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Summary Report for 2021

For years CRES has been encouraging others and other organizations to promote interfaith understanding -- as early as 2005 when we moved the Interfaith Council from a program of CRES to independence. Still, CRES continues to play a leadership role in the community, often "behind the scenes," while we are thinking long-term, beyond what will be our 40th year in 2022. 

While encouraging others, we have in fact offered new programs and co-sponsored events where our support was desired. We have continued, with the leadership of David Nelson, to offer the monthly Vital Conversations. Our continually updated website remains an extraordinarily valuable resource for interfaith understanding.

Less publically, we advise and respond to indivdiuals and organizations seeking various sorts of help, from program design, request for speakers, contact information, and personal consultation about interfaith problems. One example which made it into the paper was our concern about an anti-Muslim cartoon through a letter written by the Interfaith Council. Whether I am wise or not, it seems the longevity of CRES leads folks to consult with us as they consider their own contributions to enlarging the meaning of a religiously-healthy community.

This year it was a special joy to share in the announcement of Binding Us Together, the memoir of our beloved Alvin Brooks, for which I was developmental editor. Al has been a leader in interfaith understanding for decades as well as a leader for racial and every other form of justice, honored even by a President of the other party. 

Below as you scroll down, you will find notices and photos (and some texts) about other worthy activities in 2021, including an unexpected award from The Shepherd's Center.

As minister emeritus, my work for CRES is volunteer. Many of you know I am often asked to officiate at weddings, memorial services, and baptisms, and I donate the money that generates to CRES. This and your support, makes it possible for CRES to pay its bills and provide what the community obviously continues to find as meritorious service and leadership. 

Thank you.
Vern Barnet
CRES minister emeritus

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:

In answer to questions:

     * Cultural and local groundwork (travel, books, videos, NAIN, etc; media self-examination]
     * adequate and excellent representation from dozen faiths
     * grounded Midwest, not crazies a la California, etc
     * small enough metro for connections, big enough for expertize of all professional arenas 
     * competent (at the time] political leaders

     1. Interfaith must be more than respecting many faiths; it must address the overwhelming crises of our time in the environment,personhood, and the social order with the wisdom from the world’s traditions. It does this best by asking always, “What is sacred?” If interfaith fails to address people’s concerns, it is a shallow, feel-good experience. Focusing on similarities rather than differences deprives us of the rich wisdom we need to learn from one another and put into action.
     2. Symbols and ritual are more important in programs than often thought, and can provide continuinty and profound meaning with rich and strong associations.
     3. Interfaith is best grounded both academically and in the community.  Public, civic, and artistic engagement is necessary for progress and legitimacy.
     4. Interfaith efforts are most effective when they cooperate while respecting their separate spheres.
     5. Participation should be wide open, but governing bodies generally need to be composed of recognized leaders of main, rather than splinter or non-distinct, faith groups. 



One of Kansas City's most remarkable, talented, and dedicated interfaith leaders is Sheila Sonnenschein who was honored at the March 8 meeting of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. Below is the opening tribute by Mary McCoy, herself one of our most distinguished interfaith leaders. We have added some photos and links to Mary's remarks.

Sheila Sonnenschein is a fantastic example of interfaith-in-action. She has served the GKCIC for many years, as an At-Large Director, as Vice-Chair and then as Chair of the Council. I had the honor of working with Sheila as her Vice-Chair during her term as Chair.
     I also had the honor of working with Sheila on many Council program, especially when I was Program Chair. One of the programs I especially remember is Winter’s Light – this program was Sheila’s concept and it involved artistic expressions of faith through music, art, dance, song and storytelling in many faith traditions. The program was so popular that we ran it several times, both as Winter’s Light and as Midsummer’s Light, depending upon the scheduling.
     One of Sheila’s awesome characteristics is that she is so involved with the world, by working through so many groups: GKCIC, Mothers on the Side of Peace, Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom, Bike for the Brain, and more. One of my favorite memories is during a time of particular xenophobia, when Sheila gathered pens and notecards and stamps and friends, from the Council and from her other intersectional groups, for a casual, one-time gathering; we met at a local coffee shop to write personal notes to people who were suffering from discrimination and hatred. It was very memorable and very touching – and very “Sheila.”
     Sheila was very involved in the Council’s effort when Cultural Crossroads arranged for the Human Spirit collection of multifaith and multicultural materials at the Plaza Library, with input from Council directors; she was involved in the collecting and curating and spoke at the grand opening. She has always been a wonderful supporter of our efforts at multicultural peace.
     Sheila and her husband Ken have also been very helpful with the Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner – and not just the year that she was the recipient of the Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award (although I well remember that year, when Sheila and Ken stayed to help the clean-up effort, when so many others had left). One year, Sheila and Ken even provided table decorations from the Mitzvah Garden.
     The main thing about Sheila, whether she is working through GKCIC or any other group or on her own, is that she is always driven by love and concern for others of all faiths and philosophies.
     I don’t want to do all the talking, as I also want to give the opportunity for others to share their memories. . . . . [Testimonials from many others followed including from Alan Edelman, Vern Barnet, Matthew Silvers, Geneva Blackmer, Janet Olson,
Cindy McDavitt, Michael Stephens, Zulfiqar Malik, Lama Matt Rice, and others. Then Mary concluded:]
     To close, I will just say that Sheila Sonnenschein is an example of WHY the Interfaith Council exists and why our work is so important.


SevenDays 2021

Mindy Corporon, who suffered the horror of the murder of her father, William Corporon, and a son, Reat Underwood, by a white supremist religious fantatic who also murdered Terri LaManno, April 13, 2014, has turned grief to promoting understanding by creating Faith Always Wins Foundation st with its three pillars, kindness, faith and healing. SevenDays - Make a Ripple, Change the World, is its annual event. While CRES  has no formal affiliation, we offer enthusiastic support. One of the virtual programs, April 19, is an interfaith discussion with Bill Tammeus, Moderator; the Rev. Gar Demo, Christianity; Saaliha Khan,Islam; Dr. Joshua Paszkiewicz, Buddhism; and Rabbi Sarah Smiley, Judaism.


from April 18 Sunday 2 pm

Archived YouTube Link
The interview beings about 3 minutes into the video

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.

After "green room" talk,
the interview begins 
about 3 minutes 
into the video

       "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."


White Responsibility:
Race and Faith in the Heartland
 May 16 Sunday 6:30 pm CT 7:30 pm ET

YouTube video of this event

We could not capture images of all 50-some participants. 
The program was scheduled for one hour, but most wanted, and stayed for, an extra half-hour.

What responsibility do white people have in ending structural racism?
What roles should religion play? What are your thoughts and questions?

Mark Curnutte,
author of 
Across The Color Line: Reporting 25 Years in 
Black Cincinnati
Tammy Bennett
Chief Equity
and Inclusion Officer at 
Dinsmore ? Shohl, LLP
The Hon. Alvin Brooks, author of Binding Us Together: A Civil Rights
Activist Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service

The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn, The Center for Religious Experience and Study
Garrett Griffin, author of Racism in Kansas City: A Short History
Dr David Nelson
founder of The Human Agenda and Moderator


After remarks by the panelists, audience participation is welcomed.
The Interfaith Center at Miami University, Oxford, OH, and The Center for Religious Experience and Study, Kansas City, MO, bring you this program.


Video Recording Just Released! (May 19) link
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/7ReWF-tLxy0

Contents by minute/second (approximate):
       0 - Cindy McDavitt, Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council chair
  1:15 - Dr Joshua Paszkiewicz, Council executive director
  2:40 - Geneva Blackmer: the History Project
15:00 - Larry Guillot: Ecumenical history and library
25:00 - Vern Barnet: The Council as a program of CRES (historic images)
43:00 - Margaretha Finefrock: Kansas City Harmony
57:00 - Donna Ziegenhorn: The Hindu and the Cowboy play
1:17:00 - The presentations conclude. 
This recording has been "cleaned" of the "Zoom-bombing" that interrupted the presentations.

A Memorial Day Meditation

Vern writes: This year, on May 30, the Kansas City Star published this photo (that's me holding the flag, facing the police, with Henry Stoever of PeaceWorks Kansas City with the cap) with a guest column by Tom Fox, retired editor and publisher of the National Catholic Reporter. The photo was taken several years ago at the annual Memorial Day protest 10-mile march from what used to be Bendix/Allied Signal to the new Honeywell facility which produces 85% of the non-nuclear material used in our nuclear bomb arsenal. 
     One year I both protested outside the plant (and if I had stepped over the line, I would have been arrested) and a few days later was welcomed to tour inside the plant because of an alumni association to which I belonged.  I wrote about that irony here in a church magazine.  (The photo there shows Tom Fox, me, and others in the march.) 
     Too often religious instruction is about inner peace. The popular song, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me," may sometimes fall into a kind of narcissism which fails to recognize our responsibilities as citizens to bring peace to the planet. 
     This is not a recent concern of mine. As a college student in 1962, I wrote Bertrand Russell about it, and cherish his letter responding, which you can see here
     In  my church article, "Views from the Outside, Inside, and Center," I try to show that people of good will may have different views on how to achieve peace, and such differences should be respected and debated as the path toward peace. I also try to place the question of peace in the larger context of the wisdom of the world's religions as they reveal the sacred in the environment, in personhood, and in society, the three realms in which the great crises of our times are so severe.
     In case you cannot get past the Star's paywall, here is what Tom Fox wrote:

We protest at Kansas City nuclear weapons plant 
on Memorial Day in the name of peace

MAY 30, 2021 05:00 AM 

Nonviolently, several score in numbers, we will gather again for the 10th year in a row this Memorial Day at the Kansas City nuclear weapons manufacturing plant to protest its operation, its intent and its senseless misuse of resources.
     We are your neighbors. Our ranks might seem thin to some of you, but our vision is bold. We are part of a growing worldwide movement to rid our world of weapons of indiscriminate and mass destruction.
     We will come face to face with Kansas City police and guards just before noon on Memorial Day after walking one mile to the plant.
     Five of us will risk arrest by crossing a line onto private property. These five will cross a line at the foot of the sprawling complex at the southern edge of the city. They will likely be arrested in front of the plant that produces 85% of all the non-nuclear components that make up the U.S. nuclear stockpile — and is euphemistically named a “National Security Campus.”
     Once arrested and handcuffed, they will be booked on site pending the setting of a trial date. We admittedly break a civil law to maintain the laws we hold to be of a higher moral order.
     Join us if you like, but do not bring predetermined so-called “tribal” notions to the protest. Police and protesters, we are all friendly. We respect one another. Our protests, under the aegis of PeaceWorks Kansas City, are entirely nonviolent. We respect the dignity of every person, starting with those closest to us at the moment of protest, the police and security officials we face only feet away.
     PeaceWorks Kansas City both preaches and models nonviolence. Co-Chair Henry Stoever, a well-known Kansas City attorney, explains to police officials just what to expect. He and they want to avoid surprises and possible violence. Over the years, he has worked most closely with Kansas City Police Sgt. Craig Hope, who oversees the southern area of the city, to explain each move in the program.
     “They’re really respectful people,” Hope said to me in a recent phone call. “Everyone is friendly. They intentionally do not go limp when we arrest them so they will not hurt our backs. … We take good care of them and they take good care of us.”
     On a particularly hot day, several years back, the assembled police passed out water bottles to the protesters to assure they would be adequately hydrated.
     Asked why he returns year after year to protest, Stoever called the plant, which operates on a $1 billion annual budget and is managed by Honeywell, a “monstrous” operation.
     Stoever has long been a conscientious objector to all wars. He says he will “cross the line” again this year, for the fourth time, as a matter of conscience. “I see our action as an intervention in a very dangerous situation.”
     Christian Brother Louis Rodemann, who for decades fed the homeless at Holy Family Catholic Worker House in midtown Kansas City, said he just recently decided he would be arrested this year during the protest for the forth time by “crossing the line.” It was the feast of Pentecost that moved him to decide. The followers of Jesus were “spirited” on Pentecost to be brave and courageous and to speak out. He took the lead from them.
     Said Rodemann: “Walking with me will be every one of the thousands of guests who were ever welcomed into Holy Family Catholic Worker House through its 44-year history — guests who could come in from their poverty, brokenness and loneliness and be treated with the dignity of a human person they had stopped dreaming and hoping they could become; to get a glimpse, if just for an hour, of the peace and wholeness they justly deserved as a way of life. For making this glimpse just one step closer to reality, I will step over that line one more time.”
  Tom Fox is former editor and publisher of the National Catholic Reporter. 


One way of understanding 20 years since 9/11

While the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago opened the gates of hell, the way our government has responded has brought us inside hell's domain. The smoke from that day, the acrid fumes, amplified into war, brings us purblind to the charred and hobbled Body Politic. How do we understand what has happened? How do we move forward?

One way of understanding what happened, and is still happening, is by looking at the metaphors we use to explain things and which shape our responses.


1. Before 911, terrorism had been dealt with as a CRIME, internationally and at home. The violation of life and property in an otherwise orderly society makes the terrorist an especially despised outlaw. We employ a legal system to assure justice by punishing the criminal and removing the criminal from society. International courts have done the same.

2. But since September 11 we have used a WAR metaphor. Of course the metaphor is hardly new. We love war. We have fought the war against poverty and the war against drugs, though it is hard for us to admit defeat, even though Vietnam and Afghanistan are history now. We still fight the war against cancer, against crime, against . . . you name it.

But a war against terrorism was new. The metaphor had power because we struggled not just against isolated attack but against an organized force seeking not just advantage through harm of a target but rather destruction of a government or civilization. Though we ourselves use violence, we assumed our own righteousness would bring us victory over evil.

Both of the metaphors of crime and war too easily commend themselves because they are simple, and rest on the assumption that we are wholly good — and our opponents are completely evil.

3. A third metaphor might come closer to the complexity of the situation: DISEASE. Here the metaphor suggests not two separate, competing powers but of all humanity as a sick body, within the organs of communities, cities, and nations, afflicted in various ways, degrading or sustaining each other in different degrees, infected with individuals and groups poisoned (using Buddhist language) with greed, fear, and ignorance. Now, with COVID, we are learning that, as Martin Luther King said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Just so, CRES insists that the three great crises of our time, in the environment, in personhood, and in the social order, are all intertwined.

And that the world's Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic traditions, respectively, provide the therapy to heal the planet, revivify personhood, and restore social order.

Let us bring the healing powers of generosity, fellowship, and understanding to one another, expanding a circle of joy in service.


On the first anniversary of 9/11, CRES opened a day-long observance beginning with a water ceremony between City Hall and the Federal Justice Center, later shown on national CBS-TV. Click here to see a 3-minute excerpt from that ritual. 

TRANSCRIPT OF REMARKS: Today is an anniversary of a day of horror that somehow brings us together as members of this community, as Americans, and as citizens of the world. As a community of many faiths, we gather to honor those who perished and to work to comfort and save all others. * In the face of disasters, we yet proclaim hope. * Water in this pool, water in our containers -- water has many meanings in the religions of the world. To answer the fireball of a year ago, we make water an emblem of hope. Kansas City is the City of Fountains. Into this pool, members of the Interfaith Council will pour waters from fountains from Independence and Lenexa, Kansas City, Kansas, and Lee's Summit, all over the metro area, along with waters from the Ganges, the Nile, the Amazon, the  the Thames, the Yangtse -- and the Kaw and the Missouri -- to say that ultimately our lives flow together, from one source and to one source. These waters become the tears of Muslims, Jews, Christians, those of all faiths. These waters will be transformed from the waters of tears into the waters which purify, the waters which douse the fire of hatred, wash away our self-righteousness, and well up as healing fountains in the heart. As these waters join, so let us unite in proclaiming hope. * Any who have come and want to taake this mixed water to your own observance in your own place of worship later in the day are welcome to come to the spot where I am standing and take water from this wonderful rich mixture.

From Aporia to Praise:
(postponed from 2020 May 24)
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.

September 23 Thursday 6:30-7:30pm
“From the Front Lines: Spirituality in Times of Crisis”
honors chaplains, first responders and many others who have played such a critical role in our lives these past months.
A Virtual Fundraiser and Signature event of
the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
now independent but originally a program of CRES.

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

Kansas City Star 2021 November 21
Charles Stanford
June 17, 1949 - October 8, 2021

Brookings, Oregon - Charles Williams Stanford left this world October 8th, 2021 in Brookings, Oregon. He was born in Overland Park, Kansas to Lorraine (Williams) and Henry Stanford. He attended UMKC and received a degree in psychology. His first job was as Art Director at the Gillis Home for Children, where he met his wife, Mary. He made many close friendships there that lasted long after he had moved on to pursue other careers.
     He was the director of Big Brothers and the MS Society, however his life long interest in magic led to a long and successful career as a magician, even after being accepted to medical school. He worked for corporate 500 companies as a trade show magician for many years. He then created a company named Stanford Productions that provided entertainment for corporate events throughout the country. He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
     In the mid 80's Chuck became interested in Tibetan Buddhism and spent many years devoted to study with venerable Tibetan teachers. He made a pilgrimage to Tibet and many trips to India where he attended teachings from HH Dalai Lama. He was ordained a Larna and opened the Rime Center of Peace and Compassion. He had a strong belief in interfaith dialogue. He was a member of The Interfaith Council of Greater Kansas City and received many awards for his efforts in promoting peace and unity. He was a chaplain at many local prisons, teaching Buddhism and meditation practice to the inmates. In addition, Lama Chuck had written a monthly column on Buddhism for the religion section of the Kansas City Star since I995.
     Every New Year’s Eve Lama Chuck hosted an event at the Rime Center for people from all faiths to pray for world peace. His beloved friend, Alvin Brooks along with representatives of all the faith communities in Kansas City would speak, sing, and offer prayers for peace in the Coming year.
     Lama Chuck was an author of several books, a teacher, a leader, and a man of great vision and compassion. He will be greatly missed by his wife, Mary, his daughter, Lauren, his son Matthew, his daughter-in-law Amanda, his two fantastic grandsons, Quest and Roam, his brother Barry, and his step-mother Mary E. Stanford. He leaves behind two nieces, a nephew, cousins, and many beloved friends. He was so very grateful to all his teachers and their profound wisdom and blessings.
     A special prayer service will be held for Lama Chuck on November 26th at 6 pm at The Rime Center, 2939 Wayne Ave., Kansas City, MO 64109. In lieu of fowers please make donations to The Rime Center.


Lama Chuck Stanford was presented the Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award at the 2016 annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner, run by CRES for its first 25 years, now by ADL which began the awards in 2010 in continuing cooperation with the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. In his acceptance remarks, Lama Chuck repeated the core theology of CRES which locates the sacred in three dimensions, nature, personhood, and the human species: "We are facing environmental, personal, and societal crises that I think can best be solved by groups of different faiths working together for common solutions."


Dennis Moore: An Interfaith Champion

Dennis Moore (1945-2021) was a man of many blessings for his constituents, his community, and the nation, and at CRES we especially cherish his work on behalf of interfaith understanding. 

When I moved from Pennsylvania to Kansas City in 1975, I heard about a remarkable young man, Dennis Moore, who had just been elected Johnson County District Attorney; so that winter I went to his swearing-in ceremony, along with a few dozen others, at most. I did not hear a carillon pealing, but I did hear a deep sense of decency and commitment.

He served in that role well, and was elected in 1998 to the first of six terms as US Congressman from the 3d Kansas District, a post usually held by a member of the
other party.

I was riveted a couple days after 9/11 to receive a call from him asking the Interfaith Council, which was to meet that night, to prepare an observance Sunday for the metro area. We did, and of course we asked him to be one of the speakers, along with a prominent Christian, Jew, and Muslim. It was a front-page story in Monday's Kansas City Star. (You'll recognize him as third from the left in the top photo.)

Six weeks later he joined other distinguished speakers at what remains the area's only major interfaith conference. (Second row, left photo.)

On other occasions he and his office worked with CRES to better secure and expand interfaith understanding.

In 2003, CRES recognized him with our annual Thanksgiving Sunday Interfaith Ritual Meal award "for his leadership in the community and the US Congress honoring the many paths of faith and the American tradition of religious freedom." In the photo is CRES Board Chair Joe Archias who presented the award to him.

I am personally a bit amused by the photo of him and me after I delivered the prayer at the annual Jewish Community Relations Bureau recognition dinner one year simply because I don't know there is another photo in existence anywhere of me wearing a tux; but you will understand that I cherish the photo not because of attire, but because of his hand on my shoulder as I remember him as a friend to me and to so many.

Vern is one of the 
"70 over 70"
honored by the 
2021 Nov 4
6-7:30 pm virtually
Honoree Fact Sheet

also honored

about the fundraiser

photo by Tom Styrkowicz

SuEllen Fried and Bert Berkley. honorary chairs of the event

Elbert Cole (1918-2010), founder of an interfaith organization, Shepherd's Center, is one of Kansas City's legends, and I was lucky to know him. He took his degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School the year I was born, so I felt an immediate connection as a fellow alum when I came to Kansas City in 1975. A few years earlier, in 1972, Dr. Cole, then pastor at Central United Methodist Church, responded to the hunger seniors had for life long learning and social life as old friends disappeared by creating the Center. Over the years I had the pleasure of speaking for various Shepherd's Center study groups and as luncheon speaker. And I was excited to help develop of several world religions series with superb local speakers from the various traditions because the audiences at the Shepherd's Center were always wonderfully engaged.
     Another University of Chicago Divinity School alum was a friend of mine, the great scholar of world religions, Huston Smith, who happend to have been Cole's roommate for a semester when they were both undergraduates at Missouri Central Methodist College. 
     When Smith accepted my invitation to visit Kansas City in 2005 to promote his latest book, The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition, Nancy and Gordon Beaham III, both of blessed memory, celebrated with a marvelous luncheon. I cherish this detail from a photo then of these former roommates in their own senior years.
     Now I  am in my "senior years," and Shepherd's Center has selected me as one of "70 over 70" to be recognized this year for community service. You'll find links to information about the event and others honored this year and in the past. I am grateful to be associated with the opportunities Cole gave to the community by creating the Shepherd's Center, and with the newer services now provided. 

Interfaith Panel Conversation with Composer
 The 2021 November 11 Thursday 7 pm Youtube recording 
can be accessed here or from the church website.

Composer Reena Esmail discusses her work, This Love Between Us, with local panelists representing different faiths as they reflect on the core themes of love, unity and harmony drawn from seven major religious traditions of India (Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, and Islam). A sitar and tabla are added to Western baroque orchestra and choir, according to program notes here (with recordings and other information).
     Dr Esmail, an Indian-American currently living in Los Angeles, has studied composition in presigeous American schools and in India on a Fulbright-Nehru grant. A winner of several awards and distinctions, she uses materials from Indian and Western classical traditions through "the creation of equitable musical spaces." Her works have been commissioned by chorale, quartet, orchestra, and other groups, including the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
     The work, paired with Bach's joyous Christian Magnificat  from the baroque era, is performed in person at Country Club Christian Church, 6101 Ward Parkway, by Spire Chamber Ensemble November 20 Saturday 7:30 pm in a free "Centennial Concert." The complimentary tickets are available here.

The panelists are the composer, the Rev. Dezo Schreiner, MDiv (the First Baptist Church Of Kansas City, MO on Red Bridge Road), Imam Abdelhamid Algizawi, PhD (the Islamic Center Of Johnson County), and  Bhupinder Vohra, PhD (William Jewel College Monte Harmon Professor of Biology). All three area panalists bring fresh voices to Kansas City interfaith exchange and we were eager to hear and learn from them. 

Introducing the interfaith panel and leading with questions were the Rev Carla Aday (senior minister at Country Club Christian Church which hosted the panel and presents the performance) and Ben A Spalding (founder and artistic director of Kansas City’s Spire Chamber Ensemble and Baroque Orchestra, which performs the work Nov 20.).

Composer bridges Indian and classical worlds.
Kansas City choir to perform her work

NOVEMBER 12, 2021 


[ PHOTO: Indian American composer Reena Esmail used texts from the world’s religions to create “This Love Between Us.” ]

“The Lamps may be different, but the Light is the same."

“All religions, all this singing, one song.”

Those lines by the Sufi poet and mystic Rumi are just part of the texts taken from the world’s religions and set by Indian American composer Reena Esmail in her choral work “This Love Between Us.” The work celebrates what unites the world’s various faiths, especially the concept of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Recognizing the universality of Bach’s music, Esmail wrote “This Love Between Us” to be performed on the same program as the Lutheran composer’s Magnificat. The Spire Chamber Ensemble conducted by Ben Spalding will perform both works on Nov. 20 at Country Club Christian Christian Church. The concert will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the church.

The concert will also mark the first time the Spire Chamber Ensemble has presented a live indoor concert since its performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor on March 7, 2020. For this important event, Spalding thought Esmail and Bach would fit the bill perfectly.

“It just didn’t feel right to not address what we’ve all been through the last 18 or 20 months,” Spalding said. “The pandemic, the loss of life, as well as the political discord, the social unrest. We wanted a piece that would comment on the world around us and to use the power of text to promote better things, to promote unity and how we are more alike than we are different.”

Esmail’s text draws on everything from various Buddhist sutras to one of the Upanishads and St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

“She incorporates all these major religions, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism and Islam,” Spalding said. “We have to sing in seven Hindustani languages, which are completely different from anything we’ve ever done before. The composer is coaching us. She’s made a wonderful audio guide and has done separate coaching with the various soloists.”

Spalding says that Bach’s setting of Mary’s hymn of praise is an ideal complement to Esmail’s work.

“A lot of scholars look at the Magnificat as a social justice piece because the text is about the lowly being lifted up and the proud being brought down,” he said. “That would have been quite the political statement. Especially the way Bach sets it. Reena sees the connection between her work and how the Magnificat focuses on social justice issues.”

Bach composed the Magnificat as a celebratory work after he got the job as music director at St.Thomas Church in Leipzig. And he pulled out all the stops, using a full baroque orchestra including trumpets and timpani. The Spire Chamber Ensemble will perform the work on authentic period instruments.

Esmail was drawn to not only the message of Bach’s Magnificat, but also its instrumentation. “This Love Between Us” is one of the very few contemporary works written for authentic period instruments of the 18th century. There will, however, be the intriguing addition of sitar and tabla.

“Rajib Karmakar is coming from L.A. to play the sitar,” Spalding said. “It’s a very demanding, virtuosic sitar part. And Amit Choudhury will play the tabla, the classical Indian percussion instrument.”

Spalding says the concert is a fitting way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Country Club Christian Church, a congregation noted for its commitment to social justice.

“‘This Love Between Us’ is powerful and asks questions,” Spalding said. “That’s the goal of art, to ask questions and to consider other people’s stories. And then that teaches us empathy. I think it will be a beautiful gift to our Kansas City community.” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20. Country Club Christian Church, 6101 Ward Parkway. Free but reservations required. spirechamberensemble.org.

[ PHOTO: Spire Chamber Ensemble is set to perform Nov. 20, the first time since the pandemic began. Eric Williams ]


     Other than proclaiming the wisdom of the world's religions to resolve the three great crises* the world faces, CRES emphasizes the value of diversity of faiths, just as a healthy eco-system depends on a rich diversity of species. Nonetheless, as people of various faiths increasingly encounter each other, two extreme opinions are particularly interesting: (1) religions are basically alike,** and (2) religions are fundamentally distinct. Which view is better? 
    It is like asking if people are all alike or all different. Both statements may be in some sense true. Perhaps the desire to emphasize similarities sometimes arises from an effort to tamp down fear of "the other." Conversely, a more difficult but ultimately more useful and respectful response may be to value differences, not only for delight, but because our problems are so complex that we need a variety of viewpoints to find ways to address them. 
    And what if the message about similarities backfires by making us unprepared -- and even afraid -- of differences that we find we cannot ignore? A specific example of such questions is the "Golden Rule." Attempting to match faiths by extracting presumably similar statements from them may take such statements out of context and may be a disservice to the distinctive character of the various traditions by presuming that the Golden Rule is at the core of every faith. Such efforts can be challenged as a lingering ailment of the Modernist-Enlightenment-Colonial project, though who will question that we should be thoughtful and caring about each other? 
      Let us encourage efforts to learn about world religions with the hope that both similarities and distinctions can be enriching and unite us, valuing both evident commonalities and irreconcilable differences in a profound sense of shared humanity. Can we have unity of spirit without uniformity of asseveration? Perhaps that is what composer Reena Esmail will display for us.The world needs such delights.  --Vern

*The crises in the environment, in personhood, and in social order have remedies in the wisdom of the three great families of faith -- Primal Asian, and Monotheist, as summarized in this chart.

**"How fully has the proponent [of the view that all religions are at their core the same] tried and succeeded in understanding Christianity’s claim that Christ was the only begotten Son of God, or the Muslim’s claim that Muhammad is the Seal of the prophets, or the Jews’ sense of their being the Chosen People? How does he propose to reconcile Hinduism’s conviction that this will always remain a ‘middle world’ with Judaism’s promethean faith that it can be decidedly improved? How does the Buddha’s ‘anatta doctrine’ of no-soul square with Christianity’s belief in . . . individual destiny in eternity? How does Theravada Buddhism’s rejection of every form of personal God find echo in Christ’s sense of relationship to his Heavenly Father? How does the Indian view of Nirguna Brahman, the God who stands completely aloof from time and history, fit with the Biblical view that the very essence of God is contained in his historical acts? Are these beliefs really only accretions, tangential to the main concern of spirit? The religions . . . may fit together, but they do not do so easily." —Huston Smith


November 14 Sunday 4-5:15 pm CT
“Promoting Interfaith Peace, Renewal and Regrowth” 

FREE online interfaith gathering -- including interfaith prayers of gratitude.
ADL and GKCIFCHosted by Heartland Chapter of the Alliance of Divine Love 
Co-sponsored by Greater KC Interfaith Council

YouTube Reccording of the ADL and GKCIFC program

The annual observance was sponsored by CRES for its first 25 years. 
This year is the 36th year of the tradition and we are indeed grateful to the 
sponsors for perpetuating the recognition of the place of gratitude in every faith.

Here is the YouTube link to the recording of the program. 
Thanks to the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada
for welcoming CRES as a partner in this 2021 Thanksgiving Sunday virtual temple.



Organizationally, my failures are glaring, including, for example, an inadequate transition from the Interfaith Council as a meaningful program of CRES to an independent status in 2005,  continuing without the resources it needs and deserves. Many other organizations, without a comprehensive vision, often unaware of each other, are filling some gaps. Thank God for their efforts, and yours.
     My inability to further the mission of awakening the community to the resources available in the Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic faiths to address the crises in the environment, personhood, and society, seems to me a calamity. My guiding question -- "“What is sacred — what is so important that my life depends upon it, that I would die for it — and what may I do to understand, honor and share it?” -- is replaced by less central, less pivotal, questions of immediacy, requiring attention and action in the present, laudable indeed, but without the reflection needed for a holistic and comprehensive confluence of the world's religious insights to discover, display, and employ responses and enlist the community in effective initiative.
     About the only significant contribution I may have made is increasing awareness of religious diversity in our community, and perhaps beyond in some minor ways. A baby step forward. As I approach my 80th birthday, I try to be realistic about the limits of any very modest advancements I may have made and the urgency and enormity of the task for others to take up. The political, social, and religious hostility and fragmentation of today's America (and, alas, in our own community) is evidence of the neglect of such an overarching and unifying question explored in the company of those of all faiths.
     I hope those interested will see my failures as well as any successes, learn from them, and bring fresh insight and energy to the opportunity to share the wisdom of the world's spiritual traditions in our overwhelmingly secularistic and fragmented age, to reverse the endangered environment, the violation of personhood, and the broken community -- so that we may be restored with nature, the self made whole, community in covenant, and the sacred found afresh. 
      About many things, including my approach, I may be wrong, and my discouragement about interfaith progress may be short-sighted. I must trust the intelligence and good sense of  readers and others to move into the future with faith. In that abiding hope, I offer thanksgiving and praise.



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.”

Here is a link to The Guardian story with photos and additional text about the shipwreck and rescue: the real boys actually created a cooperative society, just the opposite of Golding's  Lord of the Flies. I am a Pelagian because I think Augustine's development of "original sin" and human depravity misinterprets the Gospel. I rather believe in the inborn goodness of babies (Jesus said, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."), corruptible indeed as they grow and are influenced by those around them or uplifted to greater goodness by love. Rutger C. Bregman's Humankind: A Hopeful History .

 I think Augustine caused immense damage to the teaching of Jesus and, despite some insights, led the early church into great harm which largely persists.  

A reason Augustine developed "original sin" was to justify infant baptism. I believe in infant baptism, but not to wash away Adam's sin. The baptism argument arose when Augustine went back to Africa and discovered the practice (elsewhere, like Constantine, folks were baptized as they neared death, so they knew what they were doing*) and developed the original sin doctrine to justify the practice.  To his contemporaries, his argument for infant baptism was probably the most scandalous thing he taught -- little babies damned to eternal punishment unless doused with baptismal water. The Church eventually found a not very satisfactory work-around with the teaching of Limbo.

*The Anabaptist position is that one needs to know what is happening when one is baptised by choice. Babies don't know and don't choose it.

The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months

For centuries western culture has been permeated by the idea that humans are selfish creatures. That cynical image of humanity has been proclaimed in films and novels, history books and scientific research. But in the last 20 years, something extraordinary has happened. Scientists from all over the world have switched to a more hopeful view of mankind. This development is still so young that researchers in different fields often don’t even know about each other.

When I started writing a book about this more hopeful view, I knew there was one story I would have to address. It takes place on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific. A plane has just gone down. The only survivors are some British schoolboys, who can’t believe their good fortune. Nothing but beach, shells and water for miles. And better yet: no grownups.

On the very first day, the boys institute a democracy of sorts. One boy, Ralph, is elected to be the group’s leader. Athletic, charismatic and handsome, his game plan is simple: 1) Have fun. 2) Survive. 3) Make smoke signals for passing ships. Number one is a success. The others? Not so much. The boys are more interested in feasting and frolicking than in tending the fire. Before long, they have begun painting their faces. Casting off their clothes. And they develop overpowering urges – to pinch, to kick, to bite.

By the time a British naval officer comes ashore, the island is a smouldering wasteland. Three of the children are dead. “I should have thought,” the officer says, “that a pack of British boys would have been able to put up a better show than that.” At this, Ralph bursts into tears. “Ralph wept for the end of innocence,” we read, and for “the darkness of man’s heart”.
This story never happened. An English schoolmaster, William Golding, made up this story in 1951 – his novel Lord of the Flies would sell tens of millions of copies, be translated into more than 30 languages and hailed as one of the classics of the 20th century. In hindsight, the secret to the book’s success is clear. Golding had a masterful ability to portray the darkest depths of mankind. Of course, he had the zeitgeist of the 1960s on his side, when a new generation was questioning its parents about the atrocities of the second world war. Had Auschwitz been an anomaly, they wanted to know, or is there a Nazi hiding in each of us?

I first read Lord of the Flies as a teenager. I remember feeling disillusioned afterwards, but not for a second did I think to doubt Golding’s view of human nature. That didn’t happen until years later when I began delving into the author’s life. I learned what an unhappy individual he had been: an alcoholic, prone to depression. “I have always understood the Nazis,” Golding confessed, “because I am of that sort by nature.” And it was “partly out of that sad self-knowledge” that he wrote Lord of the Flies.

I began to wonder: had anyone ever studied what real children would do if they found themselves alone on a deserted island? I wrote an article on the subject, in which I compared Lord of the Flies to modern scientific insights and concluded that, in all probability, kids would act very differently. Readers responded sceptically. All my examples concerned kids at home, at school, or at summer camp. Thus began my quest for a real-life Lord of the Flies. After trawling the web for a while, I came across an obscure blog that told an arresting story: “One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip ... Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe? They made a pact never to quarrel.”
The article did not provide any sources. But sometimes all it takes is a stroke of luck. Sifting through a newspaper archive one day, I typed a year incorrectly and there it was. The reference to 1977 turned out to have been a typo. In the 6 October 1966 edition of Australian newspaper The Age, a headline jumped out at me: “Sunday showing for Tongan castaways”. The story concerned six boys who had been found three weeks earlier on a rocky islet south of Tonga, an island group in the Pacific Ocean. The boys had been rescued by an Australian sea captain after being marooned on the island of ‘Ata for more than a year. According to the article, the captain had even got a television station to film a re-enactment of the boys’ adventure.

I was bursting with questions. Were the boys still alive? And could I find the television footage? Most importantly, though, I had a lead: the captain’s name was Peter Warner. When I searched for him, I had another stroke of luck. In a recent issue of a tiny local paper from Mackay, Australia, I came across the headline: “Mates share 50-year bond”. Printed alongside was a small photograph of two men, smiling, one with his arm slung around the other. The article began: “Deep in a banana plantation at Tullera, near Lismore, sit an unlikely pair of mates ... The elder is 83 years old, the son of a wealthy industrialist. The younger, 67, was, literally, a child of nature.” Their names? Peter Warner and Mano Totau. And where had they met? On a deserted island.

My wife Maartje and I rented a car in Brisbane and some three hours later arrived at our destination, a spot in the middle of nowhere that stumped Google Maps. Yet there he was, sitting out in front of a low-slung house off the dirt road: the man who rescued six lost boys 50 years ago, Captain Peter Warner.
Peter was the youngest son of Arthur Warner, once one of the richest and most powerful men in Australia. Back in the 1930s, Arthur ruled over a vast empire called Electronic Industries, which dominated the country’s radio market at the time. Peter was groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead, at the age of 17, he ran away to sea in search of adventure and spent the next few years sailing from Hong Kong to Stockholm, Shanghai to St Petersburg. When he finally returned five years later, the prodigal son proudly presented his father with a Swedish captain’s certificate. Unimpressed, Warner Sr demanded his son learn a useful profession. “What’s easiest?” Peter asked. “Accountancy,” Arthur lied.

Peter went to work for his father’s company, yet the sea still beckoned, and whenever he could he went to Tasmania, where he kept his own fishing fleet. It was this that brought him to Tonga in the winter of 1966. On the way home he took a little detour and that’s when he saw it: a minuscule island in the azure sea, ‘Ata. The island had been inhabited once, until one dark day in 1863, when a slave ship appeared on the horizon and sailed off with the natives. Since then, ‘Ata had been deserted – cursed and forgotten.

But Peter noticed something odd. Peering through his binoculars, he saw burned patches on the green cliffs. “In the tropics it’s unusual for fires to start spontaneously,” he told us, a half century later. Then he saw a boy. Naked. Hair down to his shoulders. This wild creature leaped from the cliffside and plunged into the water. Suddenly more boys followed, screaming at the top of their lungs. It didn’t take long for the first boy to reach the boat. “My name is Stephen,” he cried in perfect English. “There are six of us and we reckon we’ve been here 15 months.”

The boys, once aboard, claimed they were students at a boarding school in Nuku‘alofa, the Tongan capital. Sick of school meals, they had decided to take a fishing boat out one day, only to get caught in a storm. Likely story, Peter thought. Using his two-way radio, he called in to Nuku‘alofa. “I’ve got six kids here,” he told the operator. “Stand by,” came the response. Twenty minutes ticked by. (As Peter tells this part of the story, he gets a little misty-eyed.) Finally, a very tearful operator came on the radio, and said: “You found them! These boys have been given up for dead. Funerals have been held. If it’s them, this is a miracle!”

In the months that followed I tried to reconstruct as precisely as possible what had happened on ‘Ata. Peter’s memory turned out to be excellent. Even at the age of 90, everything he recounted was consistent with my foremost other source, Mano, 15 years old at the time and now pushing 70, who lived just a few hours’ drive from him. The real Lord of the Flies, Mano told us, began in June 1965. The protagonists were six boys – Sione, Stephen, Kolo, David, Luke and Mano – all pupils at a strict Catholic boarding school in Nuku‘alofa. The oldest was 16, the youngest 13, and they had one main thing in common: they were bored witless. So they came up with a plan to escape: to Fiji, some 500 miles away, or even all the way to New Zealand.

There was only one obstacle. None of them owned a boat, so they decided to “borrow” one from Mr Taniela Uhila, a fisherman they all disliked. The boys took little time to prepare for the voyage. Two sacks of bananas, a few coconuts and a small gas burner were all the supplies they packed. It didn’t occur to any of them to bring a map, let alone a compass.

No one noticed the small craft leaving the harbour that evening. Skies were fair; only a mild breeze ruffled the calm sea. But that night the boys made a grave error. They fell asleep. A few hours later they awoke to water crashing down over their heads. It was dark. They hoisted the sail, which the wind promptly tore to shreds. Next to break was the rudder. “We drifted for eight days,” Mano told me. “Without food. Without water.” The boys tried catching fish. They managed to collect some rainwater in hollowed-out coconut shells and shared it equally between them, each taking a sip in the morning and another in the evening.

Then, on the eighth day, they spied a miracle on the horizon. A small island, to be precise. Not a tropical paradise with waving palm trees and sandy beaches, but a hulking mass of rock, jutting up more than a thousand feet out of the ocean. These days, ‘Ata is considered uninhabitable. But “by the time we arrived,” Captain Warner wrote in his memoirs, “the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination.” While the boys in Lord of the Flies come to blows over the fire, those in this real-life version tended their flame so it never went out, for more than a year.

The kids agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard duty. Sometimes they quarrelled, but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a time-out. Their days began and ended with song and prayer. Kolo fashioned a makeshift guitar from a piece of driftwood, half a coconut shell and six steel wires salvaged from their wrecked boat – an instrument Peter has kept all these years – and played it to help lift their spirits. And their spirits needed lifting. All summer long it hardly rained, driving the boys frantic with thirst. They tried constructing a raft in order to leave the island, but it fell apart in the crashing surf.

Worst of all, Stephen slipped one day, fell off a cliff and broke his leg. The other boys picked their way down after him and then helped him back up to the top. They set his leg using sticks and leaves. “Don’t worry,” Sione joked. “We’ll do your work, while you lie there like King Taufa‘ahau Tupou himself!”

They survived initially on fish, coconuts, tame birds (they drank the blood as well as eating the meat); seabird eggs were sucked dry. Later, when they got to the top of the island, they found an ancient volcanic crater, where people had lived a century before. There the boys discovered wild taro, bananas and chickens (which had been reproducing for the 100 years since the last Tongans had left).

They were finally rescued on Sunday 11 September 1966. The local physician later expressed astonishment at their muscled physiques and Stephen’s perfectly healed leg. But this wasn’t the end of the boys’ little adventure, because, when they arrived back in Nuku‘alofa police boarded Peter’s boat, arrested the boys and threw them in jail. Mr Taniela Uhila, whose sailing boat the boys had “borrowed” 15 months earlier, was still furious, and he’d decided to press charges.

Fortunately for the boys, Peter came up with a plan. It occurred to him that the story of their shipwreck was perfect Hollywood material. And being his father’s corporate accountant, Peter managed the company’s film rights and knew people in TV. So from Tonga, he called up the manager of Channel 7 in Sydney. “You can have the Australian rights,” he told them. “Give me the world rights.” Next, Peter paid Mr Uhila £150 for his old boat, and got the boys released on condition that they would cooperate with the movie. A few days later, a team from Channel 7 arrived.

The mood when the boys returned to their families in Tonga was jubilant. Almost the entire island of Haʻafeva – population 900 – had turned out to welcome them home. Peter was proclaimed a national hero. Soon he received a message from King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV himself, inviting the captain for an audience. “Thank you for rescuing six of my subjects,” His Royal Highness said. “Now, is there anything I can do for you?” The captain didn’t have to think long. “Yes! I would like to trap lobster in these waters and start a business here.” The king consented. Peter returned to Sydney, resigned from his father’s company and commissioned a new ship. Then he had the six boys brought over and granted them the thing that had started it all: an opportunity to see the world beyond Tonga. He hired them as the crew of his new fishing boat.

While the boys of ‘Ata have been consigned to obscurity, Golding’s book is still widely read. Media historians even credit him as being the unwitting originator of one of the most popular entertainment genres on television today: reality TV. “I read and reread Lord of the Flies ,” divulged the creator of hit series Survivor in an interview.It’s time we told a different kind of story. The real Lord of the Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty; one that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other. After my wife took Peter’s picture, he turned to a cabinet and rummaged around for a bit, then drew out a heavy stack of papers that he laid in my hands. His memoirs, he explained, written for his children and grandchildren. I looked down at the first page. “Life has taught me a great deal,” it began, “including the lesson that you should always look for what is good and positive in people.”

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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. This sound signals the true beginning of his life -- the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.
     To add to our conversation, we will have present a friend of a friend who is a lifelong Buddhist and spent part of his childhood in a Japanese American internment camp during World War II.  He will share how his Buddhist Faith has been important throughout his long life. 
     Thanks to Temp Sparkman for writing comments and questions below.

Pages are listed to provide the context of each question. Surely group members will be pleased to read passages aloud.
     Siddhartha had a happy life in a vibrate family. He grew up around learned men and a mother that sang to him. His Brahmin father “saw him growing up to be a prince among the Brahmins.” But Siddhartha began to question his rearing. p 3-5. 1. When did you begin questioning the teachings you grew up with?
     Siddhartha was determined to “Let the self die.” p 11 2. Have you or anyone you know attempt this kind of inward journey? Is it possible to empty the self?
     When a group of Samanas passed through his town Siddhartha and his friend Gaventa decided to join them the in their simple life styles. Then they met the Buddha “Gotama.” p25 3. Is anyone in our group ‘Buddhist’ or has at least read about the Buddha?
     After leaving the Buddha, Siddhartha awakens fully present to himself and to the world. (Have someone read p 33, paragraph 2)  4. Has anyone had a similar moment with a devout religious person? 
     The book gives a long passage on Siddhartha euphoria of the world around him. (Read p 37.)  5. Has anyone experienced this kind of moment of awareness?  Did this turn in Siddhartha pilgrimage surprise anyone? Do you see a connection between this and his early rearing? 
     Siddhartha has a strange dream, (Read p 40) 6. Anyone here want to interpret the dream? 
     In a moment or euphoria S. becomes fully present to himself and the world. (Have read p 37, 38.)  7. What were you thinking as this was being read? What does it say about his state of mind? Is this going to set the tone for the rest of his life? 
     Siddhartha comes upon a beautiful woman Kamal. p 41-43. He wants to please her by reading one of his poems. (Read on p 47.)  She likes it enough to give a kiss, but tells him that to get him out of poverty’s grip he should visit the merchant Kamaswami which he did.) 8. Were you surprised that Siddhartha succeeded as a merchant?  Then that he eventually rejects it? (Read last paragraph p 80-81.)
     Siddhartha meets a Ferryman at the river and recounts his rejection of riches to give him meaning. Then he meets Kamala, on her way to a pilgrimage to Gotama. with her son named Siddhartha. She is dying from a snake bite. 9. How did you react to Siddhartha attempts to reach his son?  (Read p 95, paragraph 2, p 96, paragraph 2, p 100, paragraphs 2-3
     Siddhartha has become the Ferryman and is telling the now old ferryman his altered consciousness of the river as summarizing his life.  Read 107 paragraph 2, second paragraph and page 111 first paragraph.) 10. As a group, pronounce ‘Om’ 5 times. 
     Siddhartha’s oldest friend Gaventa appears and asks Siddhartha “Have you a doctrine, belief or knowledge which you uphold, which helps you to act and feel and right?” (Read p 120, paragraph 3.) 11. If you read the pages of this reunion, what did you make of them? 
     Reviewers have tagged “Siddhartha’ as a search for meaning. 12. As you read about him, did you reflect on whether you can characterize your own life?  Do you remember when you began thinking intentionally about your life?  (a teacher, in a business, in government, as housewife/house husband, religious ministry, counselor, et al.) 

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

This novel is a story about a man named Siddhartha who spends a lifetime seeking ultimate enlightenment. The story occurs during the time when the Buddha is still alive, so one would think there’s no need to seek further enlightenment after meeting him. Siddhartha is satisfied that the Buddha has reached ultimate enlightenment, but it’s impossible for his experience to be satisfactorily communicated to others by way of his teachings. 

Thus Siddhartha decides to move on to a life filled with a variety of experiences all the while seeking the meaning of truth—ascetic beggar, sex with a woman, luxurious life of wealth, simple life as a ferryman, love and care of a son, and the experience of his son leaving. So finally Siddhartha is on his death bed, he has finally achieved enlightenment, and his friend asks him what insight he has learned from life. Siddhartha replies with the following:
“… this is now a teaching … the most important thing of all. To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I’m only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings with love and admiration and great respect.”
His friend responds to this by saying that this is pretty much the same as what the Buddha taught; Why not simply be his follower? To this Siddhartha replies the following:
"I know that I am in agreement with Gotama (a.k.a. the Buddha). How should he not know love, he, who has discovered all elements of human existence in their transitoriness, in their meaninglessness, and yet loved people thus much, to use a long, laborious life only to help them, to teach them! Even with him, even with your great teacher, I prefer the thing over the words, place more importance on his acts and life than on his speeches, more on the gestures of his hand than his opinions. Not in his speech, not in his thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life.”
So there you have it—enlightenment!

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April 14 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  --   (Notes from last month)
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. 
     This 1906 novel by the American journalist and novelist Upton Sinclair (1878–1968). The novel portrays the harsh conditions and exploited lives of immigrants in the United States in Chicago and similar industrialized cities. Sinclair's primary purpose in describing the meat industry and its working conditions was to advance socialism in the United States.
     Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968) was an American writer,  political activist and the 1934 Democratic Party nominee for Governor of California who wrote  nearly 100 books and other works in several genres. Sinclair's work was well known and popular  in the first half of the 20th century, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1943. Very few  works of literature have actually changed the course of history, but The Jungle is just such a  work. It touched this nation and the world, and it contributed enormously to the landmark  passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. This book is said to have decreased America’s  meat consumption for decades. 

1. Have you ever been in a meat packing plant? What was it like? The Jungle is considered  “agitation rather than art”, according to Morris Dickstein. Sinclair himself insisted that his  book was intended not as an expose of the meat industry but as an argument for socialism, to which he had recently been converted. Much socialist activity was happening in the US. Upton Sinclair was sent in 1904, by the publisher of “Appeal to Reason” in Girard, Kansas, to examine  conditions in the stockyards of Chicago. The resulting novel, based on seven weeks of intensive  research, was serialized and achieved great notoriety even before it came out as a book. The book begins with a Lithuanian wedding of Jurgis Rudkis and Ona Likoszaite, who become characters in the novel. They spend more than a year’s income on the wedding day feast  (the veselija). “The veselija has come down to them from a far-off time; and the meaning of it was that one might dwell within the cave and gaze upon shadows, provided only that once in his lifetime he could break his chains, and feel his wings, and behold the sun. . . . Thus having  known himself for the master of things, a man could go back to his toil and live upon the  memory all his days.” (p. 12). 2. Why would people spend so much on a wedding? Why do you think the author begins the  story with a wedding? 

“The stench was almost overpowering, but to Jurgis it was nothing. His whole soul dancing with joy – he was at work at last. He was at work and earning money!” (p. 44) 3. Have you experienced joy in a job? When and where? Did it last?

This is a story of human challenge and tragedy. Jurgis buys and loses a house, his wife and  children die, he confronts injustice in a variety of places and yet he presses on, even before  discovering hope in politics. “Marija, who takes to prostitution to support the family and educate children, shows considerable growth, and our respect for her is enhanced. Elzbieta is the picture of the all-suffering, all-sacrificing, all-forgiving mother who, undaunted by the heavy odds against her, fights back.” (p. 83 Mookerjee) 4. Where does courage and persistence come from? How do you hang in there when the world  seems against you? 

“He went on, tearing up all the flowers from the garden of his soul, and setting his heel upon  them. The train thundered deafeningly, and a storm of dust blew in his face; but though it  stopped now and then through the night, he clung where he was – he would cling there until  he was driven off, for every mile that he got from Packingtown meant another load from his  mind.” (p. 214)  5. Did Jurgis find a better life in the country? Why did he return to Chicago? How did you  discover “your place” in the world? 

"The voice of the poor, demanding that poverty shall cease! The voice of the oppressed,  pronouncing the doom of oppression! The voice of power, wrought out of suffering – of  resolution, crushed out of weakness – of joy and courage, born in the bottomless pit of  anguish and despair! The voice of Labor, despised and outraged; a mighty giant, lying prostrate – mountainous, colossal, but blinded, bound and ignorant of his strength. And now a dream of resistance haunts him, hope battling with fear; until suddenly he stirs, and a fetter  snaps – and a thrill shoots through him, to the farthest ends of his huge body, and the banks are shattered, the burdens roll off him – he rises – towering, gigantic; he springs to his feet, he  shouts in his newborn exultation---". (p. 307) 6. Have you experienced a “discovery” of such magnitude? Is this a “born again” experience? 

“The Socialist movement was a world movement, an organization of all mankind to establish  liberty and fraternity. It was the new religion of humanity – or you might say it was the  fulfillment of the old religion, since it implied but the literal application of all the teachings of  Christ.” (p. 315) “A Socialist believes in the common ownership and democratic management of the means of producing the necessities of life and a Socialist believes that the means by which this is to be brought about is the class-conscious political organizations of the wageearners.”  (p. 336-337). “I would seriously maintain that all the medical and surgical discoveries that science can make in the future will be of less importance than the application of the knowledge we already possess, when the disinherited of the earth have established their right to a human existence.”  (p. 344) 7. How convincing is this novel and especially the speeches of the final chapters on your  thinking about socialism? 

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

This classic novel follows the life of a young man who immigrated to the United States and settles in Chicago during the early twentieth century together with his extended family made up of his fianc?e and future in-laws. They're ambitious and hard workers, but due to a combination of predatory house financing, draconian working conditions, and corrupt business/governmental powers, their situation deteriorates to the point of economic and social devastation—(i.e loss of their house and death of his wife and son).
     As the book portrays these harsh conditions and exploited lives, it also describes nauseating health violations and unsanitary practices in the American meat packing industry. It is this aspect of the novel that resulted in historic legislation that eventually led to the formation of the U.S.Food and Drug Administration. 
     At this point the book's narrative is barely two thirds complete. The story's protagonist is devastated by the death of his wife and son and tries to escape his sorrowful and miserable life by escaping to the life of a hobo. After awhile he returned to Chicago and lived through a variety of activities through which he learns about the workings of power in Chicago that contribute to making life difficult for working people like him. Through the descriptions of his activities the book demonstrates the corrupt relationship of crime, politics, and business in Chicago at that time. The following excerpt describes the situation. It's a lengthy excerpt because there's a lot to describe.

The city, which was owned by an oligarchy of business men, being nominally ruled by the people, a huge army of graft was necessary for the purpose of effecting the transfer of power. Twice a year, in the spring and fall elections, millions of dollars were furnished by the business men and expended by this army; meetings were held and clever speakers were hired, bands played and rockets sizzled, tons of documents and reservoirs of drinks were distributed, and tens of thousands of votes were bought for cash. And this army of graft had, of course, to be maintained the year round. The leaders and organizers were maintained by the business men directly—aldermen and legislators by means of bribes, party officials out of the campaign funds, lobbyists and corporation lawyers in the form of salaries, contractors by means of jobs, labor union leaders by subsidies, and newspaper proprietors and editors by advertisements. The rank and file, however, were either foisted upon the city, or else lived off the population directly. There was the police department, and the fire and water departments, and the whole balance of the civil list, from the meanest office boy to the head of a city department; and for the horde who could find no room in these, there was the world of vice and crime, there was license to seduce, to swindle and plunder and prey. The law forbade Sunday drinking; and this had delivered the saloon-keepers into the hands of the police, and made an alliance between them necessary. The law forbade prostitution; and this had brought the "madames" into the combination. It was the same with the gambling-house keeper and the poolroom man, and the same with any other man or woman who had a means of getting "graft," and was willing to pay over a share of it: the green-goods man and the highwayman, the pickpocket and the sneak thief, and the receiver of stolen goods, the seller of adulterated milk, of stale fruit and diseased meat, the proprietor of unsanitary tenements, the fake doctor and the usurer, the beggar and the “pushcart man," the prize fighter and the professional slugger, the race-track “tout,” the procurer, the white-slave agent, and the expert seducer of young girls. All of these agencies of corruption were banded together, and leagued in blood brotherhood with the politician and the police; more often than not they were one and the same person,—the police captain would own the brothel he pretended to raid, the politician would open his headquarters in his saloon. "Hinkydink" or “Bathhouse John," or others of that ilk, were proprietors of the most notorious dives in Chicago, and also the "gray wolves" of the city council, who gave away the streets of the city to the business men; and those who patronized their places were the gamblers and prize fighters who set the law at defiance, and the burglars and holdup men who kept the whole city in terror. On election day all these powers of vice and crime were one power; they could tell within one per cent what the vote of their district would be, and they could change it at an hour's notice.
The story told by this book is so depressing that I couldn't help but wonder how the author was going the end the story. Surely he would find a way of adding a bit of optimism. Sure enough the author provides a vision for the future. It's called Socialism.
     One evening the story's protagonist happens to attend a speech promoting the socialist cause. The text for the equivalent of about a half hour speech is included in the book. It's clear that this is the message that the author wants to convey. Below I have included the beginning of this speech because I think it summarizes perfectly the life of our protagonist up to this point.
And so you return to your daily round of toil, you go back to be ground up for profits in the world-wide mill of economic might! To toil long hours for another's advantage; to live in mean and squalid homes, to work in dangerous and unhealthful places; to wrestle with the specters of hunger and privation, to take your chances of accident, disease, and death. And each day the struggle becomes fiercer, the pace more cruel; each day you have to toil a little harder, and feel the iron hand of circumstance close upon you a little tighter. Months pass, years maybe—and then you come again; and again I am here to plead with you, to know if want and misery have yet done their work with you, if injustice and oppression have yet opened your eyes!
So the book ends with a variety of conversations that defend the cause of socialism. The book suggests that support for it is trending up and that eventually will win nationwide popular support. So that's how things looked in 1906 when this book was published.

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May 12 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  --   (Notes from last month)
Why America Needs Socialism: The Argument from Martin Luther King, Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, and Other Great Thinkers by G.S. Griffin
[Griffin is interviewed in this 17-minute video: https://breadtube.tv/zerobooks/why-america-needs-socialism/]
     This book presents a contemporary case for socialism built on the words and ideas of history’s greatest leaders, thinkers, and artists. Exploring their views and connecting them to present day struggles, Griffin is crucial reading for anyone seeking to learn from the past in order to change today’s world in revolutionary ways. Griffin participates in the discussion. David suggests this article in Sojourners.
     1. “Capitalism is an economic system characterized by the private ownership of business and industry,  where earning a profit by selling a good or service is each owner’s basic and necessary goal.” (p. 16)  “Socialism is a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of  production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”  (New Oxford American Dictionary)  What would you add to these two definitions to enhance a conversation about socialism in America?
      2. “Many readers of faith believe that higher powers created humanity to be sinful by nature. Thus, it  makes sense to many that capitalism is natural, and the way things must remain.” (p. 15) Do you agree  that humanity is sinful by nature? How do you defend your opinion? 
     3. “Not only is it possible, but Einstein saw it as the true purpose of socialism; to keep growing, to keep  bettering ourselves. Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi disbelieved in the supposed ‘essential selfishness of  human nature’ because man can ‘rise superior to the passions that he owns in common with the brute  and, therefore, superior to selfishness and violence.’” (p. 19). Do you see hope for change in human  behavior? What is your suggestion for bettering ourselves? 
     4. “For near 200,000 years – most of human existence – people survived on cooperative economics and  a more classless society, where the life, wealth, and work of the ruler or leader was not significantly  different than any other member of the group.” (p.20). “Studies indicate that modern adults are not  instinctively selfish—our first impulse is typically to cooperate and care for others.” (p. 21). What  happened to us to change and tolerate the divided and oppressive system we have today? 
      5. “Now that we know society largely determines human nature, rather than the reverse, there is only  one logical question to ask: what kind of society should we create? (p. 23) What kind of a society would  you like to create? What do you need to move in that direction? 
     6. “Harriet Beecher Stowe, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, wrote that ‘capitalists’ and slave owners alike were  ‘appropriating’ the lower class, ‘body and bone, soul and spirit, to their use and convenience’. The  rich man believed ‘there can be no high civilization without enslavement of the masses, either nominal  or real.” (p. 30). Do you agree that racism and capitalism work together? Can we eliminate racism  without addressing capitalism? 
     7. “Over ninety percent of our nation’s existence has been marked by war, and surveys indicate people  around the world view the United States as the single greatest threat to world peace.” (p. 111). Do you  agree? Make that case for or against the US being the greatest threat to world peace. Talk about  Vietnam, Mexico, Guatemala, Philippines. (see p. 111)
     8. “Socialism also eliminates capitalism from the bottom-up…Under socialism, the exploitation of  labor and authoritarian power are consigned to the dustbin of history, replaced by cooperation, equity,  and democracy…In the socialist model, work cooperatives are the humane alternative to capitalist  businesses. In a cooperative, all workers share equal ownership of the firm. This translates to equality  in power and in wealth…Elizabeth Blackwell wrote that Christian socialism would mean labor  receiving a fair and increasing share in the profits it helps to create.” (p. 120-122) Can you imagine our  country with cooperation, equity, and democracy? How would that be different from the country you  experience today? 
      9. “In truth, the mechanisms and incentives that drive technological, systematic, and other forms of  change remain in place in co-ops. Outside inventors can still sell or license their creations to  cooperative businesses; start-up founders, while sacrificing total power and wealth hoarding, can still  bring their creations to the world, doing what they love and making money off it…Co-ops are also  more stable that capitalist firms, even during economic crisis.” (p. 125-126). Have you invested in or  participated in a co-op of some form? Describe the experience. What worked for you and what did not  work for you? 
     10. “Imagine living in an America like this…Might we grow, collectively, less greedy and more caring?  Less individualistic and more attuned to the needs of all, the common good? (p. 129). When have you  experienced life in a less greedy and more caring way? Describe the situation and the benefits of such an  arrangement. What can you do to make this happen more often in your life and in your community?  Some examples of this are: 
     :: UBI (Universal Basic Income) p. 145f.
     :: Guaranteed work through public works projects - p. 149f. “Overcoming poverty is not a task of  charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-  made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” Nelson Mandela  said. (p.155) 
     :: Universal Health Care p 156f. “This does not mean the State will own the hospitals and employ  the doctors. Instead, the reverse would be true –the doctors, nurses, receptions, and janitors  (the workers) would own the clinics and hospitals.” (p. 156) 
     :: Universal Education p. 164f “A socialist society would include free K through 12 education,  pre-school and college…democracy would enter education. Teachers, paraprofessionals,  librarians, janitors, and other workers would own their schools…Public schools will remain ta-  funded and neighborhood-based, following a democratically determined national curriculum.”  (p. 164-165)

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

This book contains a thorough collection and discussion of the deficiencies of capitalism and the contrasting advantages of socialism. The book is filled with many footnoted sources so anyone contemplating writing an essay on this subject can find numerous information sources within its text.
     The book begins by making the case that the evolution of humans through the hunter-gatherer era suggests that the wage earning environment created by industrialization is not well suited for the health and well-being of humans. Humans are hard-wired to work for the common good if the correct environment is provided, but capitalistic economies discourage such conditions. 
     It is in the nature of capitalism to encourage exploitation of wage earners who in turn compete against each other. The profit motive is conducive to the creation of an underclass of low paid workers and working conditions that are physically and mentally unhealthy. 
     The corruption of politics through the payment of campaign expenses by the wealthy is also reviewed. The book also describes the many ways in which capitalistic economies benefit from and encourage war.
     Then in Part 2 of the book it moves on to the subject of the virtues and benefits of socialism. The author makes it clear that he's not promoting the top-down imposition of socialism that is characteristic of Communism nor the potential confusion created by anarchism. The author envisions a socialistic economy that truly strives to serve the best interests of the common good. The book lays out the many virtues of cooperative style ownership of work places. 
     The book suggests paths through which the United States could evolve peacefully toward a socialistic economy. It mentions the word "revolution" in the form of public demonstrations that tend to change the minds of politicians. I suppose the large crowds created by Bernie Sander's campaign are examples of this potential. This book together with the recent rhetoric of Bernie Sanders should help remove the stigma that many Americans have placed around the word socialism. (spoiler)
     The book is filled with quotations from widely respected historical leaders, thinkers, and artists made in the support of socialism. Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., Helen Keller, and Gandhi are examples of some of those quoted. I think it was misleading to list three of these names in the subtitle of the book because these characters are not the major focus of the book. These quotations appear to have been tacked on in order to add respectability to the arguments being made.

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June 9 Wednesday 1-2:30pm on Zoom --Notes from last month
Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief
David Kessler
     In 1969, Elisabeth K?bler-Ross first identified the stages of dying in her transformative book On Death and Dying, and decades later, she and David Kessler wrote the classic On Grief and Grieving, introducing the stages of grief.
     Vern, who leads the discussion in David's absence, studied with Dr Ross at the University of Chicago Hospitals when he was a doctoral student at the time when Life magazine came to the class to see her work with dying patients and her students. We have learned much since then, beyond her "five stages of grief," and the Kessler book promises a useful advancement. Vern tells how he approached a memorial service in May for grieving parents and a brother and an extended family for a baby born in January.

Here is what David has prepared to facilitate our discussion:

“In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified the five stages of dying in her groundbreaking book:
     Denial: shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred
     Anger: that someone we love is no longer here
     Bargaining: all the what-ifs and regrets
     Depression: sadness from the loss
     Acceptance: acknowledging the reality of the loss.” (p.1)
---- 1. Tell a story of you or someone you know experiencing one of these stages

“Ultimately, meaning comes through finding a way to sustain your love for the person after their death while you’re moving forward with your life.” (p.6-7)
---- 2. Share stories of people who have found meaning following a big loss.

“The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.” (p. 29)
---- 3. Why is it often easier to share “silver linings” and cliches than remain fully present to someone who has experienced a big loss?

“Grief is what’s going on inside of us, while mourning is what we do on the outside. The internal work of grief is a process, a journey. It does not have prescribed dimensions and it does not end on a certain date.” (p.31)
---- 4. What rituals and traditions have you experienced that have sustained you through mourning? What has been supportive through grief?

“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. . . . Pain is the pure emotion we feel when someone we love dies. The pain is part of the love. Suffering is the noise our mind makes around that loss, the false stories it tells because it can’t conceive of death as random.” (p.51)
---- 5. Do you agree or not? Make your case from your own experience.

“The story you tell yourself repeatedly becomes your meaning. Just as the story I told myself for many years about the past kept me imprisoned in pain, the story I began to tell myself from other points of view freed me.” (p. 71)
---- 6. Why are our words in our mind so powerful? Can you create a new narrative when needed?

“I ask them these questions: How can you honor your loved one? How can you create a different life that includes them? How can you use your experience to help others? It is in your control to find meaning every day. You can still love, laugh, grow, pray, smile, cry, live, give be grateful, be present.” (p. 111)
---- 7. Sometimes it is necessary and fully human to “act as if” things are different. Can you share a short story when you “acted as if”?

“The word ‘committed’ is usually used in the context of crimes. A broken mind is a tragedy, not a crime…He is Jim who died by suicide.” (p. 116)
---- 8. Can you appreciate why we are changing our language about suicide?

“But no matter how deeply religious or spiritual we are, sometimes we want to be left in the humanness of our pain. There will be times when a grieving person does not want to be told that their loved one has gone to a better place or has gotten their heavenly reward or is with Jesus.” (p. 193). “Not only do we have a need to feel the pain, we also need to have it witnessed by others, not pushed away.” (p. 195)
---- 9. Can you understand that religious language can sometimes hurt more than help? It is best to listen and be present to the one who is grieving.

“How do you mend a broken heart? By connection…human connection can and does actually help with broken heart syndrome. Perhaps being witnessed helps us physically as well as emotionally. Our heart longs for connection. Anyone who is going through deep grief can tell you that grief affects your mind, your heart, and your body.” (p. 242)
---- 10. How will you be present to someone you love who is going through a tragic loss? How do you want others to be present for you next time you experience a deep loss?

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

Please visit Goodreads for the "spoiler."
This book explores paths toward healing for people overwhelmed by grief. Though the cause of grief is often death of a loved one, it can also be the result of divorce, betrayal, or end of a career.
     As inplied by this book’s subtitle, the whole world knows about the five stages of grief. (view spoiler) This author has worked together with K?bler Ross since 1969, and in 2004 he coauthored “On Grief and Grieving” with her. If a sixth stage needs to be added, Kessler is in the best position to do so. One of the reasons he was motivated to write this book is the death of his 21-year-old son. In a sense, writing this book is his way of finding meaning in that loss.
“Ultimately, meaning comes through finding a way to sustain your love for the person after their death while you’re moving forward with your life. That doesn’t mean you’ll stop missing the one you loved, but it does mean that you will experience a heightened awareness of how precious life is. … In that way we do the best honor to those whose deaths we grieve. … Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen. (p16)”
In this book Kessler shares a variety of stories from people he has encountered leading numerous grieving workshops and providing counseling services for private clients dealing with issues related to grief. Many of these stories are emotionally moving about the ways some people have dealt with loss. 

These stories can perhaps suggest guidance to readers in similar circumstances, but a few of these stories include amazing coincidences of fate resulting from a loss which make for interesting reading but not likely to be applicable in other cases. Kessler adds to these stories by sharing experiences related to the loss of his son. 

Early in the book, in the Introduction, the author provides the following thoughts that may guide the reader in the understanding of meaning.

1. Meaning is relative and personal
2. Meaning takes time. You may not find it until months or even years after loss.
3. Meaning doesn’t require understanding. It’s not necessary to understand why someone died in order to find meaning.
4. Even when you do find meaning, you won’t feel it was worth the cost of what you lost.
5. Your loss is not a test, a lesson something to handle, a gift, or a blessing. Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen.
6. Only you can find your own meaning.
7. Meaningful connections will heal painful memories. (p16)
Earlier in the book Kessler mentions that the “five stages were never intended to be prescriptive.” This is also true for finding meaning. Some people suffering from grief will not want to think about meaning, and will resent expectations to find it in their grief.
Sometimes people say they don’t want to find meaning in their loss. They just want to call a tragedy a tragedy. To find meaning in it would be to sugarcoat it and they don’t want to do that. I think they are afraid that if they let go of the pain, they will lose the connection to their loved one, so I remind them that the pain is theirs and no one can take it away. But if they can find a way to release the pain through meaning, they will still have a deep connection to their child—through love. Just like a broken bone that becomes stronger as it heals, so will their love. (p183)

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July 14 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on new Zoom  --   (Notes from last month)
Meeting ID: 863 3940 5520  --  Passcode: 009557

Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race
by Debby Irving.

This is the book Irving wishes someone had handed her decades ago. By sharing her sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, she offers a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance.

     1. “No one alive today created this mess, but everyone alive today has the power to work on undoing it. Four hundred years since its inception, American racism is all twisted up in our cultural fabric. But there’s a loophole; people are not born racist. Racism is taught, and racism is learned. Understanding how and why our beliefs developed along racial line holds the promise of healing, liberation, and the unleashing of America’s vast human potential.” (xviii). Do you agree? Are you ready to study, ponder, discuss, and be open to ways of making this a better country?
     2. “Racism wasn’t about this person or that, this upset or that, this community or that; racism is, and always has been, the way America has sorted and ranked its people in a bitterly divisive, humanity-robbing system.” (31)Share illustrations that reinforce this point.
     3. “I’ve learned that the chances are high that I have more in common genetically with a darker-skinned person on the others side of the world than I do with the white woman who lives next door. Whiteness, it turns out, is but a pigment of the imagination.” (44). Why has color placed such a divisive role in the United States? What can we do to liberate us from such distortion?
     4. “Skin color symbolism+favoritism+power = systemic racism.” (p.54) “The racially divisive belief barrier shows up in all American institutions: in medical policy, in emergency rooms, in education reform, in classrooms, in federal policies, and in municipal policies. Racism lives in individuals’ hearts and minds; those in power embed it into institutional policies and practices. System racism touches every aspect of every American life, and skin color determines how.” Discuss the chart and meaning as it applies in your community.
     5. “The story of race is at the center of racism’s entanglement. The very idea that the world’s many peoples could be categorized by something called ‘race’ is a story, one that created a system of dominance for its storytellers.” (84) Can we start telling a different story? What could be some of the parts of a new narrative about the human family?
     6. “Color-blindness, a philosophy that denies the way lives play out differently along racial lines, actually maintains the very cycle of silence, ignorance, and denial that needs to be broken for racism to be dismantled.” (102) How can we see another person if we are “color-blind”?
     7. Have you tried to form relationships across racial lines? How have they workedout? If they didn’t get very far, how did you explain that to yourself? (123)
     8. “The phrase ‘INTENT VERSES IMPACT’ had been stressed at nearly every conference and conversation about racism I’d been a part of.” (159) Can you share an illustration from your own life experience?
     9. “I think about the angry-black-man stereotype and my old thought, if only they weren’t so angry! What an ignorant and inhuman mindset that was. People aren’t born angry. People don’t choose arbitrarily to be angry. People become angry for a reason, and they deserve to be heard.” (175) Tell about a time you were angry. How did you discharge and/or process your anger? Can you listen to an angry person with love and not judgement?
     10. “Understanding my internal tendencies as a white person is just a start. The ultimate goal is to interrupt, advocate, and educate without doing more harm than good --- something I am in danger of doing every day. As a racial justice advocate, I need to become aware of my own racialized tendencies as well as find ways to interrupt racism when I see it in the world around me. I’ve learned that when it comes to race, there’s no such thing as neutral: either I’m intentionally and strategically working against it, or I’m aiding and abetting the system. As historian and activist Howard Zinn said, ‘You can’t be neutral on a moving train.’” (219) “The white ally role is a supporting one, not a leading one.” (221) What steps have you taken in the past and what steps will you take now to move from a bystander to an ally? 

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

This book shares the author's story of living a life of good intentions regarding issues of racism but admits numerous missteps along the way. She describes it as "my own two-steps-forward, one-step-back journey away from racial innocence." The message in this book is from a white author aimed at white readers, and any resistants from the reader to her message is overcome by a frank and vulnerable confession of her belated awareness of the realities of white privilege and systemic racism. The author is suggesting that the reader may have something to learn from her experiences. 
     The book makes a convincing case that white privilege is a real thing, and points out the fact that much of the wealth disparity the exists today between the races began when most African American WWII veterans didn't have access to guaranteed home loans and college grants which were widely available to white veterans. 
     There are numerous anecdotes taken from the author's working career which make the book a fascinating read. I've decided to mention four of these stories that I found haunting and subsequently have continued to ponder. I've decided to place my recounting of these stories within this (view spoiler below) 
     The author encourages readers to join her in being empowered allies in the dismantling of racism, but not to be too white:

     The powerlessness and isolation I felt as a bystander (which I didn’t even realize I was) have been replaced by a sense of empowerment that comes with feeling there’s a critical role for me in dismantling racism. But here’s the catch: it’s trickier than one would think to take on the role of ally and not be, well too white. I should not be in the role to take over, dominate, or be an expert. The role is not for me to swoop in and “fix.” The white ally role is a supporting one, not a leading one. (p.302) 
     One of the things I liked about the book was that it was divided into many short chapters, and at the end of each chapter were questions and suggested exercises. This setup seems to lend itself to encouraging group discussions using the book. 
     The book seemed full of quotable gems, and some that caught my attention are included in this (STOP or continue reading to view spoiler).
I thought all those other categories, like Asian, African American, American Indian, and Latino, were the real races. I thought white was the raceless race—just plain, normal, and one against which all others were measured. (p.11). ... ... ... I know now that I am not raceless; in fact, I am a living, breathing expression of white culture. (p.297)

“Education is learning what you didn’t evn know you didn’t know. —Daniel J. Boorstin” (p.50)
“Whiteness, it turns out, is but a pigment of the imagination.” (p.72)

Racism lives in individuals’ hearts and minds; those in power embed it into institutional policies and practices. Systemic racism touches every aspect of every American life, and skin color determines how. (p.95)

I’ve come to think of culture this way: culture is to a group what personality is to an individual. It’s a collective character that describes a set of beliefs and behaviors that identify the group. (p.100)

“Only a small part of reality, for a human being, is what is actually going on; the greater part is what he imagines in connection with the sights and sounds of the moment.” (p.132)

Truth without love is brutality and love without truth is hypocrisy. (Warren Wiersbe) (p.247)

‘Equality’ means giving every student exactly the same thing to meet the same expectation. ‘Equity’ means both holding people of differing needs to a single expectation and giving them what they need to achieve it. In other words, it’s a way to level the playing field. (p.287)

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August 11  Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  --  (Notes from last month)

Generosity: An Enhancement
by Richard Powers

What will happen to life when science identifies the genetic basis of happiness? Who will own the patent?  Do we dare revise our own temperaments? Funny, fast, and magical, Generosity celebrates both science  and the freed imagination. Richard Powers asks us to consider the big questions facing humankind as we  begin to rewrite our own existence. Generosity tells the story of Thassadit “Thassa” Amzwer, an  Algerian refugee who seemingly has overwhelming happiness (hyperthymia) written in her genes, and the  confounding effects she has on those around her, both sincere and exploitive. Characters in the novel  include Russell Stone, a minor magazine editor, moonlighting as a writing instructor, Thomas Kurton, a  charismatic entrepreneur behind Truecyte, a genetics lab, Candace Weld, a school psychologist and Tonia  Schiff, the host of a popular science show called “Over The Limit”. 
     Plot summary: Thassa is taking a class in creative non-fiction writing taught by Russell Stone. Her  boundless happiness leads the class to dub her “Miss Generosity”, but puzzles and disturbs Stone, who  discusses Thassa with a college counselor Candace Weld.

1. “I want you to think and feel, not sell. Your writing should be an intimate meal not dinner  theater.” (10) Do you write your down your thoughts and feelings? What journal techniques  have you discovered to be helpful in your life? I wrote a “Top Ten Reasons I Journal” and it is  posted on my blog under “journal resources” in “categories,” if you are interested. 

 2. “Happiness is probably the most highly heritable component of personality. From 50-80  percent of the variation in people’s average happiness may be accounted for by genes. People  display an affective set point in infancy that doesn’t change much over a lifetime. For true  contentment, the trick is to choose your parents wisely.” (49). How did you do in the birth  lottery? Did you have a happy childhood? 

3. “Yet the conflicted book insists on a role for nurture. Joyousness, it says, is like perfect pitch: a  little early training in elation can bring out a trait that might otherwise wither.” (49). What is  the difference between happiness and joy? Can you share a story of one or the other? 

4. “The book says happiness is a moving target, a trick of evolution, a bait and switch to keep us  running. The doses must keep increasing, just to break even. True contentment demands that  we wean ourselves from all desire. The pursuit of happiness will make us miserable. Our only  hope is to break the habit.” (71) Buddhism teaches that the pursuit of happiness adds to our  unhappiness. Would you agree? Why was “the pursuit of happiness” included in our nation’s  founding documents? 

5. “Hyperthymia, a rare condition that programs a person for unusual levels of elation.” (117).  Do you anyone who has this condition? What is it like to be around this person? 

6. “The novelist’s argument is clear enough: a genetic enhancement represents the end of human  nature. Take control of fate, and you destroy everything that joins us to one another and  dignifies life.” (149). Do you agree that without an unknown future life would be lessened? Is  mystery and the unknown part of what makes human life exciting and an adventure? 

7. “The Alzheimer’s gene, that alcoholism gene, the homosexuality gene, the aggressive gene, the  novelty gene, the fear gene, the stress gene, the xenophobia gene, the criminal-impulse gene,  and the fidelity gene have all come and gone. Bu the time the happiness gene rolls around,  even journalists should have long ago learned to hedge their bets. But traits are hard to shake,  and writers have been waiting for this particular secret to come to market since Sumer.” (197).  Would you be open to the idea of selecting and rejecting certain genes for your offspring? How  would you make the choice? 

8. “In the last lines of the profile, the scientist says, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I do believe that  it’s humanity’s job to bring God about.’” (206) What does that mean to you? 

9. “If Jen truly is without sadness, then she’s missing out on something profound, mysterious,  and essentially human.” (212) Share your thoughts about sadness as profound, mysterious, and  essentially human. Can you share a time of sadness that is important to you? 

10. “The day may come when we will choose our children as carefully as we now choose our  mates. We may select our natures the way we screen for a career. All the larger, qualifying,  problematical follow-up had been clipped away.” (279) We now have lots of dating sites on the  web. Can you imagine the day we can pick and choose the traits we want in our children? Create  in your imagination the child you would like to parent. 

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

The secret of happiness is to be born happy (i.e. right genes). With genetic engineering this can be made to order. This gives a new dimension to our God given right of the "pursuit of happiness." This novel is structured to examine this prospective future from multiple perspectives.

This novel explores what and how people would respond to a person who was genetically predisposed to having an off-the-charts level of extreme well-being. The book examines the pursuit of happiness using genetic engineering, mood enhancement drugs, psychology, religion, computer games, love and sex. Along the way the novel explores such heavy issues as freewill versus biological determinism, positive psychology and social cognition biases. The book takes on the air of a future-looking morality play with a hint of satire and occasional touch of subtile humor. 

The book is creatively written, almost too creatively. The omniscient narrator occasionally switches to first person voice as if he's speaking of his writing experience while the reader is reading. No warning is given to the reader of these changes in voice, and it can be disorienting to the reader. Also, there are occasional skips from the current story to a time two years into the future. This time jump makes sense in the end, and it helps build anticipation. But the abruptness of these switches is a bit startling for the reader.

The end has a twist that makes reading all the way to the end worth the effort. I can't say more without being a spoiler. There is a lot of good discussion material here. The book would be a good selection for a book discussion group.

The following description of the book is from PageADay's "1,000 Books to Read Before You Die" calendar for 2020:

It is Richard Powers' gift as a novelist not only to engage difficult ideas like those he deals with in this book—genomics, genetic engineering and related issues of ethics, intellectual property, human nature—but to do so in a way that is both playful and transporting,. Generosity is the story of a creative writing instructor, a therapist, a geneticist, a television broadcaster, and an Algerian Woman named Thassadit Amzwar, who is possessed of what comes to be called "the happiness gene." You may find yourself turning the last page with a feeling of exhilarating pleasure that gives an inkling of the natural state of the book's heroine.
Note to members of Vital Conversations group:
I wrote this review over nine years ago and was reminded of the book again when it showed up on my PageADay calendar. Soon thereafter the December 2020 V.C. meeting occurred during which we were invited to recommend books for the coming year of 2021. Since I had generally good memories of the novel I suggested it be considered.

While reading the book a second time in preparation for our August meeting I was reminded why my review included the statement, "The book is creatively written, almost too creatively." I wish my second reading had occurred earlier so I could have offered a brief warning about its complex literary style. Nevertheless, I hope you found it to be a rewarding read.

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September 8 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  --  (Notes from last month)
Love, Loss and Endurance
by Bill Tammeus who will join the discussion 
(You can prepare by viewing this interview with Bill.)

Three days before the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack that shook the world and our nation we will gather with award-winning journalist and friend Bill Tammeus, who suffered personal loss that day. He will help us understand how religion and extremism continue to divide our world – and how we can work toward peace. Discussion questions:

     1. “Pay attention to those stories (of heroism in times of tragedy) as they are told. Remind  yourselves, your children, your grandchildren, that when the darkness of evil envelopes our  people, we respond with grace and spirit and valor.” xviii Think about the stories you remember  about loss and evil. Have your written them down or told them to several people? Why is this  important? 
     2. “I hoped to remain true to one of the high callings of columnists, which is in some way to be  vulnerable, to give myself away in small bits so that readers can connect to my humanity, my  imperfections and hopes and thus to discover their own – and to let me complicate their  thinking.” xxi Is this kind of personal honesty and vulnerability what you expect from  columnists? Can you remind us of others who have been this way for you?
     3. “As author Karen Armstrong writes in The Lost Art of Scripture, almost no matter what  religious tradition we’re talking about, ‘the scriptures concur that you cannot confine your  benevolence to your own people but must honor the stranger and even the enemy. It is hard to  imagine an ethic that is more urgently needed in our perilously divided world.’” 9. Why is that  guidance so often ignored today? Why is it so difficult to respect and honor other world faith’s  traditions? 
     4. “Meant to be”….”It seems to me we have to learn to live with mystery, with ambiguity, with  uncertainty – even those of us gifted with strong faith. For faith does not answer every  question. Rather it assures us that we can live confidently without all the answers.” 14-15 How  do you respond when people tell you this was “meant to be”, when such a thought seems so  wrong and even cruel? 
     5. “No, the purpose of humor and satire is, instead, to help provide an eternal perspective, to help  us recognize our common humanity, to shine a light on something that needs attention even in  the midst of grief and mourning…But because all humor ultimately comes out of pain, we also  need time to smile, time to notice life’s absurdities and incongruities.” 77 Does all humor come out of pain? Talk about “Starbeams” column and how you remember it. 
     6. “Barb (Karleton’s Mother) was able to say, as I’ve noted above, that ‘there were 19 young men  who commandeered the four planes on September 11 who died as well. I want to say to their  mothers, that if you loved your sons and daughters the way I love mine, I then feel and know  your loss, and my hear is broken for you as well.’” 86 How do we share pain and how do we  assist in healing broken hearts? 
     7. “People don’t get over grief. The best they can do is get through it and, in the end,  accommodate themselves to the reality of whatever loss caused the grief. Without love, of  course, there can be no grief at all. But maybe one must experience a great loss before it’s possible to know that grief really does change one forever.” 106 Think about how you process  grief. What have others done, said or been that has helped in your times of loss? 
     8. “One of the lessons we learned in writing this book (They Were Just People) is that even the  smallest act of kindness can save a life.”129 Think about and make a list of acts of kindness you  have and will do. Read that list again and again and do acts of kindness daily. 
     9. “Respecting differences seems like such a simple thing, but time and again fear lights fires of  contempt and hatred—fear rooted in ignorance and sometimes -willful bigotry. If you study  violence in human history long enough, eventually the conclusion seems obvious that the  human mind and heart are persistently unstable, chronically open to nonsense.” 130 I think we  can do better than this. As you reflect on this book and our Vital Conversation design a life for  yourself and those you love to rise above the fear and hatred and nonsense. Live that life and you  will make a witness and a difference in the world. 
     10. “Across history we have seen what happens when this person or that group imagines having  absolute truth contained in this or that religious system. What happens is ugly. What happens  is devastating, destructive and, in the end, a crime against the giver and gift of life. Let’s let  the challenging world of science teach us some humility.” 137 In Bill Tammeus’ book The Value of Doubt he makes the case for doubt as an important element of faith. Can you share a  story about the important of doubt in your spiritual development? 
     11. “I’ve tried to remember that even though life expectancy for Americans now is near 80 years,  we are guaranteed not even a single hour more. Any hour I have life is a gift. I try to open  that gift with gratitude and spend it well. I choose to do that instead of seeking to destroy lives  and dreams, imagining that I’m doing the will of a furious God who commands the end of  everyone who fail to think like me.” 165 Does you religion and your spirituality invite you to  celebrate life and community rather than attack other religions and other spiritualities? 
     12. “Here are some suggestions to consider for non-violent ways to live in relative peace with  people who may have radically different ideas from us: 1. Respect (and love) others. 2. Become  more religiously literate. 3. Get outside your comfortable religious and worldview  surroundings. 4. Engage in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. 5. Teach your children and  grandchildren well. 6. Deepen your knowledge of both American and world history. 7. In this  remarkably divisive time in our nation, become competent in civil discourse. 8. Spend time with  people who have experienced profound grief.” 191-206 Which one will you embrace now? 

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

This book is part memoir reflecting on one family's experience of a 9/11 loss, and it is part commentary on the misuse of religion in the justification of terrorism. The author is the retired former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star who had previously spent nearly 27 years on the paper's editorial page, mostly writing the daily "Starbeams" column. 

The book is organized with most of the numbered chapters focused on family memoir with "Interlude" sections inserted following most odd numbered chapters which contain the author's commentary on current events related to the use and misuse of religion. The last two chapters of the book are devoted to discussion of the roots of extremism and offering suggestions on how to be informed on ways to stand against faith-based extremism.

The memoir portion of this book shows the writing skills of an obviously experienced writer. The portion of the book reflecting on current affairs reads much the same as his columns from this time with the KC Star. Frequent references to and quotes from his past opinion columns are sprinkled throughout this book's narrative. More recent things that he's posted on his personal blog are also referenced. Here's the link to Bill’s Faith Matters blog: https://billtammeus.typepad.com/my_we...

One thing that becomes apparent in the family memoir portion of the book is that differences in the ways in which various family members deal with sorrow and loss can create friction between family members. This book contains intimate and emotional descriptions of parents struggling to let go, a widow seeking normalcy for her children by moving on to remarriage, and adult siblings with bruised feelings and misunderstandings. Readers can learn from these stories of the complex and varied ways a family tragedy can push and pull on interfamilial relationships in unexpected ways.

A unique feature of the 9/11 disaster is that survivors are sometimes contacted by news reporters, often at times of anniversary remembrances, seeking comments and recollections. For some survivors these request can be experienced as unwanted impositions into their lives. However, I got the impression that this book's author probably welcomed opportunities to use his skill with words to accept speaking engagements and to provide comments to news reporters.

The following link is to a talk given by Bill Tammeus that was live streamed by the KC Library on January 19, 2021. In this presentation Bill Tammeus describes his book, Love, Loss and Endurance, and responds to questions from listeners. Note: Audio begins at the 26:38 minute point.
Below are some excerpted quotations that caught my attention along with my explanatory introductory comments. (Things that catch my attention are not necessarily the most important things from the book.)

Here's a quote I've heard before which I think is very true.

… you aren’t taking the Bible seriously if you’re reading it literally. (p68)
Another quote that observes the way scripture can be made into a weapon.
… we begin to weaponize scripture when we insist that others interpret it in the narrow way we do, a way that fails to put love first. (p70)
The following is a quote from a chapter focused on finding humor in the midst of unhappy times.
The Guardian: “Bigot on a bridge wins poll for funniest religious joke,” Sept. 25, 2005; https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/sep/26/religion.world; accessed Feb. 6, 2020. (p100)

The following excerpt makes reference to a book I found that makes a credible case for what portion of the biblical Exodus story may actually be historical. Here's a LINK to my review of Friedman's book.

For instance, in his 2017 book, The Exodus: How It Happened and Why It Matters, biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman does not contend that the story of the Exodus is entirely fictional. But he does assert that it did not involve millions of Jews, as the traditional story tells it. Rather, he says, just the Levites, a much smaller group, left Egypt in that way. (p173)
The following quote caught my attention because it references the new "presence" in the lives of those left behind by a death of a loved one.
Absence itself, you see, often is a real presence that we must face in some way. And absence never goes away. (p204)
Here's a reference made to another book that I've previously reviewed. Here's a LINK to my review of Haidt's book.
As Jonathan Haidt correctly notes in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, “trying to understand the persistence and passion of religion by studying beliefs about God is like trying to understand the persistence and passion of college football by studying the movements of the ball. (p216)
Another quote that captured my attention.
Loss is universal. Learning to survive a loss is individual. (p247, Appen. B Foreword by Mindy Corporon)

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#vcOct #NextEvent
October 13 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  --  (Notes from last month)
Healing A Shattered Soul: My Faithful Journey of Courageous Kindness after the Trauma and Grief of Domestic Terrorism 
by Mindy Corporon who will join the discussion. The Kansas City Star wrote about the book here.
     Mindy, who will be with us, invites readers to join her search for inspiration and hope after domestic terrorism took the lives of her father and son. Headlines about the attack circles the world. Now, Mindy takes readers inside her family’s struggle, the support of their faith community and her commitment to courageous kindness. .
     Learn about how the effort she founded, and how you can Give Seven Days in 2022 and "make a ripple, change the world." 
     Interview/Discussion questions:

     1.“This was not God’s will—it didn’t happen to punish or teach you or as part of God’s plan. It was an act of evil that was not the will of God. But while God did not cause this, he will help you survive it, and he will force good to come from it. Evil will not have the final word.” Adam Hamilton in forward. This book addresses the questions surrounding a tragic hate crime that shock the nation. The family was surrounded by police, press, family, neighbors, and friends. We can talk about crimes, gun violence, hate speech, and religious misunderstandings. This book is more about a family that loved and walked through the “shadow of deaths” in a very personal, but not private way. It is also about the power of religious community. What did you (the author) learn as you wrote these tear-stained words? What did you (the reader) receive as you read them? 
     2. “The beauty of this scene has never been lost on me. A teenage boy in his comfort zone with his loving mom, watchful and hopeful for his talent to be noticed later in the day…My day (warmly regarded as ‘Popeye’ to his grandkids) offers one loud knock on the back door before opening it and walking through our eating area and out the sliding door to our porch” p.3. Throughout the book we learn more about both Reat and Popeye. Death may end a life, but it does not end a relationship. Tell us about your relationship with them today. 
     3. “She explains to us that Reat’s body can be used for tissue and ligament procurement…the glimmer of hope grows…It sounds absurd to think I could grasp any joy on this day…But knowing that my baby boy will be able to help one of more families feels gratifying. I am able to muster a smile through my tears and with shaky hands sign the forms.” P.84-85. This is but one of the ways of responding to a terrible loss with a small and significant hope. What enables humans to make the switch from “reacting” to “responding”?
     4. “I know Reat transferred his compassion to Thomas. I can hear it in Thomas’ voice as we end our conversation. He is kind, caring and faithful, a wonderful husband to Ashley and no doubt a fantastic father to his two children, ages 5 and 2. Now, a physician’s assistant, Thomas shares his compassion with those he cares for, every day.” P.95. Tell us about Thomas and his interaction with Reat.
     5. “When I speak publicly, people often ask, ‘How are you so strong?’ My answer is simple … faith. I truly believe Heaven is all around me, mostly because I feel it. My father and Reat are with me, often all around me. I have no doubt…This belief and these feelings in my heart have not made my healing simple. On the contrary, for months after the tragedy, I wrestled painstakingly with God. I attacked his character – and his plan for my life –with a barrage of questions. Why? Why did this happen to us? Why both of them? Why?” p.113. Explain what you mean. Is it appropriate to suggest that faith is not a destination but rather a journey? 
     6. “Rabbi Nemitoff shares the Jewish legend of the Lamed Vavniks with me…’Basically, there are 36 human beings in each generation, who exist with profound purpose, for our world’s peaceful existence. A peaceful world hinges on their existence and their contributions to society.’” P.119 What are the implications of this Jewish legend for our time and place? 
     7. “The caskets we purchased had room for messages to be written on them An interesting twist on a memorial service, I know. This was not an easy agreement among us. In fact, it may have created the only slightly stilted conversation surrounding the service itself.” P. 189 The pictures in the book show you and others writing messages on the caskets. Where did the idea come from? Where the messages saved in some way? 
     8. “Why were the Muslims trusting of us? I suppose I know why they trust me. I’m Reat Underwood’s mom. How did these relationships between the other white people and the Muslims who opened their community center doors, spark?” p. 220. Celebrating the gifts of religious pluralism has become a vision and mission of “Seven Days, Make A Ripple, Change the World” as well as “Faith Always Wins”. Tell us how we can be a part of these movements. 
     9. “When you hear of a sorrowful tragedy, a loss that seems unimaginable and you feel a nudge to take action…do it.” P. 276 Why are we so shy to reach out when someone is in pain? How can we become more compassionate? How do we stay human during times of chaos, loss, hate and confusion?
     10. “Carrying hate in my heart would only hurt my heart. Allowing anger to fester in me will not bring my son or my dad back to me. I know where they are and will see them when the times comes. I felt this way from the times I knew they had both died – yet, that doesn’t make the journey less difficult. Every day we have a choice to make. For me and my tribe we choose courageous kindness.” P. 281 The picture on the back of the book does not look like a shattered soul. On behalf of everyone who reads this book, shares in this conversation and hears your story, I say THANK YOU. You are changing the world. 

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

Except for a horrific hate crime, this memoir would have been a story of a typical American suburban woman and family. This is instead the story of an extraordinary response to the sudden unexpected loss of the author’s father and teenage son in the April 13, 2014 shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City). 

This book provides multiple accounts of the incident of April 13, 2014 from the perspectives of various individuals. These accounts are interspersed between chapters in which the author provides stories from her own life and that of her family. This distribution of personal memoir among accounts of the shooting makes it a readable narrative that maintains the reader's attention. 

The author has provided in this book an account of her most intimate feelings, both emotional and spiritual, while coming to terms with the shock and grief of a difficult reality. On the evening after the shooting she learned that many of her son's classmates were assembling for a vigil so she decided to also attend. When she arrived she was surprised to see many older people present as well. She spoke to the assembled group, and her comments were broadcast and reported in the local news. This publicized her willingness to speak publicly.

Consequently a few months after the shooting when a young member of a local Islamic community was killed in a hate crime, the author was asked to speak to a memorial gathering. She had become the person to call for consoling words in reaction to hate crime incidents. She was unfamiliar with Islamic customs at that time and had concerns about what to say and what to wear. Speaking as a fellow victim of a hate crime was her connection to the group. Thus began her courageous journey of new relationships with members of the Jewish and Islamic communities as well as meeting survivors of the Holocaust and the Rwandan massacre. 

Exposure to one tragedy doesn’t protect a family from additional challenges. Subsequently, the author and family decided to move to Florida prompted by concerns for the mental health for their surviving son. It wasn't easy, but fortunately they had the necessary means and contacts to find the needed help.

The author’s account of searching for solace includes asking questions of faith. The author is Christian and her sudden exposure to different faiths imposed a steep learning curve on her. This led to her remarkable decision to participate in the formation of various entities and events to promote “kindness, faith and healing."

The Faith Always Wins Foundation promotes dialogue for the betterment of our world through kindness, faith and healing. We received our 501(c)3 status in May 2015, 13 months after the murders, which catapulted me and my family into actionable steps to bring people of all faiths together for civil dialogue and understanding. Through our kindness pillar, Faith Always Wins produces an annual experience: SevenDays® Make a Ripple, Change the World. (P.385)
The following links are provided by the book for people who wish to follow the author.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MindyCorporon
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mindy.corporon/

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November 10 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  --  (Notes from last month)

The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story
by David Crow.

Growing up on the Navajo Indian Reservation, David Crow and his siblings idolized their dad, a self-taught Cherokee who loved to tell his children about his WWII feats. But as time passed, David discovered the other side of Thurston Cow. Raw and palpable, this true story, is an inspirational story about the power of forgiveness and the strength of the human spirit. 

     1. “According to Dad, Cherokees were superior to everyone, so it was okay for us to pull pranks on the  low-life Navajos and Mexican merchants. None of us kids had met any other Cherokees, but Dad  assured us they were all supermen, just like him. I felt proud, knowing how much better I was,  even though I was still scrawny and not very strong.” P. 74 What stories were you told about  yourself and others? Do we often seek to build up “our group” by tearing down others? 
     2. “’Make a wish,’ she said. I blew out each candle, wishing to be anyone but David Crow. Dad had  taken me for a drive to bully me into helping him get rid of Mom while she set up this wonderful  surprise—it was the meanest trick he had ever played on me. I hated him almost as much as I hated  myself for not sticking up for her. I didn’t deserve the cake or the gifts.” P.89 Surviving parental  abuse must be a real challenge especially when the parents are even against each other. Discuss the  difficulty of growing up in this type of a dysfunctional family. 
     3. “The late-afternoon light through the window gave me a clear view of Mom slumped in the corner,  her clothes piled where Dad had left them on the dirty mattress. Her face was contorted in pain.  She raised her head but didn’t seem to see me, her vacant eyes showing no emotion. Until that  moment, I hadn’t known the look of complete hopelessness.” P. 126 Have you looked into the eyes  of someone who had the look of complete hopelessness? What does this remind you of from you own  life experience? Can you share a story about it? 
     4. “’Navajo alcoholism is a terrible tragedy.’ Dad panned the parking lot and shook his head. ‘Selling  alcohol on a reservation is a federal crime. Isn’t it ironic that this guy got killed driving back to the  reservation after drinking until he couldn’t see straight? This little bar is only a half mile from the  reservation and the Arizona border—and it’s the largest liquor outlet in the entire state. The  Mexicans running this joint have a license to steal. And the Navajo tribe helps them. They laugh  all the way to the bank.’” P. 153 Discuss the problem of Native American alcoholism. What are your  best suggestions to address this serious social issue? 
     5. “’Black or white, it doesn’t matter. I’m disappointed that you taunted their team and got into fights.  That’s not good sportsmanship, and it’s not what I’ve taught you. I don’t care what they said to  you first, you should never respond to unkindness with more of the same. It makes you lesser. Let’s  go home and do better.’ I loved Coach Ford. He always took the high road, and I was proud to be  on his team.” P. 253. Is there a “Coach Ford” in your life; someone who always took the high road  and assisted in your becoming the best person you can be? 
     6. “But I was done with that. When he swung, I pushed his chest and blocked him from hitting me. I  stood face-to-face with him, clenching my teeth, raising my hands into fists. He stepped closer, but  I stood my ground without flinching. ‘You’re never hitting me again without me fighting back. It  doesn’t matter how hard you hit, I will stand up to you. If you kick me out, I’ll take a bus to  Gallup. No more belt buckles or fists.” P. 260 What did it take for David Crow to get to this place  and take this stand? 
     7. “I flipped through one photo after another – from EPNG days, a few from Albuquerque, and two  from my tenth birthday party in Gallup. One had Violet hugging me as I blew out the candles.  How I faked that smile I’ll never know. Each picture brought back a worse memory until I  couldn’t look anymore. It was as though I’d witnessed my own funeral, and no one had come to  say goodbye. I couldn’t stop crying. My childhood replayed in my mind—along with a voice telling  me that every horrible thing that happened had been my fault.” P.271. Does your childhood  determine your entire life? Why do some people remained stuck in the past and others “complete the  past” and move forward? Where are you on the continuum between “it’s never too late to have a  wonderful childhood” and “you never fully recover from the hurt you experienced as a child”? 
     8. “As new members of Congress looked to fill staff positions, I ramped up my job search. I scoured the  openings and spent the evening before an interview reading everything I could. I was turned down  again and again, and then I got a chance to talk with Congressman Tom Coleman of Missouri.  ‘Only my campaign manager and my wife know as much about me as you do,’ he said. ‘You’re  hired.’” P. 305. Hard work and determination pay off. Describe the hard work that David Crow  engaged in to shine in this interview. Share a story from your own life that makes this point.
     9. “He put his arms around me and pulled me to the couch. ‘Please sit.’ I cried my way through more  stories as he sat quietly and listened. When I finished, he fed me dinner in our old kitchen, which  looked remarkable the same except for the table and chairs. When he asked me to come inside, it  was still light. It was nearly two in the morning when I stood to leave. At the door, I thanked him  and extended my hand. He took it in both of his. ‘You can’t change your childhood, but you can let  it go.’ He said.” P. 338 Sometimes listening is the greatest gift we can offer. Are their parts of your  life that you can’t change but you can let go? 
     10. “I can’t imagine how I would have survived my childhood without my siblings, Lonnie, Sam, and  Sally (not their real names). I am especially grateful to my older sister for her encouragement. Nor  would I be where I am today without the angels who appeared in my life when I need them most…I  am profoundly thankful to all of them. And my deep appreciation to my amazing wife, Patty – my  anchor, my partner, my friend – for her patience and steadfast support.” P 346. Who are the  “angels” who have appeared in your life when you needed them the most? Have you reached out to  them recently and expressed your deep appreciation? 

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

This memoir is about a dysfunctional family and a cruel sinister father. It contains descriptions of excessive corporal punishment, but I found the father's encouragement and praise of cruel and destructive behavior on the part of his four children as particularly reprehensible. The author as oldest son was repeatedly utilized as an accomplice in criminal action and once an apparent murder. There's no indication that the author's father was ever charged for the crimes described in the book. 

The father is a self described Cherokee who learned how to kill as a veteran of World War II. By the end of the book these claims are shown to be untrue. Was he the killer he claimed to be? His father talked about the need to kill their mother and later their step mother, but all he managed to do was ask for the assistance from his children. If he was such a murder, why did he need their help? 

When their father wanted to leave his wife he coached his children in ways to act that would drive their mother into inappropriate behavior that could be used against her in a custody hearing. Then they moved to a new location when their mother was gone and didn't tell her where they moved to. 

With the father living so many lies I began to doubt the veracity of some of the other stories in this book. All the siblings in this family seem to have come through this family background surprisingly well, which makes me wonder about the truth of the book's description of lack of support. How could the author afford to join a college fraternity while supporting his own way through college? 

I wondered on several occasions whether the author was proud of the nasty tricks he administered to parked cars and on another occasion the rolling a big tire into traffic. I would have preferred for the author to indicate a bit of remorse for all the misery he had caused to others.

As with most dystopian memoirs the reader knows the author survived because he was able the write the book. As one can expect there was a resolution of sorts when his father was near death. But I didn't feel much comfort from this ending.

Reading the descriptions of bad parenting and child misbehavior in this book was a painful experience. I know there are families like this, and I'm also aware that vandalism is a real thing. Perhaps it's good for me to learn a bit of the lives of the people behind this behavior.

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December 8 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  --  (Notes from last month)

Binding Us Together: 
A Civil Rights Activist Reflects on 
a Lifetime of Community and Public Service 
by Alvin L. Brooks.

Many of us know and love Alvin Brooks and have stories we can share about his presence in Kansas City and this nation. But we will do more listening as Alvin joins us to share his past, present, and hope for a better tomorrow. But we will do more listening as Alvin joins us to share his past, present and hope for a better tomorrow. Few people have faced adversity like Alvin Brooks. He was born into an impoverished family, he nearly lost his adoptive father to the justice system of the South, and he barely survived a health crisis in infancy. And that is just the beginning. Here is the book's Table of Contents:

1. My Origins and Youth
2. My Son, Ronall
3. My Police Career
4. Schoolwork – and The Riot
5. City Hall Appointments
6. ADHOC Begins and Flourishes
7. Recognized by the President
8. My Political Career
9. ADHOC Renewed
10. Carol’s Transition
11. A Family Adventure
12. Recent Activities
13. A Final Prayer
This link will help you preview what will surely be an wonderful and important discussion.

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com

This is the autobiography of Alvin Brooks, civil rights activist and public servant, who is well known to those of us who have lived in the Kansas City metro area. He was born in 1932 in Arkansas to a teenage mother and was adopted by a childless neighboring couple. A year later his adoptive parents moved to Kansas City due to a threat to their safety under racist circumstances. 

Mr. Brooks grew up in Kansas City during the 1930s and 40s, and some of the most dramatic experiences described in this book come from this era. Brooks is African American, and many of his childhood experiences involve his encounter with overt racism and police brutality.

He and his wife married young, and after a variety of jobs he decided to become a member of the Kansas City Police. Again many of the stories shared of his time as a policeman could serve as the basis for thrilling TV drama. He worked full time as a policeman while going to school part time acquiring both bachelor and master degrees. Again he encountered racism and corruption in both the police force and community. 

I thought it was interesting to note that the Black officers were assigned to the districts which were predominately African American. He had grown up in the community and had gone to segregated schools with many of the people he encountered on the streets. As many of the stories were told I got the impression that he knew everybody and everybody knew him. The stories actually impressed me as being examples of good neighborhood policing.

He moved on to an administrative job with the KC School District which is where he was working during the 1968 racial riots in KC. A couple weeks prior to the KC riots Brooks had been part of a public panel discussion in which he had indicated that the KC metro area had all the ingredients that could lead to racial violence. It was not a popular thing to say at the time, but soon after when the riots did occur his comments were remembered. 

Those statements of his together with some of his activities on the first days following the death of Martin Luther King were probable reasons why he ended up being hired as the first Black department head in Kansas City government. There was an interesting sequence of instances described in the book of his resumé appearing, disappearing, and reappearing while the City was deciding who to hire to be the director of the Human Relations Department. The story seems to suggest that there must have been ghosts lurking through City Hall with opposing views about whether he should be hired.

He went on to being instrumental in the founding the AdHoc Group Against Crime. He was a City Council representative and Mayor ProTem during Kay Barnes’ mayorship and ran for Mayor in the 2007 City elections losing to Mark Funkhouser

I listened to the audio edition of this book in which Brooks performs the narration. The sound of his voice is familiar to me, and my being able to listen to his narration was a treat. I could hear him chuckle occasionally in the funny parts. When he described the death of his wife after over sixty years of marriage, I as reader could feel along with him the sadness of the moment. After all, I had just spent the past fifteen hours listening to him tell the story of his life. In the last chapter there was a note from Alvin Brooks' daughter Carrie, and was surprised to hear it read by Carrie herself. These are pluses you don't get reading the printed text.

More than once in the book's narrative Alvin Brooks told of instances when his mother prayed that he would grow up to be the man God wanted him to be. At the end of the book he returned again to that memory:

So Mama, I remember you picking up your Bible and sitting in that old lime green rocking chair with the wooden back and calling me to kneel down and place the side my of my head on your lap. You prayed, "Lord please help my baby become the kind of man you want him to be." So Mama, I pray that I turned out to be the kind of man you prayed to God for me to be.
I'd say that prayer was answered, and Mama's wishes were fulfilled.

(view spoiler)


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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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