w=600px bottom    “  ”  — ‘  ’


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
1982 - 2012 Archive on request About CRES participation
.
On-line Archived Program Announcements and Reports    
2023

2021   2020     2019   2018     2017   2016     2015   2014     2013

.

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

 2022  PROGRAM LINKS -- REPORTS -- DETAILS
Vital ConversationsProgram, 2d Wed 1-2:30 pm          Coffee, 4th Wed 8 am
Photos and reports are arranged by month
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec




#MLK

King Holiday Essay —  2022 January 7 and Jan17
     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.
     You can also read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail here.


February 1-7
  
To celebrate World Interfaith Harmony week, we offer one of our most cited essays, "Stealing Another's Faith." The question of honoring without misappropriating material from others is not so easy, and this essay raises awareness so faiths can be less in conflict and more in harmony. Read, download this PDF, and share this important essay by Vern -- with excerpts from Huston Smith and Harvey Cox.



#220208

A Martian Muses on Monotheism

2021 Febuary 8 Tuesday 1 pm Zoom link posted here by Monday.
Retired Clergy of All Faiths -- guests welcome

Zoom Meeting Recording may be available soon.

      
  What would a Martian report after surveying the religions of our planet? How are monotheistic faiths similar to one another and different from primal and Asian faiths? Vern has seen a purloined copy of the Martian's study, and discloses these findings to the group, offers an exercise for individual assessments of the strength of various dimensions of faith in one's experience (creed, code, cultus, community), and welcomes questions and responses.
     Vern suggestions preparing for the program by having paper and marker handy. You can draw two empty circles in advance.
      A summary of the Martian report is here below. following a few reminders about "religion." MORE HERE.
  

CAVEATS FOR THE STUDY OF “RELIGION”
   1. “Religion” as often understood today developed from the Reformation’s distinction between secular and church domains, and from the West’s Enlightenment categories of thought.
   2. Religions don't differ from each other so much by offering different answers to the similar questions as by exploring different questions. Religions are like more like different games and sports (chess, baseball, charades, tennis, swimming), with different rules, scoring, and outcomes, rather than like a football league with different teams playing each other.
   3. Religions change throughout history.
   4. Religions are influenced by one another and sometimes incorporate elements from each other.
   5. Within a single tradition, many variations are common.
   6. Boundaries around religions vary, some tight, some porous.
   7. Even religions that emphasize theoretical concerns retain elements of the earlier unitive (mystical, "peak" experiences), enactive (ritual), and narrative (story) developments.
   8. Scholars who seek to identify components or dimensions of religions sometimes use the scheme of  4 C's: Creed (concepts or "beliefs"), Code (rules, moral expectations), Cultus (ritual practices), and Community (informal and institutional shapes and boundaries of adherents relating to one another). MOST RELIGIONS are not as focused on "beliefs" as much as many Christians.
 


    #Monotheisms
 
From the Martian Report:
CHARACTERISTICS OF MONOTHEISM

   1. Monotheisms find the sacred in historical events and processes.
   2. Most monotheisms identify a singular or pivotal event in history.
   3. Most focus on the disharmony between God's will and the existing social order.
   4. Revelation is mediated, often creating interpretive and doctrinal concerns.
   5. Usually a covenant is the basis of the community.
   6. Eschatological expectations and incipient dualism may be weak or strong.
   7. Mysticism is not normative, and often secondary, perhaps even judged heretical.
   8. Stephen Prothero identifies the problem each of the three main monotheistic faiths seeks to answer. For Judaism, the problem is exile from God; the solution is keeping the commandments. For Christianity, the problem is sin; the solution is salvation through Christ. For Islam, the problem is self-sufficiency; the solution is submission to the will of God.

T W O    E X A M P L E S    O F    T H E    C O V E N A N T     E M P H A S I S
The Lord’s Prayer
220130

BY ADAM HAMILTON
Special to The Star
2022 January 30
  ML King's BELOVED COMMUNITY

“The Beloved Community,” a term from Josiah Royce and applied by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

https://thekingcenter.org/about-tkc/the-king-philosophy/

#HelpWithBook



#ZenHappiness

Zen and Happiness: Practical Insights and Meditations to Cultivate Joy in Everyday Life
By Joshua R. Paszkiewicz
ISBN: 9781638784784

Reviewed by Vern Barnet

Zen masters may be able to personally guide their students toward happiness, but few masters are also able to convey such guidance to those they have never met by writing a book. Dr Paszkiewicz is such a master, celebrated internationally, and his Zen and Happiness  is such a book. 

The book's guidance is practical, with background, examples, exercises, and summaries, all in less than 150 remarkably lucid pages.

Zen awareness is accessible to those of any faith, or none. Zen happiness is not limited to a monastic or retreat setting, but can be practiced eating breakfast, driving to or from work, at work, at home -- anywhere. An unusual virtue of this book is its concluding chapter, "Zen Happiness When Happiness Seems Impossible," which recognizes dark moments of life, and shows how Zen awareness works even in the experience of grief.

The book recommends both a faithful, even rigorous, practice of meditation, but also an approach which is gentle and compassionate about one's failings.

I especially enjoyed the mix of stories from the rich and varied Zen traditions along with examples from today's problems and situations.

I first encountered Zen from a Chinese master over 50 years ago. This book not only recalled and refreshed the practice I then began, but enhanced and deepened my appreciation for how the Zen presented in this book can be of enormous help to so many others.

The Rev. Dr. Joshua R. Paszkiewicz is a multireligious cleric and scholar uniquely trained and transmitted in the Zen traditions of Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. He has studied and taught Zen throughout the world and has served as an official delegate to numerous notable events, including the first White House Buddhist Leaders Conference and the United Nations' World Day of Vesak. Dr. Paszkiewicz has earned a diverse array of academic degrees and certifications in the fields of religion, psychology, education, business, and healthcare. On a day-to-day basis, Joshua maintains a private practice of spiritually integrative psychotherapy, teaches traditional life protection arts, and serves as spiritual director and consultant to numerous students, teachers, and communities around the globe. He can be found online at DRJRP.com.

Josh is known locally through his many, many paths of service, including assisting the Interfaith Council through its strategic planning process. I was fortunate to have him as a graduate student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary where he was less my student than my teacher.

Vern Barnet
CRES minister emeritus

#abortion 

What does the Supreme Court abortion decision
mean for religious freedom?

For those of us given to the cause of interfaith understanding, opinions about abortion have, until now, been manageable, even welcome, in the  conversation. The right of all faith groups to practice as they see fit is protected by the United States First Amendment. Some Evangelical Christian and Roman Catholic leaders condemn all abortion, while, for example, other Christian and some Jewish leaders, among those of other faiths, believe that their traditions require different approaches to problem pregnancies (see recent opinion pieces in the Kansas City Star). The variety of opinion is healthy and contributes to our understanding of the complexities of human responses to the Sacred.

The intractable problem for those who prize religious pluralism arises when one view seeks to impose its view on others through legal compulsion. This question is raised, not too subtly, in the minority opinion of the Supreme Court ruling in discussing the legal basis chosen for the majority opinion, which according to Justice Thomas, concurring, also requires reconsideration of what have been rights of privacy including contraception and same-sex marriage, both of which are condemned in some faiths. (Justice Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, is Roman Catholic, are other justices in the majority -- Thomas, Kavanaugh, and Barrett; and Gorsuch was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. The minority justices Breyer and Kagen are Jewish, with Sotomayor a Roman Catholic.) The Supreme Court decision text (212 pages, majority and dissent) is here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf . 

In  2006, Missouri voters decided in favor of religious pluralism when a Stem Cell issue was placed on the ballot. At that time, Vern was asked to prepare a background paper, with a variety of views presented, to answer three questions. The first and last remain relevant.
     1. When does life begin?
     3. How can Americans can respect every faith’s opinions on this issue?

You can find this material, along with additional material directly related to abortion, in the Archive section of the CRES website at https://cres.org/pubs/2.htm . As we continue to study this controversy requiring fresh attention, additional history and opinion may be added. If it becomes necessary also to address Supreme Court decisions against contraception, certain heterosexual and homosexual behaviors, interracial marriage, and other liberties, appropriate commentary will be added in the context of interfaith understanding. One interesting possibility is a future action brought to the Supreme Court against a state that outlaws abortion in a case in which the petitioner claims an exemption from the state law on the basis of one's religious requirement to obtain an abortion in the particular circumstance.

Kansas voters soon face the question of installing one religious view as part of the law or retaining religious liberty and pluralism as Kansans consider amending the state constitution which currently allows abortion.

Legal arguments are instructive, and it is useful to see when they arise within a variety of religious perspectives. In all cases, in the midst of honest disagreements, while eschewing those who use religion to divide us politically, we must honor the sacred personhood, the genuine humanity, of everyone of good will.

The Reverend Vern Barnet, DMin
CRES minister emeritus
Founder, The Kansas City Interfaith Council

The Reverend David E Nelson, DMin
CRES senior associate minister
President, The Human Agenda



#220719



About Worship
Via Zoom, Vern visits Dr Rebecca Johnson's class on worship at Central Baptist Theological Seminary where he was Assistant Professor of Religious Pluralism. Two areas of interest around which much of his career has revolved are world religions and worship. Vern was one of five founding members of the Congregation of Abraxas, edited a collection of papers on worship, and occasionally lectures on the subject.
     A formative experience at Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago during the Vietnam War, insights about the nature of the sacred from Vern's professor and friend, Mircea Eliade, the notion of sacramentalism from Fr Michael Himes, insights from Pentecostal, Quaker, Shaker, and liturgical practices, encounters with rites from world religions, and a background in parish ministry  guide the discussion.


https://mailchi.mp/bd986ec70d8b/on-the-20th-anniversary-911-a-metaphorical-malady?e=d9e1721627

One way of understanding 21 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.


9/11: METAPHORICAL MALADY:
CRIME, WAR, DISEASE

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.

Vern

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:
TO BE SCHEDULED
(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 over 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 of the horror and the 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. 

#220807

Vern Inverviews Alvin Brooks on His Memoirs
2022 August 8 Sunday morning at 10:30
Masks Required -- Proof of Vaccines Required

All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church4501 Walnut

Alvin L. Brooks, now 90, is a beloved civic leader whose amazing career has touched the lives of all of us, directly or indirectly. From his entrepreneurial childhood poverty, to his time as a police officer, his leadership during the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther king, Jr, his appointment as the first Black to head a City Department, his founding of the AdHoc Group Against Crime, his service as Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem, his term on the Board of Police Commissioners, his work as a member of a school board, and countless other assignments, formal and informal, we all have benefited from his vision for inclusion and diversity. Al holds five honorary doctorates and dozens of prestigious awards.
     For the sermon, Vern Barnet, the developmental editor for Al's memoir, Binding Us Together: A Civic Rights Activities Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service, interviews Al, who sign books for any who wish to purchase a copy. 
     The book's website is https://www.bindingustogetheralbrooks.com/ .
#220807photo
Here is a photo from the morning:

Thanks to the Rev Kendyl Gibbons for the invitation, to Anthony Edwards for his assistance and arrangements (and the photo!), to others who helped with the service, and to the congregation for its warm welcome. In the hour, we touched upon Al's childhood encounters with racism, Al's words to marching students outside City Hall after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, words which led Al to become the City's first Back department head, the backstory of the photo with Mark Funkhouser in his mayoral campaign, and the current state control of the Police Department, and much more. But Alas! The supply of books for Al to sign ran out! But those wishing a copy will have their desires satisfied . . . .


#220913

September 13 Tuesday  5:30-8:30pm
Annual TABLE OF FAITHS
Fundraiser and Signature Event
Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center - Independence, MO
the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
now independent but originally a program of CRES.



The Council writes --
Interfaith cooperation is key to transforming this religiously diverse society into a more just, kind, and pluralistic nation, and world. We ask ourselves what it would look like if every American, regardless of their religion or no religion, or worldview, was inspired and equipped to:
  • Come together in a way that respects different religious identities?
  • Build mutually inspiring relationships across differences?
  • Engage in common action around issues of shared social concern?
AWARD RECIPIENTS


SevenDays - Table of Faiths Award

SevenDays® overcomes hate by promoting kindness and understanding through education and Dialogue. SevenDays® was born as the result of a hateful act when a white supremacist murdered Reat Underwood, his grandfather Dr. William Corporon, and Terri LaManno on April 13, 2014, outside of Jewish facilities.  In the aftermath, two families and our community joined hands and hearts to shine a light on the darkness of hate.
     SevenDays
® is now entering its ninth year of countering hate through kindness, education and events. We are laser focused on getting our kindness resources and curriculum for K-12 grades into the schools across the metro. It is youth who will change our world. SevenDays® events will take place in April 2023.
#DavidNelsonHonored
David E. Nelson, D.Min. - Steve Jeffers Leadership Service Award
Photo: David visiting a class to lecture on Appreciative Inquiry
at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018
     
Buy tickets or become a sponsor to the Interfaith Council's event here: 
https://www.kcinterfaith.org/2022-table-of-faiths/

A prominent interfaith leader, David was one of twelve original faith members of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989 and served as Convenor for three years. He is senior associate minister of CRES, the World Faiths CENTER FOR RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE AND STUDY, was a major force in the 2001 Gifts of Pluralism conference where he introduced Appreciative Inquiry, played a key role in Kansas Citys first anniversary observance of 9/11, and lectured at the nations first Interfaith Academies in 2007. David served two years as the coordinator of the Christian Jewish Muslim Dialogue Group. He served in the Life Connections Interfaith Program at the US Penitentiary in Leavenworth for over a decade.
     As an Appreciative Inquiry Coach, David has assisted individuals and groups in a variety of settings. These included the Department of Health and Human Services, Emergency Medicine, Head Start, and Community Action Agencies. He provided training in Team Building and Appreciative Supervision in 39 states and Europe. 
    David received his bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. His masters degree in divinity, and his doctorate in ministry are both from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He has served as an adjunct faculty member of that school, conveying a Doctor of Ministry program in Kansas and Missouri. He also is a graduate of the two-year program in spiritual direction with the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Direction in Washington, DC.
     David served as Senior Pastor at Saint James Lutheran Church in Kansas City for 13 years.  He also served Peace Lutheran Church in Manhattan, Kansas, and at Andover Lutheran in Windom, Kansas five years each.

     Davids previous awards include a CRES Award in 2006 for life-long community service, vision, and care for the future, and blessing the venture of interfaith understanding, the 2013 Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat Award at the Kansas City Royals where David was applauded at a game of the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium for embodying Bucks values (including diversity and working to make the world a better place), a Special Commemoration by the Interfaith Council when he retired from the Council in 2014, and the 2018 Humanitarian Award given at the Bruce R Watkins Cultural Heritage Center and Museum. In 2022, David was honored by Fitch and Associates with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his training of many of America's finest in emergency response over the last 25 years in Ambulance Services Management and Communication Center Management, shown here with the award, and below, responding to the recognition.
      He continues once a month to host Vital Conversations, where, according to Vern Barnet, “the purpose is not to win an argument, but to win a friend and advance civilization.” He also hosts Morning Prayer two Saturdays a month.  
     The photo below was taken as he responded to the Lifetime Achievement Award. In the 1989 photo of the first meeting of the Interfaith Council in the brief history below, David is in the front row, far right.


David Nelson responds to the Lifetime Achievement honor with remarks summarizing his teaching.
We hope to have a link to a video recording of his moving message here shortly.
-----------------
Unable to attend the Table of Faiths event this year, Vern sent the following message:

When I want to email David Nelson, I do not enter his name in the TO:  slot in my email program. Instead, I type "human" and my program knows I am writing David Nelson. David, who founded The Human Agenda, is the epitome of what it means to be fully human.
     David certainly has known personal disappointment and grief as well as joy, but he also sees clearly that the path forward is to appreciate the love and wonder out of which such feelings arise, and to honor the differences among us as gifts enriching our lives together.
     Steve Jeffers was insistent that folks of all faiths be known, included, and celebrated, so the Council's Steve Jeffers Award to David Nelson could not be more appropriate. At the nation's first Interfaith Academies in 2007, David was asked to lead evening prayer for the faculty and students. On that occasion he celebrated "sweating with Lakota Sioux, sitting with Buddhists, dancing with Sufis, debating with Jews, fasting with Muslims."
     David shows us that appreciating each other -- in our distinctive traditions, in making "your tears, my tears; your joys, my joys," as we journey together toward a more just world -- is how we become more fully human.



__________________________________
  Some images from the Table of Faiths dinner
celebrating David with the Steve Jeffers Award



The citation reads
The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
2022 Steve Jeffers Leadership Service Award
presented to
David Nelson
Thank you for  helping to make Greater Kansas City
the most welcoming community for all people

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE EARLY YEARS --

The first Table of Faiths event, with David Nelson as convener, was a luncheon at the Marriott Muehlebach Hotel downtown Nov 10, 2005. Alvin Brooks, one of the co-chairs (Gayle Krigel, Mahnaz Shabbir, and Chuck Stanford), welcomed guests. Mayor Kay Barnes was the keynote speaker and presented the first Table of Faiths Award to Vern Barnet.
     The second Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 14, 2006, honored Don and Adel Hall and Ed Chasteen.
     The third Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 7, 2007, honored Alvin L Brooks and The Kansas City Star.
     The fourth Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 13, 2008, included a presentation of Donna Ziegenhorn's play, The Hindu and the Cowboy. Honored were Robert Lee Hill and the Shawnee Mission Medical Center, and Steve Jeffers (1948-2008) was lovingly remembered.
     The fifth Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 12, 2009, introduced The Steve Jeffers Leadership Award, given to Ahmed El-Sherif. All Souls Unitarian Church was also recognized, and Allan Abrams (1939-2009) was lovingly remembered.
     The sixth Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 11, 2010, honored Notre Dame de Sion High School with the Table of Faiths Award and Queen Mother Maxie McFarlane with the Steve Jeffers Leadership Award.
     The seventh Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 10, 2011 honored the Kansas City Public Library with the Table of Faiths Award and Donna Ziegenhorn with the Steve Jeffers Leadership Award.
     The eighth and last Table of Faiths luncheon, Nov 8, 2012, presented the theme of "Spirituality and the Environment: Caring for the Earth, Our Legacy." The Steve Jeffers Leadership Award was given to Mayor Sly James and the Table of Faiths Award went to Unity Church of Overland Park.
     There was no Table of Faiths event in 2013. Beginning in 2014, Table of Faiths events were no longer major downtown civic luncheons involving elected and cultural leaders. With a longer evening format, the first in the new Table of Faiths dinners was held May 8, 2014, at Unity Village. 
 
--CRES ARCHIVES
_____________________________________________________________

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



#220916
Biannual Lectures for SoulJourners
Sophia Center at Mount St Scholastica
2022 September 16-17
 



SoulJourners is an ecumenical formation program for spiritual directors offered by the Benedictine sisters at Sophia Center. Spiritual Direction is a one-to-one relationship in which a person trained in the art of this form of spiritual companionship assists another person in the search for deeper awareness of the Transcendent, exploring the spiritual dimensions of human life as it is lived.
     One part of the three-year study includes an encounter with an approach to religions of the world. Again this year, Vern had the honor and pleasure of presenting participatory lectures. With appropriate scholarly caveats, Vern used the scheme of the three families of faith, relating them to the three crises of our time, posing questions to the participants, and answering some.
     Anyone wishing any of the handouts listed below for one's own study need only email Vern. Many of these materials were provided as references as time permitted only some to be used explicitly. In addition, because of the great questions, printed images from Vern's eight-pound photo file were displayed as needed.
     * Three texts epitomizing the three families of faith (pages 1-3)
     * Thumbnail descriptions of the sacred in two dozen traditions (4)
     * Bibliography (5)
     * Quiz for fun and chart of the three families of faith (6)
     * Notes for the study of "religion" (7)
     * About "theologies of [world] religions"  (8)
     * Monotheistic religions compared (9)
     * "Awe is the Cure" essay (10)
     * Selected images from several faiths (11)
     * Religious demographics (12)
     Vern's keynote presentations were part of the weekend including gracious lodging, prayer, praise, spiritual direction skill building, small process groups, advisement, free time, and meals -- delicious, Vern reports.
     Here is the quiz. The answers are here.
1. What religion uses the Tanakh?
2. Name one sacred text of Hinduism.
3. What Qur’an is the chief text for Islam. What is the secondary?
4. In its examination of responses to 9/11, what metro area did CBS TV select to feature on his half-hour special?
5. What are the four Noble Truths of Buddhism?
6. What are the first two clauses of the First Amendment?
7. What were the main religions of slaves brought to the US?
8. How many mosques does the Kansas City area have?
9. How many Hindu temples does the Kansas City area have?
10. What major religion observed a major festival August this year and why does its date vary?
11. Martin Luther King Jr took inspiration from a leader of what non-Christian faith?
12. When was the earliest Muslim presence in North America?
13. What religion uses a 9-pointed star as its symbol?
14. After contact with what ancient religion were the Hebrew people called Jews?
15. What is the largest Muslim country in the world?
16. What was the key to social order in Confucian teaching?
17. What religion typically and reverentially emphasizes the relation between plants, animals, humans, and all aspects of the landscape?
18. What religion’s main divisions are Shvetambar and Digambara, and how do they visibly differ?
19. A leader of one religion famously said his faith had no theology; rather it had dance. He offered a prayer for the Challenger astronauts. What was his religion?
20. What religion is renowned for its fighters, especially during the 19th Century?
21. What are the three largest religions on the planet?
22. What are the three most important religions in the US?
23. What metro area was selected by Harvard’s Pluralism Project and Religions For Peace-USA at the UN Plaza for the nation’s first “Interfaith Academies” for religious professionals and for students?
24. The major American divisions in Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Which was the first to organize here?
25. Zubin Mehta, emeritus music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, comes from what religious tradition?



#GenevaGermany


Our former intern, Geneva Blackmer . . .



. . . in front of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. She is resident in Bonn, doing course work and doing research as she completes her PhD. 
#FourRemembrances

#Dean
D

Dean Tollefson
March 1, 1932 - September 16, 2022



I'll never forget Dean driving from home in Colorado Springs solely to surprise me
at the Marriott Muehlebach and to celebrate me as I received the Interfaith Council's
first Table of Faiths award from Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, Nov 10, 2005.
     One winter when I was serving a church in Johnson County, he and his wife presented their baby for a "naming" ceremony -- an equivalent of baptism. It had just snowed, so -- I forget whose idea it was -- I scooped up some pure white snow and let it melt for use in the rite, and such appropriate unorthodoxy marked Dean's approach to everything.
     When Dean was on the board of the church, after favorable discussion of a plan I had offered, after the matter was settled, in a (mock?) angry (sarcastic?) tone, Dean said, " I want you to come up with another brilliant idea next month." I was shocked and a bit frightened by what came across as a threat. Only later did I see what a loving compliment it was. One of my "many brilliant" ideas was to develop lay leadership; Dean took the training, but he didn't like the "para-minister" designation, so Dean and I settled on the term for him as "counsel minister."
     With that credential, in retirement in Colorado Springs, he served many couples -- may I say "brilliantly" -- as wedding officiant. In addition to tales of such he shared with me (I was blessed to visit him and Brenda several times), he told me of how he -- my words -- drew parent and child close in devotion by playing Santa in a department store.
     Backing up again to my parish days: in another Christmas season, it was time for my to announce my resignation. Dean was at the pianist that morning; and the last hymn, right after the sermon which ended with my announcement, was "Joy to the World." Never caught off-guard, Dean played the hymn through once in a minor key, a provocative way to mesh sorrow and disappointment (for some, at least) with humor, which got us through an awkward situation.
     Before Dean and Brenda married, Dean lived with, and cared for, an uncle with Alzheimer's, and I visited with them for several days. I was astonished that Dean, who could be so direct and brash and even offensive, showed such extraordinary attention, understanding, patience, and love for someone whose mind lived in a world long gone but repeated moment by moment.
Below is the obituary in The Gazette, Sept 25.

Dean Elwood Tollefson of Colorado Springs passed peacefully at home after a recent diagnosis of acute leukemia.
     Dean's 90 years of adventures started with a home birth on the farm in Willow Lake, South Dakota, to Ada Anderson Tollefson and Morgan Lorenzo Tollefson. Dean was playing the piano and singing harmony by ear at age 7 and later performed in a vocal quartet while a student at Augustana College, where he graduated with a double major in sociology and philosophy/religion. Dean was a legal officer for two years in the Marine Corps, after which he pursued doctoral studies at Southern Illinois University in college administration and philosophy. Dean's formal career centered on inter-collegiate cooperation and consortium work, first as Vice President at the Kansas City Regional Council for Higher Education and then as the Executive Director of the Union of Independent Colleges of Art. After moving to Colorado Springs in the mid-1980s, Dean cared for an uncle and his mother. He subsequently taught philosophy at Pikes Peak Community College and served as community chaplain to perform numerous inter-faith weddings and naming ceremonies in the Colorado Springs area.
     Dean was a man of many passions and strong opinions. He was a voracious reader, lover of music and art and enjoyed listening to and exploring new thoughts and ideas. A creative problem-solver, he could always think outside the box and find the good in people. He and Brenda traveled frequently, visiting family and friends and creating new connections along the way.
     Dean's active community engagement included offering philosophical courses for Pillar; facilitating spiritual exploration; and working to strengthen the interpersonal bonds that are the backbone of a community. Dean was a long-standing member of the Sons of Norway, ACLU, the League of Women Voters, the Colorado Springs Chorale, the Kansas City and Colorado Springs chapters of the United Nations Association, and Pikes Peak Detachment 29, Marine Corps League.
     Dean is survived by his loving and devoted wife of 31 years, Brenda Mensink; sister Rosalie Brodin; children Nancy (Randy Switser), Tod, Daniel (Linda), Eric, and Ingrid (Troy Cusey), daughter of his ex-wife Serena Sutton; grandchildren Mariann, Sara, Nikki, Jakob, Bobbi, Berit, Brokk, Clara and Berend; and 12 great-grandchildren. Dean was pre-deceased by his ex-wife Carol Fedde, his sisters Arla Mae Shultz and Claryce Stormo and eldest son, Timothy.
     An open house celebration of Dean's life will be held Sunday October 2nd from 1pm to 3pm at the Sons of Norway Lodge, 1045 Ford St., Colorado Springs.      
     Internment is planned for summer 2023 at Collins Cemetery in Willow Lake, South Dakota. Donations may be made to a charity of your choice supporting music, animal welfare, veterans, and/or community gardens.
     FUNERAL HOME - Cappadona Funeral Home - 1020 E. Fillmore Street - Colorado Springs, CO
     SERVICE - Celebration of Life - Oct. 2, 2022  Sunday  1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. - Sons of Norway Lodge

#EdChasteen


Ed Chasteen
1935-2022

2022 October 12.-- Ed Chasteen has died. Ed's many friends and students will certainly agree that he was remarkable, determined to make a difference in helping diverse folks like each other, within and beyond "Greater Liberty." Ed accepted the role of "Amity Shaman" for CRES.  
     For thirty years, Ed was professor of sociology at William Jewell College (1965-1995). His favorite book was Uncle Tom's Cabin. He was president, founder, publicist, and community organizer for HateBusters, Inc. His easy-to-read book, How to Like People Who Are Not Like You, was a major contribution to diversity efforts, and especially prized at CRES for its usefulness in interfaith appreciation. One of many articles to appear about Ed and his determined work (this one with a brief video) is Who You Gonna Call? -- HateBusters! Some of his adventures are recounted in his My Life on a Bicycle. Ed received the 2006 Table of Faiths Award by the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council.
    Amity Shaman Ed was a cherished member of the CRES team, and his bio and writing appear on our site here, including his "If I were a Rich Man" and several longer essays.

Our friend Anton Jacobs writes:
     I just learned that a former colleague and one of my best friends died this morning: Mr. Hatebuster himself, the Rev. Dr. Ed Chasteen. I called him "Lord Edgar," which he tolerated with grace since he didn't like to be called Edgar, just Ed. 
     He was one of the best human beings I've ever known. I held him in high esteem even before I met him. Then I had the pleasure and the honor of working in the same academic department with him for seven years. We both left the college at the same time but continued to hold our weekly "Sociology Department Meetings" over breakfast for many years.
      He lived a life of crusading to combat hate wherever it appeared and to nurture community and gracious acceptance of others who are different from us. His best book is titled, How to Like People Who are Not Like You. His regular Human Family Reunions graced the lives of many here in Kansas City and elsewhere. His frequently expressed vision for people was that they would be free to go anywhere and talk with anyone about anything and feel safe.
     He continued his work right up to the end as fervently as he was able, having struggled with MS for many years. He would quote from the poem by Dylan Thomas, "Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
     Insofar as the USAmerican culture has less hate in it, he did more than his part to make it so. He gave it his all. I cannot begin to express how spiritually enriched my life has been because of Ed Chasteen!  

Letter to the Editor: Led the fight
     The Kansas City community lost a role model last week. Dr. Ed Chasteen passed away on Oct. 12 at age 86. Ed was a longtime sociology professor at William Jewell College and a regular presence in the Kansas City civil rights community. He founded Hatebusters, an organization dedicated to responding to acts of hate through faith and solidarity. He held annual Human Family Reunions, welcoming everyone regardless of color, class, creed or country. He also had multiple sclerosis but remained undeterred, riding his bicycle nearly everywhere he went.
     I met Ed in 1986 as a freshman. He impressed me so much in his Intro to Sociology class, I worked for him for three years. When I started, he'd spent the previous summer riding his bike from Florida to Washington state with only two pennies in his pocket, determined to rely on the goodness of strangers to feed and house him. Many people thought it unwise, but he was right, and his Two Penny Odyssey was a success. That was Ed.
     With positive role models seemingly hard to come by, Ed Chasteen's compassion, perseverance and decency still inspire me every day. God bless you, Ed. You will be missed. -- Jos Linn, Kansas City, October 16, The Kansas City Star, p21

A note from David Nelson
     I last saw and visited with Ed at the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council dinner. He taught us and challenged us love even those we could not like. He learned that from Jesus. Ed, you will be missed and never forgotten.

No services planned
     He donated his body to KU Med. Family suggests "Go ride a bike, spend time with family, so something for someone else . . . ."

#JerryGrahber


Deacon Emeritus Jerry Grabher
1935-2022




2022 Oct 10.-- I had Jerry's birthday card made for next month when I learned a few moments ago Jerry has died. I last saw him just before he was moved to Topeka and am so grateful for that visit.
     The photo above is of Jerry when he and I toured the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts July 14, 2011, two months before it opened to the public. Jerry took me to many Symphony and other performances there since we met the first day he served as deacon at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral. In the decade of our friendship, Jerry and his enthusiasms -- and his red car -- were a regular part of my life; and like his many friends, I will miss him immeasurably.
     This is not an official obituary, so I may have some details wrong. As I remember, Jerry and his twin (who died many years ago) were born in Nebraska. As a farm boy, he loved listening to classical music on the radio. His farming family background gave Jerry a practical turn to his ministry. He was ordained and became a Methodist missionary, learned Swahili, and was posted in Africa, narrowly escaping from the Congolese civil wars with fighting at his back as he made it through the border alive.
      Back in the US, he saved a youth camp from insolvency which he then ran for several years, wrote training manuals for the Methodists, and served on several boards. From those years, and seminary work, he gained strong opinions on the role of bishops, the tenure of pastors, and the length of sermons!
     Jerry also believed in books that opened flat, so he would often take a book and have the spine removed (or have the book copied) and then spiral bound. Bless him, I have several of these! I first learned of this admirable quirk when I signed up for Jerry's course on The Rule of Benedict, which was extended a second year. Although I had studied the Rule 40 years earlier, he and the way he involved the class made it a newly living practice. He took the class to Conception Abbey for a memorable visit including interviews with several of the bothers there. Jerry was a Benedictine oblate.
      From his experience at the Saint Paul (United Methodist) School of Theology, and particularly through a professor who was serving as rector at St Mary's Episcopal Church, Jerry eventually joined and was ordained a deacon in 2002 to serve there for ten years, followed by 10 years at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral where he served both at the Holy Table and in reading the Gospel, and in leading and arranging many programs in adult formation. After a stroke, he served mainly at the Holy Table and continued adult formation. He was made Deacon Emeritus in 2020 or 2021 (I had transferred from the Cathedral to St Paul's in 2020). The photo above is from Easter Vigil, 2011.
     Some years ago Jerry had asked me to assume durable power of attorney if needed and to be executor of his will. I did sign a few checks, but as circumstances developed, it seemed better for his two daughters to assume these duties. 221203
     IN MEMORY OF JERRY GRABHER.-- David Nelson's Zoom Morning Prayer December 3 Saturday was in memory of Jerry, whose birthday would have been Nov 29. Folks from around the country gathered by Zoom to commemorate our beloved friend, teacher, and model of Benedictine hospitality and joy in others.

Making visible what we all saw in Jerry, this slightly altered photograph of the Nebraska farm boy in jeans at Conception Abbey in 2013 gave Jerry a good laugh, despite his own deep humility and focus on others as a way to see God.


Vern



#CharlieWheeler


Charlie Wheeler, MD
1926-2022

Charlie Wheeler, mayor of Kansas City 1971-1979, mayor when I moved here from Pennsylvania, was a friend of many, including me. He was one of my two baptismal sponors in 2011 and wrote a gracious blurb for the back of my 2015 book of sonnets, Thanks for Noticing. He would want it noted that he was also my state senator 2003-2007.
     Charlie was a doctor and a lawyer as well as a consummate politician. A creative thinker capable also of whimsy, his life was marked by the premature death of three children and his wife's debilitating illness in later years.
     Through the courtesy and grace of a mutual friend, I enjoyed a number of memorable feasts with him at the table, and I also liked stopping by the Westport Flea Market where he sat one morning each week at the table with a brass plaque with his name on it.
     He was always bursting with political opinions and gossip and futuristic ideas -- and a great laugh. I remember many incidents of delight and humor, such as, in his very senior years, when he was surrounded by the beautiful young women doting on him at a reception after a wedding at which I officiated.  Charlie still knew how to dance! (By the way, the bride and groom had invited Charlie to say whatever he wanted to during the ceremony, through they were not sure he would actually show up. If anyone would show up, it would be Charlie!)
     I took the second photo at his 89th birthday party at -- of course -- the Westport Flea Market.
     Here is a link to his Wikipedia page detailing his many roles in public service.
     The service at his church, also mine, St Paul's Episcopal, Nov 5, is available on YouTube here. Remembrances were offered by Congressman, the Reverend Emanuel Cleaver II, the Honorable Mayor Quinton Lucas, Mr Steve Sturdevant, and daughter Mrs Nina Wheeler Yoakum. The homily was given by the rector, the Reverend Steven King.


#221101

STATEMENT ON THE VANDALISM AGAINST
THE DIALOGUE INSTITUTE
NEWS REPORT IN THE KANSAS CITY STAR WITH PHOTOS

The Center for Religious Experience and Study, a Kansas City area interfaith institute, joins with other organizations dedicated to peace and understanding among the rich diversity of humankind in supporting the Dialogue Institute in Kansas City, KS, endangered by an attack on its facility in October.
     "For twenty years, the Dialogue Institute has been one of the most effective organizations in the area in building relationships between those of different religious backgrounds and perspectives," said the Rev Vern Barnet, DMn, minister emeritus of CRES.
     "Dr Eyyup Esen, a leader at the Dialogue Institute, is one of the most energetic, effective, and sweet-spirited proponents of friendship among people of all faiths I have known, and his love for Kansas City is enthusiastic. To have his work, and that of others, answered by physical damage to the property and, even worse, the symbols of hate sprayed on the facility, is a blot upon our community," he said.
     "Our response must be to redouble our efforts to support the work of organizations like the Dialogue Institute and all who seek a safe community in which the religious teachings of mutual respect and affection can flourish," he said.
     If you wish to donate to help with the recovery, draw your check to the Kansas City Raindrop Foundation, 4215 shawnee Drive, KC KS 66106.

#221030Brooks



At the JCRB|AJC Henry Bloch Human Relations Awards Dinnner
Honoring Al Brooks



Hundreds gather to recognize civil rights activist Alvin Brooks
The Jewish Community Relations Bureau AJC presented Brooks
with the Henry W. Bloch Human Relations award.

To the crowd applauding his decades of service for and in Kansas City and beyond as he was presented the prestigious Henry W Bloch Human Relations Award, Al Brooks responded that carrying on the legacy of Henry Bloch was more than he had words to express.
     Here is a link to KMBZ-9's 2-minute video report and a text summary:
https://www.kmbc.com/article/hundreds-gather-to-recognize-decades-of-work-from-civil-rights-activist-alvin-brooks-kansas-city-missouri/41813688


CRES senior associate minister David Nelson, holding the memoir of Alvin L Brooks, inspects some of the dozens of awards given to Al arrayed on a long table outside the ballroom where 500 people gathered to celebrate and honor him with yet another award.
     The flat acrylic award to the right of the Harry S Truman award is the CRES award, given at the annual Thanksgiving Sunday Interfaith Ritual Meal in 2002 "for his work as citizen and his career of public service locally and internationally celebrating religious pluralism and the dignity of the human spirit in compassion, justice, and leadership."
     Before Al was brought to the stage to receive the JCRB|AJC Bloch Award, a video of folks speaking about what Al meant to them and to the community and beyond. CRES minister emeritus Vern Barnet was one of those offering loving testimony about the life, character, friendship, and service of the distinguished 90-year old honoree. Vern was the developmental editor of Al's memoir, Binding Us Together: A Civil Rights Activist Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service, published in 2021. The 300-page generously-illustrated volume won the 2022 Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award October 1
     Our special page about Al on the CRES website is here. We are grateful for his many years of support and friendship.

Fr Thomas Curran, SJ, immediate past president of Rockhurst University with honoree Alvin L Brooks; JCRB|AJC executive director Gavriela Geller with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas; Kansas 3rd District US Representative Sharice Davids with Missouri 5th District US Representative Emanuel Cleaver II.



#ThgvgSunday


2022 November 13 Sunday 5 pm CT
INTERFAITH THANKSGIVING GATHERING
Promoting Universal Gratitude

Free -- online and accessible to all.
Hosted by the Heartland Chapter of the Alliance of Divine Love 
with co-sponsors
Greater KC Interfaith Council, Alliance of Divine Love, and HeartLove Interfaith Community

livestream on https://www.facebook.com/HeartLoveKC

or Zoom:  http://bit.ly/3zNcLX2

http://www.HeartlandADL.org  |  http://HeartlandADL@hotmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/events/751246239443650/


The annual observance was sponsored by CRES for its first 25 years. 
This year, 2022, is the 37th year of the tradition and we are grateful to the
sponsors for perpetuating the recognition of the place of gratitude in every faith.

 
#221202
Groundbreaking for the
Alvin Brooks Center for Faith-Justice
at Rockhurst University
   

At the November 2 Groundbreaking ceremony and celebration for the Alvin Brooks Center for Faith-Justice at Rockhurst University, CRES senior associate minister David Nelson, Al Brooks, and former CRES Board member John Gregory greet one another as they enter the reception area.

And here is some happy shoveling . . . with Al and family members . . . .

before which officials of Rockhurst spoke with great feeling about the life and work of Brooks, and Al, now 90, spoke with generous acknowledgments of others present and his late wife, Carol, his adoptive mother and father and biological mother and father, and his children -- and his frequent question as he considers the blessings of the  many opportunities he has had -- "Why me?" -- and then invited all of us to ask "Why me?" as we consider how we may be better servants of the future. Al is distinguished in many ways, and for CRES, as Kansas City's foremost leader for interfaith understanding.
]


OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

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.

FORTHCOMING BOOKS 
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
 

OTHER 
PROGRAMS
and SERVICES

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

ABOUT CRES PARTICIPATION
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.




#VC

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
816-453-2770


2022 Vital Conversations Schedule
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec


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


#vcJan 
January 12 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  --  (Notes from last month)

The Little White Boat: My Search for the Joy Beyond Time by Howard Martin who writes, “While I have written these pages for an audience of two, I trust that, if they have fallen into your hands, they are also for you. As you read them, I ask only this – that you receive them in the spirit with which they are given; with kindness, compassion, and openness of heart. Sit beside me now in the little white boat. Let’s row together through the storms into the still waters. Beauty below us, Beauty above us. Beauty all around.” 
     This book, written by a friend, did fall into my hands. It is a memoir that shares a life and connects me to literature from many ages. Howard will be with us to share his stories and his life. --David Nelson

Quotations and questions selected by David Nelson
“It’s the great mystery of human life
 that old grief passes gradually into a quiet tender joy.”
--Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Releasing conversation:
Share your name and make a brief comment about the above quotation.

1. “They were both born—like their older sister—with Hurler Syndrome.  Their stories are so intertwined in my memory that I cannot adequately disentangle them.” P. 12.  What is Hurler Syndrome and how is it treated?  Why is this important in your life Howard?

2.  “With her gentle whispers and kind caresses, Rene Martin nurtured a loving family into being and traveled a short while with it toward the sun…Because of her, I found it possible, ultimately, to believe in the existence of an eternal Beloved, whose presence is manifest in all of creation, always and everywhere, the loving center of gravity of all that exists…It was my first intuition of paradise.” P. 38. What is an “intuition of paradise” and how has it evolved throughout your life?

3. “There are beloved people who come into our lives as companions for a season, and then there are those who have been there from the beginning.” P. 97 Who have been some of your companions for a season?

4. “In a sense, my brother Bryn was—and remains—the other side of my very self…” p. 104-105. Please read out loud as we listen.  Did any of you have such a companion in your life, sibling, friend, or other?  “As I write this, my brother is ill, and I ponder the real possibility that he will leave this life before me.  Yet I choose to believe that there will be a time beyond Time when we will laugh together, my brother and I – and indeed all of us – in an unimaginable symphony of Joy.” P. 106.  Update us about your brother. 

5. “It became my hope, in my later years as a professor and arts educator, to offer in the classroom moments where my students could feel the goodness and rightness – and safety – of that “somewhere” else.  In that sense, I would come to think of my teaching as a means of nurturing spiritual life, an introduction to the care of the soul.” P. 108. How did you get away with that in public education?  Can real life be explored without some discussion of the spiritual?

6. “To this day, Sairey Gamp (character in Dickens) lightens my spirit and makes me laugh…What does it matter that there is no such person as Sairey Gamp in the real world?  She arises from somewhere in the human spirit.   The genius of Charles Dicken found her somewhere. So much the better for me and, I think, for all of us…All I had to so was let a film or a book take me there.” P.111-112. How can we nurture intimacy with a character in a novel or film?  Can any of you share other examples of fictional characters that have made a difference in your life?

7. “I was fast becoming aware that suffering and loss were not just themes in my own story, but were unavoidable strands in the tapestry of other lives as well, universal realities in the human condition that would require all my efforts to understand.  I would need a story of some kind – a really good story – to help me get there.” P 121 Do you have a story “big enough” to encompass the complex quandaries of your life?

8. “As a child and as a fledging adult in my teens and early twenties, I more often than not felt overwhelmed, rather than gently nurtured, by religion.  A great flood of religious dogma and practice overwhelmed the tiny channels of my interior life…Like a member of a secret society, I was initiated into this culture by repeating words…” born in sin,” or “justified by faith,” and “saved by the blood.” P 124-125. What is the role of religion in your life? 

9. “Poems—and novels and plays—were about my own inner life, my own life of felt imagination.  They were also, but extension, about the inner life of every person I knew and indeed every person on the planet.” P 139 “It seemed that whereas in religion there was a tendency to turn flesh into words, in the theatre there was an instinct to the opposite—to embody ideas in the multi-dimensional actualities of character and story.” P 139. Say more about the difference you have discovered between the church and the theater.

10. “We bear our sorrows bravely for the most part and even in the midst of them look for the return of joy.  It may well be that the experience of joy returning after times of great sadness can—if we so choose—prepare our hearts for the coming of the Great Joy beyond time.  Our sorrow and our joy are both ways in which we are, as Abraham Heschel so beautifully put it, ‘in travail with God’s dream.’” P 187. We all experience sorrow.  Why do some seem to never choose the joy that can follow?

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found
and all the death that ever was would scarcely full a cup.”
--Frederick Buechner

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com 


This memoir tells of the author's growing up in New Zealand, moving to the United States for college, and remaining in the USA for marriage and raising a family. Beyond the timeline of life's activities, friends, and family, the author also attempts to describe a search for transcendence beyond everyday life that the subtitle of the book refers to as the "joy beyond time."

There was a point in the book where the author describes the feelings of perceived insight that came from studying and learning about fictional characters in theatrical dramas and novels. I was impressed with the clarity with which this experience was expressed because I have been trying to communicate similar ideas in my own book reviews. Then later in the book I learned he had advanced academic degrees in Theater, and he had been a lecturer at the University of Missouri at Kansas City many years for an introductory class titled, "How Theater Can Change Your Life." No wonder he is able to articulate so clearly the merits of theater and fiction.

I was impressed that the author was willing to let his wife advance in the world of academia while he settled for being adjunct professor. This role reversal from the stereotypical norm allowed him to pursue other creative ventures and spend summer vacations with his two sons. The author is my approximate contemporary age wise, so in a hopeful sense this book could be an example for me to aspire to achieve if I were to write my own memoir. But I despair at the comparison because I'll not be able to match his writing skill.

The following are two excerpts from the book that I've decided to provide here to represent nature of the writing found in this book.

In the following excerpt the author describes his maturing beyond the conservative Christian faith of his younger years.

And so it was that I began to shift my focus from an anxious search in the forest of religion to a more restful surrender in the glade of simple trust. It was a shift of focus, not an attainment. I began to know a little of what it mean to rest in the grace of the world and breathe free. I was taken back to the whispers of the divine in the beauties of the natural world, the lives of kind and humble human beings, and to the miraculous stories of homeward return—like that of the prodigal son—I had heard in my earliest days. (p.214)

The author ends the book with the following paragraph in which he ties his boyhood memories of time spent in a small white boat with his continuing experience of life today.

In memory, I can still see my self as a kid floating in the safety of the little white boat. I see a time when I drifted in stillness on the glassy surface of the lake, the beauty around me mirrored in a Beauty within. I see a time when the waters seemed to rise up against me and, even with my brave little brother alongside, I felt vulnerable and afraid. I see a time when a great launch, regal in its trim of polished wood and brass, slowed down its heavy engines and smoothed the angry waves before me. And, as I follow in the wake of this Majestic Apparition, I see—even now—the sun-drenched shores of Home glowing on the farther shore.

 

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#vcFeb
February 9 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  --  (Notes from last month)

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin.

In one of the greatest American classics, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin tells the story of the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem. Originally published in 1953, Baldwin said of his first novel, “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was over going to write anything else.”

Releasing Conversation:  In Baldwin’s book several of the chapters are called “prayers.”  Share your name and say something about prayer.  What is prayer?  How do you pray? What does prayer accomplish?

Quotations and questions selected by David Nelson:

1. “It was his hatred and his intelligence that he cherished, the one feeding the other. He lived for the day when his father would be dying, and he, John, would curse him on his deathbed.” 17. Describe John’s relationship to and with his father.  What was his father’s relationship with John? With God? With himself?

2. “’Sugar-plum, what you want to be so evil with your baby for? Don’t you know you done made me go out and get drunk, and I wasn’t a-fixing to do that?  I wanted to take you out somewhere tonight.’  And, while he spoke, his hand was on her breast, and his moving lips brushed her neck.  And this caused such a war in her as could scarcely be endured.” 88-89. Describe the interaction between these two people.  Why does this kind of abuse seem so addictive?  How do people escape this type of relationships?

3. “These, God’s ministers, had indeed grown fat, and their dress was rich and various. They had been in the field so long that they did not tremble before God any more.  They took God’s power as their due, as something that made the more exciting their own assured, special atmosphere.” 111.  “Having possessed Esther, the carnal man awoke, seeing the possibility of conquest everywhere.  He was made to remember that though he was holy he was yet young; the women who had wanted him wanted him still; he had but to stretch out his hand and take what he wanted – even sisters in the church.” 133-134.  How have you experienced religious leadership?  What happens when religious leaders no longer “tremble before God”? 

4. “Yet, most strangely, and from deeps not before discovered, his faith looked up; before the wickedness that he saw, the wickedness from which he fled, he yet beheld like a flaming standard in the middle of the air, that power of redemption to which he must, till death, bear witness; which, though it crush him utterly, he could not deny, though non among the living might ever behold it, he had beheld it, and must keep the faith.  He would not go back into Egypt for friend, or lover, or bastard son; he would not turn his face from God, no matter how deep might grow the darkness in which God hid His face from him.”  144-145.  For some repentance/conversion is instant and forever; for some it is an ongoing process throughout life.  How have you experienced and witness the mystery of grace and the love of the creator?

5. “I just decided me one day that I was going to get to know everything them white bastards know, and I was going to get to know it better than them, so could no white son-of-a-bitch nowhere never talk me down, and never make me feel like I was dirt, when I could read him the alphabet, back, front, and sideways.  Shit—he weren’t going to beat my ass, then.” 178.  Claiming innate human power and dignity results in letting go of conditioned roles. How has “Black Lives Matter” changed the dynamics of present-day culture?  Describe how different individuals and communities changed and responded to BLM.

6. “Then they rose, to come together over a great basin filled with water.  And they divided into four groups, two of women and two of men; and they began, woman before women, and man before man, to wash each other’s feet.  But the blood could not wash off; many washings only turned the crystal water red; and someone cried: ‘Have you been to the river?’  Then John saw the river, and the multitude was there…I, John, saw a city, way in the middle of the air, Waiting, waiting, waiting up there.” 216-217 – read on.  Talk about this vision.  Does it remind you of other visions you have read about or seen in films? What is happening in your imagination as you read it?

Other quotations from James Baldwin. Pick one or several James Baldwin quotations and share your reflections on why he is such an important voice and human being. 
 

q1. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”

q2. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

q3. “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”

q4. “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

q5. “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

q6. “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given.  Freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be.”

q7. “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

q8. “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does.  Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”

Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com 

This novel tells a story of teenaged John Grimes living in the 1930s Harlem district of New York City with his African American family and their charismatic Christianity. His stepfather is a deacon in the church and part time preacher who tries to impose restrictions on John and his half brother Roy hoping to prevent their exposure to the worldly and sinful Harlem community.

The book’s chronology goes back in time for Part 2 of the book to explore the family’s roots in the American South to tell the stories of step-aunt Florence, step-father Gabriel, and mother Elizabeth.

Then Part 3 of the book provides a vivid description of an ecstatic born-again experience of the book's protagonist, young John Grimes.

My favorite quotation from the book:

“Look like,” she said, “you think the Lord’s a man like you; you think you can fool Him like you fool men, and you fool men, and you think He forgets, like men. But God don’t forget nothing, Gabriel — if your name’s down there in the Book, like you say, it’s got all what you done right down there with it. And you going to answer for it, too.”

In the above quotation, Gabriel is counting on the grace of God to forgive his sins. Florence, the speaker, reminds him of the damaged souls he’s left in his wake, and she warns him to stop making life miserable for Elizabeth and John or else she will make sure everybody learns about his unsavory past.

I’m siding with Florence in the quotation above, and I’m not so sure about the virtue of God’s grace in this case.

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#vcMar
March 9 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom
Meeting ID: 832 3534 6541
Passcode: 076621
 

Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America
by Ryan Busse 

“Ryan Busse presents a fascinating, clear-eyed account of the gun industry’s slide into extremism. I was  left with a sense of hope that there is a path forward; one where the majority of Americans, including the  majority of gun owners, stand up to the gun lobby bullying and demand lasting change.” --Gabby Giffords  “Gunfight reveals the truth about the roots of our national division, and many people will see themselves in  Busse’s resistance to extremism.” --Jon Tester, three-term Montana Senator
 

Releasing conversation:   Share your name and list an organization you support. Quotations and Questions selected by David Nelson

1. “I came to understand that for my dad and me, like many gun owners, guns like this were more than tools.  They were symbols of our hopes and of our relationship to each other.  They represented things that we wanted to be true.  Unlike a hammer or a shovel, we had a deep emotional connection to these tools.”  24-25. Say a bit more about guns as symbols of hopes and of your relationship to each other.  Why are guns central to this deep emotional connection?

2. “I brought to Kalispell (Montana) all of the work ethic my parents taught me…and my limited view of politics.  I was busy chasing success and didn’t give politics much consideration other than to know I was a hardworking, red-blooded, gunrunning American.  In other words, I thought of myself as Republican.” 36. Describe the journey of your career.  Why were you so successful?

3. “During the whole debate, as I cut my teeth in this industry, manufacturers, dealers, and consumers went into a frenzy.  All the uncertainty and attention, plus a strong fear and distrust of Bill and Hillary Clinton, meant that consumers rushed to buy any guns that might be banned, and gun sales exploded.” 63 Why were mass shootings good for the gun industry?  Some of us think that such tragic events would result in stricter legislation against guns.

4. “I became a prominent player in the gun industry.  No one could deny I played a key role in helping the NRA (National Rifle Association) build the foundation for a new brand of national politics that demanded almost religious devotion.  There was only one unwritten but clearly understood line of scripture in this new political church: ‘100 percent loyalty and no one steps out of line. Period. The organization had learned to be unforgiving. 117 How was the NRA different from other member organizations?  Can you illustrate what that means?

5. “The Blackfeet called this part of what is now Montana the Badger-Two Medicine, named for the nearby Badger and the Two Medicine River.  They believed that the ‘Sky People’ the Sun, the Moon, and the Morning Star – looked over the people who were created here.  On that day, with tears still in my eyes, I knew that in a very important way I too had been born in this place…I adopted the Badger-Two Medicine as my own sacred home.”  154-155 In your chapter “Rescued by the Sky People” you describe your move to Montana, “the Last Best Place” and your very important companion “Ruark”.  In reading your book I almost felt I was starting a different book.  Geography plays a major role in your life.  Can you share why it is so important?

5. “After 9/11 and George W. Bush’s wars, the industry’s annual sales would shoot up to between thirteen million and sixteen mission units per year between 2013 and 2016.  The Bush-era cultural shift meant that the components for this sales explosion were in place.  Now all we needed for final detonation was a pinch of Sharia law conspiracy theory and a Black president with a Muslim-sounding name.”  187 Politics and gun sales seemed a strange mix.  When did you realize how toxic that had become?  When did you first feel like the “frog in the boiling water”?

7. “Of course, contrary to LaPierre’s (Head of NRA) promises the country did not crumble under Obama’s presidency, nor did gun sales suffer.  Nobody took any guns away.  I was not forced to give up hunting, and my job did not evaporate.  Instead, I sat back and watched an industry capitalize on a long-simmering pot of racism…For more than a decade it had been slowly steaming but when a Black man finally rose to power, the NRA racism pot boiled over.” 208 How did racism get into the mix of politics and gun sales?

8. “And I’d do it while enduring thousands of people who took me to be something I was not anymore.  I could not blame them, I suppose.  Sameness, solidarity, unanimity, lockstep, freedom, patriotism, us versus them, stand and fight, God and guns, good verses evil.  These were powerful verses in hymns that were written here, and they were catching on across the country…I’m just a ranch kid trying to make a living.” 219 How did you survive during the period you had intellectually separated from the mentality of the gun industry while remaining a major player in it?

9. “’I met a guy I think will be our next US senator,’ I told Sara that evening. ‘This guy Tester – he’s got something I can’t quite put my finger on.’ …Luckily for me, and for Tester, my Hail Mary promise of a victory came to pass.”  236-237. Politics is very hard.  Tell us about your friend Senator Tester.

10. “I often talked through it all with Sara, and on the night of our twentieth wedding anniversary, the subject of my exit came up again…Sara locked the door and then turned to me. ‘We are not leaving this room until we decide on the plan,’ she said, tossing me a small notepad from our hotel room.” 300 Tell us about Sara and others who have been allies in your journey from farm boy in Kansas, gunrunner in the US, and now consultant to progressive organizations aiming to undo the country’s dangerous radicalization.


Here is Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com 

This book is part personal memoir written by a former executive of a gun manufacturer, and it is part history of the sociological and political transformation of the United States from bipartisan acceptance of the rules of democracy into a "radicalized nation of competing tribes" egged on in a "cauldron of fear and hate." The author recounts from his position within the firearms industry how his business once catered to customers who were mature responsible hunters and sportsmen, but that evolve over time into their use of race baiting advertisements designed to attract those whom insiders derogatorily referred to as "tacctards" and "couch commandos." Furthermore, the industry that once valued craftsmanship and quality changed to using cheap plastic stocks—referred to as Tupperware in one of the book chapters.

This change in the American psyche mirrored a corresponding change in politics—Trumpian style in particular. It's hard to say which caused or responded to the other. Was the firearms industry fomenting the radicalization or was it radical, right-wing forces outside the industry that prodded firearms manufacturers down the incendiary and deadly path they are still on? This book tends to give the gun industry and NRA much of the credit. In either case they have:
... built a system that relies on a political police state to enforce 100 percent loyalty: no one can dare ask any questions without immediate repercussion. It is a culture that praises violence, one where 'getting your man card back' means that it's acceptable to do whatever it takes to establish your superiority.
This book's story is told from the unique perspective of an insider. The author was actually in the room when many of the marketing decisions were made to take advantage of shifting cultural tides. The author's primary loyalty was to preservation of Public Lands and hunting and fishing, values that at one time were in sync with the interests of gun manufacturers. In clear and concise narrative the author tells of an increasing emphasis toward loyalty to the Republican Party, even when the Party's position did not value conservation issues.

The author explains that he stayed within the gun industry for many years in the hope that he could exert some positive influence toward movement in a more wholesome direction. It is notable that his company, Kimber Manufacturing, never did market assault style rifles and continued to emphasize quality and workmanship. But the strain between the industry and his own values—and pressure from his wife and young children—finally convinced him to resign his position in 2020. The industry had moved away from him; he had not moved away from them.

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#vcApr
April 13 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom --
Meeting ID: 832 3534 6541  --  Passcode: 076621

The Immigrants’ New Camera: A Family Collection
by Maryfrances Wagner

Amazon listing              Whale Road review

Goodreads review  
      Denise Low review

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH is a time to explore how words can explore the world is beautiful ways. 
     Maryfrances Wagner is the Poet Laureate of Missouri and will be with us for this Vital Conversation.  She will not only share some of her poetry but also reflect with us on the value of poetry for our time. 
     She is a retired writing teacher and has published nine collections of poetry.  Wagner said she wants “to find ways to reach out to people who don’t usually read poetry or think they like it.”  If you like poetry or not, you will enjoy this conversation with Maryfrances.          
     David has asked Vern to lead this discussion.

Quotations selected, and questions written, by David Nelson

Releasing Conversation: “Poetry is a type of literature based on the interplay of words and rhythm. It often employs rhyme and meter (a set of rules governing the number and arrangement of syllables in each line). In poetry, words are strung together to form sounds, images, and ideas that might be too complex or abstract to describe directly.” [LiteraryTerms.net] “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” [Shelley] Share your name and speak a few words about your favorite poem.

1. “Glimmering with the physical things of the world, offering a stepladder to the possible, Wagner’s fifth collection takes us back to awe and wonder.” [Jo McDougall.] What does that mean to you? What would you add in defining poetry and teaching poetry?

2. Maryfrances, could you tell us a few steppingstones” in your life that has brought you to this honor? When did you first flirt with poetry? What events have been significant in your personal and professional journey that you wish to share with those of us on this Zoom gathering? Who are some of the poets you admire? How often do you read poetry? Do you write poetry every day? 

3. “The Missouri Poet Laureate enriches Missourians’ lives throughout the state by fostering the reading and writing of poetry, through public appearances, readings, workshops, and digital and social media. “As Poet Laureate,” Ms. Wagner says, “I’d like to find ways to reach out to people who don’t usually read poetry or even think they like it.” [Missouri Arts Council Web site]. Tell us about being Missouri’s Poet Laureate. What has been different during this period of your life? What has been the response from the public? How as Covid impacted your time as Poet Laureate?

4. “Specific poetic forms have been developed by many cultures, in more developed, closed or ‘received’ poetic form, the rhyming scheme, meter and other elements of a poem are based on set of rules. Common forms widely used across languages: Sonnet, Shi, Villanelle, Limerick, Tanka, Haiku, Khlong, Ode, Ghazal . . . . Poetry is often thought of in terms of different genres: Narrative, Lyric, Epic, Satirical, Elegy, Verse, Dramatic, Speculative, Prose, Light, Slam.[Wikipedia]. Poetry has played major roles in human history. Religions have used poetry in liturgy and ritual. Revolutions have been empowered, wars have been fought, unions have been made and destroyed, life and death has been honored, humor has been embodied; all this through poetry. What is it about poetry that has made it so central to the human story?

5. “Like most poets, I’ve wanted to touch the human spirit and move the reader. That’s what I want to happen to me as well when I read a poem. Not every poem is easily accessible, and not every poem will have the same impact on a person, but poems abound out there for all of us. I want to help find those poems for people.” [IN KC.] How do you “find those poems for people”? Are there types of poems that appeal to different types of people? Is there a way to discover poetry that will help me “touch the human spirit and move” me?

6. In your recent book, The Immigrants’ New Camera: A Family Collection, you introduce and reflect on a unique culture, a specific family, and several interesting places. I found myself not only learning more about you but also remembering more about myself. One example is “My Mother’s White Lies.” Talk about how living a specific life unites or divides you and others from the realities of others. Can poetry be a force in reuniting a divided community?

7. Poetry, like other art, is more about what is heard and seen than what is written or pictured. That is my opinion, anyway. The “art form method” of discussion helps us to listen to more than words. While we listen, would you read out loud your poem “Raising a Hand” (page 55)? After the reading, I will ask others “What words did you hear? What did you feel? What experiences were you reminded of from your own life?

8. Amanda Gorman in her poem “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s inauguration brought tears of hope to many in this nation and the world. The nation paused for a moment and for many we felt like a united and special people. Where else have you witnessed poetry serve to heal, motivate, empower, challenge, or inspire?

NOTE: David says, We are hoping that beginning in May we will meet both at the library and by Zoom. I have been thrilled to have participants from outside the greater Kansas City area who attend and do not want to lose them.

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#vcMay
May 11 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom & In-Person --   (Notes from last month)
Zoom:  Meeting ID: 832 3534 6541 Passcode: 076621

Banning Books in libraries and schools.

Instead of one book, be amazed by the variety of books currently on the list for removing from school libraries.  Look over the list and read one or several and come to share your insight and opinion on this current issue. 

This will be a hybrid  event -- since the pandemic, the first time back at the MidContinent Library, Antioch Branch, in person and also on Zoom.

The following books will be available at the library (ask for Vital Conversations or David Nelson): To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Lord of the Flies by Willian Golding, Animal Farm by George Orwell, 1984 by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

The following books have been selected and will be discussed:
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History & Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale:  And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
All Boys Are Not Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Book banning is the most widespread form of censorship in the United States, with children’s literature being the primary target.  Advocates for banning books fear that children will be swayed by its contents, which they regard as potentially dangerous.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove them from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

According to a new American Library Association report, there were 330 “book challenges” in the fall of 2021, an uptick from the same periods in recent years.  “Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades.”  New York Times

Questions: 
* What is this book about?  Give a brief synopsis.  Why do some want it banned?  Articulate the argument.  What is your opinion?
* What is the role of librarians? Parents? Library Boards? School Districts? Newspapers? Television?
* How do you choose which books to read and share with others?  Where do individual rights end and group rights take over?
* What are our responsibilities as parents and citizens?  What can we do influence others?

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#vcJun8
June 8 Wednesday 1-2:30pm    
Zoom:  Meeting ID: 832 3534 6541 Passcode: 076621


Russian Aggression Against Ukraine. With several Ukrainians and Russians present we will have a conversation about their histories, the current war and why this is important to us.  To prepare for this conversation you can read, watch the news, visit with your friends, and engage with others.  Below are listed three books.  One is a non-fiction by a journalist.  One is a novel.  One is a complete history.

Discussion items include:
Name the dimensions of the crisis in Ukraine.  Why is a war happening?
What is the historical relationship between Russia and Ukraine?
What is Putin’s justification in invading Ukraine?
What is the role of religion in this situation?
How can we be allies for a more peaceful world?
What can we do right now?  What are some actionable items?


Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine by Sophie Pinkham.

Ukraine has rebuilt itself repeatedly in the last century, plagued by corruption, poverty, and substance abuse; ravaged by ethnic clashes and Russian aggression.

Sophie Pinkham saw all this and more in the course of ten years working, traveling, and reporting the Maidan revolution of 2013-14, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the current war against Russian invasion.

Sophie has current articles in The New York Times.

 
Brisbane: A Novel by Eugene Vodolazkin. 
     In this richly layered novel by the winner of Russia’s biggest literary prizes, a celebrated guitarist robbed of his talent by Parkinson’s disease seeks other paths to immortality.  Expanding the literary universe spun in his earlies novels, Vodolazkin explores music and fame, belonging and purpose, time and eternity.  At the stunning finale of Brisbane, all the carefully knit stitches unravel into a riddle: Whose story is it – the subject’s or the writer’s? Are art and love really no match for death?  Is Brisbane, the city of our dreams, our only hope for the future?
   
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine revised edition by Serhii Plokhy. 
     A Ukraine is embroiled in an ongoing struggle with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence, this celebrated historian explains that today’s crisis is a case of history repeating itself: the Ukrainian conflict is only the latest in a log history of turmoil over Ukraine’s sovereignty.  This revised edition includes ne material that brings this definitive history up to the present, from the election of Volodymyr Zelensky to the tole of Ukraine in Trump’s impeachment.  As Ukraine once again find itself at the center of global attention, Plokhy brings its history to vivid life as he connects the nation’s past with its present and future.

 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links


by  




























 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links 


by  

WARNING: Spoiler transferred from Goodreads to this page.

This novel's unique feature is to include a fictional account of the 1930s Ukrainian Holodomor. The book’s story alternates between two separate narrative chains. The first narrative takes place in the early 2000s in the USA and features a grieving widow who together with her young daughter is having difficulty recovering from the death of her husband from a car accident that occurred about a year earlier. The second narrative takes place in the early 1930s Ukraine where a young bride faces trauma and shock when her family’s way of life is brutally changed during the collectivization of their rural village.

Seventy years later that Ukrainian bride is now the grandmother of the young grieving American widow. For many years the grandmother has repressed the traumatic memories of her past and has withheld any mention of it to her family. But now this aging grandmother is developing symptoms of dementia, and those memories from long ago are beginning to arise. Furthermore, she perceives that her granddaughter and great granddaughter could benefit by learning about her experience recovering from trauma all those many years ago.

The grieving widow of the early 2000s is now living with her grandmother in order to help protect her from possible self harm caused by the on-coming signs of dementia. Consequently, she becomes aware of her grandmother’s journal written in Ukrainian many years earlier. With assistance from a friend the journal is translated into English which provides the needed inspiration for the young widow to look to—and live for—the future.

There is a first love, a lost love, and a new love in both narrative chains, so the book can be classified as a bitter-sweet romance. Its plain and direct vernacular can also put it in the young adult category, which of course can be enjoyed by older adults as well. The author includes occasional references to Ukrainian folk traditions, food, and art so the book is educational in many ways. However, the book’s most unique feature is to provide a personal up close description of life, death, and love in Ukraine during the 1930s.

The part of the story that takes place in Ukraine contains repeating ominous foreboding that the already bad events and conditions will continue to get even worse. For a hint about what takes place, check out this spoiler:

(view spoiler)

[The following description of the early 1930s Ukraine is excerpted from the nonfiction history book The Gates of Europe, by Serhii Plokhy.

Altogether, close to 4 million people perished in Ukraine as a result of the famine, more than decimating the country—every eighth person succumbed to hunger between 1932 and 1934.

Portions of this story will bring you to tears. However, the book also contains romance and parent-child love which will make you feel good. Late in the book the story contains a poignant heart warming communication between great-grandmother and great-granddaughter. And the very end of the Epilogue contains a final surprise.  

The Author's Note at the end of the book describes some interesting parallels between her own family's history and the book's story. Here's a link to a message from the Author:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4598826456
 

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#vcJul
July 13 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.
Zoom:  Meeting ID: 832 3534 6541 Passcode: 076621

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Dante can swim, Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other -- and the power of their friendship – canAri and Dante emerge stronger on the other side. 

Questions for discussion
     > Do people always have to understand the people they love?  Why or why not?
     > What characteristics are most admirable in a close friend?

Here is A Reading Group Guide to: Aristotle and Dante.  Enjoy.

 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links 

This is a novel that explores the world of teenage angst among two male friends dealing with their slow discovery leading to acceptance of mutually homosexual feelings. The two friends happen to also be of Mexican ancestry living in 1980s El Paso, Texas, so there's a bit of an exploration of that cultural setting. But it's fair to say that neither of these young men fit comfortably in the surrounding youth culture and instead lean toward being nerds.

Typical teenage feelings and emotions are dealt with in the book's story including parental relationships and anger. But the feature that gives the book uniqueness is its description of a budding homosexual friendship. The fact that it takes place in the South in the late 1980s adds additional poignancy to the story because the social environment then was less accepting than today. The author has chosen to give these young men parents who are open minded and accepting which makes it possible for the story to end with optimistic and positive vibes.

SPOILER [I am a supporter of LGBTQ rights, and they deserve to have novels written about their own romantic experiences. However, books of the romance genre require some emotional identification on the part the reader if the book's plot is to be fully appreciated. Reading from the perspective of a heterosexual, I was hoping the book's lesson would be that two young men could be friends even if they had differing sexual inclinations. In the end that was not the direction taken by the book's conclusion, consequently my disappointment hindered my ability of fully appreciate the book's story.]

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#vcAug
August 10  Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  and in person. 
Religion and the Critical Mind: A Journey for Seekers, Doubters, and the Curious by Anton K. Jacobs
     Anton Jacobs is a friend and ally with several of us who attend and participate in Vital Conversations.  He has taught in a variety of local colleges and learning places and offered leadership in The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council.  In a time when critical thinking appears to be under attack, it seems appropriate to focus together with Anton on the role of religion.  He outlines and invites us to think with some curious minds from the past as he leads us to our own thinking about religions’ role in our lives.  His book, although out of print, is available.  Amazon had several copies when I was typing this.  There were several other links for you to find his publication for you to read before joining in our Vital Conversation with Anton.  --David

Anton writes:
Friends: I understand that we're talking about my book, Religion and the Critical Mind, on August 10. Coincidentally, I'm in the process of revising and enlarging that book. So, insofar as you have the time and wherewithal while reading the book, I would much appreciate it if you would email questions and criticisms you think I should consider while revising it. I'll have someone taking notes on August 10th, but something might be missed that is important for the revision and enlargement. My email: antonkjacobs@gmail.com
Many blessings.
Anton

0 Releasing Conversation:  David Brooks, in his New York Times column July 29, wrote, “Everybody is grabbing from the world bits and pieces of thought and fashion that they can mishmash into their personal way of being.  The more sources you borrow from, the more interesting your self is likely to be.”  Share two or three of the sources you have borrowed from to be the interesting person you are today.  Who have you admired and borrowed from to have the wisdom and thoughts you have today?

1. “This study is for thoughtful people who want to live authentic, integrated, and responsible lives of faith in this postmodern world but who still struggle with serious doubts about their faith and their commitments.” (5)  Why did you write this book?  Why did you read this book?  What does critical theory mean to you?  Why is “critical theory” so threatening to some people today?

2. “The rule here is simple and reasonable: give them (religious criticisms) a fair hearing.  In so far as they are untrue, forget’em.  Insofar as their truthfulness cannot be determined, admit it.  In so far as they are true, however, we need to know it, and our faith-claims and religious practices need to be informed, perhaps even disciplined, by their insights.” (27) Share how your religious understanding has changed in your lifetime.  Did the change come from self-discovery/ experience or by reading what others shared?

3. “The Renaissance awakened a humanistic spirit of open inquiry and reflection that would not go back to sleep.  When the Enlightenment arrived, its greatest contributions would be in the realms of political, economic, and social thought, but it would of necessity be defined in large part in opposition to faith and religion.” (49) Was the Enlightenment a gift or a curse on the human journey?  Make the case for your answer.

4. Voltaire “If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other’s throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace.” (65) If religious diversity worked in England in the 18th century, why is it so difficult in The United States in the 21st century?

5. “I think Nietzschean critique is useful wherever religion, in its historical forms, has channeled sacred awe into fearmongering, affirmations of servile helplessness, and legitimation of domination.” (103) Have you experienced religion that does these things?  Share some examples.

6. “To take Durkheim seriously is to recognize that our religious sentiments get all mixed up with our cultural, collective sense of self.  One of the more obvious egregious examples – one about which I think everyone would today agree—was seen in the religious justification of American slavery.” (119) How much of the difficulties we associate with religion are also very mixed up with culture?

7. “That religion in history could have been identified as oppressive (Voltaire), alienating (Marx), duplicitous (Nietzsche), socially legitimating (Durkheim), psychologically regressive (Freud), and harmful (Russell) points to the reality that it has had the power to do these things.” (164). Which of the critics of religion Anton discusses in this book to you find most challenging? Most helpful? Most accurate? 

8. “I would confess that I love religion.  The ritual, the theological struggles to understand the Divine and the relationship between the Divine and humanity, the piety of the devoted, the poetry of religious writing, the pageantry of religious ritual – I find religion exciting and inspiring, sometimes also boring and depressing, but almost always alluring.” (175)

Ten Meta-Theological Claims.
  • There is inherent in human experience a sense of the sacred.
  • The Holy is ultimately incomprehensible.
  • Religion is a social institution.
  • Faith is a matter of ultimate concern.
  • Faith is a matter of letting go.
  • Faith grows best in a community.
  • Belief (i.e., theology) is a journey, not a destination.
  • Worship is a matter of the heart.
  • The experience of the Holy gives rise to a sense of incongruity between the Sacred and the world that calls to action.
  • The experience of the Holy give rise to a sense of solidarity with all of humanity.

 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links 

This book provides a history of criticism made against religion by highlighting its famous critics beginning with selected Old Testament prophets (Elijah, Isaiah, Amos) who offered criticism from within and Greek and Roman philosophers (Epicurus, Lucretius) who gave their criticism from without. The book moves on to the Renaissance/Reformation era (Erasmus, Luther) and acknowledges the Radical Reformation (Anabaptists).
     From that beginning the book then devotes one chapter each to Voltaire, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, and Bertrand Russel. A penultimate chapter discussing postmodernism is provided before a final chapter in which the author give his "case for faith and religion." All of these highlighted critics of religion were versions of being atheist (debatable in Voltaire's case). Durkheim, though an atheist, recognized a societal value provided by religion while the others thought the world could be a better place without religion.
     Each of the chapters provide a biographical historical overview of the chapter's character and a description of their philosophical positions which is then followed with "some reflection" offered by the author. In general these reflections are the author noting the particular type or view of religion to which that particular critic is addressing his critique. The criticism offered by each individual described by this book has merit (in my opinion) when considering their social context and their perception of religion. Late in the book the author suggests that these critics are not the enemies of religion, but rather "they are the kind of prophetic antagonists religion needs to keep it honest."
     I was glad to read in the second from last chapter that the concept of postmodernism is confusing because that is how I have experienced the concept. A common definition is "there is no ultimate truth." Somehow that doesn't quite capture its complexity.
Postmodern thought is multi-faceted, involving countless esoteric interdisciplinary theses and debates about every aspect of life ... .(p.161)

Postmodern thought is considerably more nuanced, varied, and conflicted than I have presented it. ... [I] have identified these three themes as typically present in postmodern thought: (1) There seems to be no transcendental and ultimate grounding for claims to truth; (2) the world is fragmented by competing and conflicting interests with no universally accepted formula for mediating between interests; and (3) the power of domination is subtle and frequently "hidden."(p.162)
This leads to the final chapter where the author makes a reply to the previously discussed history of criticism with his own "case for faith and religion." After providing some clarification of definitions the author provides a thorough discussion of his ten claims "toward an open-and-critical faith" which are listed below.

1. There is inherent in human experience a sense of the sacred.
2. The Holy is ultimately incomprehensible.
3. Religion is a social institution.
4. Faith is a matter of ultimate concern.
5. Faith is a matter of letting go.
6. Faith grows best in a community.
7. Belief (i.e., theology) is a journey, not a destination.
8. Worship is a matter of the heart.
9. The experience of the Holy gives rise to a sense of incongruity between the Sacred and the world that calls to action.
10. The experience of the Holy gives rise to a sense of solidarity with all of humanity.


The author reviews the aforementioned claims from the perspective of a Christian background and Western thought. However, he presents them is a way that they can be adapted to other faith traditions and cultures.

I received a copy of this book from the author for purposes of review. It it my understanding that he plans to update and republish the book in the near future.

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#vcSep 
September 14 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom  and in person. 
The Mountains Sing: A Novel
by Nguyen Phan Que Mai.
     Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Vietnam, this novel brings to life the human costs of this war from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope. 
     “A luminous, complex family narrative that spans nearly a century of Vietnamese history…the novel resembles a choral performance with multiple voices.”  I have ten copies of this novel you can borrow from me given to us by the Estes Valley Library where it was the “One Valley – One Book” read.  
     David writes--
We all have a "Vietnam Story." Some of you served in the US military in Vietnam. Some of you were part of protests against war. Some have read about this time in America and remember parents and others talk about Vietnam. Many of us know Vietnamese who have become part of our community and our friends and family. This book shares a story from a woman who experienced it first-hand.  You can hear her on this YouTube podcast. I still have books to hand out if you would like one to read.  Just contact me and I will bring it if you are in the area.
 
84 Poet and Author of The Mountains Sing - Nguyen Phan Que Mai
https://youtu.be/578Vx4KazrI

Releasing Conversation: Share your name and briefly share your “Vietnam Story.”

1. “I smiled, enchanted whenever proverbs were embedded in conversations. Grandma had told me proverbs were the essence of our ancestors’ wisdom, passed orally from one generation to the next, even before our written language existed.” (15) I list several below and you may have found others.
     A. “Intact leaves safeguard ripped leaves. You’re welcome to stay with us at any time.” (15)
     B. “He who sows the wind will reap the storm.” (93)
     C. “Each day of travel earns one basketful of wisdom.” (204)
     D. “Difficulty gives light to wisdom.” (233)
     E. “Fire proves gold, adversity proves men.” (292)

2. “My fingernails dug into my palms. I didn’t care what war meant. I just wanted it to return my mother to me, give me back my father and my uncles, and make our family whole again.” (76) War in Vietnam was brutal to families. North and south were in civil division. Outside armies from several other countries were engaged. For decades it almost became normal. Do you understand Vietnam better after reading this novel? Explain.

3. “I didn’t want to tell you about his death, but you and I have seen enough death and violence to know that there’s only one way we can talk about wars: honestly. Only through honesty can we learn about the truth.” (79) Why are there some who seek to coverup or deny what is painful and embarrassing? 

4. “After my mother had departed with Auntie Duyen, I went out to the backyard, Little House in the Big Woods in my hands. How lucky for this American girl to be anchored by her parents, while mine had drifted so far away. I turned to the final page, where Laura had been snugly in her bed, with her mother in her rocking chair knitting and her father’s music and singing voice filling their cozy home with happiness.” (102) Why was this story so precious? Do you have a book that serves in such a way for you?

5. Read the legend of the “Lake of the Returned Sword” on page 122-123 out loud. “The ancient legend couldn’t be truer. If both Americans and Vietnamese had laid down their weapons, no one would have had to die.” (123) Why do wars continue? Why do so many members of our human family have to die? 

6. “Yes, they dumped plenty of it onto our forests and jungles. To make leaves fall off trees, so they could see us soldiers from the North. But whatever they sprayed also killed small living thing. I didn’t know what the chemical was called, until after the war. It has a beautiful name: Agent Orange.” (127) What else do we know about the use of Agent Orange?

7. “I had hated the Americans and their allies so much before that day. I hated them for dropping bombs on our people, killing innocent civilians. But from that day, I hated the war. What my uncle said made me think. I had resented America, too. But by reading their books, I saw the other side of them – their humanity. Somehow, I was sure that if people were willing to read each other, and see the light of other cultures, there would be no war on earth.” (161) Look at the context of this quote. Why did the uncle change his focus?

8. “The foreigner pointed the gun at me. I was sure he saw me. The helicopter blades had blown the leaves covering me away. I held my breath, waiting for the sounds of gunfire, waiting for terrifying pain to sear through my flesh, waiting for death to take me away. But the man just stared at me – then he shook his head and flicked his hand. The helicopter slowly floated away, and above me was nothing but the brilliant sky. I still wonder who that man was and why he didn’t shoot me. Perhaps he didn’t see that I had a weapon, for I had hidden my AK-47 behind my back. Perhaps he was sick of killing or had turned against the way. Or perhaps he simply thought I was dead, but I know that isn’t true. In that instant we looked into each other’s eyes as if into mirrors.” (162) Ponder that moment. Imagine that moment. Share your thoughts.

9. “I turned to the fire. Human lives were short and fragile. Time and illnesses consumed us, like flames burning away these pieces of wood. But it doesn’t matter how long or short we lived. It mattered more how much light we were able to shed on those we loved and how many people we touched with our compassion.” (299) Share some stories of the lights others had shined on you and the compassion you have witnessed.

10. “When Uncle Minh died, I took my notebook to the back of the house. Squatting on the ground, I wrote for an uncle I’d been robbed of, who was a leaf pushed away from its tree, but at its last moment still struggled to fall back to its roots. I wrote for Grandma, who’d hoped for the fire of war to be extinguished, only for its embers to keep burning her. I wrote for my uncles, my aunt, and my parents, who were helpless in the fight of brother against brother, and whose war went on, regardless of whether they were alive or dead.” (324) Who will you write for? Whose story continues to inspire you to live fully, learn much, laugh often and love well?

 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links 

I was attracted to this novel because it describes Vietnamese history and the Vietnam War from the view of the people living in the North, and it is told in the voice of women. Many of the stories recounted by this book were inspired by the author's own family experiences and those of other Vietnamese she knows.
     The book's narrative brings to life some very human experiences of those who were perceived by most Americans as the enemy, but it is in no way a political defense of the North. There's plenty of criticism of all sides in the war, and this book highlights the misery and damage done to people's lives. It makes it clear that Americans were not the only ones who may have come home from the war suffering from PTSD.
     Many returnees at the war's end had missing limbs, and others simply didn't return. One of the lingering mysteries hovering throughout this book is the unknown fate the 12-year-old narrator's father who had been a Viet Cong (PRG) soldier in the South. Her mother who had been a Viet Cong medic did return at the war's end, but she was changed.
           She was home, but not home, for she was so lost in the war
           she forgot that I was her own daughter.

This book begins with the first person narrative of a twelve-year-old girl witnessing the 1972 bombing of Hanoi, and this girl's narrative is then followed in the first person narration of her Grandmother recounting her experiences going back to the 1930s. From this point these two narratives are told in alternating chapters, one providing a post war narrative and the other giving the underlying history leading up to the war. In this way we as readers are informed of the multigenerational trauma experience by the Vietnamese during the twentieth century.
     The Grandmother's narrative tells of the 1930s French colonial rule, the 1940s Japanese occupation, the 1945 Great Hunger and the 1954 land reform which are parts of Vietnamese history with which most Western readers will be unfamiliar. The story of how the Grandmother fled with five of her six children due to threats to her life resulting from land reform hysteria provides the core drama for this book. The separations and dislocations created by this event stay with the family all through the 1955-1975 Vietnam War and are not resolved until the end of the book in the 80s.
     From the young granddaughter's narrative we learn that she is an aspiring writer which I presume to be the voice of the book's author—who is obviously a writer—describing the sorts of emotion which motivative a writer in their craft.
          When Uncle Minh died, I took my notebook to the back of the house.
          Squatting on the ground, I wrote for an uncle I'd been robbed of,
          who was a leaf pushed away from its tree, but at its last moment still struggled
          to fall back to its roots. I wrote for Grandma, who'd hoped for the fire of war
          to be extinguished, only for its embers to keep burning her. I wrote for my uncles,
          my aunt, and my parents, who were helpless in the fight of brother against brother,
          and whose war went on regardless of whether they were alive, or dead.

     This book is a saga of tribulation tearing away at four generations of a family. But it is also a tribute to the human spirit's ability of live on, the strength of familial love to endure, and in the end the need to forgive.
     At the end of the book there is an essay titled, "Climbing Many Mountains: An essay by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai." I believe it adds poignancy to the book to learn of the author's background that is provided in this essay. Here's A LINK to that essay.

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#vcOct  
October 12 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom only this month -- refresh/reload your browser if zoom link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83235346541 does not work.

A Bookstore Visit -> Steels Used Books in Gladstone. 
    David Steel will introduce himself and his bookstore at 7313 N Oak Trafficway in Gladstone.
     Because of the size of the bookstore, regular participants in Vital Conversations are requested to join in the "location" Zoom meeting.
     Do you have a favorite bookstore, with used books or otherwise? Do you have perhaps a childhood memory of a bookstore or a story about discovering a book as a teen-ager that made a difference in your life? Has your practice of buying books shifted from physical bookstores to  online commerce as the internet has developed? What is the future of bookstores, and particularly used bookstores?
     You are invited to visit and thank David Steel before and/or after October 12 Wednesday 1-2:30 pm.

“Reading is magic and a mysterious activity that feeds the mind, transports the imagination, soothes 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

“The act of reading alters your brain. It does so, first because your thoughts are brain processes. When you read, neural patterns come and go as the words pass before you. Some of those patterns also give rise to memories, subtle molecular changes in cells and the signaling mechanisms that link them. And third, your brain is physically transformed by learning to read. The networks that underlie vision and language are changed.” --Peter Godfrey-Smith NYTimes Book Review 1/14/18

Releasing conversation: Share your name and identify your favorite used bookstore. Briefly tell about the store and why you enjoy visiting it.

Questions for David Steel: Tell us the story of your bookstore. When was it started? How has it changed? How is your store organized? How do you determine what to pay and what to charge? Do you want more used books? Why have many independent bookstores not survived in recent decades?

Questions for general discussion on Zoom: Do you read books online, eBooks, or listen to audio books? What percentage of your reading? What does the future of reading look like to you? Tell us about your reading patterns, habits, and insights.

You can bring your general questions about reading, discussion of books, Vital Conversations, and other related topics. Since there is no specific book assigned for this gathering, we can be a bit more informal about what we talk about.
 

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#vcNov
November 9 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom and in person. 
Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, The Disappointed, and the Disillusioned by Brian D. McLaren
 
   According to McLaren, there is a way to say both yes and no to the question by shifting the focus from whether we stay Christian to how we stay human. Staying human is the challenge we all face at some time in our lives. This book can be a help in responding in a positive way. Brian is a faculty member of The Living School at the Center for Action and Contemplation.

Releasing Conversation:  Share your name and say something about your faith using the categories listed below from page 3-4.

  1. Christianity can be understood historically or culturally, as a legacy you are born into or enter by choice. To be a Christian is to inhabit a cultural or historical tradition.
  2. Christianity can be defined institutionally, as a power structure or hierarchy in which you participate. To be a Christian is to affiliate with an institution and accept its authority structure.
  3.  Christianity can be defined doctrinally, as something you believe. To be a Christian is to affirm a system of beliefs or teachings.
  4. Christianity can be defined liturgically or pragmatically, as a set of rituals you practice. To be a Christian is to engage in some version of Christianity's rituals or practices.
  5. Christianity can be defined spiritually or experientially, as something you feel or a conversion experience you've had. To be a Christian is to have, foster, and share a set of experiences.
  6. Christianity can be defined moralistically, as a shared set of my moral values or precepts. To be a Christian is to live your life by a moral or ethical framework.
  7. Christianity can be defined missionally, as a program, plan, or movement for intentional action in the world. To be a Christian is to be on that mission as your own.
  8. Christianity can be defined demographically, as a sociological or anthropological identity. To be a Christian is to identify yourself a member of a recognized group.
  9. Christianity can be defined politically, as a way of organizing people for political action (or inaction). To be a Christian is to act as part of a coalition with shared theo-political aims.
  10. Christianity can be defined socially, as a community of people in whose presence you feel safe, welcome, needed, accepted, or supported. To be a Christian is to enjoy an experience of social belonging with others who identify as Christian.
  11. Christianity can be defined linguistically, as a shared set of words and ways of communicating.

PART I “NO” pages 1-80
⦁    Because Christianity Has Been Vicious to Its Mother (Anti-Semitism)
⦁    Because of Christianity’s Suppression of Dissent (Christian vs. Christian Violence)
⦁    Because of Christianity’s High Global Death Toll- and Life Toll (Crusader Colonialism)
⦁    Because of Christianity’s Loyal Company Men (Institutionalism)
⦁    Because of Christianity’s Real Master (Money)
⦁    Because of White Christian Old Boys’ Network (White Patriarchy)
⦁    Because Christianity is Stuck (Toxic Theology)
⦁    Because Christianity is a Failed Religion (Lack of Transformation)
⦁    Because of Christianity’s Great Wall of Bias (Constricted Intellectualism)
⦁    Because Christianity Is a Sinking, Shrinking Ship of Wrinkling People (Demographics)

PART II “YES” pages 81-155
⦁    Because Leaving Hurts Allies (and Helps Their Opponents)
⦁    Because Leaving Defiantly or Staying Compliantly Are Not My Only Options
⦁    Because…Where Else Would I Go?
⦁    Because It Would Be a Shame to Leave a Religion in Its Infancy
⦁    Because of Our Legendary Founder
⦁    Because Innocence Is an Addiction, and Solidarity Is the Cure
⦁    Because I’m Human
⦁    Because Christianity is Changing (for the Worse and for the Better)
⦁    To Free God
⦁    Because of Fermi’s Paradox and the Great Filter

PART III “HOW”
“Whether or not you choose to stay Christian, here’s what I recommend: pay attention to your human development, to the stage you’re entering, inhabiting, or leaving…even though a certain form of Christianity solved the problem of one stage, it can become a problem at another, creating a stained-glass ceiling that impedes further growth.” 159-160. Can you illustrate from your own faith journey?  Look at your “steppingstones” along your spiritual journey and share a story.

McLaren draws from Fr. Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Hildegard of Bingen and adds his own thinking to share his four stages: SimplicityComplexityPerplexityHarmony.  “There’s a good chance that your stage of development is in tension with the stage of development of the form of Christianity practiced by your current faith community.” 165 Do you agree or disagree? Make the case for your answer.

“To the degree I inhabit Harmony, I am able to hold the tensions.  I don’t have to accept (or reject) Christianity as The One True Religion as I did in Simplicity.  Nor do I have to sort through all the complexities to ‘fix’ Christianity, creating my own ‘successful’ form of it, as I did in Complexity. Nor do I have to stay in a state of perpetual skepticism and suspicion as I did in Perplexity, holding myself aloof from commitments because no commitment can withstand the acid of my critique…You’re a human being on a human journey of growth and development – whether you stay Christian or not.” 167-168. How do you work at staying human?  What are practices or disciplines that work as you mature?

“I imagine a new kind of Christianity – and a new kind of humanity – that instills and strengthens this nested integration of holy, transcendent desires for the beloved world and all it contains.” 175 What do you imagine a new Christianity and a new humanity would look like in your home, community, nation and world?

“Language, we discovered, was a tool we used to describe reality, but it also could become a substitute for reality.  We might say it was the original form of virtual reality…Christian language was necessary to liberate people from another language, the language of empire and domination…terms like sin, grace, and salvation were woven together in stories, and the stories were woven together in a framing story…what once was liberating can become a cage in which in which we pace, dreaming of freedom.” 177-78. Identify several words that illustrate this point.  What is God’s original word according to our author?  See page 179.

“Being human means we have a past to contend with.  And it also means that in the present, we can chart a new path into the future. . . . Christian or not, coming out is full of challenge.” 205. After reading the six statements on pages 206-07, tell a story of your “coming out”.

Use the prayers on pages 210-12 by yourself or a small group and then reflect on what it means to you and others. “As I see it, to be loyal to God is to be loyal to reality, and to be loyal to reality is to be loyal to God.” 213

“I am learning to be content whatever I am called, as long as I remain passionately eager to embody a way of being human that is pro-justice, pro-kindness, and pro-humility.” 219

 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links 

 If we're talking about staying or leaving Christianity, what definition of "Christianity" are we talking about? I appreciated that fact that the author acknowledged that "Christianity doesn't refer to one simple thing. Like any religion, Christianity is a complex mixture of many different things...". I've copied the eleven different facets of Christianity identified by the author in the following spoiler. (view spoiler)

     The author admits that by the time he finished college he had "affiliated with Christianity on eleven out of eleven markers." But in subsequent years every single marker became "problematized" for him. It is from this background that the author offers the following description of the purpose of this book.

I am not writing this book to convince you (or myself) to stay Christian. Nor am I writing. his book to. convince you (or myself). to leave Christianity identity behind forever. Instead, I want to think through the question of retaining or shedding Christian identity with you looking over my shoulder. And I want us to consider how we are going to live, whether or not we identify as Christian.

The book is divided into three parts; Part I gives reasons to say no to Christian identity, Part II gives reasons to say yes to Christianity, and Part III explores the question of how we're going to live whether or not the decision is yes or no.

Part I is divided into ten chapters providing ten reasons to say no. The chapter titles provide short descriptions of their contents. I've provided the ten chapter titles (i.e. ten reasons to say no) in the following spoiler. (view spoiler)

The author's description of the reasons to say no to Christianity are quite convincing, and people who have already said no to Christianity will find the material in Part I to be a useful articulation of the reasons for their position.

Part II is also divided into ten chapters providing ten reasons to say yes. The chapter titles provide short descriptions of their contents. I've provided the ten chapter titles (i.e. ten reasons to say yes) in the following spoiler. (view spoiler)

Whether the reasons for yes are as convincing as they are for no will probably depend on the reader's existing circumstances. Readers who are members of faith communities with which they are comfortable will find the reasons to say yes to be convincing. Others faced with finding a new community with which they can comfortably identify will most likely not be moved.

Part III strives to encourage readers, regardless of their answer to the question in the title of this book, to be better humans. The author defines this as being "the most just, kind, and humble version of ourselves that we possible can, day by day ... to lean with others into a new humanity, a new generation or new kind of humanity, open to every good resource that can help us, explicitly Christian or not."

Near the beginning of Part III in the "Include and Transcend" chapter, the author has provided a chart that delineates four stages of spiritual maturity. The author suggests that some people who have left Christianity would have been happy moving instead to another stage of spiritual understanding had they known such an alternative existed. Click here to see chart (p. 162-165).

Since I have included the chapter titles of Parts I and II, I have also included chapter titles for Part III in the following spoiler. However, I found these chapter titles less descriptive of their contents than was the case in the other parts.
(view spoiler)

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#vcDec
December 14 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom   and in person. 
Zen and Happiness: Practical Insights and Meditations to Cultivate Joy in Everyday Life by Joshua R. Paszkiewicz
     Life is filled with thrilling highs, crushing lows, and everything in between.  But often, we spend too much time planning for and reacting to our experiences, rather than simply “being” in them.  Zen tradition strips away all your preconceived notions of what is means “to live” and teaches you have to let go and be present so you can find bliss in the everyday.  After reading a variety of books about Buddhist, I found this one to be especially refreshing and enlightening.  It is a simple, yet profound, guidebook you can use in both your busy and your relaxed life.  Joshua, a multireligious cleric and scholar who trained in Zen traditions in Japan, Korea and Vietnam, will be with us to share his journey and wisdom.

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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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#QuizAnswers
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1. What religion uses the Tanakh? Judaism.  Tanakh is an acronym of the first Hebrew letter of each parts Torah (Teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings)— TaNaKh.
2. Name one sacred text of Hinduism. Vedas. Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, etc.
3. What Qur’an is the chief text for Islam. What is the secondary? Hadith.
4. In its examination of responses to 9/11, what metro area did CBS TV select to feature on his half-hour special? Kansas City.
5. What are the four Noble Truths of Buddhism? 1 dukkha “suffering” 2 tanha “clingling” 3 nirodha “cessation" 4 marga “the path.”
6. What are the first two clauses of the First Amendment? No establishment of religion, no prohibition on free exercise.
7. What were the main religions of slaves brought to the US? Christianity, Islam, tribal.
8. How many mosques does the Kansas City area have? More than 20.
9. How many Hindu temples does the Kansas City area have? At least two plus a Vedanta Center.
10. What major religion observed a major festival July this year and why does its date vary? Islam, Hajj. The Muslim calendar is based on the moon, not the sun.
11. Martin Luther King Jr took inspiration from a leader of what non-Christian faith? Gandhi, Hindu.
12. When was the earliest Muslim presence in North America? 1528 Moroccan slave, Estevanico, traveled through much of the American southwest.Later, the Virginia statute of 1682 mentions Moors.
13. What religion uses a 9-pointed star as its symbol? Baha’i.
14. After contact with what ancient religion were the Hebrew people called Jews? Zoroastrian.
15. What is the largest Muslim country in the world? Indonesia.
16. What was the key to social order in Confucian teaching? ritual, ceremony (modeling behavior)
17. What religion typically and reverentially emphasizes the relation between plants, animals, humans, and all aspects of the landscape? Many American Indian traditions are like this.
18. What religion’s main divisions are Shvetambar and Digambara, and how do they visibly differ?  Jainism; Shvetambar wear white clothes; Digambara are "sky-clad" (nude).
19. A leader of one religion famously said his faith had no theology; rather it had dance. He offered a prayer for the Challenger astronauts. What was his religion? Shrine Shinto (Tsubaki).
20. What religion is renowned for its fighters, especially during the 19th Century? Sikhism.
21. What are the three largest religions on the planet? Christianity, Islam, Hinduism.
22. What are the three most important religions in the US? Christianity, Islam, Judaism.
23. What metro area was selected by Harvard’s Pluralism Project and Religions For Peace-USA at the UN Plaza for the nation’s first “Interfaith Academies” for religious professionals and for students?  Kansas City.
24. The major American divisions in Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Which was the first to organize here? Reform.
25. Zubin Mehta, emeritus music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, comes from what religious tradition? Zoroastrian.

     
     






 
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