0. Concluding Declaration and CONFERENCE REPORTS
The Kansas City Star
1. October 19, 2001 story text from page 1 and 2 of the Faith Section, by Helen Gray
2. October 27, 2001 story page B3, by Helen Gray
3. October 30, 2001 zoned editions, by Melodee Hall Blobaum
4. November 1, 2001 Editorial
5. November 7, 2001 Column by Vern Barnet
6. November 10, 2001 photo caption, G2.
7. November 24, 2001 mention in column by Bill Tammeus, B7.
The Catholic Key
11. November 4, 2001 story text, pages 1 and 4, by Albert de Zutter, Catholic Key editor
12. November 4, 2001 story text, page 4, by Mart Denzer
13. November 4, 2001, story text, page 5, by Albert de Zutter, Catholic Key editor
Many Paths and Other Reports
21. October 30, 2001, story text, page 4, by Ed Chasteen
22. Report by Pam Peck
23. Concluding Ceremony and 24. Declaration
25. Hindu Patrika, by Anand Bhattacharyya and Saraswati Shanker
26. Rime Buddhist Center & Monastery, Spring/Winter newsletter
27. The Gifts of Appreciative Inquiry by David E Nelson
By HELEN T. GRAY - The Kansas City Star
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 some Muslims in various parts of the United States were threatened, harassed, beaten. In Arizona a man mistaken for a Muslim was murdered.
In Kansas City, however, this backlash of anger caused barely a ripple.
One reason, said Ahmed El-Sherif, founder of the American Muslim Council's Kansas City chapter, is the growing relationships among the leaders of various faiths here.
"There were a few instances, but nothing compared to other cities," he said. "Islamic schools and congregations have been receiving letters of support, bouquets of flowers and calls, and this would not have happened without the interfaith activities and leadership that has the vision to see that this relationship will help us understand each other."
At the heart of that understanding is the Interfaith Council, which is about to hold Kansas City's first areawide interfaith conference.
The timing couldn't be better. The tragic events of Sept. 11 have heightened the sense of need to connect across faiths, said Gene Flanery, coordinator of an upcoming interfaith conference that will bring together people from 14 faiths.
"While most people may not become involved directly with interfaith work, now at least no one can deny its value," he said.
The "Gifts of Pluralism" conference, set for Oct. 27 and 28, will be at the Pembroke Hill School under the auspices of an interfaith organization called CRES.
It will include interactive sessions, workshops and multifaith panels. It also is expected to produce a Concluding Declaration, which may help to chart the future of faiths in Kansas City.
"I hope participants will find their own faiths refreshed and deepened," said the Rev. Vern Barnet, president of CRES, which promotes understanding among peoples of all faiths. "I hope the religious dimensions of our environmental, personal and social troubles will be clearer, with spiritual resources to respond to them.
"I certainly hope we will have a better sense of who we are as religious peoples in the Kansas City area, and that the joys of recognizing and expressing our kinship will lead to continuing and new arenas of dialogue and service."
Kansas City has a diverse culture of more than a dozen faiths, including
those less familiar to most residents, such as Sufi, Baha'i, Sikh and Jain.
In the last decade, efforts to promote
understanding among people of different faiths have increased significantly.
Most onlookers agree that the biggest catalyst has come from CRES, founded in 1982 by Barnet, a nationally recognized world religions scholar.
In 1989 Barnet organized the Interfaith Council, which for the first time in Kansas City brought together people from 13 faith traditions. Among other things, the council and CRES have provided interfaith educational materials and speakers, and have worked to increase participation from people of different faiths in area events and groups. The upcoming conference is the most ambitious undertaking.
"The most important result of the work of CRES and the Interfaith Council has been the development of friendships among those of many faiths," Barnet said. "This in turn has provided increasing visibility and respect for the lesser-known faiths."
A variety of groups have tried to improve relations among faith traditions. These include Kansas City Harmony's Congregational Partners program that helps bring congregations together across racial and denominational or faith lines. The partnerships do such things as share worship, social activities and cook and serve food to the homeless.
Pathways, which Gene Flanery started in 1999, helps to build relationships between his congregation, Full Faith Church of Love, and members of the nearby Hindu and Sikh temples. They have shared meals and come together monthly to discuss scriptures.
Among other groups working in this arena has been the National Conference
for Community and Justice, NCCJ, which through a comprehensive range of
programs works to promote
mutual respect and diversity among youth and adults and to combat prejudices of race, class, gender, sex and religion.
Many onlookers see that one gap in Kansas City's religious scene has
been the lack of a metropolitan interfaith coalition, such as found in
many other cities. Since the demise of the
Metropolitan Inter-Church Agency, MICA, more than 20 years ago, Kansas City has not even had a council of churches that brings the Christian community together.
"Since there was no such umbrella organization a lot of other organizations have come on the scene to do various parts of what a council of churches or interfaith organization would do," said Rodger Kube, former executive director of Spirit of Service, which has tried to help congregations working together more effectively.
One major stumbling block, he said, was the lack of financial support from the big Kansas City funders. He looked at 31 metropolitan areas -- large, medium and small -- and found that three-fourths of them had interreligious organizations.
These groups often were able to work together on common issues and sponsor interreligious events as well as broaden the community's knowledge and understanding of various faiths.
Kube, now interim minister for Bethel United Church of Christ, said he hopes the upcoming interfaith conference "will give a new spurt of energy in interreligious cooperation and dialogue."
"One of the good things since Sept. 11 is that we can begin to have the kind of dialogue that we should have had for a long time," he said. "It would be my hope that this would be the kind of spur that would lead to a permanent interreligious council."
But it won't be easy, he said.
Meet, not merge
Many involved in interfaith work recognize the difficulties.
"There are those in all faiths who mistrust any member of their faith who has cordial relations with those of other faiths," said Ed Chasteen of HateBusters, a group he started that, among other things, takes people of various faiths to visit members of other faiths. "So those of us who serve as ambassadors must constantly reassure our own people that we are no less committed to our own faith than they are.
"And there are members of those other faiths that we visit who assume we have some hidden agenda, that we do not really come to understand and build bridges but to somehow convert them to our faith."
Allan Abrams, who was chairman of the now-inactive Christian Jewish Muslim Dialogue Group, said, "People bring their own perspectives into any dialogue, and quite frequently people's experiences come from within their own group, and it colors their viewpoints, and sometimes it makes dialogue more difficult."
Janet Moss of Congregational Partners said time is often a factor because the people who are most active in the partnerships are also busy in their faith communities.
Another factor is the assumption that interfaith work is an effort to merge or blend the faiths together and neglect what is distinctive about each one, Barnet said. Instead, people committed to their own faith find it deepens as they learn about others', he said.
The community needs to invest more time, money and talents for the work of interfaith understanding and cooperation to flourish, said Diane Hershberger of Kansas City Harmony.
Many people see the conference as promising for furthering interfaith work in Kansas City.
"The need for the `Gifts of Pluralism' conference should be obvious to us all by now," said Flanery, coordinator of the upcoming conference. "When people of faith live in isolation from others who are different, fear and suspicion will be the result."
Barnet also is hopeful that through the conference, "it may be possible
to move forward in developing an alliance of every faith community in the
metro area for better communication,
cooperation and service."
To reach Helen T. Gray, religion editor, call (816) 234-4446 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
Theme: The Gifts of Pluralism
When: Oct. 27 and 28
Where: Pembroke Hill School, 5121 State Line
Focus: Build understanding and relationships among faiths
Sponsor: The Kansas City Interfaith Council
Co-sponsors: NCCJ, KC Harmony and Spirit of Service, with assistance from other groups
Registration: $75 fee covers three vegetarian meals and materials.
Information: Call CRES office, (913) 649-5114 or visit Web site www.cres.org.
All content © 2001 The Kansas City Star
By HELEN T. GRAY - The Kansas City Star
Date: 10/27/01 22:15
Padma Krishna, a pediatrician, listened intently as Paulette Pipe described her spiritual journey to becoming a Unity minister, and Krishna told of her mother's influence in shaping her Hindu faith.
The two women were paired Saturday at Kansas City's
first areawide interfaith conference,
which continues today at the State Line Campus of Pembroke Hill School, 5121 State Line
Road. The "Gifts of Pluralism" conference, sponsored by the Kansas City Interfaith Council, has attracted about 250 people from 14 faith groups.
U.S. Reps. Dennis Moore, a Kansas Democrat, and
Karen McCarthy, a Missouri Democrat,
began the day by praising the effort. Organizers were surprised by the turnout and hurried to set out additional chairs in the gymnasium as walk-in registrants arrived.
Many participants came seeking to understand people
of other faiths. Tanweer Papa of the
Center for Islamic Education in North America said many people are afraid of the unknown, "but once you come to something like this and put a human face in front of you, it is a different story."
Participants told their faith stories and asked one another questions, meeting in pairs, such as Krishna and Pipe, in small groups and over meals. They chose workshops of faiths they knew little about or were curious about.
People stood along a wall in the crowded Islamic workshop. Some conceded that Sept. 11 had awakened them to how little they knew about Islam.
"This conference is very timely," said Barbara Hubbard of Lee's Summit. "After September 11, people are starting to feel that this is more important. It is making people more responsive to the needs of others and to the need to share."
Although speakers and displays indicated a variety
of religious beliefs and practices, many
participants found common values and goals in one another's faiths.
"We don't know how similar we are and how aligned our goals are until we speak to each other," Pipe said.
But the Rev. Vern Barnet, a conference organizer
who initiated the interfaith council, has
emphasized that the goal of bringing people of different faiths together is not to merge or blend the faiths but to deepen people's faith as they learn about the beliefs of others.
Laura Ruffin of Overland Park wants to see more unity in the area's religious community.
"The religious community is the most segregated community," Ruffin said. "If we can take this nucleus here, we can move forward. The religious community in Kansas City should make a difference."
Mike Moors, marketing director for the United Way, agreed. He said the agency was looking at the conference as a possible base in forming a task force in the religious community to respond to emergencies.
"There is no overarching body in Kansas City that connects the faith groups," Moors said. "Sept. 11 brought into focus how there needs to be a coordinating body, and we're hoping some inclusive group will develop."
All content © 2001 The Kansas City Star
By MELODEE HALL BLOBAUM - Special to The Star
Date: 10/30/01 23:00
Saraswati Shanker and Charanjit Hundal know a thing or two about misunderstandings based on assumptions. Both are members of minority faiths in Johnson County: Shanker is a Hindu, Hundal a Sikh.
But both expressed optimism about the potential for better understanding among people of different beliefs after attending "The Gifts of Pluralism," an interfaith conference held Saturday and Sunday at Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City. More than 200 people from the Kansas City metropolitan area registered for the event, which was convened by the Kansas City Interfaith Council and CRES, formerly known as the Center for Religious Experience and Study.
Shanker, the president of the Hindu Temple in Shawnee, said that most of her fellow Johnson Countians don't know much about their Hindu neighbors.
"As human beings," she said, "we prejudge without having information to form our opinions."
After attending the conference, Shanker said she wouldn't be satisfied to sit and wait for people to ask questions. She planned to encourage other members of her faith community to get involved with the interfaith movement.
"We need to do more," she said. "My job is to gather more people who know the religion well and have the time to impart it."
Hundal, who wears the beard and turban distinctive to his Sikh faith, said his appearance is different than many of his neighbors, though he grew up in Johnson County and attended Shawnee Mission schools.
"As a male who is very different from the majority, people are apprehensive and afraid," he said. "They assume that I'm from the Middle East."
The conference gave him the opportunity to challenge some of those assumptions: "When you meet somebody and hear their voice, you get some connection between individuals."
Conference workshops offered overviews of about a dozen faiths, and one-on-one discussions provided individuals time to compare spirituality and beliefs with someone of another faith. Panel discussions afforded insight into how different faiths approach care of the environment, social concerns and individual identity.
That's the kind of information that Charles Funkhauser of Overland Park said he was hoping to acquire when he signed up for the conference.
"I came to understand people of other cultures and their religious beliefs, to get an initial exposure," he said.
He plans to take what he learned back to his Sunday school class at Valley View United Methodist Church in Overland Park.
"I want to share these experiences with others in my faith community," Funkhauser said, "in the hope that more can be done to build bridges of understanding and peace in a world with so much misunderstanding and violence."
Pamela Peck of Lake Quivira also would like to see believers of different faiths work toward understanding. To that end, she hopes to start a study group in her neighborhood, inviting representatives of other faiths to tell about their beliefs.
"I hope many will go back to their own church and use this experience to tear down walls and open doors," she said, "to appreciate that many of us are saying the same thing."
Chuck Stanford of Stilwell was impressed by the number of faiths represented at the conference. About a third of the registrants identified themselves as Christians while the rest represented beliefs ranging from American Indian spirituality to Zoroastrianism.
"It's a very historic event for Kansas City, but more than that, it's such an incredible opportunity for all faith communities to come together," said Stanford, who represents Buddhism on the Kansas City Interfaith Council. "I couldn't believe the diversity."
John van Keppel of Leawood, a free-thinker who resists being identified with any faith, said he was impressed by participants' enthusiasm. He said that though one speaker described himself as preaching to the choir, "the choir was enthusiastic."
"The religions need to get together and quit warring," van Keppel said, "not merge, but respect each other."
That hope was the essence of a concluding declaration signed by more than 100 conference attendees late Sunday afternoon. In it, signers pledged themselves to deepening their commitments to their own faith communities while honoring the faith of others.
The Rev. Vern Barnet, the founder of CRES and convener of the Kansas City Interfaith Council, termed the conference a success.
"This was far beyond my dreams," said Barnet, who writes guest columns for The Kansas City Star. "It exceeded my expectations."
All content © 2001 The Kansas City Star
If other communities want an example of how to conduct interfaith dialogue in this tense time among followers of different religions, they should look at the recent "Gifts of Pluralism" conference in Kansas City.
Sponsored by the Kansas City Interfaith Council, the two-day event was the city's first areawide interfaith conference. It brought together several hundred persons who represented more than a dozen religious faiths and provided a timely opportunity to demystify religious beliefs and to learn from one another about common hopes for peace and justice.
The event, under the auspices of the Center for Religious Experience and Study, was held in the gymnasium of Pembroke Hill School. Around the perimeter of the gym, various tables offered material from different religions to explain their beliefs and practices. But the core of the weekend event was a series of presentations and panel discussions in which participants articulated what turned out to be shared values. Beyond religious representatives, those who spoke included politicians and representatives of businesses, nonprofit groups and the media.
Organizers were surprised by the large turnout, which was an indication of the hunger for spiritual understanding in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
President Bush has repeatedly said that the American war on terrorism should not be seen as a war against Islam. But understanding how followers of various religions see terrorism and what they believe constitutes a just response to it is crucial. The recent "Gifts of Pluralism" conference here was a model for how to hold an interfaith conversation about all of that.
All content © 2001 The Kansas City Star
What made Kansas City's first interfaith conference,
Oct 27-28, a success? Here are five guesses.
First, the Interfaith Council, which I am grateful to serve, avoided the usual practice of inviting a big-name speaker from out of town to draw a crowd. A celebrity would have deflected the light shining from the variety of traditions practiced now in the Heartland.
Second, it was a participatory, not a sit-down-and-listen, conference. Religion, after all, is more what you do than what gets poured into you. With David E. Nelson's skillful use of ``appreciative inquiry'' throughout the two days, conferees became friends as they asked and answered questions eliciting the depths of their spiritual experences.
Third, the planners accepted Rabbi Joshua Taub's advice to make this more than just a ``feel-good'' event. Panels brought the wisdom of the world's religions to the troubles we face environmentally, personally and socially. Other panels dealt with the role of religion in the difficulties of the larger Kansas City landscape.
Fourth, the Interfaith Council invited Spirit of Service, Kansas City Harmony and the National Conference for Community and Justice to be cosponsors. Their sharing the load reflected the cooperative style developed over the years among the Council members. In addition, the three denominations with world headquarters here enhanced the program: the Community of Christ, the Church of the Nazarene, and Unity School of Christianity.
Fifth, the conference charted a direction into the future, summarized by a concluding Declaration, available on my website. Action on some ideas has already begun to make our home a model interfaith community.
All content © 2001 The Kansas City Star
Because of the Taliban's vile misuse of religion,
the world's attention has been focused on Islam and the distorted version
of it that has helped to create such chaos and crisis in Afghanistan.
But religious abuse certainly is not - and has not been - limited to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme potentate, and his zealous followers. In fact, violence that finds its roots in perverted religion and hatred of traditional religion has plagued the globe for centuries and continues to do so in our era.
From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, from Russia to India to Sudan and beyond, religious violence has infested the world and led to mayhem, oppression and death. I often marvel at God's patience with us.
Among the many places famous for despicable treatment of some people of faith is Russia. Just this month, the chief rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, met in Washington with Russian President Vladimir Putin to talk about the country's historic anti-Semitism. The rabbi came away relieved, saying he now believes Putin really is serious about his intention to "eradicate it (anti-Semitism) completely." (Great idea but good luck.)
In any discussion of this terrible problem, it helps to know that the term anti-Semitism has come to refer almost exclusively to hostility or discrimination against Jews. Indeed, the term entered the language through the German, when it was first used in the late 1870s to refer to anti-Jewish campaigns under way then in central Europe. (Hitler didn't dream all this up from nothing.)
But careful students of language correctly point out that Semitic peoples include not just Jews but also Arabs, to say nothing of ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Carthaginians, Ethiopians and
(Today the term "Semite" frequently is considered an offensive way to refer to Jews.)
When studying the long, dreary anti-Semitic history of Christianity, it can be useful to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, which is more narrowly focused on aspects of the Jewish faith and less on racial identity. This is especially true in the early years of Christianity, when most of the new faith's followers were converted Jews.
But whether the subject is Russia's anti-Semitic history or the Taliban's wretched version of Islam (President Bush, by the way, calls the Taliban "the most repressive, backward group of people we have seen on the face of the Earth in a long period of time."), the question is always the same: How and why do these hateful attitudes take root and grow?
I have struggled with this question for a long time. And not just on the global scale. In my own experience as a Christian, there's hardly a church in the country, my own included, that hasn't experienced some kind of deep internal strife, which - were it played out on a wider stage - would look a great deal like the kind of widespread religious violence most of us are quick to condemn.
This turmoil sometimes finds its start in simple personality conflicts, but it also can - and often does - grow from arrogant attitudes of religious certainty about what truth is.
The leaders of the Taliban have been absolutely convinced they know God's will for them and for everyone else. They have lived unburdened by doubt. This beyond-all-doubt attitude is not, of course, confined to just one religious group. It affects nearly all religious communities and has led to brutality and oppression everywhere.
Several weeks ago, I was on a panel at an event that celebrated what it called the gifts of religious pluralism. It was heartening to see members of more than a dozen faiths come together to try to understand one another better and to find ways to work together.
But I worry that such interfaith efforts won't succeed as long as there are so many unsettled intrafaith disputes. For the reality is that almost every religion suffers from division - sometimes radically so.
My own denomination - the Presbyterian Church (USA) - is, at the moment, so divided over issues of homosexuality that it may well split asunder. In this debate, mean-spiritedness often abounds.
It's easy to dismiss the terrible religious excess of the Taliban as an aberration with no historic precedent. It is not.
It grows in the same soil as the arrogant certainty that God's view and ours are one.
- Bill Tammeus is a member of the Editorial Board. His essay column appears on Saturdays and Mondays.
All content © 2001 The
Kansas City Star
Conference seeks interfaith understanding
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor
(Photos: Margaret Hansbrough gives a youth perspective on enviornmental issues (top left) at an interfaith conference Oct. 27 called "The Gifts of Pluralism." Top right, Abdul Rauf Mir makes apoint at a presentatin on Islam. Panelists on pluralism, above, were [Kansas City mayor pro tem] Alvin Brooks, [Bank of America regional president] Clyde Wendell, [Community of Christ president] W. Grant McMurray, [Kansas City Star columnist] Bill Tammeus and [Kauffman Foundation program director] Andrew Dominguez.)
KANSAS CITY - More than 200 people invested $75 to attend a two-day conference at Pembroke Hill School, exploring a variety of religious traditions and possibilities of interfaith action to benefit the Kansas City metropolitan community.
The Rev. Vern Barnet told the opening plenary session that the conference was designed to help people learn about other faith traditions to deepen their understanding of their own faith, and to begin a process "where religion becomes a powerful response to the directionlessness of our society," with emphasis on Kansas City.
The Oct. 27-28 conference was organized by CRES (formerly the Center for Religious Experience and Study), a not-for-profit organization whose stated purpose is "promoting understanding among people of all faiths," and was sponsored by the Kansas City Interfaith Council, the National Council for Community and Justice, Kansas City Harmony, and Spirit of Service, with support from The Learning Project and Hatebusters.
Rev. Barnet is president of CRES.
The conference focused on the various religious traditions' responses to environmental, personal and social issues.
Rev. Barnet said the primal religions, such as the American Indian, tribal African and other ancient belief systems, emphasize the world of nature and man's place in it alongside other living beings, not above them.
"If we are to solve the problem of the environment,we must go back to the world of nature," he said.
The personal Asian traditions, such as Hinduism Buddhism, Confucianism and Jainism stress that the sacred is a power within that can integrate whatever happens in the world. Its lessons can help people "proceed with the dance of life," he said.
The monotheistic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Baha'i, believe that God is revealed and acts in communities. A further belief is that people suffering are our brothers and sisters, wherever they are.
"Every religion contains all of the elements. Some emphasize particular elements more than others,"Rev. Barnet said.
He said a goal of the conference was to "rediscover these elements in our own traditions."
"The treasure that can put an end to the spiritual poverty of our times lies buried deep within our own traditions, the faith you hold," he said. However, the paradox is that often "it is only after a long and difficult journey where someone speaks to us with a foreign accent that we are led back to the deeper aspects of our own faith."
An informal poll of participants showed that almost half were not Christians. Exercises paired Christians with non-Christians to explore one another's spiritual histories and to compare beliefs.
Workshops were scheduled on each of 15 spiritual/religious traditions,including those already mentioned and Sufism, Unitarian universalism, Vedanta, Wicca and Zoroastrianism.
Panelists presented views on the environment, social issues and personal issues from several of the traditions.
Congressman Dennis Moore, D., Kan., and Congresswoman Karen McCarthy D., Mo., spoke at the opening session. Moore stressed the need to reach out to people who are different.
"We must recognize that those who come from other nations are still loyal Americans," he said.
McCarthy said that standing at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center disaster gave her an understanding of evil beyond any prior catechism lessons. She praised the conference as an effort "to involve us and unite us as a people and to make Kansas City a better, safer place."
"In my faith I believe there is a loving God," she said. "I hope you talk about the principles of a just war. When we go to war with weaponry against evil, we must protect the innocent."
Commenting on the conference, Ahmed el-Sharif, a scientist and humanitarian activist, told The Catholic Key, "God's wisdom is spread out widely. You pick up little pieces as you travel through life and the world."
El-Sharif, a Muslim, said one of the most moving experiences he had was traveling to Iraq in the company of Catholics to deliver medical supplies. While there, the group went to a Catholic church for Mass. El-Sharif, being the only one who spoke Arabic, translated for the Catholics.
Through him, the group spoke to a bride about to be married in the church, and discovered that she had no dowry to bring to her marriage. The group from Kansas City pooled their spare cash and gave it to her. The bride and her family then insisted that they come to the wedding party.
Rev. Barnet told The Catholic Key that participants' evaluation sheets, turned in at the conclusion of the conference, showed that "from the spiritual point of view it was a mountaintop experience."
A final declaration, signed by participants, said that nature is to
be respected as "a process that includes us, not a product external to
us that can just be used or disposed of." It said that peace and justice
are honored and advanced when people "govern themselves less by profit
and more by the covenant of service." The signers pledged to examine their
beliefs and practices "so we may be sincere beacons for reducing unfair
treatment of people, war, suffering and other inhumanities in our world."
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
(photo: Brother Louis Rodemann speaks on social issues with panel members Mohamed Al-Hilali, Pamela Barr and [youth representative] Chris Carr.)
KANSAS CITY - The man at the microphone said that in the 1960s and 70s, Kansas City was considered a model for interfaith cooperation. Now that cooperation was fragmented. What happened, he wanted to know. A buzz of conversation filled the gym at Pembroke Hill School as he sat down.
The conversation quieted as five men, in turn, took the microphone to respond. Their faces were recognizable from TV and the newspaper: Alvin Brooks, Clyde Wendell, W. Grant McMurray, Bill Tammeus and Andrew Dominguez. The men, representing the five power structures of a city: government, business, religion, media and non-profit organizations, formed a panel on the role of religion in a community. The panel was part of a two-day Kansas City Interfaith Council conference, "The Gifts of Pluralism," Oct. 27-28.
Wendell, a member of Visitation Parish, and CEO of the Bank of America-Kansas City, said perhaps the fragmentation dated back to the Vietnam War. Some groups supported the war while others opposed it. The emotions generated by the war and the societal conflicts of the times contributed to the breakdown. He said that, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, now was the time to reinvigorate and build up a broad base of interfaith cooperation.
Tammeus, an elder of the Presbyterian Church and editorialist for The Kansas City Star, said that he was wrestling with the very question that religion is often called upon to answer, "Why, oh Lord?" His nephew had been on board the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center. He said that individual experiences with interfaith dialogue may provide a basis for increased cooperation, especially between Christian and Muslim.
W. Grant McMurray, president of the Community of Christ, said churches are involved in many of the issues of modern society, such as abortion, globalization, race, ethnicity and gender, and capital punishment. McMurray, the leader of the panel, then asked his fellow panelists how religion relates to the way a society conducts business, government and the press.
The events of Sept. 11 were still fresh in everyone's mind and figured into the discussion. St. Monica parishioner Brooks, who is a member of the City Council, called for renewed understanding that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and that God loves all people equally. As a result, said Brooks, governments have to be fair and accessible to the communities they serve, and they should never make decisions that would hurt a segment of society or violate religious beliefs. He said people in all walks of life should "pray "morning, noon and night, and every minute in between for each other."
Wendell said religion provides the framework for people's lives, "the white lines on the road." He said businesses should support associates and employees in their faiths, and bring faith perspectives into the marketplace. For example, he said, funds should be made available to various faith-based organizations to support their work.
Tammeus, who said it is the job of the press to present issues with analyses and perspectives so readers can make their own judgments, spoke of religion in a community as "the place to go to ask the unanswerable questions everyone has." He called for more reader response to newspapers as a sign that readers want more coverage of faith-based topics and less on the entertainment industry, for example.
Andrew Dominguez, a member of St. Patrick Parish, works for the Kauffmann Foundation. He said that like education, religion challenges the workplace to deal with diversity. Children are being taught tolerance and acceptance of different cultures and religions. Change starts with the young people in a community, he said, and it eventually spreads to the adults.
At a panel on social issues, Christian Brother Louis Rodemann of the Holy Family Catholic Worker House said people have lost sight of justice issues, especially in the light of recent events.
"As Christians, we believe in the incarnation of God in the form of Jesus Christ," he said. "In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gave us a sort of inaugural address in which he basically repeated the message of Isaiah," Brother Rodemann said.
When he said "Blessed are the poor, the meek and the peacemakers," he said, that was "a call to love your enemies."
Mohamed Al-Hilali, a teacher at the Kansas City Islamic High School, said that in the Quran, God said, "All mankind, we made you." We were made into many nations, towns and communities, he said, and we have to communicate.
"Each of our communities have their own unique needs," he said. "Once we know what they are, we can focus on the common needs that we all share."
Asked to explain the connection between his work at the Catholic Worker House and his demonstrations against war, Brother Rodemann said a response to Christ's call is twofold.
"We recognize the hungry, thirsty and sick around us, and we respond to them with food, water and aid," he said. "That is the easy part of Christ's call."
The harder part is trying to effect change in yourself and the world around you, he said. In dealing with injustice, you have to call on leaders to make changes, he said.
The works of mercy and works of justice together form the whole plan, he said.
"Alleviate the pain and then demand an end to the reasons or the cause of that pain."
Al-Hilali said that Islam calls for basic needs to be fulfilled for every human being.
"Our value should not be determined by what we have, but rather to whom we belong."
Rounding out the panel were Chris Carr, a second year student at Kansas City's Islamic High School, who said the media is having a negative effect on youth through its emphasis on negative news.
"Despite our differences, we all know what's right or wrong, we all have our boundaries, and we all need a sense of hope," he said.
Pamela Barr, a rabbinical student who works at Temple B'nai Jehudah, said the Talmud teaches an obligation to help the most vulnerable in society and to uphold human rights.
The Rev. Vern Barnet, a Unitarian Universalist minister and president of CRES (Center for Religious Experience and Study), convened the conference, the first ever interfaith conference in Kansas City.
Pembroke Hill School was chosen as the site for several reasons, he said. The conference was intended as a learning experience and "we are all students," he said. The location on State Line showed that both states were represented.
Rev. Barnet said about 250 people registered for the conference.
Joe Cory contributed to this story. END
(photo: Rushdy El Ghussein)
KANSAS CITY - A workshop on Islam at the "The Gifts of Pluralism" conference Oct. 27-28 revealed many parallels between the teachings of Catholic Christianity and those of the Muslim faith.
Presenter Rushdy El Ghussein said that in Islamic belief all human beings are brothers and sisters. The Quran says, "The best among you is the best in conduct," he said. "And God is the judge. Not you."
The purpose of prayer is to create a relationship with God, who is the cherisher and the sustainer of all that exists, he said.
"The all-knowing is always present and can be called upon," he said.
He said Islam is a religion of "peace, parity, serenity and obedience." Arabs constitute only 15 percent of the world's almost 1 billion Muslims. There are more Muslims in Indonesia than there are everywhere else, he said.
He said "an enduring stereotype" of the Islam is the oppression of women. But, he said, the rights of women "were always there."
"Fourteen-hundred years ago, women in Islam were full persons, entitled to equal pay. They could own a business. They had a right to divorce," he said. "Mohammed worked for his wife. What some Muslims do in ignorance leads to stereotyping."
He said the message of dressing modestly is "Don't deal with my body, deal with my mind."
The fast from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan helps people "learn to restrain their passions, and unifies them with poor people."
"When you think of the fact that you have a meal waiting for you at the end of the day, but poor people may not, it encourages you to want to help them," El Ghussein said.
There are three Muslim holy places, he said, Mecca, Medina and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Regarding Muslim tolerance for other religions, he said the Taliban's destruction of the Buddha in Afghanistan was "an aberration."
Asked if there is a contemporary example of an Islamic state that allows pluralism, El Ghussein said, "Not now. There is not."
Abdul Rauf, a co-presenter, said the Quran gives the right to every human being to worship in his own way.
"There is not compulsion in the faith," he said.
Both Rauf and El Ghussein acknowledged that it was only in the first 50-60 years of Islam that there was wide participation in the governance of the state.
After that "it was perverted,"said El Ghussein. He said Muslims have more opportunity to discuss issues and influence one another's opinions in the United States than they do in Egypt, where he came from, or in Saudi Arabia.
Shaheen Ahmed of Leawood, Kan., who identified herself as a Muslim from India, made a plea to those present to oppose prejudice against people who differ in dress, religion or ethnicity. Referring to Osama bin Laden, she said, "He is not a Muslim by my definition."
by Ed Chasteen
A beautiful late October Saturday morning, fall
leaves near their peak on all sides, framing the Pembroke Hill School campus
in flaming reds and yellows and golds — visual overload as prelude to the
spiritual about to come.
Religion at warp speed. Two days in the presence of every religious tradition and teaching in greater Kansas City. Vern Barnet’s dream come true. When he moved from Pennsylvania to Kansas City more than a quarter century ago, Vern brought with him knowledge of world religions acquired from his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago and a passion born of his deep faith, a passion that led him in 1982 to found CRES. Vern resigned his pastorate to devote his full time as an unpaid volunteer to this new work.
CRES envisions greater Kansas City as a model community where interfaith relationships are honored as a way of deepening one’s own tradition and spirituality, and where the wisdom of the many religions successfully addresses the environmental, personal and social crises of our often fragmented, no longer sacred world. The CRES mission is to honor the sacred wherever it appears and to support its appearance everywhere. The question that guides CRES is “What is sacred, so important that my life depends upon it, that I would die for it, and what may I do to understand, honor and share it?”
Vern and CRES have won hearts and minds across greater Kansas City and beyond. Vast reservoirs of respect, love, and admiration for Vern and his work are found among civic, political, educational, cultural and religious leaders. More than two years of active planning and decades of dreaming bring some 300 persons from 16 religious faiths to The Gifts of Pluralism Conference, a two-day gathering. This Gifts of Pluralism gathering is subtitled: In a World Without Direction We Find the Sacred.
Congressman Dennis Moore and Congresswoman Karen McCarthy have come from their post-September 11 duties in our nation’s capital to emphasize the gravity of what we do and the opportunity we have to lead our community and our country in using our varied religious understandings to build a peaceful place. A deliberate decision was made early on not to invite some big-name keynote speaker from out of town, but rather to focus on the hometown talent and passionate eloquence that daily enrich our life together.
David Nelson has for years ministered to greater
Kansas City and serves now as associate minister of CRES. Using a method
called Appreciative Inquiry, David has designed our time together around
eight assumptions: (1) In every organization, religion or spiritual community,
something works. (2) What we focus on becomes reality. (3) Reality is created
in the moment, and there are multiple realities. (4) Being present to another
person influences that person in some way. (5) People have more confidence
and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward
part of the past (the known). (6) If we carry parts of the past forward,
they should the best parts. (7) It is important to value and celebrate
differences. (8) The language we use creates our reality.
David begins our day with the story of Lincoln and Mason, two young boys who become fast friends and get in trouble. The differing responses of their parents make all the difference. David then assigns us questions to ask the person who sits beside us and gives careful instructions about how we are to listen. This is not to be a day when those at the microphone do all the talking and teaching. Each of us is to play a part and engage those who sit around us in deep spiritual questions that we hardly ever dare raise in our ordinary lives.
The gymnasium where we meet is ringed by tables
displaying materials from most of the faith communities in attendance.
The hardwood floor has been covered and we can rearrange our folding chairs
to accommodate the varying sizes of the listening exercises we do. The
faiths present here today, as listed in the Conference Notebook given to
all who come: American Indian, Bahá'í, Buddhism, Christian
Orthodoxy, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Protestant Christianity,
Roman Catholic Christianity, Sikhism, Sufism, Unitarian Universalism, Vedanta,
Wicca, Zoroastrianism. Practicing communities of these faiths are located
in greater Kansas City.
After the opening two hours together in the gym listening to one another tell of our faith journey and describing ourselves as spiritual persons, we adjourn to a nearby building where we go in small groups to learn about each of the faiths present today. A box lunch that conforms to the all the dietary restrictions dictated by the various faiths awaits us at noon in the cafeteria. Over lunch we have time to greet friends we haven’t seen in a while and to get acquainted with folks we’ve never met.
Vern begins a session in the gym with the story of the Cracow rabbi who was led by a dream to Prague. Once there he was directed back to his humble home where the treasure he needed had always been. Vern draws two lessons from this story: (1) the rabbi had to leave home to find where to look; (2) he had to return to uncover the riches. So we have all come today to discover what messages we find in the other faiths we meet here. Then we go home again to uncover riches we would not have known to look for if we had not come here.
Three spiritual crises occupy our afternoon, and
a Multifaith panel comes to address each. The Environmental Crisis, the
Personal Identity Crisis and the Social Cohesion Crisis. Following each
45-minute presentation, we are asked a question drawn from the panel’s
presentation and given 15 minutes to listen to our neighbor discuss it,
and discuss it with our neighbor.
Dinner together. Followed by what our Notebook calls “cultural expressions from sundry faiths.”
We close the day with “rites of friendship.” Then we scatter to our far-flung homes across greater Kansas City. Lights burn late into the night all across the metro as stories are told of this magical day. Three hundred of us were here, but thousands will get first-hand accounts of this Camelot day when all that is good and noble settled in our midst and gave us a vision.
By 11 o’clock Sunday morning we have reassembled
for worship. From all the faiths someone comes forward to lead us, beginning
with a Jewish lighting of candles and ending with Native-American smoke
fanned with an eagle feather upon the congregation as we turn in the six
Over lunch we have time to revisit with one another the highlights of our two days together. Then comes a panel on the role of religion in the community; followed by another on how we can better relate to one another as people of faith. Ahmed El-Sherif observes, “Two days now we have been in this gymnasium and I haven’t seen a score on the scoreboard. And you know why? Because we’re all on the same team.”
A joint declaration has been prepared. Following its reading and unanimous adoption, Vern turns our attention to containers of water on the table before us. The largest contains waters from the world’s mightiest rivers, collected by Vern in his travels and sent to him by friends. The small containers hold waters from the fountains around Kansas City. As our concluding ceremony, representatives of each faith come. They take the small containers and one-by-one they pour the water from the fountains into the water from the rivers. When they have finished, the one large container is filled to the brim with waters from all the world, fitting symbol of the fullness we all feel [as we leave with vials we have filled from the large jar. We are invited to pour the water to help something grow — and to remember our time together to help Kansas City spirituality grow.] From all over the world to Kansas City we have come to make our home. And now we are one.
Thanks, Vern, for helping us all to recognize and celebrate the community we have become.
On October 27 and 28, 2001, our city held its
first interfaith conference entitled “Gifts of Pluralism: Shaping the future
of religion in the Kansas City area.” It brought representatives
of dozens of faiths together to learn from each other “in a cooperative
search for the strengths, passions, and life-giving forces that are found
within every religious system.”
Among the two hundred-fifty participants were Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, American Indians, Sikhs, Sufis, Wiccans, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, Unitarian Universalists, other faiths, and independents.
The approach used was “appreciative inquiry,” valuing the best of all faiths, discovering what in each faith gives its followers that spark we might call the holy spirit, identifying what is good, what works, a common core from which to build, with emphasis on positive images and actions, as opposed to focusing on doctrinal differences, or historical rivalries. To illustrate this concept, the narrator told a true story of two boys who had broken the law. The first boy was condemned, shamed, isolated, blamed and rejected by his parents. Love was withdrawn, self-worth destroyed. The second boy, a Lakota Sioux, was set in the center of a circle of elders and relatives. There his worth, goodness, value and sense of responsibility were affirmed. He felt unconditional love, forgiveness, mercy, and restoration. Both boys shed tears that night, but they were different kinds of tears.
There were times during the conference when we gathered in small groups and shared from our own traditions and learned about each other’s spiritual journeys. There was a time to learn in more depth about one faith of our choice. There were multi-faith panel discussions, each one including a young person. One was on how we can translate our beliefs into caring for the environment, including respect for all aspects of the interdependent web of life, making individual choices in harmony with God, living moderately, not wasting, worshipping in energy conscious buildings, and recognizing we are all drops of water in the same ocean.
In the panel on personal issues, the youth said that adults should not impose the faith upon them, but help them find it for themselves, and that example is the best teacher. Faith leaders should welcome questioning and searching. Ethical values can be determined by realizing that what is right for one blesses all. We must be the change we wish to see. World peace begins in each heart, then extends to the family, community, and nation. The spiritual quest must outweigh the materialistic pull. Loneliness is separation from God and must be met first at that level. Regular time for prayer, meditation, introspection is essential and the inspiration derived from these reflective moments need to be taken into daily experience. Afflictive emotions, such as lust, greed, hate, and anger must be consciously met with their opposites.
In the social issues panel discussion the youth said that the news should not focus on evil, but more on hope, goodness, and comforting. Our responsibility to the weak, poor, and vulnerable include working to eliminate the causes for these conditions. We are showing mercy toward them while seeking justice for them. We all have the same nature given to us by God who wants us to communicate as one family. Each one in the community is to be valued, not judged. To reduce the gap between rich and poor, the wants of some must be reduced to meet the needs of others.
Islamic prayer times were observed during the day. Vegetarian mealtimes in the cafeteria were special times for making new friends and learning. The evening program, entitled “Mosaic in Motion,” was a celebration of multi-faith poetry, music and dance. The Sunday morning service was a combination of prayers, hymns and the sharing of sacred ideas. Here are some excerpts from the call to worship: We, gathered here in the Heartland celebrating the gifts of pluralism, call you by many names –God, Yahweh, Wankantaka, Allah, Brahman, Goddess, Sat Nam, Tao, Creative Interchange, Void, Ahura Mazda, Ground of Being, Process of Becoming—these names planted and transplanted here, in Kansas City soil, the great traditions of the world joined, now growing in our own garden… You now join us in deeper understanding and service as we find the sacred in a world searching for direction.”
In the afternoon panel discussion on Faith
and Community, the question was posed that if our presence in the community
disappeared over night, would the community miss it? Each congregation
must continually ask itself if it is a viable presence. The face
of religion in America is becoming more varied and global. There
are 2600 congregations in our area. How can we better relate to one
another? Learn about each other’s traditions. Serve the community
together. Ask ourselves honestly, “What in our traditions is
contributing to the problem of isolation?” Share literature to create
inter-faith libraries. Make available to other congregations
speakers about our faiths. Ask ourselves why many people do not turn
to religious communities when they need help. Make ourselves more
accessible. Walk the talk.
In the closing ceremony, a large vase half full of waters from many rivers of the world including the Ganges and Jordan sat on the front table. To it was added waters from some of the many fountains from around the city. As the participants left, each one took a small vial and dipped it into the vase. They were to use it to help make something grow, as a symbol of what occurred at this conference.
I came away from this conference with a greater
· that the universal God meets the human need where it is and in ways that can be understood in the context of various cultures.
· That beneath the surface doctrines, we are alike in more ways than we may have imagined.
· That the spirit can operate without the letter, whereas the letter cannot operate without the spirit.
· That isolation and ignorance or indifference slow the process of one world.
· That being a part of the dialogue that unites and brings understanding is mutually beneficial.
Sunday's session ended with the unanimous adoption
of Concluding Conference Declaration read by Fred Schuele, edited from
a preliminary draft with comments posted by conferees throughout the two
But before conferees were invited to sign the document, conference president Vern Barnet drew attention to a large clear jar, partially filled with water, on the head table in front of a large image of the conference logo, a tree with the continents of the world in its branches and, positioned in the middle of North America, the Kansas City logo, "City of Fountains, Heart of the Nation." He said the water included drops from the Ganges, the Nile, the Tiber, the Seine, the Amazon, the Thames, the Sea of Japan, the Kaw, and many other bodies of water throughout the world, collected from travels over many years. Also on the table were 14 smaller jars of water, collected within the preceding week by Laura Conley from Kansas City area fountains, from Independence to Lenexa. (Plaza 3, Union Station 1, NKC 2, Paseo Blvd 2, Independence 1, South KC 1, Overland Park 1, Lebexa 1, KCKS 2.)
Dana Rodenbaugh arranged for members of different faith groups to pour water gathered from the fountains of Kansas City into the large jar, showing that faiths here in Kansas City flow with the great streams of the worlds traditions. One by one, the representatives added the water from their containers to the large jar. The 15th pourer brought the water in the large jar to the brim, just as the conferees were filled to the brim by the rewards of meeting together. "From all over the world we have come to make Kansas City our home," said Ed Chasteen.
Then each conference participant was invited to approach the table and take a small vial (with a top), to fill the vial with water from the large jar and to sign the Concluding Declaration. Conferees were asked to pour the water from their vials around trees or plants as a reminder "to pour our energy into creating a city modeling interfaith understanding. May the vials of water remind us of the spirit of the conference, helping religious understandings in our community grow."
“The Gifts of Pluralism”Conference
A preliminary draft was prepared by Chuck Stanford and his committee. During the conference, 4x6 cards were available to post comments about the draft. Fred Schuele proposed a final version which was unanimously adopted at the end of the conference.
This is an historic moment because never before
have people of so many faiths in the Kansas City area convened to explore
sacred directions for troubled times. Especially after the events
of September 11, the need for our support for one another and the larger
community is clear and commanding.
As members of the greater Kansas City community and guests, we have assembled on October 27 and 28, 2001, and worked together, worshipped together, enjoyed each other, and learned much from each other.
We do hereby declare our resolve to work towards
making Kansas City, which we often call the Heart of America, a model community
— one that opens its heart to the world. Here interfaith relationships
shall be honored as a way of deepening one’s own tradition and spirituality,
and the wisdom of many religions shall help to successfully address the
environmental, personal, and social crises of our often fragmented world.
* The gifts of pluralism have taught us that nature is to be respected, not just controlled. Nature is a process that includes us, not a product external to us that can just be used or disposed of. Our proper attitude toward nature is awe, not utility. When we do use nature as we must -- for food, housing, and other legitimate purposes — we should do so with respect and care, preserving its beauty and mindful of its connection to the Sacred and ourselves.
* We have also learned that our true personhood may not be in 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 our control.
* Finally, when persons in community govern themselves less by profit and more by the covenant of service, the flow of history towards peace and justice is honored and advanced.
We declare that through our encounter with one another, we have discovered that clearer directions for our several faiths and for our society at large are needed and possible. In the name of our faiths, too often have prejudice and injustice been perpetuated, and we know that bigotry and bias continue. We pledge ourselves to guide our own faith communities in examining our own beliefs and practices, so we may be sincere beacons for reducing the incidence of unfair treatment of people, war, suffering, and other inhumanities in our world.
The work we have done this weekend is a turning
point, we fervently hope, in overcoming the misunderstandings that separate
persons and communities of faith. We commit ourselves to deepen our
commitments to our own faith communities and to enlarge our understanding
of kinship by honoring the faiths of others.
This conference, “The Gifts of Pluralism,” is thus the beginning of an expanded conversation by which we may show both our humanity and our gratitude in offering service to that which is Infinite and Ultimate, which we call by many names but identify in our hearts as the Source from which we come, to which we return, and which holds us in this present opportunity.
Namaste, Jai Shri Krishna.
“Saal Mubarak”, Happy New Year to everyone.
Dear Fellow Devotees,
At this time I would like to make everyone aware of the event that took place on the 27th and 28th of October. This was the Interfaith conference called the “Gifts of Pluralism”, that was conducted at the Pembroke Hill School. At this conference, some 15 different faiths took part, where every faith was given the opportunity to speak about their beliefs and how they stand in the world community today. In today’s world, it is very important to exchange views and ideas. We have come to live so close to each other that it has become necessary to know about your “neighbor”. Conferences like these make it possible for us to dialogue in a constructive way not only on religion but also on every facet of our lives. The better we communicate with each other the better we will understand each other, and harmony is enhanced. To those that are interested in making a difference in this world I would say please attend programs like these and make the difference.
The Gifts of Pluralism Conference
the Way for Future Interfaith Cooperation
By Anand Bhattacharyya
The Gifts of Pluralism Conference in Kansas City on October 27 and 28 was a powerful and effective interfaith event. Fourteen faiths were represented in the conference. On October 26, the day before the conference, several people from other faiths visited our temple. Arvind Khetia gave a talk on Hinduism and Gulab Kothari gave a talk on Jainism. At the conference site, Pembroke Hill school gymnasium, faith exhibition opened. Tables were placed, one for each faith, around the perimeter of the gym. Books, handouts, symbols, pictures and other religious artifacts were placed on the table from each faith tradition. Kris and Padma Krishna took charge of Hindu table. Linda Prugh (Uma) was in charge of Vedanta table and Gulab Lothari was in charge of Jain table. On October 27, the conference was inaugurated by Congressman Dennis Moore and Congresswoman Karen McCarthy. They emphasized the importance of interfaith dialog and understanding for a peaceful society. CRES (Center for Religious Experience and Study) minister David Nelson explained his ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ method to learn about other person’s faith as a way of deepening our own faith. Vern Barnet, the founder of CRES, spoke on the ‘Three Families of Faith’. This was followed by workshops on different faith traditions. Arvind Khetia conducted the workshop on Hinduism and Gulab Lothari on Jainism. In the afternoon, three separate multifaith panels discussed how to address the various environmental, personal social issues confronting today’s society form the perspective of each faith. Arvind Khetia was the Hindu panelist on the personal issue panel. A multifaith cultural program was staged in the evening. The Hindu traditional dance presentation by Hema Sharma and her students was very much enjoyed by all.
Next morning, on October 28, the program started with a multifaith worship service. Gulab and I took part in the Jain and Hindu service respectively. Next, a community panel discussed the role of religion in community. Then, ‘where do we go from here?’ was the subject of an interfaith panel discussion. Saraswati Shanker was the Hindu representative in the panel. The concluding ceremony was symbolic as well as impressive. Several small glass jars containing water from different Kansas City fountains were placed on a table. Another large glass jar on the same table was partially filled wit water collected from rivers around the world, including water from the Holy River, Gang. Each faith representative, one by one, poured the water from a small jar to the large jar, finally filling it to the brim. Sonal Khetia was the Hindu representative in the final ritual. From all over the world to Kansas City we have come to fulfill our dream. Now we recognize, honor and celebrate the religious diversity of Kansas City. On the end a joint declaration was read and signed by the conference participants. This conference is the beginning of our journey towards understanding and cooperation of all faith communities in Kansas City.
On behalf of the Kansas City Interfaith Council, I thank all our Hindu and Jain friends, who supported, attended and actively participated in this important conference.
Gifts of Pluralism Conference
October 27th & 28th
Over 200 persons attended the “Gifts of Pluralism” conference held Oct. 27 – 28 at Pembroke Hill School. Convened by the 12 year old Kansas City Interfaith Council, the conference was co-sponsored by Kansas City Harmony, NCCJ, and Spirit of Service. Supporting organizations include HateBusters and The Learning Project.
More than 15 different faiths were represented at the conference, including: American Indian, Baha’I, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan and Zoroastrian.
The conference featured speakers, panel discussion, workshops, cultural exhibits and demonstrations. The two day conference ended with a special water ceremony and a concluding Declarations Statement formulated by those in attendance. The Declarations Statement can be read at www.cres.org.
Ven. Jigme-la discussing the conference Ven. Jigme-la practicing the “Appreciative Inquiry”
with Stephanie Hoffman method with a fellow attendee
Lama Chuck giving a workshop on Buddhism Ven. Jigme-la & Lama Chuck at the Display on Buddhism
Lama Chuck participating in Sunday morning’s Ven. Jigme-la pouring water in the final ceremony
People came as strangers with a common passion for greater Inter-faith understanding. They left as partners committed to building an even more positive and hospitable environment for all people of faith in the greater Kansas City area. Others have reflected on the many reasons for the success of “The Gifts of Pluralism” Conference. I want to share some of my reflections on the power of “appreciative inquiry” and the joy of facilitating such a wonderful process with such fine folks.
The true meaning of power is “the ability to create and nurture life and relationships.” Vern Barnet shared his vision for such a conference years ago. I don’t remember the first time I heard about it, I just know he planted a seed that refused to die inside of me. Several years ago I learned about the organizational process called appreciative inquiry and became convinced that at last we have a process that would support what we wanted to have happen during the three days. I shared an AI experience with the Inter Faith Council many moons ago and they agreed that this could work. A primary goal of the conference we were planning would be to create and nurture relationships between people with diverse religious backgrounds. We were convinced that it would be most effective if we used a process that engaged the participants with each other rather than bringing in keynote speakers from the outside.
After a short introduction and a few greetings, Appreciative Inquiry was introduced. I shared the story of “Mason and Lincoln” which illustrates the difference between traditional ways of doing organizational development and an appreciative way. Since about half of the participants were Christian of one flavor or another, I asked that each Christian find a partner of another faith. There were a few threesomes, but most of the gathering discovered a new partner and began the interviews.
The guidelines for the interviews were clear that all the attention would be on one person for the first half of the time and then we would switch. These interviews were a good opportunity to practice important communication skills. Rarely do we get such focused attention. Even more rare is the occasion to tell important religious and spiritual stories to another human being who is really interested and appreciative. I wish all the participants could have witnessed the energy in the room as people were talking and listening. About 150 were talking at any one time and yet the connections worked because people were really listening and asking powerful questions.
Each participant then identified the “positive core,” or “root cause for success” for his or her partner. I shared another story about my experience on “Bear Butte” in South Dakota when I was given a new name. The pairs gathered with other pairs and formed groups of eight. These groups would become the core for the work of celebrating pluralism and discovering the rich resources of religion to address important issues in our world
The “Appreciative Inquiry” method continued to be used following a delicious presentation by Vern Barnet and panels that focused on environmental, personal and social issues that need attention in our world. Rather than focusing on what is not working, we paid attention to the positive and compassionate resources of different religions. Instead of brainstorming about fixing the world, we allowed the vision and passion of faith to inspire us and give us hope.
The timing of “The Gifts of Pluralism” so soon following the tragic events of September heightened the energy and narrowed the focus of those who gathered. Rather than joining the voices of despair, fear, and desire for retaliation, the gathering became a choir singing of a world that remains very possible. These ancient stories of faith combined with a renewed commitment to understanding between people resulted in hope-filled people taking a stand for justice, peace, and collaboration.
The final day, Sunday began with an interfaith worship highlighting the shared texts, prayers, and longings for peace. It seemed not only easy, but also appropriate to merge our voices and our silence in the presence of the Sacred. There was some sense of discomfort for some, but we all felt a new fire burning within us. This was clearly a community building experience. It was clearly increasing our appreciation for our own religious experience and those of others.
This was also a personal experience. The AI process was used once more to allow time to reflect on what has happened within each person. The shared silence was a key highlight for me. To be in a room with men and women of such religious diversity was gift enough in itself. To identify and articulate our common vision became frosting on an already tasty cake. Plans were shared. Future possibilities were identified. Commitments were made to deepen new friendships. I strongly feel we left with more hope in our hearts and more intention to keep making our community a welcoming place for all people. In this community diversity of religion is not a problem. It is a gift. In the greater Kansas City area we will continue to draw upon the rich treasures of our many faith traditions to build a vision of a better world.
What we focus on becomes our reality. Appreciative inquiry invites us to continue to focus on what gives life. We have the power to create and nurture life and relationships. We experienced that power in late October of 2001 in the “Gifts of Pluralism Conference” and we live that power each day.
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