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Upcoming Programs -- What's Next Thanks for Noticing book
2020 Past Program links Older Program Reports
2020 Other Announcements About CRES participation
 Below are links to 2020 PROGRAMS and REPORTS
Vital ConversationsProgram, 2d Wed 1-2:30 pm          Coffee, 4th Wed 8 am
Photos and reports are arranged by month

A Schubertian Epiphany --January 12 free Sacred Arts Chorale concert

Ministry in a Pluralistic World C-RP511

KC Interfaith History Project continues 

King Holiday Essay

Lenten Series: When Even Evil Will Ordain the Good -- Mar 5, 12, 19, 26
     Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd

Live Music in Kansas City Silent
. . . [We] have all been plunged into a Buddhist boot camp where our only sane option is to truly in the moment . . . --Joyce DiDonato 

Table of Faiths   postponed to 2021 May 18

Interfaith Center at Miami University
A God Atheists Can Believe In May 13 a Zoom conversation

From Aporia to Praise:
An observance of the 50th anniversary of Vern Barnet's ordination POSTPONED

Sacred Citizenship
Exploring ideas in Vern's essay on the topic June 10

Independence Day Essay  "Sacred Citizenship"
     from our Archives: The America before Trump  (2-page PDF)

Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner -- 2020 Nov TBA Sunday 4:30
     with the Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award 
     given to TBA Event sponsored by the HeartlandADL


A final first edit of the Al Brooks memoir is now complete. We are in the proof-reading stage. 

Announcement and Reports
Free Music and Munchies for Epiphany! 
January 12 Sunday 2-4 pm, Simpson House, 4509 Walnut St
      CRES is pleased to co-sponsor music for Epiphany! The Sacred Arts Chorale again presents an intimate musical performance with plenty of time for munchies and wine (we hear the cider will be spiked with whiskey).  Music by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Rachmaninov, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. 
     Director Dr. Rebecca Johnson says the Chorale picked this date because "there is so much gorgeous choral music in Kansas City prior to Christmas, and then it all goes pretty silent until February."
     Simpson House is a favorite event space in the heart of Kansas City, near the Country Club Plaza, a few blocks east of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a block away from the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Plenty of parking in the lot and on the street.
    Vern says, "I can testify from past years that both the music will be splendid and the hors d'oeuvres will astonish as they delight." 
     Free, a gift from Central Baptist Theological Seminary to the community, with the co-sponsorship of CRES.


ABOVE: The Chorale receives the enthusiatic applause of the Simpson House audience.
 Soprano: Karli Carbrera, Christina Casey; Alto: Kimberly Wilkinson, Roslinde Rivera, Charlotte Thuenemann; Tenor: Jonathan Ray, Spencer Ruwe, Eddie Taul; Bass: Nathan Brown, Ben Donnelly-Strait; Accompanist: Charles Dickinson; Conductor: Rebecca Johnson.
BELOW: Dr Molly Marshall, president of Central Seminary, 
congratulates Dr Rebecca Johnson, conductor of the Sacred Arts Chorale.

from Canon John Schaefer 
(quoted from his Jan 14 email distribution:

    On Sunday, we attended the Schubertian Epiphany.  It was presented at the Simpson House by the Sacred Arts Chorale.  There was a warmhearted mix of sacred and secular music by Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Richard Strauss.  The program described the Chorale as “one of the Kansas City area’s finest sacred music performing groups.” In the words of A. E. Housman, “’tis true, ‘tis true.”

King Holiday Essay — 
     Download a PDF of Vern's 2-page summary of the genius of the spiritual approach of Martin Luther King Jr by clicking this link.

Ministry in a Pluralistic World syllabus
     2020 TBA 6-9:45pm CT 

     The graduate credit course C-RP511 is held remotely via Zoom and at
     Central Seminary 6601 Monticello Road, Shawnee, KS 6226-3513.

The course, created by Dr Vern Barnet, and currently taught by Dr Matthew Silvers with Vern taking the Feb 17 session, explores questionslike these:

     0. Getting acquainted: Our backgrounds, travel and other experiences, and perspectives as we approach this course. 
     1. What meanings do terms such as belief, dialogue, epiphany, holistic, mission, myth, pilgrimage, religion, ritual, sacred, sacrifice, scripture, secular, spirituality, and worship, have for us and today’s society? 
     2. What attitudes have scholars identified as ways folks approach faith perspectives other than their own?
     3. What does “pluralism” mean? What are its theoretical, practical, and personal meanings? How does it apply to the local community and the “global village”?
     4. Where are we aided and challenged by other traditions? How might our own and other traditions address environmental, personal, and social disorders?

     1. How do sociological, historical, phenomenological, and other methods of studying religions differ, and how do they help us understand another’s faith?
     2. What are the basic structures, texts, facts, practices, and variations of other faiths?
     3. How do faiths compare and contrast?
     4. What is more, and what is less, useful for each of us today?

     1. What are the basic styles and purposes of interfaith engagement? What are the significant interfaith organizations and programs affecting the student’s community? 
     2. How do I discover my community’s faith complexion and my opportunities within it? 
     3. What issues with boundaries arise and how can they be negotiated?
     4. What do we learn about ourselves as we learn about others? Can I be committed to my own faith and respectful and open to others? If so or if not, what does that mean for my ministry?

KC Interfaith History Project continues . . . .

Former CRES Board chair Larry Guillot and former CRES intern, now CRES historian, Geneva Blackmer met with Vern for lunch 2019 Febuary 21 to review progress and plan next steps. Geneva, with both her interfaith experience and library skills, has scoured local and state archives, interviewed folks, and drafted what is even at this stage by far the most complete look at how ecumenical and interfaith activities have developed in the KC region, but the work is ongoing. Visit the KC Interfaith History Project.
     In his 2019 July 25 entry in his “Faith Matters blog, Bill Tammeus about Geneva Blackmer’s book, The Ecumenical and Interfaith History of Greater Kansas City. 
     Bill says, “As Blackmer, a 2016-'17 intern for the Center for Religious Experience and Study who recently accepted a position as program director for the Interfaith Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, notes, ‘If it was ever necessary to designate one city in the United States as the heart of interfaith activity, a very compelling argument could be made for Kansas City.’
     “The booklet is itself an argument for that contention.”
     After several paragraphs discussing some of the content of the book and mentioning several important interfaith organizations, he concludes, “There is, of course, still much to be done to reach the Interfaith Council’s goal of making KC the most religiously welcoming community in the country. But Blackmer’s work is a tribute to how much effort already has gone into achieving that goal.”
     Surely Bill himself is one reason that Kansas City has been more welcoming to interfaith efforts than some places, and Geneva’s outline of Kansas City’s progress can inspire us to move forward.
     Geneva is shown above in a February review session with Larry Guillot who was one of her advisors on the book project.
     Vern says, “Geneva was one of the best things ever to happen to CRES, to interfaith progress in Kansas City, and to me. Her initiative, energy, faithfulness, many diverse skills, and academic competence made her a cherished laborer in the interfaith field here, and — as I know from all the requests for references I’ve received around the country — a much sought-after leader into the future.”


Lenten Series:
When Even Evil Will Ordain the Good 
Mar 5, 12, 19, 26 -- Thursdays, 6pm meal, 6:30 program
Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd
4947 NE Chouteau Drive, Kansas City,  MO 64119 -- (816) 452-0745


Lent is a special time to explore the powerful mysteries of the crucified and resurrected love of the Christian Savior. As terrain for this exploration, the Reverend Vern Barnet, DMn, offers sonnets from the  “Credo” section his book, Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire with art and music for discussion.
     Vern wrote the Wednesday "Faith and Beliefs" column 1994-2012 for The Kansas City Star and has written a dozen essays for the diocesan magazine, Spirit, 2015-2017.He is a layman at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral where currently he is a Godly Play storyteller and Saint John’s Bible docent, and he serves on the diocesan Commission on Ministry. He is minister emeritus at CRES — the Center for Religious Experience and Study. He founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989. Free copies of the book will be given to class members to celebrate the publication of the second edition expected sometime in March. Copies of the sonnets will be supplied for each session.

Mar 5 - The Jesus of History or the Christ of Faith?
Mar 12 - A Paradox of Salvation 
Mar 19 - The Gospel Theater 
Mar 26 - The Mystic Vision 

Here is the 8-page study guide in PDF

Readings: Theme Sonnet 82
Mar 5: Sonnet 79
Mar 12: Sonnet 80 (also? 85); 
Mar 19: Sonnet 84
Mar 26: Sonnet 86 (also? 88).

Art to illustrate the themes below
theme music "Third Tune" by Thomas Tallis
an instrumental version  -  a choral version  -   Fantasia by RVW
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8oKEx1-J1w -    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD5TG8z3-SM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihx5LCF1yJY - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0AuHYNj8qQ

Two views of an icon of Christ teaching and Velázquez’s "Christ after 
the Flagellation contemplated by the Christian Soul" Mar 8 and Mar 15

A modern enactment of the crucifixion. Mar 22

Dali's "Last Supper" Mar 29 


Below, Vern, standing behind an easel with a large print, discusses his sonnet about an unexpected encounter with an icon at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral when the only light was from a candle on the side, as recounted in his sonnet (#79) “The Quest for the Historical Jesus” in his book, Thanks for Noticing, part of the first session in the Lenten series described above. 

Thanks to David Nelson for the photo.
Patrick Neas posted this about the second session and photos:

I had the great privilege of attending a very timely presentation this evening, given by my brilliant and dear friend Vern Barnet, whom I call the Joseph Campbell of Kansas City. Called “When Even Evil Will Ordain the Good,” it was a thought-provoking Lenten meditation on the nature of evil and how it can be reconciled with the notion of a good God. How can a good God allow, for example, the coronavirus? To explore this profound topic, Vern used a painting by Velásquez, as well as one of his own sonnets, “The Cosmic Christ: A Meditation on Velázquez’s Christ after the Flagellation contemplated by the Christian Soul'”--

Who is this Christ? You, scourged, now look at me
   and send a thill of light to guide my prayer
   while You are twined and I think I am free,
   attired in spotless white though You are bare?
An angel points the truth and guards the space,
   an inner sweep where meaning’s torque is tried,
   and agony is mitered with spare grace;
   the present, like a paradox, is tied,
The world entire is Christ, distressed, alone,
   a way of painting all we see and know,
   the damned, the saved enjoined with laugh and moan,
   a metaphor chamfering loved and foe.
So I’ll be hurt to heal, be bound to free,
   change ache to kiss and wrench eternity.

Kansas City Star 
highlighting added 
For classical music, theater and other arts fans in Kansas City, it’s a ‘silent spring’

MARCH 25, 2020 07:00 AM 

Musicians Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Joyce DiDonato in a discussion with Clark Morris, executive director of the Harriman-Jewell Series. COURTESY DON IPOCK

Usually at this time of year, Kansas City is filled with a joyful cacophony of musical and theater performances. But in 2020, it’s more reminiscent of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” In her landmark 1962 environmental classic, Carson wrote how the misuse of pesticides could lead to a springtime bereft of bird song.
     The eerie silence coming from Helzberg Hall, the Folly Theater, the Carlsen Center and other Kansas City venues is Kansas City’s silent spring. These are dark (and quiet) times, but Kansas City’s arts community is rising to the challenge, reaching into deep reservoirs of creativity and fortitude to save their organizations and preserve their art for when this pandemic finally ends.
     Many music and theater groups that have had to cancel performances due to the coronavirus are hoping that rather than asking to be reimbursed, people donate the sum they’ve paid for tickets in an attempt to keep the arts alive in KC.
     Musicians are making their performances available on social media, and the Kansas City Symphony has recently started a podcast to ease the pain of local classical fans. “Beethoven Walks Into a Bar” features associate conductor Jason Seber, flutist Michael Gordon and education manager Stephanie Brimhall rapping about music.
     “If Beethoven were alive today and wanted to talk about music with his friends at the pub, I’m sure he’d have a great time with these folks,” writes executive director Danny Beckley in a press release. “The hope is our new podcast will be a fun way to talk about music and bring a little joy into your day. This is one of several new ventures we are starting in light of the current situation.”

     The Opus 76 string quartet was founded three years ago and has already established itself as one of Kansas City’s most important chamber ensembles. Violinist Keith Stanfield, a co-founder of the group, says the social media groundwork he’s been laying is now helping Opus 76 survive the current crisis.
     “I’ve been cultivating our online presence for quite some time — for years,” Stanfield said.
     “All of our content will always be free, but because we are a non-profit, we are able to use a Facebook donate button to raise money for ourselves. We were doing a lot of charitable work in the community, and obviously we can’t do that for people now, but what we are able to do is raise money for them using our own platform. If they’re registered as a non-profit on Facebook, we can donate our performances.”
     Opus 76 has been adding donate buttons to online performances to benefit not just themselves but organizations like Harvesters. With the donate button, Facebook makes sure the money goes directly to the organization. Stanfield says that the quartet is also trying help other freelance musicians in the area by featuring their work on Facebook.
     “The freelancers have gotten totally railroaded by this,” Stanfield said, referring to COVID-19.
     “Every Thursday we’re going to highlight a different freelancer in the area and then collect money on their behalf. It’s going to be needs-based not merit-based. Whoever is interested can send just one three-minute or less piece of solo Bach. I really don’t care what it sounds like. Then we’ll put their performance on our page and people can donate, if they like.
     “I’m just trying to look out for people like myself who have lost a lot of work.”

     But live streams, podcasts and CDs are not nearly as satisfying as live performances for inveterate concert-goers like Vern Barnet from Kansas City.
     “I’m grateful for recorded music, but live music is, well, alive,” Barnet said.
     “It’s the difference between watching a rerun of a baseball game and being in the stands. Every moment is vivid, fraught with dangerous beauty as the performers sense the crowd’s expectations. I can’t get that from a CD.”
     Clark Morris, executive director of the Harriman-Jewell Series, shares the frustration of those who love live music. Morris is the successor to Richard Harriman, who founded the revered Series, which has blessed Kansas City with outstanding live performances for more than 50 years. Speaking on the phone as he was driving to Iowa to pick up his son from college, Morris discussed how his staff of eight are coping with the pandemic’s contingencies.
     “We have moved to a more mobile workforce, so most of the staff are working from home,” Morris said. “We still have some functions in the office that have to keep going, like checking the mail, keeping bills paid and making sure that contributions that come in get processed.
     “The biggest change is the mode of communication. Previously, we would have full-staff meetings. Now we’ve been having daily Zoom video meetings to make sure that even though we’re physically separated, we still have a connection. So we’ve been keeping up morale.”

     Keeping up morale is a challenge for arts organizations, since the pandemic is not only causing work disruptions but also existential threats to income. In the best of times, arts groups must count every penny.
     “Certainly, there are financial consequences,” Morris said.
     “For us, it’s a loss of revenue from ticket sales. We’re attempting to deal with that. We’re hoping our donors stay with us and allow us to weather this temporary setback. The other thing that we as a staff think about are the other partners that are dealing with loss of income — the caterers, the restaurants that facilitate meeting for us, the stagehands and certainly our artists. The halls that we use, the printers that print our programs, transportation companies that move our artists and goods around — all of them are impacted by this temporary shutdown.”
     Many patrons are sensitive to the dire situation and are not asking for refunds for canceled events, but are instead donating it to the organization.
     “We are seeing that,” Morris said. “One of the things we’ve also done is relax our exchange policy to allow our patrons to exchange tickets for another performance next year. But it’s difficult because most of our expenses are set and you’re counting on that ticket revenue and if the concert doesn’t happen, it can really upset the apple cart.”

     Kansas City’s vibrant theater scene has also been hit hard. Musical Theater Heritage has had to cancel its production of “Carousel.” The Unicorn Theatre has canceled the last two weeks of “American Son” and is rescheduling “Lifespan of a Fact.” The Unicorn says it’s hoping to reopen in June.
     The KC Rep is canceling “Noises Off,” which was scheduled to open on March 29. All theater groups, like all arts organizations in Kansas City, are hoping patrons will donate the cost of their tickets rather than request a refund.
     The Harriman-Jewell Series is holding out hope that one of its most anticipated concerts of the season, a recital by Joyce DiDonato and the early music ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro on May 29, might in some fashion still go on.
     “At this point, we’re still holding onto that performance in the hope that in some form we’ll still be able to present that,” Morris said. “It’s impossible to know today whether that’s going to be possible, but we still have hope in that possibility.”
     DiDonato said things are up in the air.
     “Like the rest of the world, I’m sorting things out on an hourly basis,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I feel like we have all been plunged into a Buddhist boot camp where our only sane option is to truly live in the moment, unable to make serious plans for the future. So my current goal is acceptance, working very diligently to guard against anxiety, paralyzation and isolation of spirit.”

     Rachel Carson, who died in 1964, would have been thrilled that eagle populations are thriving in North America because the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972. The fervent spirit that defines Kansas City’s arts community gives us assurance that our beloved musicians, artists and creators will once again soar like eagles.
     DiDonato, the songbird from Prairie Village, has some encouraging words for local arts lovers:
     “I celebrate how potent the arts are serving us all in this moment, and I’m so grateful for the artists still creating and contributing,” DiDonato wrote. “I don’t have skills that can serve on the front lines of this, but I can contribute to the spirit of how we walk through this challenge together. I encourage everyone to reach out in the way they are able, and to contribute to our healing. That will be the key to our emotional survival.”

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com 
and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.

Interfaith Center at Miami University
May 13 Wednesday 3 pm CDT (4 pm EDT)
Are you an atheist? or a believer? or just puzzled?
And why did God, if one, allow the pandemic?

In any case, you might want to Zoom in on a conversation with Vern Barnet May 13 Wednesday 3pm CDT and 4pm EDT. Below you'll find links for the official announcement, registration, and Facebook's RSVP. This special program is sponsored by the Interfaith Center at Miami University (with CRES co-sponsorship) -- and moderated by Geneva Blackmer, its Program Director. Anyone anywhere may participate.

Click here for YouTube Video

LINK: Announcement from the Interfaith Center at Miami University
LINK: Registration page 
LINK: RSVP on Facebook
LINK TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PROGRAM:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82955237039

    Some of the questions that may be put to Vern include --
    1. How can a good and all-powerful God permit COVID-19?
    2. Why would you propose a "God" atheists can believe in?
    3. What are typical ideas about the character of God and gods?
    4. Is there an idea of God in every religion?
    5. What ideas about God could possibly appeal to atheists?
    6. What about this word: "belief"?
    7. How can you be an atheist and a Christian at the same time?
   The Rev. Vern Barnet, DMn, is minister emeritus at the Center for Religious Experience and Study, an interfaith institute in Kansas City. His many teaching assignments include Assistant Professor, Religious Pluralism, at Central Baptist Theological Seminary; the international faculty of the pilot “Interfaith Academies” partnered with Harvard University’s Pluralism Project; and Souljourners at the Sophia Retreat Center of the Benedictine Sisters at Mount St Scholastica. His many publications include the ground-breaking 740-page Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality for Health Care Providers and a prosimentrum including 154 sonnets, Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire. For 18 years, he wrote the weekly "Faith and Beliefs" column for The Kansas City Star.     Geneva Blackmer is the current Program Director for The Interfaith Center at Miami University. She holds a B.A. in Religion and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Athens State University. She is a first year interdisciplinary Ph.D. student in Theology at Amridge University. She serves as an At-Large Director for the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council and an Administrative Director for the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada. As an intern and historian for CRES, she helped found the Kansas City Interfaith History Project, in conjunction with her published thesis. She has recently worked with the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington on Emergency Services Resource Outreach and the Parliament of the World's Religions on their Climate Commitments Project. 



From Aporia to Praise: 
An observance of 
the 50th anniversary of Vern Barnet's ordination
Aporia: "impasse, puzzlement, doubt."

      Vern offers his conclusions from 50 years of experience and study: in a troubled world, what paths lie forward? and how can one dare offer praise for the intertwined mix horror and beauty of existence?
* Doing theology is less like mathematics and more like expounding why you love someone.
* My passion for "world religions" in the context of the crises of secularism.
* The mystic's vision (amour fati - love of fate) and the public expression in worship.

Sacred Citizenship 
David Nelson has asked Vern to participate in the June 10 “Vital Conversation” when the group will consider Vern's essay on “Sacred Citizenship” as part of the program. 
     “Civil Religion” has a bad name. Even Robert Bellah, who popularized the term in 1967, abandoned it because it has come to connote right-wing desires to fuse church and state as in the case of one proposed Constitutional amendment, meant to recognize the “sovereignty of Christ.” But isn't citzenship -- beyond sectarian and partisan claims -- really a sacred gift and responsibility?

Annual TABLE OF FAITHS postoned this year to
2021 May 18 
The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council,
now independent but originally a program of CRES,
was founded 1989 May 11.

Vern Barnet, who founded in the Council in 1989, is Council Convener Emeritus. The Council newsletter has published his brief notes about three milestones in the early history of the Council.

Although this event is not sponsored by CRES, we list it since its Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Awardis named for CRES minister emeritus, the founder of the Kansas City Interfaith Council (1989), then a program of CRES.

2020 November TBA Sunday 4 pm
Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner
with the Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award
this year to TBA


WEDDINGS of all kinds click for information

We can provide a customized ceremony. We regularly work with the great folks at Pilgrim Chapel and are happy to serve at any venue. 

THANKS to Robert and Shye Reynolds, a CRES fund to assist couples with fees for weddings  has been established, to celebrate their marriage June 19, 2002, on the occasion of their thirteenth anniverary.

see also
our publications page

in progress: KC Star, Many Paths columns and fresh essays:
The Three Families of Faith and the Three Crises of Secularism 
     Many have asked for a compilation of columns Vern wrote for the KC Star, 1994-2012,  and the essays fatured in Many Paths. Here are tentative chapter headings for the selections:
      ? The Three Families of Faith ? Faith and the Arts  ? Science and Religion  ? Teachers of the Spirit ? Ritual and Worship ? Religion and Public Policy ? Specific Faiths (Buddhism, Islam, etc) ? Comparative topics (reincarnation, gods, water, prophets, etc) ? How the column began and ended


If you would
like to engage Vern 
or another member 
of the CRES staff
for a speech, 
a wedding,
a baptism,
or other work
with your organization 
or personally, 
please visit  www.cres.org/work/services.htmor email  vern@cres.org

Having spawned several other organizations,
including the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council,
we continue to offer programs initiated by and through others
but we no longer create our own in order to focus on our unique work.
For interfaith and cultural calendars maintained by other groups, click here.

announcements pending


A Vital Conversation Coffee
Vital Conversations
monthly schedule
2nd Wedneday of the month 1-2:30 pm
MidContinent Public Library Antioch Branch
6060 N Chestnut Ave, Gladstone, MO 64119
(816) 454-1306

You are welcome even if you have not read the book or seen the movie
A Free Monthly Discussion Group Led by David E Nelson
C R E S  senior  associate minister
president, The Human Agenda

“The purpose of a Vital Conversation is not to win an argument,
but to win a friend and advance civilization.” Vern Barnet 

Vital Conversations are intentional gatherings of people to engage 
in dialog that will add value to the participants and to the world. 
In Vital Conversations, we become co-creators of a better community. 
David Nelson
The discussions began May 24, 2002, at the CRES facility
 by examining Karen Armstrong’sThe Battle for God
Reading is magic and a mysterious activity that feeds the mind, transports the imagination, sooths the soul, and expands life.  It is most often done in solitude and yet connects us to so many others both near us and far from us.  Many readers enjoy the opportunity to share their reading discoveries and to expand from the sharing of others.  Reading is an important aspect of our common humanness.
David E. Nelson
Vital Conv. Coffee
an open exchange of ideas
with no preset agenda
 4th Wednesday monthly
8 am
Panera Bread
311 NE Englewood Road
Kansas City, MO 64118

2020 Vital Conversations Schedule

to see last year's fascinating programs, click here.

January 8, 2020 — The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Cora is a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among his fellow Africans, she is on the  cusp of womanhood — where greater pain awaits. And so when Ceasar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity. Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era; he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans  to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

Clif Hostetler's Reviews 

Releasing Conversation:  Share your name and one resolution you might make for the decade of the 2020s.

Questions for Conversation
     “People may be victimized, but no one is inherently a victim.”  Although Cora is victimized by others she never behaves like a victim.  Discuss the ways in which she fights against the different types of oppression she encounters.
     Discuss the difference forms of racism Cora encounters in the American states she passes through.  What is this prejudice driven by?  Which state, in your opinion, was the worst in its violation of human rights?
     While Cora’s perspective dominates, The Underground Railroad incudes narratives from the point-of-view of a range of other characters.  Why do you think the author includes the stories of relatively minor characters as Dr. Stevens and Ethel Wells?  Did they add anything to the novel?
     The author uses deliberate anachronisms and magic realism in his story.  How do these elements allow the author to express things that could not be conveyed in a strictly realist novel?  How do you feel about the combination of realism ad fantasy?  Is it appropriate for Whitehead’s subject matter?
     “If niggers were supposed to have their freedom, they wouldn’t be in chains.  If the red man was supposed to keep hold of his land, it’d still be his.  If the white man wasn’t destined to take this new world, he wouldn’t own it now.  Here was the true Great Spirit, the divine thread connecting all human endeavor ---if you can keep it, it is yours.  Your property, slave or continent.  The American imperative.” (page 82)  Ridgeway’s guiding philosophy is a belief in this “American Spirit.”  How dominant was this in the 19th century?  How much is it still the belief of some today?
     “Stolen bodies working stolen land.  It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood.  With the surgeries that Dr. Stevens described, Cora thought, the whites had begun stealing futures in earnest.  Cut you open and rip them out, dripping.  Because that’s what you do when you take away someone’s babies ---steal their future.  Torture them as much as you can when they are on this earth, then take away the hope that one day their people will have it better.”  (p.119-120)  Dr. Stevens narrative gives an account of the lucrative trade in dead bodies.  His commentary upon the value of corpses draws parallels between the bodysnatching trade and slavery, which both profit from the sale of human beings.  What do these reflections add to the story Whitehead is telling?
     Discuss the parallels the novel draws between Cora’s experience in North Carolina and the regime of Nazi Germany. Can you think of more recent events which also bear a similarity to the atmosphere of racial hatred and fear Cora finds in North Carolina?
     By the closing pages of the novel Cora still has a long way to travel before she reaches freedom.  Did you interpret the ending in an optimistic light?  How has your thinking and feeling changed after reading this novel?

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February 12 — Taking Civility Out of the Box: The Insanity of Incivility and What Can Be Done About It   by  Barbara Mason Condra
These are not easy times for important conversations because it is difficult to converse when there is a lack of civility. Barbara addresses this issue from her perspective as a retired teacher, school administrator, and volunteer.  She will be with us, along with others from The Assistance League of Kansas City. She addresses the questions:  Why are so many people angry and meanspirited? How will a lack of civility damage our democracy? Am I going  to have to accept incivility as a way of life? 

Releasing Conversation: Share your name and identify a “civil person” you know or have witnessed and explain why you choose that person.

 Link to  Clif Hostetler's review of Taking Civility Out of the Box

     “A simple definition for “civility”: being polite and respectful to other people…The word “Civility” equates the idea of being civil to the right of being a citizen…Strong opinions and beliefs can be stated and emphasized but name calling and belittling of each other is not present.” Pages 12-14. What other places do you gather where civility is needed? How do you respond to those who are not civil?
     “Civil discourse makes a positive difference in any setting where disagreements exist…The only way forward to finding a solution to any situation is for the people involved to have real discussions about the options and seek to come to an agreement…both parties have to be seeking the same thing.” P. 21. Do you agree? Can we have civil discourse about disagreements without finding a solution? “The purpose of a Vital Conversation is not to win an argument but to win a friend and advance civilization.” Is that a possibility?
     “According to the Eighth Installment of Civility in America, ninety-three percent of the public agrees that the nation has a civility problem.” P. 57. Does incivility work? If not, why is it so dominant in our current cultural climate?
     “A part of our problem is that digital communication has allowed us to engage in consequence-free hostility…the person who writes demeaning, hostile messages cannot see the hurt, the tears, or the anger they have created. Teenagers, who are most vulnerable to verbal attacks like these, are most likely to experience this type of incivility in the form of cyber-bulling. They are not prepared to handle these types of attacks.” P. 59. Do you use digital communication? How can you practice civility even in this medium? Give some examples.
     “A blind spot is an unknown obstacle that prevents us from seeing our unethical behavior.” P. 77. Are you familiar with “the Johari Window? Look it up and see if it would be helpful in understanding your own behavior and the behaviors of others. “Being an ethical person requires developing characteristic traits of behavior that are admirable.
     Being ethical doesn’t come naturally to everyone but can be nourished by practicing ethical behavior.” P. 79. What are some ethical behaviors you practice on a regular basis? The author suggests eight things to do to be more civil in public life. Which one stands out for you? Do you have additional suggestions you can share with our group?

The group was very engaged (and quite civilly!) in questions about civility. 
Author Barbara Mason Condra (in the red sweater) is at the far table.

Vern's comments:

Most of my career has been devoted to promoting civil -- respectful, appreciative -- exchange among peoples of various faiths. But you cannot have a civil discussion when one party's deliberate intent is overwhelming power or an intentional parades of lies. You may possibly have a relationship of some sort, perhaps even a valuable one; but on topic, you cannot have a civil conversation. When the President demeans, attacks, and vilifies his opponents, by tweet and at his rallies, hope for a civil conversation is ridiculous. And when individual incitement is magnified by group response, you have the kind of potential mob evil that became realized by Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao, and so many others with power. Consider when the practice of civil disagreement proved impossible from bullying to lynchings to the Civil War. Unchecked power corrupts, and the additional power afforded and exercised by Trump following his Senate acquittal should not naively be regarded as a call for civil discourse but rather as a loud alarm signaling the danger to democracy. Time to re-read Reinhold Niebuhr's classic Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics. Can we have a civil conversation about this? I am looking for insights and answers.
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March 11 — Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi. “Given our circumstances, ‘neighbor’ may be too casual a word to describe our relationship. We are intruders into  each other’s dreams, violators of each other’s sense of home. We are living incarnations of each other’s worst  historical nightmares. Neighbors? ” In this taut and provocative book, Halevi endeavors to untangle the ideological and emotional knot that has defined the conflict for nearly a century. Using history and personal experience as his  guides, he unravels the complex strands of faith, pride, anger, and anguish he feels as a Jew living in Israel. 

Following the discussion, Jill Maidhof, David Bluford, Alan Edelman, Vern Barnet, and host David Nelson posed for a photo.
Alan had just returned from a Holy Land trip he led to promote peace and understanding. Jill was part of that delegation.

Link to Clif Hostetler's review of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

Releasing conversation:  Share your name and identify your home community.

      1. “As the Qur’an so powerfully notes, despair is equivalent to disbelief in God.  To doubt the possibility of reconciliation is to limit God’s power, the possibility of miracle – especially in this land.  The Torah commands me, ‘Seek peace and pursue it’ ---even when peace appears impossible, perhaps especially the.”  (18-19).   Why is the author writing this as letters to a Palestinian neighbor?
     2. “Israel exists because it never stopped existing, even if only in prayer…Need gave Zionism its urgency, but longing gave Zionism its spiritual substance.” (p. 34-35).  What is Zionism?  Did this book add any to your understanding of Zionism?
     3. “So long as Palestinian leaders insist on defining the Jews as a religion rather than allowing us to define ourselves as we have since ancient times – as a people with a particular faith – then Israel will continue to be seen as illegitimate, its existence an open question” (52). How do you understand this distinction?  Why does it make a difference?
     4. “We live in such intimacy, we can almost hear each other breathing.  What choice do we have but to share this land?  And by that, I mean share conceptually as well as tangibly.  We must learn to accommodate each other’s narratives.  That is why I persist in writing to you why I am trying to reach out across the small space and vast abyss that separates your hill from mine.”  (89).  Can you imagine or have you experienced living in such proximity to people that so often see each other as “the enemy”?  What does it mean to “accommodate each other’s narratives?  How can the USA and other nations be allies to both sides?
     5. “Sustaining the tension between the particular and the universal is one of the great challenges facing Jewish people today.” (61). What does this mean to you?
     6. “The enemy of justice for both sides is absolute justice for either side.”  (124).  What does the author mean by this statement?
     7. “Perhaps we can help restore each other to balance.  Jews, I feel, need something of the Muslim prayer mat; my Muslim friends say that need something of the Jewish study hall.  Can we inspire each other to renew our spiritual greatness?  (152). How can we benefit from both the prayer mat and the study hall?
     8. “I am the son not of destruction but of rebirth.”  (179). What does this mean to you and why does it make a difference?

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April 8 — Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Evervday Hurts by Harriet Learner, Cassandra Campbell (Narrator). The courage to apologize, and the wisdom to do it well, is at the heart of effective leadership, marriage, parenting, friendship, personal integrity, and what we call love. “I’m sorry” are the two most poweful words in the English language. Harriet Leamer is one of our nation’s most loved and respected relationship experts, renowned for her scholarly work on the psychology of women and family relationships. 

Releasing Conversation: Check in with your names and share briefly what you have learned in the last 30 days.

     1. “The challenge of apology and reconciliation is a dance that occurs between at least two people. We are all, many times over, on both sides of the equation.” (p. 3) Think about times you have been on both sides of the equation. What has helped heal and what has not worked for you?
     2. “The best apologies are short, and don’t go on to include explanations that run the risk of undoing them.” (p.15) “I’m sorry you feel that way” is another common pseudo-apology.” (15) “The purpose of an apology is to calm and sooth the hurt party, not to agitate or pursue her because you have the impulse to connect, explain yourself, lower your guilt quotient, or foster your recovery.” (p. 23-24)
     3. “It’s incredibly difficult to listen to someone’s pain when that someone’s accusing us of causing it…To listen with an open heart and ask questions to better help us understand the other person is a spiritual exercise, in the truest sense of the word.” (p. 43). Can you say to yourself, “This is not about me”, even when the other person is trying to make it about you? If you can it allows the other to “feel” their own feelings.
     4. “Nondefensive listening: 1. Recognize your defensiveness. 2. Breath. 3. Listen only to understand. 4. Ask questions about whatever you don’t understand. 5. Find something you can agree with. 6. Apologize for your part. 7. Let the offended party know he or she has been heard and that you will continue to think about the conversation. 8. Thank the critical person for sharing his or her feelings. 9. Take the initiative to bring the conversation up again. 10. Draw the line at insults. 11.Don’t listen when you can’t listen well. 12. Define your differences…Wholehearted listening require us to quiet our mind, open our heart, and ask questions to help us to better understand.” (p. 48-52) Recall times when you practiced these skills. When has someone listened to you in this way?
     5. “While guilt is about doing, shame is about being.” (p. 63) Also material on p. 84-86. Talk about the difference between guilt and shame. Think of some stories that illustrate the power to heal rather than add to the hurt.
     6. “Criticize the behavior, not the person.” (p. 75) Explain and illustrate the difference between feedback and criticism.
     7. “We are responsible for our own behavior. But we are not responsible for other people’s reactions, nor are they responsible for ours.” (p. 88). What does this mean? Can you give an illustration? See pages 90-91.
     8. “Learn to say, ‘Thank you for the apology,’ and stop there.” (p. 97) When is that better than “I accept your apology.”
     9. “The best apologies are offered by people who understand that it is important to be oneself, but equally as important to choose the self that we want to be.” (125) What does that mean to you?
     10. “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking p. 2. Why is forgiveness important? What have you learned and how did you learn about the need for letting go of past hurts? Remember, no one is inherently a victim.

Link to
Clif Hostetler's review
     This book explores the power and potential pitfalls of apologies. It offers a guide to the art of crafting an apology that is meaningful and can restore trust. The book also offers insight to situations where the offended person feels they are owed an apology but are not receiving one. And there’s also advice on how to properly receive an apology when it does come. 
     The author is a psychologist with years of experience to draw from in offering examples of situations where apologies were a factor in saving or ending relationships. The book acknowledges times when relationships can’t be restored and in some cases shouldn’t be saved.
     Early in the book the reader is challenged with the following situation:
          It’s a profound challenge to sit on the hot seat and listen with an open heart to the hurt 
          and anger of the wounded person who wants us to be sorry, especially when that person 
          is accusing us (and not accurately, as we see it) of causing their pain. Yet both personal 
          integrity and success in relationships depend on our ability to take responsibility for our
          part (and only our part) even when the other person is being a jerk.
     Indeed such a situation requires a well grounded and emotionally secure person to respond without blurting out a pseudo apology (an apology followed with “but … “ ) Another example of a pseudo apology is “I’m sorry you feel that way,”—in other words, “I’m sorry you (not me) has a problem.”
     Being human by definition means being imperfect and prone to error and defensiveness. Thus finding the internal wisdom, insight, and strength to craft an effective and heartfelt apology is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to most humans. The examples described in this book offers suggestions and ideas of useful tools, technics, and approaches to various situations. Sometimes the best approach is to concentrate on listening to the other person's feelings, and if it has come as a surprise to ask for some time to think it over.
     So how does a victim of betrayal or hurt manage to get over it and move on? The short answer is "any way that works." It will be different for different people. Also, this book takes the position that it is not necessary for a hurt victim to forgive in order to recover and leave it behind. Forgiveness is a personal decision, not something to be told to do.

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May 13 - Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro.  In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA, Dani Shapiro received the astonishing news that her beloved deceased father was not her biological father. Over the course of a  single day, her entire history — the life she had lived — crumbled beneath her. In just a few hours of internet  sleuthing, she was able to piece together the story of her conception and, remarkably, find a YouTube video of her biological father. A true story that reads like a novel. 

Clif Hostetler's review Apr 27, 2020

     Dani Shapiro is a novelist and memoirist who has written previous books that involved family secrets and feelings of not belonging. Having previously written three memoirs, one would think that she has exhausted any new material for another memoir. How many memoirs can be written about one life? Yet unbelievably, in 2016 she discovered a family secret that provided unexpected material for yet another memoir, this book. 
     Shapiro took a genetic test that showed she had no biological relationship to her half-sister (her father's daughter from an earlier marriage). This meant that her father—who was no longer living—was not her biological father. Her mother was also deceased at the time of this discovery. A bit of on-line sleuthing together with a list of probable relatives from the genetic testing company enabled her to quickly determine the identity of her biological father. 
     Shapiro's parents had used the services of a fertility clinic in Philadelphia that had used the technique of mixing sperm from donors together with that of the wife's husband. It increased chances of pregnancy, and it was assumed nobody would ever know whose sperm actually caused the pregnancy. Things have changed with today's DNA testing which can make parentage determinable with certainty.
     So at this point we're one-third way into the book, and the author knows the identity of her biological father. What should she do with this information? Should she try to contact him? Would he be willing to talk to her? She's also bothered by the question of how much her parents knew. Did they know about the mixed sperm? Did they have any suspicion of Dani being not biologically related to her father?
     Shapiro had been told by many people during her childhood that she didn't look Jewish, but she had never seriously doubted her blood tie to her father. Emotionally she had felt closer to her father than to her mother. If she could have chosen a parent to not be related to she would have probably preferred that it be her mother.
     I approached this book with a bit of skepticism that the author was making too big of an issue over blood relationships over those formed from a lifetime of nurture. But the author was able to draw me in as a reader to the drama of wondering about love, family, and belonging. When she told her aunt (her father's sister) about the DNA results her aunt replied that she was NOT letting her go (i.e. she was still a member of the family).
     Shapiro is in her fifties and the person identified as the biological father (sperm donor) is a retired doctor in his seventies with children and grandchildren. Most men in this situation would wish to not deal with the potential complications from contact with a previously unknown biological child. It helped that Dani Shapiro was a successful writer with a visible on-line presence that could be examined and determined to be an unlikely seeker of an inheritance. Conversely, the author was able to find YouTube videos of her biological father prior to contacting him. She noted numerous characteristics that she shared with him, hand gesticulations in particular.
     The story is beautifully written with enough suspense about their pending meeting to keep the reader's focused attention. The meeting does take place and is portrayed as a pleasant and emotional experience for all involved. 
     The following excerpt is the author's internal thoughts following her meeting with her biological father for the first time. I think it provides an example of the author's emotional attribution of mystical determinism to blood relationships.

     Later, it will occur to me that Ben Walden [her biological father] felt, to me, like my native country. I had never lived in this country. I had never spoken its language or become steeped in its customs. I had no passport or record of citizenship. Still, I had been shaped by my country of origin all my life, suffused with an inchoate longing to know my own land.
     I found it ironic that the author focused much of this book on the physical similarities between herself and her newly found half-sister and biological father while expressing virtually no connection or similarity to her mother with whom there's no doubt of biological relationship. But it's also clear that her relationship with her mother was fraught. It's a reminder that blood ties are no guarantee of love.

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June 10 –  American Soul:  Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders by Jacob Needleman. 
Needleman has spent a lifetime studying the religious traditions of the world looks at the wisdom of the American Spirit by focusing on George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, The American Indian, Frederick Douglas, Walt Whitman and others. He shares his perspective on where we have been and his vision of what is still possible in this nation. Needleman is a  professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University, an author, and religious scholar, sometimes credited with popularizing the term "new religious movements." Now in his 90s, he has written over a score of books including The New Religions (1970), Money and the Meaning of Life (1991), and Why Can't We Be Good? (2008). The book for discussion was published in 2003.
     Sacred Citizenship by Vern Barnet.
In addition to Needleman, we will also read our friend Vern Barnet’s 1988 naturalization ceremony address, adapted as “Sacred Citizenship," and a comment on how his perspective has changed in light of recent political developments. The terms relating religion to government, such as "civil religion," have a controversial history since Robert Bellah's use of it in his famous 1968 article. Vern will be with us to share his insight and our vital conversation.
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July 8 – Just Mercy:  A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
“From the frontline of social justice comes one of the most urgent voices of our era.  Bryan Stevenson is a real-life Atticus Finch who, through his work in redeeming innocent people condemned to death, has sought to redeem the country itself.  This is a book of great power and courage,  It is inspiring and suspenseful. A revelation.”  Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns.
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August 12 – The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss
The author artfully recasts the saga of women’s quest for the vote by focusing on the campaign’s last six weeks, when it all came down to one ambivalent state.  The dauntless – but divided – suffragists confront the “Antis” – women who oppose their own enfranchisement., fearing suffrage will bring about the moral collapse of the nation.  Atkins Johnson Farm and Museum “Votes for Women: The Fight for Women’s Suffrage in Kansas and Missouri” August 5 – October 3, 2020.  This exhibition is made possible by the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area traveling exhibit program, administered by the Watkins Museum of History. Museum admission is free.  The creator of the exhibit will speak at the opening on August 5. Algon Not so Minor: The Supreme Court Denies Women's Right to Vote
Wednesday, August 26 at the Gladstone Community Center 6:30 pm.

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Selections are subject to change.  If you would like to be reminded and have additional information, contact David Nelson at humanagenda@gmail.com or call (816) 453-3835

Link for 2020 May 13 video recording
Password: 2p%@&%=d


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