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Except for monthly Vital Conversations convened by David Nelson, CRES programs arise by request. Our management principle is "management by opportunity." Every year we are delighted by the number of opportunties given to us, as, for example, last year's list demonstrates. (Of course we also provide free consulation to organizations and other services as requested, not listed on our public website.)
This page is continuously updated.
INDEX 600-10x2=580px 
Events listed by date, earlist first
General Announcements Link to eBlast Archive
Program Archive About CRES participation

Transcendent meanings from COVID-19?
Essay for Spring 2020 Interfaith Council Newsletter
yellow box on Vern's Sidebar page

Vital ConversationsProgram, 2d Wed 1-2:30 pm          Coffee, 4th Wed 8 am
Photos and reports are arranged by month

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.

Alvin Brooks Speaks 
About His Memoir
Binding Us Together
A Civil Rights Activist Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service


February 9 Tuesday 1 pm via Zoom. 
Vern introduced Al at the February meeting 
of the Retired Clergy of All Faiths group.

When I came to Kansas City in 1975, I heard about someone speaking the truth about the racial situation, and I soon heard him speak in person. As the years passed, I came to know Al Brooks and understand why he was so important to the community and beyond. 
     On Sept 11, 2001 Al attended the press conference of the Interfaith Council that horrible day, and I cherish the time I had with him later at the AdHoc building. CRES recognized Al with our Thanksgiving award in 2002 for "his work as a citizen and career of public service locally and internationally celebrating religious pluralism and the human spirit." Little did I imagine that about three ago, Al would send me episodes to edit in what would become this magnificent book. 
     For me Al is a spiritual entrepreneur. He sees needs and understands them as opportunities for service to others, in countless individual situations as well as in the public sphere. This book gives us a close-up of pivotal events with insights into the man who turned those events toward justice.

Alvin L. Brooks is a former Kansas City police officer, councilman, and mayor pro-tem, as well as the founder of the community organization AdHoc Group Against Crime. His decades of civil rights, violence prevention, and criminal justice advocacy led President George H. W. Bush to appoint him to the President’s National Drug Advisory Council and Governor Jay Nixon to appoint him to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. Brooks has also worked as a business consultant, motivational speaker, and lecturer, conducting hundreds of seminars about cultural/racial diversity, religious tolerance, and civil rights. He recently was named the 2019 Kansas Citian of the Year by the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and he’s a recipient of the Harry S. Truman Award for Public Service. Brooks currently lives in Kansas City among family and friends.

In Binding Us Together, Alvin Brooks, Kansas City’s most beloved civil rights activist and public servant, shares a lifetime of stories that are heartfelt, funny, tragic, and inextricably linked to our nation’s past and present. Few people have faced adversity like Alvin Brooks. He was born into an impoverished family, nearly lost his adoptive father to the justice system of the South, and narrowly survived a health crisis in infancy. All the while, he was learning how to navigate living in a racist society. Yet by rising to these challenges, Brooks turned into a lifelong leader and a servant of his community. He shares personal anecdotes over the years about caring for his family, supporting Black youth, and experiencing historic events like the 1968 riots through his eyes. Told in a series of vignettes that follow pivotal moments in his life, Brooks’ uniquely personal yet influential story of activism and perseverance provides a hands-on guide for future generations. More relevant than ever to society today, his life’s work has been to better his community, make the world fairer for all, and diminish bias and discrimination. Alvin Brooks proves that a good heart, a generous spirit, and a lot of work can connect the world and bind us together.

Vern gazes with delight at a pre-publication copy of the book for which he was developmental editor. Its Black History Month publication date is Feb 23.
Here are the chapter headings:

Chapter 1: My Origins and Youth 
Chapter 2: My Son, Ronall
Chapter 3: My Police Career 
Chapter 4: School Work—and the Riot 
Chapter 5: City Hall Appointments 
Chapter 6: AdHoc Begins and Flourishes 
Chapter 7: Recognized by the President 
Chapter 8: My Political Career 
Chapter 9: AdHoc Renewed
Chapter 10: Carol’s Transition
Chapter 11: A Family Adventure
Chapter 12: Recent Activities 
Chapter 13: A Final Prayer 

February 23 Tuesday 6:30 PM, Al speaks with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas via YouTube live-steam arranged by Rainy Day Books.


Other events with Al about the book are pending, including at the Black Archives of Mid-America Kansas City.

Learn more about Al and the book here.



Last November, the Funeral Consumers Alliance  of Greater Kansas City and CRES, co-sponsor, presented 

An Interfaith Discussion of
Medical Assistance in Dying 
The panelists were great, and the event was recorded; and with technical enhancements, this valuable program now has improved audio. Here’s the new link: https://youtu.be/cEX-Dp8ba0E

The Panelists were Peg Sandeen: National Executive Director of Death With Dignity. (keynoter) -- Fr. Thomas Curran, S.J.: Rockhurst University President. (Roman Catholic perspective) -- the Rev. Melissa Bowers, MA, MPS - Chaplain, Kansas Clty Hospice and Palliative Care. (Protestant perspective) -- Mahnaz Shabbir: of Shabbir Advisors management consultants. (Muslim perspective) -- Dr. John Lantos: M.D., Director of Pediatric Bioethics at Children's Mercy Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics at University of Missouri-Kansas City. (Medical, ethical and Jewish perspective).

CRES and the FCA-GKC board neither support nor oppose MAID. Our interest is strictly educational, and this program, we feel, is a significant offering to the public.


2021 February 21 Sunday 2pm CDT
An Ecumenical and Interfaith History of Greater Kansas City: 
Celebrating the Past and Envisioning the Future
Zoom link now deativated
Recording of the 75-minute session available soon. Check back here.

In honor of UN World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW), join us for a retrospective and celebratory look at the history of ecumenical and interfaith work in Greater Kansas City over the past 100 years.

Cindy McDavitt (Chair of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council) opens the program and the Rev Dr. Joshua Paszkiewicz (Executive Director of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council) introduces Geneva Blackmer (founder, The Kansas City Interfaith History Project and author of the Ecumenical and Interfaith History of Greater Kansas City booklet, CRES Historian, and Program Director of The Interfaith Center at Miami University). Geneva leads the discussion.

TOP: Geneva, Cindy,Josh; BOTTOM: Larry, Vern, Maggie, Donna

The program provides an overview of the project, followed by a panel disacussion with Dr. Larry Guillot, Vern Barnet, Margaretha Finefrock, and Donna Ziegenhorn. This presentation aims to provide a well-rounded perspective of where we have been, in the hope we may learn from the past, and collectively envision an even brighter future of interfaith work in Greater Kansas City. 

Panelists may address questions such as these:
     1) What did the project or a certain type of project accomplish? 
     2) What good did it accomplish for the community? 
     3) Why did the project or this type of project end?  Is there is some lesson or take away for us from the project or the type of projects? What does have to say to us today, if anything?


Larry Guillot is a long-time participant and leader in ecumenical and interfaith relations and activities in Greater Kansas City. He began as executive director of the Kansas City Ecumenical Library and Research Center, joint secretary to a national commission on Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the U.S. and earned a doctorate in Ecumenical Theology in 1960s era. He has a wide experience in human relations, community development, and executive leadership training. For 25 years he served as senior adjunct faculty to Park University’s School of Graduate Affairs, teaching management of nonprofit organizations and U.S. social policy. He is the author of the soon-to-be published Life Story of the National Catholic Reporter, covering 1964 to the present.

Donna Woodard Ziegenhornis a playwright and journalist. As a playwright, she focuses on non- traditional plays inspired by true stories collected in interviews. These plays bring forth life-shaping experiences of diverse individuals to dramatic performance. The Hindu and the Cowboy — which has been recognized by Harvard’s Pluralism Project for its unique contribution to building an inclusive community — grew from stories shared by people of numerous cultural and faith traditions across metropolitan Kansas City. The play has been seen by thousands of Kansas Citians in venues that range from public libraries to university stages, corporate training auditoriums to high school gymnasiums and interfaith conferences to stages beyond Kansas City. Donna and The Hindu and the Cowboy have received awards from the Crescent Peace Society, the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, Missouri Association for Social Work and Dialogue Institute Southwest.

Maggie Finefrock is currently Chief Learning Officer of The Learning Project, an organizational development firm based in Kansas City, working internationally to create high achieving, diverse and dynamic learning organizations: bridging people, cultures, ideas, and resources through out the known universe.
     After returning from serving in the U.S. Peace Corps in Nepal, Maggie met Robert Mueller of the United Nations and asked him what skill and service the world needed most. He replied that the challenges of the world needed people skilled in the art of conflict resolution and urged her to contribute. Maggie has received training, certification, and experience in mediation and conflict resolution from Community Boards of San Francisco, American Friends Service Committee, K.C. Department of Human Relations, University of Missouri Mediation Center, the Jackson County Court System and The Erikson Institute. Group mediation is a large part of her work at The Learning Project which has taken her to all 50 U.S. states and Canada, Mexico, Asia, Australia, Africa, and Europe.
     Ms. Finefrock is the former director and a founding member of Harmony in a World of Difference, a multifaceted campaign to improve race relations, eliminate bias and discrimination, and increase respect and skills for diversity. She works as Senior Advisor/Trainer for the REACH Center in Seattle, Washington, and the Anti-Defamation League in New York. Diverse clients include city governments, banking, judges, newspapers, healthcare, police and fire departments, intelligence agencies, state boards of education, school systems, universities, non profit organizations, religious institutions, national recreational cooperatives, arts institutions, and corporate clients including AT&T, Corning, DuPont, Johnson and Johnson, and Procter and Gamble.
     Other professional resources include being a resource broker, adjunct faculty at University of Missouri, Tribuvan University in Kathmandu, and University of Alaska, Training Director and Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, administration of International Youth Services for the Association of Unity Churches, crisis counselor, facilitator for training in adult education methods, conflict management, diversity, race relations and cross cultural competence, human relations, spiritual direction, Windhorses equine assisted learning and psychotherapy, serving in the U.S. Teacher Corps and teaching in rural and urban districts in Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, and Nepal.
      Maggie is the author of Pilgrimage of the Heart, Mountains Diminish Underfoot, The Art and Ministry of Teaching, and The Art and Heart of Diversity and lots of other published and unpublished (unpublishable) poetry, photography and articles. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Beyond War Award and the Annie Ray Riffey Award in Multicultural Leadership. Maggie serves on advisory boards for CRES, Harmony, MCHE, GLAAD, and was the Religion and Spirituality Chair for Mayor Emanuel Cleaver's Race Relations Task Force. She is certified in spiritual direction, mediation, scuba diving , crisis counseling, natural horsemanship and equine-assisted growth and learning. 
     Maggie received her A.A. degree in Sociology from Santa Barbara City College, B.S. in Education from Norfolk State University and M.A. in Administration from University of Missouri. In lieu of a doctoral degree she is raising (and being raised by) three boys, three dogs, two cats and one horse plus all their many friends.

Vern Barnet founded the CRES, the Center for Religious Experience and Study in 1982, 40 years ago. In 1994 the Kansas City Star hired him to write a weekly column featuring religious diversity which continued for 18 years. He is associate professor of religious pluralism at Central Seminary. Author, editor, and contributor to dozens of articles and several books. Binding Us Together, the memoir of Alvin Brooks, for which he was developmental editor, will be published this Tuesday as part of Black History Month. A full bio appears here.
     To frame a series of photos from the Gifts of Pluralism conference, these graphics were shown:


April 18 Sunday 2 pm Central Time via Zoom
Love: Loss, and Endurance: 
A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety.
Vern Interviews Bill Tammeus about his extraordinary new book
through the courtesy of the Interfaith Center, Miami University in Oxford, OH

Two decades after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, America still is reeling from lingering trauma. Award-winning journalist Bill Tammeus was among those who suffered the personal loss of a relative that day. In this inspiring and hopeful book, Tammeus takes us to the heart of that gripping drama. He helps us to understand the many sources of religious extremism -- and what can be done to stop it. Finally, he invites us to reclaim core values that can help all of us become peacemakers in today's tumultuous world.

"The people who perished on 9/11 -- whether as airline passengers, first responders, office workers or others who simply were in the wrong place when catastrophe struck -- must be remembered and their legacies honored. One way that can happen is by each of us committing ourselves to being thoughtful, loving people who can help lead others away from violent extremism rooted in misguided theology. To make that commitment, start by reading this book. Then share it with others," writes best-selling author and pastor Adam Hamilton, whose Kansas City-based church has become the nation's largest United Methodist congregation.

In the Foreword that introduces readers to this powerfully transformative book, Hamilton explains, "The loss of Bill's beloved nephew, who was just 31 years old at the time, sent waves of trauma through his family. It's painful to read his account of that, but because this is a story of resilience and hope, readers will come away not with a smothering sense of despair but, rather, with an understanding that even in the bleakest of times there is something real and generative, something divine, on which they can depend. We Christians are all about hope. But so are many other faith traditions, and Bill, who has worked on behalf of interfaith understanding and dialogue for decades, understands that and encourages all of us -- no matter what religion we claim as our own -- to seek peace and reconciliation and to oppose approaches to religion that lead vulnerable young men and women to murder in the name of God."

In her Afterword to the book, peacemaker and community consultant Mindy Corporon puts it simply: "This book raises many questions about how humans choose to live either in healthy, generative ways or, by contrast, to murder others while, at the same time, losing their own lives. Such profound questions form the landscape of this book and they touch each of us because they are questions we cannot ignore. Bill's memoir teaches us that the depth of evil can and must be overshadowed with an even deeper love of one another and of life itself."

Tammeus echoes that message in his conclusion: "Although I am familiar with the story of failure and evil in human history, my faith urges me not to let that overwhelm me but to keep hope alive -- and to do that by encouraging myself and others to live healthy, generous, redemptive lives. So I try. I try but fail regularly. And I hope you will try, too, perhaps by engaging in some of the behaviors and approaches that I outline in this book about how to stand against radical religious nonsense that leads to violence."

From Aporia to Praise: 
(postponed poned from 2020)
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.

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.

to be announced -- this is the 2020 announcement

The annual observance was sponsored by CRES for its first 25 years. This year is the 35th year of what has become a beloved Interfaith Thanksgiving tradition, but this year  is different. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and in order to bring the joy of interfaith gratitude to our community, the Gathering is virtual this year. 

Thanks to sponsors: the Heartland Alliance of Divine Love, the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, and The Interfaith Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. 

There are a number of ways to join this online event:
* Simply click on this link to participate in this event:
* Register for free on Eventbrite and the link will be sent to your lnbox.
* Join the live-streaming on the Heartland Facebook page.

There is NO COST for this event — everyone is invited to participate and everyone is welcome! As always, a highlight of the event will be the offering of prayers from the multitude of faiths and religious traditions in the greater community.

Even in the midst of this most unusual year, there is much to be grateful for, and this year’s Gathering acknowledges this situation with a dual focus: (1) to remember and honor all those who have been lost during this pandemic and their loved ones and (2) to celebrate andthank the “heroes of the pandemic" -- the health care workers, first responders, and spiritual workers who have helped families with loved ones lost. Heartland ADL also chooses a charity each year -- this year, Harvesters, because of the unprecedented need. We invite you to send your donations to Harvesters

Look for additional information about the dinner on the Council website, the
Heartland-ADL website, and the Heartland Facebook page.


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.



A Vital Conversation Coffee
Vital Conversations
monthly schedule
ZOOM 2nd Wedneday of the month 1-2:30 pm
MidContinent Public Library Antioch Branch, 6060 N Chestnut Ave, Gladstone, MO 64119 -- (816) 454-1306  -- to receive the zoom link:
humanagenda@gmail.com or call (816) 453-3835

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

2021 Vital Conversations Schedule

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

January 13 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

It's a belief that unites the left and right, psychologists and philosophers, writers and historians. It drives the headlines that surround us and the laws that touch our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Dawkins, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we're taught, are by nature selfish and governed by self-interest. 
     Humankind makes a new argument: that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary, to assume that people are good. The instinct to cooperate rather than compete, trust rather than distrust, has an evolutionary basis going right back to the beginning of Homo sapiens. By thinking the worst of others, we bring out the worst in our politics and economics too. 
     In this major book, internationally bestselling author Rutger Bregman takes some of the world's most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the Blitz, a Siberian fox farm to an infamous New York murder, Stanley Milgram's Yale shock machine to the Stanford prison experiment, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think - and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society. It is time for a new view of human nature.
     If you are unable to purchase or find a copy of this book, and wish a PDF, you can download it free at https://bookfortoday.com/all/humankind-a-hopeful-history/  .

Quotes and questions selected by David Nelson.

Releasing Conversation: Do you believe human beings are inherently good (Planet A) or inherently bad (Planet B)? Why? What difference does it make which you believe? Did you watch the events January 6th in Washington D.C. while it was happening? Describe your feelings then. What are your feelings today about the United States? Who have you talked with about your feelings?

1. Veneer Theory “The notion that civilization is nothing more than a thin veneer that will crack at the merest provocation. In actuality, the opposite is true. It’s when crisis hits - when the bombs fall or the floodwaters rise – that we humans become our best selves.” (p. 4). Share a story from your experience that illustrates this.

2. Placebo effect “If your doctor gives you a fake pill and says it will cure what ails you,chances are you will feel better. The more dramatic the placebo, the bigger that chance…If you believe something enough, it can become real…We are what we believe. We find what we got looking for. And what we predict, comes to pass.” (p.8-9) Nocebo effect“Warn your patients a drug has serious side effects, and it probably will. If you believe something enough, it can become real.” (p.9) Ashil Babbitt died inside the Capital on January 6th. What do you think she believed? Why did she believe these things? What did the tens of thousands who participated in rally in Washington believe?

3. Compare the two stories; Lord of the Flies by William Golding and the real event told by Peter Warner. 

4. “In one corner is Hobbes: The pessimist who would have us believe in the wickedness of bhuman nature. The man who asserted that civil society alone could save us from ourbaser instincts. In the other corner, Rousseau: the man who declared that in our heart of hearts we’re all good. Far from being our salvation, Rousseau believed civilization is what ruins us.” (p. 43-44). Which corner do you stand in? Can you make the case with personal stories? “That’s how our sense of history get flipped upside down. Civilisation has become synonymous with peace and progress and wilderness with war and decline. In reality, for most of human existence, it was the other way around.” (p.110). What does the author mean by this?

5. What did you learn from the Easter Island story? The Stanford Prison Experiment? The Stanley Milgram’s Laboratory? “Hannah Arendt argued that our need for love and friendship is more human than any inclination towards hate and violence. And when we do choose the path of evil, we feel compelled to hide behind lies and cliches that give us a semblance of virtue.” (p. 173). Does your personal experience and observation agree with her? “Belief in humankind’s sinful nature also provides a tidy explanation for the existence of evil. When confronted with hatred or selfishness, you can tell yourself, ‘Oh, well, that’s just human nature. But if you believe that people are essentially good you have to question why evil exists at all. It implies that engagement and resistance are worthwhile, and it imposes an obligation to act.” (p. 174) When have you benefited by using communication and confrontation, compassion and resistance?

6. Had you heard about the death of Catherine Susan Genovese before readying Humankind? Why did this story get retold so often?

7. “Tactics, training, ideology – all are crucial for an army, Morris and his colleagues confirmed. But ultimately, an army is only as strong as the ties of fellowship among its soldiers. Camaraderie is the weapon that wins wars.” (p. 205-206) If you were in the military would you agree? If you know men or women in the military would you agree? “Terrorists don’t kill and die just for a cause…They kill and die for each other.” (p.208)

8. “Infants possess an innate sense of morality. Infants as young as six months old can not only distinguish right from wrong, but they also prefer the good over the bad.” (p.209) What does the author suggest has been done to train human beings to hurt and kill others? Military friends, is this your experience? What would it take for you to kill another person?

9. Power Paradox “Scores of studies show that we pick the most modest and kindhearted individuals to lead us. But once they arrive at the top, the power often goes straight to their heads – and good luck unseating they after that.” (p. 229) Why do you think 75 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in the recent election?

10. “Exchange suspicion for a more positive view of human nature. Just imagine, academics would burn the midnight out of a thirst for knowledge, teachers would teach because they feel responsible for their students, psychologists would treat only as long as their patients require, and bankers would derive satisfaction from the service they render…This question is neither conservative nor progressive, neither capitalist nor communist. It speaks to a new movement…a new realism. Because nothing is more powerful than people who do something because they want to do it.” (p. 277-278) What motivates you to do your very best?

11. “Play is not subject to fixed rules and regulations but is open-ended and unfettered. Unstructured play is also nature’s remedy against boredom…Dutch historian Johan Huizinga christened us HOMO LUDENS – ‘playing man’. Everything we call ‘culture’ originates in play.” (p. 282-283). How do you play? When was the last time you really played?

12. “Hatred and racism stem from a lack of contact. We generalize wildly about strangers because we don’t know them. So the remedy seemed obvious: more contact. After all, we can only love what we know” (p.352) In order to “stay human” who can you contact in the near future? What other ways can you “stay human.” 

Another great discussion!

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

If you wish to believe that people are naturally good but you can’t because of the counter examples in the news and you’ve been taught otherwise in history, sociology, and psychology school classes, then you need to read this book. This book makes a convincing case that humans are by nature friendly and peaceful creatures, and most of the counter examples are caused by pressures of civilization for which evolution of the human brain has left us ill-prepared. 

Bregman makes the case that a probable reason Homo sapiens prevailed during the prehistory era over Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo erectus is because we were hard-wired to be social, work in groups, and consider what’s best for the collective community. This predisposition worked well over many years while humans lived as hunter-gatherers. But these same tendencies led to violent behavior when subjected to the territorial concerns and concentrated populations of the civilized world. The predisposition for protecting the collective community in the hunter-gatherer world transformed into xenophobia in the civilized world.

The book attacks the commonly accepted truths about human nature described in the novel Lord of the Flies, and presents as a counter example a true historical instance of young boys marooned on an island in which successful cooperation was exhibited. Also, a reinterpretation of the true facts surrounding the famous 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese is provided that demonstrates the tendency of news articles to exaggerate and falsify sensational aspects of a story. 

Bregman also deconstructs the bad science and/or lazy reportage contained in many famous sociological case studies that have claimed that civilization is but a thin fragile coating protecting us from dangerous human nature. Some of the better known debunked studies are the Stanford Prison experiment and the Milgram experiment. The book also makes the case that the chief motivation for soldiers to fight in war is the spirit of camaraderie, not ideology.

The second part of the book is devoted to proposing ways to structure work, school, and organizations that can utilize true human nature for optimum beneficial results. Many of these example argue that when we expect better, we very often get better. Examples given include an exemplary Norwegian prison, Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid in South Africa, challenging playgrounds for children, and unstructured schools. 

Bregman repeatedly notes that even though civilization has bred into the human brain a suspicion of people outside of our own group, our prejudices tend to fall away once we come to know those “others.”
     “Contact engenders more trust, more solidarity, and more mutual kindness. 
      It helps you see the world through other people’s eyes.”
He also notes that,
     “It’s when a crisis hits…that we humans become our best selves.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

back to January Rutger Bregman's Humankind: A Hopeful History 

February 10 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson.
     Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, and stigma. Some suggest this was the most important book of 2020.

Quotationss and questions selected by David Nelson 

     “America has an unseen skeleton, a caste system that is as central to its operation as are the studs and  joists that we cannot see in the physical buildings we call home. Caste is the infrastructure of our  divisions. It is the architecture of human hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for  maintaining, in our case, a four-hundred-year-old social order. A caste system is an artificial  construction. Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The tragically accelerated,  chilling, and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. The lingering, millennia-long caste  system of India. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States.”  (p.17) Is this a new idea for you? Have you thought of a “caste system” in America before? 

1. “Caste and race are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive. Race, in the United States, is  the visible agent of unseen force of caste. Caste is the bones, race the skin. Race is what we can  see, the physical traits that have been given arbitrary meaning and become shorthand for who a  person is. Caste is the powerful infrastructure that holds each group in its place. Caste is fixed  and rigid. Race is fluid and superficial, subject to periodic redefinition to meet the needs of the  dominant caste in what is now the United States.” (p.19) Can you share examples from the  book and from your experience?

2. “In the decades to follow, colonial laws herded European workers and African workers into  separate and unequal queues and set in motion the caste system that would become the  cornerstone of the social, political, and economic system in America. This caste system would  trigger the deadliest war on U.S. soil, lead to the ritual killings of thousands of subordinate-caste  people in lynchings, and become the source of inequalities that becloud and destabilize the  country to this day.” (p41) Why did this happen? What made America unique?

3. “Slavery is commonly dismissed as a ‘sad, dark chapter’ in the country’s history. It is as if the  greater the distance we can create between slavery and ourselves, the better to stave off the  guilt or shame it induces. The country cannot become whole until it confronts what was not a  chapter in its history, but the basis of its economic and social order. For a quarter millennium,  slavery was the country. Slavery was part of everyday life, a spectacle that public officials and  European visitors to the slaving provinces could not help but comment on with curiosity and  revulsion. (p43). Why is it not enough to simply say “slavery was a sad, dark chapter” in our  history? Why must we keep talking about it? Or do we?

  4. “The idea of race is a recent phenomenon in human history. Geneticists and anthropologists  have long seen race as a manmade invention with no basis in science or biology.” (p.65) Why do  you think race became so important in the US? Why is it still so central to our identity and  behavior? 

5. “Hitler had studied America from afar, both envying and admiring it, and attributed its  achievement to its Aryan stock. He praised the country’s near genocide of Native Americans and  the exiling to reservations of those who had survived. Hitler especially marveled at the American  ‘knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death.’” (p.81). “’Silence in  the face of evil is itself evil.’ Bonhoeffer once said of bystanders. ‘God will not hold us guiltless.   Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’” (p90) Why did we tolerate near genocide and  mass death? What beliefs made this evil possible?

6. “The United States and India would become, respectively, the oldest and the largest democracies  in human history, both built on caste systems undergirded by their reading of the sacred texts of  their respective cultures. In both countries, the subordinate castes were consigned to the  bottom, seen as deserving of their debasement, owning to the sins of the past.” (p104) How do  you respond to the charge that sacred texts have reinforced caste behavior? Can religions  offer assistance in working against caste systems?

7. “The Eight Pillars of Caste: 1. Divine Will and the Laws of Nature; 2. Heritability; 3. Endogamy  and the Control of Marriage and Mating; 4. Purity versus Pollution; 5. Occupational Hierarchy; 6.  Dehumanization and Stigma; 7. Terror as enforcement; 8. Inherent Superiority verses Inherent  Inferiority.” (pp99-167) Which pillar surprises you? Which pillar do you least understand?

8. “Thus, a caste system makes a captive of everyone within it. Just as the assumptions of inferiority  weigh on those assigned to the bottom of the caste system, the assumptions of superiority can  burden those at the top with expectations of needing to be several rungs above, in charge of all  things, at the center of things, to police those who might cut ahead of them, to resent the idea of  undeserving lower castes jumping the line an getting in front of those born to lead.” (p.184) Can  you recall feeling the burden of being in an upper caste? Can you share a story about it? 

9. “Everything that happened to the Jews in Europe, to African-Americans during the lynching  terrors of Jim Crow, to Native American as their land was plundered and their numbers  decimated, to Dalits considered so low that their very shadow polluted those deemed above  them – happened because a big enough majority had been persuaded and had been open to  being persuaded, centuries ago or in the recent past, that these groups were ordained by god as  beneath them, subhuman, deserving of their fate. Those gathered on that day in Berlin were  neither good nor bad. They were human, insecure and susceptible to the propaganda that gave  them an identity to believe in, to feel chosen and important.” (p266) Can you recall a time you  were “caught up”, persuaded, and willing to participate in action that was wrong and perhaps  later identified as evil? 

10. “What white people are really asking for when they demand forgiveness from traumatized  community is absolution, ’Roxane Gay wrote, ’They want absolution from the racism that infects  us all even though forgiveness cannot reconcile America’s racist sin.’ One cannot live in a caste  system, breath its air, without absorbing the message of caste supremacy.” (p289) “Caste is  more than rank, it is a state of mind that holds everyone captive, the dominant imprisoned in an  illusion of their own entitlement, the subordinate trapped in the purgatory of someone else’s  definition of who they are and who they should be.” (p290) Do you agree with Roxane Gay?  What can we do today to bring healing, change, and hope? What are you doing to refuse  cooperation with America’s caste system?

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

A different perspective almost always enhances understanding. Sometimes labeling with a different word can shape-shift a subject into a slightly different perspective revealing additional layers of meaning. I think that’s what Wilkerson has done by using the word “caste” to describe what others have described as structural, institutional, or systemic racism. 

The word “racism” alone doesn’t communicate the endemic nature of the problem that is at the core of society’s discontent. The meaning of “racism” is widely understood to be a personal attitude and that makes it difficult to comprehend the hidden sociological barriers that impose control on human relationships.

Caste has traditionally been used in the English language to describe the rigid social stratification characteristic of Hindu society, a practice with ancient origins. Americans have generally regarded caste as a backward non-western custom that has nothing to do with the way we live. 

This book examines the characteristics of the Indian caste system, compares them with American racial behavior and history, and then convincingly makes the point that they share many similarities. The book further makes the point that the Nazi anti-Jewish laws were inspired and patterned in many ways on the American Jim Crow laws. Wilkerson isn't saying the three are identical, but that they share many similarities which can be used to help understand the difficulty of making changes.

The book’s skillful interweave of interesting personal vignettes with abstract ideas provides a compelling reading experience. The stories of ordinary people from both the higher castes and of the lowest are shared providing numerous examples of the misplacement of human potential. The history of the laws and practices that have led to the current wealth disparities are reviewed. Most readers will be appalled at the repeated examples of terror and routine discourtesies that prompt a range of emotion varying from indignation to sorrow. 

I think this book provides a convincing case for the reality of American caste. But there's an implicit message that the possibility of change is futile. Elements of hope within this book are sparse. Still, if it leaves the reader better informed, it will have done some good.

Here's a link to an excerpt from the book, Caste.  Here's a link to another excerpt.:

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March 10 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound.

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Selections are subject to change.  For Zoom link and additional information, 
contact David Nelson -- humanagenda@gmail.com or (816) 453-3835.


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