you have absolutely no evidence to substantiate that smear (since there is no evidence). But, in your fantasy world, I guess it is ok for Christians to lie.
   Now, save the rest of your venom for the Faith section tomorrow. In addition to being totally predictable, you are now boring me.

  Vern, as always, makes a valid argument. He points out that much social change has been made thru nonviolent means. I think that the mitigating factor that makes mankind change from a natural compassionate indivudal is the state of too many men with to few resources. Without basic needs, or if a man feels a threat to those needs, it becomes easy to create a just war.

JonHarker in reply to Milarepasmoon
  Kings methods would not have worked against Hitler.
   Sometimes you have to fight. The Jews iin world war two did not fight, and were almost exterminated by Atheistic Evolutionists.

Where King found some inspiration

What is religion? What is God’s nature? How should I live my life?
   Martin Luther King Jr explored such questions in his 1955 doctoral dissertation. (Some passages may have been plagiarized, but the viewpoint is always King’s own.)
   Brilliantly, King compared and criticized two 20th Century theologians who rejected the traditional idea of God as a person. One was German-born Paul Tillich for whom religion involved an “ultimate concern.” He thought of God not as a being, supreme or otherwise, but as the “ground of being” itself.
   King compared Tillich with Henry Nelson Wieman, who said religion was not so much about an “ultimate concern” as an “ultimate commitment.” For Wieman, God was neither a being nor the ground of being, but a process, a creative event.
   Wieman was born in Rich Hill, about two hours south of Kansas City. He graduated from what was then Park College. 
   He later wrote that there, one evening, “looking at the sunset over the Missouri River,” he had the most ecstatic experience of his life. He could not sleep all night, “walked in that ecstasy for days” and decided to devote his life “to the problems of religious inquiry.”
   Exactly 100 years ago Wieman began his first pastorate — at Brookdale Presbyterian Church in St. Joseph. 
   Travel, more study and teaching led him to the University of Chicago. After retirement, he returned there in 1967 to teach one course, and I was able to study with him. That same year in Washington, DC, I met Martin Luther King Jr. [I did not known then that King had written about Wieman.]
   For Wieman, God is that power which can transform us as we cannot transform ourselves, to save us “from evil and leading (us) to the best that human life can ever reach.”
   In Wieman’s best-known phrase, God is “creative interchange,” when people interact with each other in such a way that new realities are created, leading to enhanced life for everyone.
   King sometimes played on Wieman’s phrase. In accepting the Nobel Prize, King spoke of “creative turmoil.” In another speech, King praised “creative maladjustment” to evils like discrimination, religious bigotry and taking “necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.” 
   Here in practice, if not in theory, is where Wieman and King are aligned, for as in the civil rights struggle, King believed that bringing people together, even in disagreement and at some cost, could ultimately lead to a transformation from evil that would not occur otherwise. 
   Of the many books Wieman wrote, the title of one is especially poignant as I think about King’s own decision about how to live his life: “Man’s Ultimate Commitment.”


S K writes
   Good work in the Kansas City Star this morning.  I read your work nearly every week, almost always good, this morning's exceptional.  You expressed "different" theological ideas without apology and in ways that should be understood by most of your readers.  Well done.

M writes
   I have always loved the concept of god as an event or interaction, not a person.. I suppose it comes from the more significant Events in my life impressing me with a sense of higher spiritual complexity at work.  I can see and feel the event, so it is more real (to me) than the influences driving it.
   Newtonian Physics state that an object at rest tends to stay at rest.  Anyone with children in front of a television can testify to that.  If we really and truly seek to understand more complex and divine ideas and influences, it is my personal opinion that interfaith interaction is the key to achieving a spiritual compound that feeds the variety of human animals currently locked in constant conflict.  Just as bringing some elements together results in different reactions, bringing together the elements of different faith sets will react in different ways.  Some produce heat, animated release of energy and precipitate undesirable elements (evil) as the base spiritual elements react.. some reactions draw upon latent energy around them, reorganizing and stabilizing into a strong matrix with properties stronger than either spiritual idea standing alone.  Some spiritual elements just won't combine on any sub-atomic level, and the resulting mixture is stable, but can always be divided again with the proper mechanical process.  And yes.. mix some elements, no matter how carefully, and you blow up the lab and kill the researchers.  Messy and wasteful at best.
   Until we understand each spiritual idea in it's entirety, where it came from, what it does in the hearts and minds of those who hold it dear, and how it interacts with every other spiritual element, we cannot hope to find the spiritual Philosopher's Stone with which to transform all manner of human interactions into golden harmony.  We must be willing to dissect and analyze with an unbiased eye the very heart and truth of what and who the human animal is, what led to us having such things as "beliefs", and only then hypothesize on global human solutions.
   Some people have labeled these human spiritual elements "Memes", and the field of Memetics is in it's infancy.  I personally BELIEVE that putting refined spiritual elements in the particle accelerator of interfaith study will help us define and understand how the basic memetic makeup of the human animal can be resolved into what may very well be the next significant step in human evolution.  What would be more natural than for a self aware living thing to take personal action to directly influence it's own evolution? Would that mean we finally found God, or discovered the elusive answer to the question "Why am I here"??
   Hope you enjoy the snow and ice.  Stay warm, spring is just over the horizon.

Vern responds
Thanks for your note. I enjoy the wit -- "Anyone with children in front of a television . . ." -- and the insights -- such as about the particle accelerator of interfaith study. The three arenas of great crises in our time -- the environment, personhood, society -- have their resolution in the three families of faith, primal, Asian, and monotheistic. If only we can move beyond the shallow "we are more alike than different" level of conversation and really employ and apply the different memes of the sacred, we would find our spiritual evolution propelled in marvelous ways. Thanks for writing, and writing so well.


   Unlike Tillich, King believed that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was a literal, historical event.

   Holy Cow Vern! How can you talk so much about God and MLK Jr. and not mention Jesus Christ? He is the key to understanding God... He is God... He became man so we could understand... Everything spoken of here is conjecture...

Vern responds
  Thank you both for pointing out a limitation of the column. Indeed, Jesus was very important for King, although his dissertation was not about Jesus, and although King welcomed Jewish as well as Christian supporters, and although he was himself enormously influenced by the modern Hindu Gandhi. And both Wieman and Tillich discuss Jesus; Tillich, for example, devotes the entire second volume of his three-volume Systematic Theology to Jesus. Speaking of Hinduism, with its Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman perspectives, one might find parallels within the 2000-year history of Christianity as one contrasts the faith's normative and mystical theologies, which bear on the understanding of Jesus Christ in Christian soteriology.

   Trapblock, Vern doesn't talk about Jesus Christ because he is not a Christian that I am aware of. He spoke at a local atheist meetup that I managed to slip into (chuckle) and made that pretty clear.

  Vern, the limitations are really with the column. They are with you. And what you choose to emphazie; we know you are not a Christian, so why the coy avoidance of the issue?
  And sure King was influenced by Gandhi's methods, but guess who Gandhi got his inspirations from in that regard.
   Jesus Christ; Gandhi talks about it in his autobiograhy. (And your so called "parallels" between Hinduism and Chrsitianity are ad hoc speculations on your part...if you are going that route, I find "parallels between your work and Militant Atheism.)
  Trapblock, Vern doesn't talk about Jesus Christ because he is not a Christian that I am aware of. He spoke at a local atheist meetup that I managed to slip into (chuckle) and made that pretty clear.

Vern responds 
   In the distant past, in Asia, somehow the notion of ahimsa, non-violence, developed, perhaps with the Jains. The idea became part of the Buddha’s teaching. As stories about the Buddha grew, he was called Bodisaf, Yudasaf and Josaphat. The Manichees retold the story, and the Muslims transmitted it to the Christians in the tale of Barlaam and Josaphat. Tolstoy was converted to non-violence and social service by this now-Christian tale. By reading Tolstoy, and then discovering the Jesus of the New Testament, Gandhi was stirred to explore his own Hindu tradition, particularly the Bhagavad Gita.
  And King studied the Hindu Gandhi, first in divinity school. King developed his own technique for social change in part from Gandhi’s elaboration of ahimsa. Gandhi called it satyagraha, “truth-force,” a tool of such spiritual energy it helped to liberate India from the British raj. 
   Later King wrote, “While the Montgomery boycott was going on (1955-56), India’s Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of non-violent social change.” He regarded Gandhi as “probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.” 
   Gandhi himself had been assassinated long before King went to India, but when King was a child, Gandhi had said, “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of non-violence will be delivered to the world.”
  The underlying point of what I try to write is that, regardless of one's faith, we can learn from one another and love one another. In that spirit, I offer this reply. While I do not see the relevance of my personal practices to the column I have written, and I may not be worthy to be called a Christian, I worship often more than once a week and accept the eucharist as the most holy gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, even as I respect atheism and find much to applaud among religious skeptics. Ahimsa, non-violence, in deed and in word, may be an ethic to which we in this conversation might strive. Rather than scorn, showing love toward one another might be a better witness of faith. 

JonHarker in reply to Vern Barnet
   Hindus have engaged in massive violence, and have a reprehensible class system.
   Hindue tradition would not have served Gandhi well, thats why had to turn to Jesus for a method.

Vern Barnet in reply to JonHarker
   Gandhi's source for satyagraha was the Indian tradition I outlined. The very term -- if you understand it -- indicates the method of non-violence rooted in the Indian tradition which King adapted with credit to Gandhi. For further information, you might want to examine the work of Harvard's Wilfred Cantwell Smith. I have studied in India and am somewhat familiar with its history and culture. I am also familiar with the horrors of wars, the Inquisition, the oppression, the enslavement, the exploitation, that has occurred in Christendom. Jesus remained an inspirational figure for Gandhi, but the last word he spoke was "Ram," the name of a Hindu deity. Gandhi -- and Martin Luther King Jr -- exemplify the kind of global appropriation of religious resources to make a better world.

Stories can show us truths

Thursday is Epiphany on many Christian calendars when the story is told of the magi — or three kings or wise men — who, bearing gifts, came from the East followed a star and found the Christ child. This feast day celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles.
   Except nowhere does scripture state that the men were kings, or  three or gentiles. Still, tradition has given the story beauty and power.
   Another Christmas story, an opera about the magi and a crippled shepherd boy, appeared in 1951 as the first Hallmark Hall of Fame TV broadcast.
   As a child, I was so delighted with “Amahl and the Night Visitors” that I told one of my teachers that I wished it were true. She said it was in the Bible.
   It is not.
   And when I first saw “The Indian Guide” at the “Romancing the West” exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I wanted it to be true, too.
   But it isn’t.
   The 30 works of Alfred Jacob Miller are often, as one of the labels puts it, “imaginative fabrications” from his trip west from Westport in 1937.
   The American Indian guide stands before what seems to be  two lost men, seated, perhaps in awe of the primitive man of nature, a man wise in ways that escape civilization. 
   But the Indian image is actually a dark-skinned version of Roman models.
   In the show’s catalog, curator Margaret C. Conrads writes that the Indian appears “majestic, generous and virtuous, without specific tribal affiliation or evidence of the disease or forced removal” of Indians from their lands. 
   The images contain geographic and ethnic errors, inaccurate costumes and other mistakes. 
   But they are beautiful. And they helped to shape our ideas, movies and literature about the West. 
   Conrads told me that Miller and his generation “grappled with the competing principles or ethics of his day,” on one hand, “the desire to expand the country across the West, Progress with capital P,” and on the other hand, “recognizing Indian life” as inherently valuable, worth honoring and protecting.
   “In the end, of course, the expansion of the West won out,” Conrads said.
   Are we, the civilized, the lost men in the picture?
   Despite the inaccurate details of Miller’s works of the West and our embellishments of the stories of the magi from the East, they endure because we find in them truth about our struggles and our ideals. 
   As the magi found divinity in a human child, so Miller found the sacred in savages, perhaps as his journey led him to find a better part of himself.
   The exhibition concludes Jan. 9.


R W writes
   One of the best lessons learned in 68+ years is things do not have to be factual to be true. 
  What theological corners we Westerners have painted ourselves into - what contortions we put ourselves through trying to get the "facts" to fit.
   We spend far too much time trying to figure out the "how" instead of the "why".


D R A F T    “ ‘ ’  ”  ?  §

<omitted from final Star version>

I would hate to think that somehow that my column found its way under the canary perch at the bottom of the cage -- or was otherwise misplaced. I appreciate your unreasonable and apparently uncontrollable interest in reading what I write, and do not want to disabuse you by confessing it is hardly worth your time. Nonetheless, I cherish each of my readers and want to be sure their addiction is properly reinforced. So here is the column:


Vern responds
   Thanks for reading this installment of my weekly (Wednesday) column, and for writing with your interesting comments!

  I do appreciate your writing and giving me a chance to applaud your words and to clarify mine.

Thanks for reading this installment of my weekly (Wednesday) column, and for writing with your helpful comments!

May I suggest you follow up publicizing your idea by writing a letter to the editor or an "As I See It" column? -- http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/letters/

I do not expect you to change any of your thinking as a result of my response. I simply wanted you to know I have read your email, thought about it, and wanted to express my appreciation for your taking the trouble to write me, even though we continue to disagree and no doubt could engage in a lengthy exchange, but probably to no different outcome. You are most welcome to follow-up by making your criticism public by writing a letter to the editor or an "As I See It" column? -- http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/letters/.

You can contact the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council -- http://www.kcinterfaith.org/ -- there seems to be some problem with their website at the moment (Bob Bacic, Convener 913 341 7323).

Also, do you know about our "Passport" program? -- http://www.cres.org/passport/