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

General Announcements Link to eBlast Archive
1982 - 2012 Archive on request About CRES participation
On-line Archived Program Announcements and Reports
2022  2021   2020   2019   2018   2017   2016   2015   2014   2013

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

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

On the Death of
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
1927 - 2022  ::  r. 2005-2013
     The efforts of Benedict XVI to repair and strengthen interfaith and inter-Christian cooperation call forth admiration and praise.
     His identification of secularism's evils and capitalistic excesses should not only to be recalled but heeded.
     While disagreements with any religious leader might always be possible, one could never doubt the good will and devotion of Pope Benedict XVI.
Vern Barnet, CRES minister emeritus
David Nelson, senior associate minister

Robert T Stephan, 1933-2023
Our friend, former four-term Kansas Attorney-General Bob Stephan, accepting the CRES award from Board president Joe Archias at the Rime Buddhist Center at the 2005 Annual Thanksgiving Sunday Ritual Meal. The award reads, "CRES gives thanks for Robert T Stephan who in public and private life has provided leadership and inspiration celebrating religious liberty and personal integrity."
     As a child, Bob experienced religious prejudice and worked endlessly as judge, as the longest- serving attorney-general in Kansas history, and as citizen to promote human dignity and justice, and to relieve suffering. He worked especially on consumer protection and the rights of victims. He was courageous as he answered political smears and in his repeated contests with painful cancer; and his amazing quick wit and humor brought perspective and delight to those around him. He died January 2. Our deepest condolences to his beloved wife, Marilynn, and family.

CRES supports Dr Erika López Prater, along with the Middle East Studies Association, the Medieval Academy, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and other organizations and (so far) over ten thousand knowledgeable academic and religious leaders -- and thanks Prof Christiane Gruber, PhD, for helping us to protest against Hamline University for dismissing Dr López Prater because of a complaint over the inclusion of an honored painting in her art history class. The action was not only based in ignorance of the subject and situation, the teacher was afforded no due process to respond.

Here is a link to the 2023 January 8 New York Times story, A Lecturer Showed a Painting of the Prophet Muhammad. She Lost Her Job.  After an outcry over the art history class by Muslim students, Hamline University officials said the incident was Islamophobic. But many scholars say the work is a masterpiece.

Here is a link to Prof Gruber's article about the dispute in New Lines Magazine. She is professor of Islamic art in the History of Art Department at the University of Michigan. Here is a link to the statement by Eboo Patel, one of America's most highly regarded Muslim and interfaith leaders, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Muslim Public Affairs Council has strongly supported the Dr López Prater. Even the statement in support of Dr López Prater by the more conservative Council on American-Islamic Relations, while it supports the right of students to raise the issue, notes that views about the depiction of the Prophet vary within Islam and that the circumstances of this cases make the charge of Islamophobia against Dr López Prater unfair.  

Here is a link to updates.

CRES condemns Islamophobia and, in this case, laments the student's ignorance of Islam and the student's shameful organization of other students who had no first-hand knowledge of the situation to pressure the school into an unexamined response. The response from the Hamline administration is reprehensible. Here is an NBC News story.  Here is a story from Minnesota Public Radio. Here is a link to an article in the Atlantic. Here is a story from the Washington Post.

UPDATE, January 17-- "Hamline University officials made an about-face on Tuesday in its treatment of a lecturer who showed an image of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class, walking back one of their most controversial statements — that showing the image was Islamophobic. They also said that respect for Muslim students should not have superseded academic freedom." --NYTimes
      Dr López Prater's suit against the school continues because of devasting harm to her and her career. She plans to teach at Macalester College in the spring.
A compilation of comment at InterfaithAmeica.

Islamic Art . . . for understanding . . . the Muslim World

Historic debate over Christian images

Panelists discuss Hamline controversy


King Holiday Essay —  2023 January 16
     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.
     Bill Tammeus writes about King's visits to Kansas City here.
     Vern writes:
     I remember meeting King in a church basement in Washington, DC, the year before he was assassinated. I remember his appearance was delayed quite a while as his team checked the church for threats and dangers, as those of us gathered to hear him hoped to see him alive. It was a dark time. I remember his brilliant analysis of Vietnam, and particularly its effect on young Black men.
     I was a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School when he was assassinated. The next Sunday was Palm Sunday, April 7, and I was to be a guest preacher. I remember struggling to find something uplifting to say, and thankfully, able to rely on King's teachings and his  public ministry in the context of the Christian story. I used a recording of the April 3 "Mountain Top" speech in many sermons in the following months.
     I remember studying the writings and speeches of King, with their eloquence and depth. Each year I continue to reread the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, which every year renews me with astonishment. I also especially cherish his last sermon, March 31, at the Washington National Cathedral, a few days before his assassination. And I claim King also as an exemplar of interfaith respect, which is why I wrote this essay.

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.


CRES senior associate minister David Nelson enjoys the company of Alvin Brooks, the recipient of the Invictus Award for Social Justice at William Jewell College in a ceremony honoring Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. January 16 at the school's John Gano Memorial Chapel. The 39th annual King Celebration was sponsored by the Clay County African American Legacy and the Northland Martin Luther King, Jr. Program Committee.

February 22 Wednesday 4-6 pm, Al will be the featured guest during Black History Month at the observance of the 125th anniversary of the Westport Branch Library, which he mentions in the Acknowledgements in his memoir, Binding Us Together: A Civic Rights Activities Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service, copies of which will be available for purchase and signing. A video made in January with Al and CRES minister emeritus Vern Barnet will be screened during the celebration.

Sufi talisman (Louvre) and Dore's Dante Paradiso Canto 31
Islamic and Christian mysticism
Forrest Pierce and Kurt Knecht in Dialogue
new compositions for organ and voice by them both
w i t h s o p r a n o Sarah Tannehill Anderson
Pierce: Verses of Light Meditation on Qur'an 24:35 (ayat an-nur) by Neil Douglas-Klotz -- 20 minutes
Knecht: I am my beloved's (from The Song of Solomon) -- 12 minutes

St Paul's Episcopal Church, 11 E 40th, KCMO
2023 February 9 Thursday 7 pm, free    
YouTube recording - 1 hr 40 min

Forrest Farhad Pierce teaches composition at
the University of Kansas and is a practicing Sufi.
     Kurt Knecht is St Paul's organist and a composer with a long time interest in Christian mysticism and contemplative practices.


When Even Evil 
Will Ordain the Good 

2022: Mar 2, 9, 16, 23
Thursdays, 6 pm meal 
6:30 program

Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd 
4947 NE Chouteau Drive, 
Kansas City,  MO 64119 
(816) 452-0745  
Lenten Series:
Lent is a special time to explore the powerful mysteries of the crucified and resurrected love of the Christian Savior. As terrain for this exploration, the Reverend Vern Barnet, DMn, offers sonnets from the 
“Credo” section his book, Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire with art and music for discussion.
     Vern wrote the Wednesday "Faith and Beliefs" column 1994-2012 for The Kansas City Star and has written a dozen essays for the diocesan magazine, Spirit, 2015-2017. He is a layman at Saint Paul's Episcopal Church and he has served the Episcopal churches in many capacities, including on the diocesan Commission on Ministry. He is minister emeritus at CRES — the Center for Religious Experience and Study, a ministry to the interfaith community in the area. He founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989.
     Free copies of the book will be given to class members to celebrate the publication of the second edition if it is ready in March. Copies of the sonnets for the series will be supplied for each session.
Mar 2 - The Jesus of History or the Christ of Faith?
Mar 9 - A Paradox of Salvation
Mar 16 - The Gospel Theater
Mar 23 - The Mystic Vision

Download the 8-page study guide in PDF
Download the 8-page Sonnets booklet in PDF
Readings: Theme Sonnet 82
Mar 2: Sonnet 79  
Mar 9: Sonnet 80 (perhaps also 85
Mar 16: Sonnet 84  
Mar 23: Sonnet 86 (perhaps also 88)


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

Two views of an icon of Christ teaching ("written" by Thomas J Dolphens)
and Diego Velázquez’s
"Christ after the Flagellation contemplated by the Christian Soul"

Mar 2 and Mar 9
theme music for Mar 9: Bernstein Candide "The Best Of All Possible Worlds"

A modern enactment of the crucifixion. Mar 16
theme music: John Tavener "The Lamb"

Dali's "Last Supper" Mar 23
theme music "Third Tune" by Thomas Tallis
an instrumental version  -  a choral version  -   Fantasia by RVW
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8oKEx1-J1w -    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD5TG8z3-SM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihx5LCF1yJY - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0AuHYNj8qQ

Book Banning
In response to a page 1, 2023 March 24 story in The Kansas City Star,
I wrote the reporter the following note. I sent the second paragraph
 with an introduction to the Superintendent of the School district,
and received a favorable reply.

Thank you for your story about books being pulled from library shelves. It is important that the public know about the power exercised by this one mom against the professional judgment of those charged with making reading materials available to growing human beings. Your article is a public service of importance.

I worry that parents who are concerned about certain books in school libraries fail to evaluate the context in which passages which trouble them appear, and do not understand the use students may make of such books as they further their education. Why do these parents not seek to ban the Bible, which contains disturbing accounts of masturbation, rape, incest, adultery, attempted filicide, wanton murder, destruction of property, homosexuality, abortion, advice to hate parents, polygamy, and human sacrifice? The Bible is an essential product of Western civilization, and Shakespeare's plays, including Romeo and Juliet are part of the literary canon, but newer books may more immediately and accessibly speak to a young person's growing awareness of oneself and the world. All sorts of professionally evaluated reading materials should be available on library shelves to illumine the lives and understandings of young people.
Vern Barnet


"Religion" Detail-mural-lunette-series Charles Sprague Pearce, 1897

Vern visits with Dr Rebecca Johnson's Central Seminary students
about "Worship" 2023 March 30 Thursday 6:15p 

     1. That which is always and everywhere true (God’s grace) must at some time and some place with some folks be noticed, accepted, and celebrated.

     2. That which is without form must be put into form (incarnation) in order to be known.

     3a. Only by separating ourselves from the world can we be united with it.
     3b. God veils himself in order to reveal himself.
     3c. A temple is sacred space reminding us that everywhere is sacred space.

     4a. The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. The liturgy "means foregoing maturity with all its purposefulness, and confining oneself to play, as David did when he danced before the Ark." —Romano Guardini
     4b. For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. . . .For we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance. —Thomas Merton
     4c. "The holy, or 'numinous,' to use the term Otto has coined, is something beyond rational and ethical conceptions." —Thomas F O'Dea
     4d. "In the form and function of play, itself an independent entity which is senseless and irrational, man’s consciousness that he is embedded in a sacred order of things finds its first, highest, and holiest expression." —Johan Huizinga
     4e. "Only when one is playing is one wholly human.” —Friedrich Schiller

     5a. Worship requires a playful “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge
     5b. “The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction, and that you believe it willingly.” —Wallace Stevens
     5c.  “It is as meaningless to ask whether one believes or disbelieves in Aphrodite or Ares as to ask whether one believes in a character in a novel; one can only say that one finds them true or untrue to life. To believe in Aphrodite and Ares merely means that one believes that the poetic myths about them do justice to the forces of sex and aggression as human beings experience them in nature and in their own lives.” —W H Auden
     5d. Vico's Verum factum principle — that truth is not observed but constructed.
     5e. "At the end of the Twelfth Century a Latin theologian, Berengarius of Tours, was condemned for his teaching on the Eucharist. He maintained that because the presence of Christ in the Eucharist elements is ‘mystical’ or ‘symbolic,’ it is not real. The Lateran Council . . . condemned him and . . . simply reversed the formula. It proclaimed that since Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is real, it is not ‘mystical.’ . . . Western theology thus declared that . . . [the] ‘mystical’ or ‘symbolic’ is not real, whereas . . . [the] ‘real’ is not symbolic. This was . . . the collapse of the fundamental Christian mysterion, the antinomical ‘holding together’ of the reality of the symbol and of the symbolism of reality, . . . a collapse of . . . Christian . . . ontological sacramentality." —Alexander Schmemann

6. Barnet’s Stages of Disclosure
adapting Merlin Donald’s Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition

     1. Episodic — unitive, concrete, immediate
     2. Mimetic — ritual, liturgy
     3. Narrative — myth, sacred story
     4. Cognitive — creed, theological formulations
     5. Modern — secularism produces literalism
     6. Postmodern — crypto-sacred cf ¶5

7. Basic Styles or Formats of Corporate Christian Worship
     1. altar-centered, sacramental: liturgical churches (and non-Christian Abraxas)
         which often mark seasons with various colors and have verbal and musical
         forms repeated as part of a set sequence, varied by season 

          * The Christian liturgical 2-part service can be considered patterned
                 after the Emmaus experience  (Luke 24:13–35):
                      1. listening (the Word)
                      2. the meal (Eucharist, Communion, Mass Proper).

          * Liturgical churches construct their annual calendars to retell the large story from which their
                 traditions arise. While other Christian churches may celebrate Christmas and Easter,
                 liturgical churches extend these festivals: Advent>Chriistmas>Epiphany and
                 Lent>Easter>Pentecost and include many other special observances and commemorations. 
          * DAILY offices are seldom observed in parish life, but are part of monastic practice; these may
                 include Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Compline.
          * The Abraxas liturgy enacts a mythic adventure ("hero's journey," "rite of passage") in four acts,
                 patterned from modified 
initiation rituals and pedagogy, variously labeled:
                1. Entering (or Separation or Initiation)
                2. Joining (or Interaction)                
                3. Venturing (or Revelation or Investigation)
                4. Return-Integration
                     In Act I, we enter the sacred presences—-air, gravity, evolution, desire, etc--
                     those processes on which we depend, which have Worth. Yet we do not enter,
                     for we are already sustained by them; rather they may enter our awareness.
                     This leads, in Act II, to a sense of our connection with them, and with one another
                     as we acknowledge our forgetfulness and rediscovery. Thus prepared for the
                     venture itself, in Act III we explore these presences in some particular topic or theme.
                     In Act IV we review the meaning of the hour and ready ourselves for turning again,
the communal worship houir ending, to the world of ordinary living, seen afresh.
                 DAILY Abraxas offices are morning Matins (Nature. primal traditions),
                     noon Eucharist (General Thanksgiving), evening Vespers (Community, monotheistic
                     faiths), and night-time Compline (Self-hood, Asian resources).

     2. pulpit-centered, proclamatory: mainline protestant and evangelical churches
     3. waiting on the spirit
            a. Pentecostal and charismatic churches (with witnessing)
            b. non-program Quaker
            c. Shaker (aleatoric)

8. Some Other Styles
   1. Buddhist temple meditation
   2. Hindu family puja
   3. Jewish synagogue prayer cantor-led
   4. Shrine Shinto practices
   5. Muslim Friday mosque prayer
   6. Primal traditions' practices, such as the American Indian sweat lodge 

Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago


The themes help us focus on kindness in seven different ways, on seven different days.
2023 April 5-13

The SevenDays website gives you
the SevenDays story (with the horrific past
on April 14, 2014), the present, and the future,
the SevenDays events this year, how to get involved, resources, and an opportunity to shop and various sponsorship opportunities.


CRES is glad to have been involved from the very first year with an interfaith panel, and admires the folks and the organization involved for turning tragedy into continuing community benefit by advancing understanding and relationships.


Many faiths flourish in Kansas City

We reprint this column, in print on Easter Sunday in the Kansas City Star, because -- in such a small space -- it so well summarizes the opportunities for those of good will wishing and working for better understanding of the faiths and organizations that enrich our community, one of which, the Interfaith Council,
highlighted in red, was created as a program of CRES.

All of Kansas City must conquer hatred together

Last fall, vandals spray-painted the headquarters of the Dialogue Institute
in Kansas City, Kansas, with symbols including a swastika.  

When vandals ransacked and spray-painted swastikas and other hate symbols  on the headquarters of the Dialogue Institute of Kansas City last fall, people of faith responded quickly and with heart.
    First, they spread the word about what had happened to this Turkish-based Muslim group, which has promoted interfaith understanding here for years. Then they gathered at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood to hear speakers from various religious traditions pledge to stand with the institute and its shocked constituents.  
    That’s what Kansas City’s interfaith community does when slimy hate slides from under rocks to spread revolting messages of bigotry. And it’s been doing that for decades.
    So on this Easter Sunday, I give thanks for this important work symbolized by the overlapping of major religious observances of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam): Lent (Feb. 22-April 6), Passover (April 5-April 13) and Ramadan (March 22-April 20).
    Healthy, generative religion, it turns out, is still immensely important in Kansas City.
    Yes, Christianity still has the most followers here, but America’s changing religious landscape has affected the metro, too, as American Christianity suffers diminishment and as the number of religiously unaffiliated people (called the “nones”) grows.
    Religion’s fingerprints are all over Kansas City’s history. Sometimes in uplifting ways, sometimes far from it.
    That history includes everything from fights over biblical support for slavery to the founding here in the 1890s of Unity, a spiritualist movement, to construction in Independence of the world headquarters of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). As for theological seminaries and Bible colleges, we’ve got a handful of them.
    One organization that has done as much as any other to foster religious education and dialogue is the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, created in 1989 by the Rev. Vern Barnet, long an advocate for religious literacy and cooperation.
    Among other initiatives, the council sponsors the annual Table of Faiths dinner at which the area’s rich heritage of religious diversity is celebrated.
    All of these efforts reveal that the need for reasonable religious voices hasn’t disappeared and may be more necessary than ever as our profound political divisions get reflected in our religions and sometimes result in people of faith dehumanizing others.
    But as the Interfaith Council, the Dialogue Institute, the Good Faith Network of Johnson County and other risk-taking groups seek harmony, several agencies here are dedicated to working against the hatred displayed in racist, antisemitic and homophobic vandalism such as that found on Blue Valley High School’s football stadium press box in January. 
    Immediately after news of that hate crime broke, both the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee and SevenDays, an organization working to overcome hate through education and dialogue, issued not just condemnations of what happened but offers to help heal what was wounded.
    The SevenDays statement included words from Emma Sandler, a Jewish high school senior at Blue Valley. She serves on the SevenDays Kindness Youth Leadership Team, which helps teenagers promote acts of kindness, especially on social media.
    “I am both heartbroken and furious, but will move forward with kindness, not hate,” Sandler said then. (Disclosure: I serve on the boards of both SevenDays and the {Midwest Center for Holocaust Education}, an organization dedicated to teaching about the Holocaust to stop indifference, intolerance and genocide. The annual SevenDays “Kindness Walk” happens next Sunday.)
    This stuff is important to me. It’s why I’ve written about it in more than 5,000 posts on my “Faith Matters” blog since 2004 and in more recent years in my {monthly column for Flatland}, KCPT-TV’s online magazine.
    There I’ve described, among other things, the work of such Black pastors as the Rev. Darron Edwards to seek better police-community relations. Edwards, in fact, is representative of how important religion has been among people of color in Kansas City — and not just for Christians but for others, too, including Muslims, as represented by Imam Sulaiman Z. Salaam Jr. of the Al Haqq Islamic Center.
But whether it’s the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Crescent Peace Society or any other faith-based organization dedicated to making our area more welcoming, the bitter truth is that it’s not been enough. Religious, racial and other hatreds still stalk our sometimes-anarchistic streets. And each of us, whether religious adherents or not, must work to stop it. Today.

     Bill Tammeus is a former Kansas City Star columnist who now writes for Flatland, KCPT-TV’s online magazine. His latest book is “Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety.” Email him at wtammeus@gmail.com. Bill's Blog link appears on the CRES home page in the right-hand column.


Zen Buddhism by Joshua Paszkiewicz
   Zen Buddhism: Your Personal Guide to Practice and Tradition
ISBN 10: 1577153650 / ISBN 13: 9781577153658
Published by Wellfleet Press, 2023

Congratulations to our extraordinary friend Josh (the Most Ven. Joshua R. Paszkiewicz, DHA(c), D.Min, LPC, BCCC, Dipl.CPSP), on his newest publication! He writes: "When I was a kid, B&N was my Shangri-La, and having a book on their shelves was a wild dream of mine; that seems to have come to fruition." We celebrated his earlier book, Zen and Happiness, last year here and it was the subject of Vital Conversations in last December, with quotations and notes here.  
     Although Josh was a seminary student of mine five years ago, I learned more from him than he from me, as did the class. His depth of knowledge of several religious traditions is astonishing. His term paper compared how the koan is used in two distinctly different Buddhist traditions, which almost no one else has the background to do. Josh is not merely a brilliant and wide-ranging academic, he is also a practitioner of humane skill and wisdom.


No one in the Kansas City area has done more to promote interfaith understanding -- as well as addressing racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of prejudice keeping us from seeing one another as sacred children of the universe -- than our friend, Al Brooks. One of the greatest privileges of my life was to help Al with his powerful and fascinating memoir, and now I get to join with others on the planning committee in  inviting CRES friends to his 91st birthday celebration. As Al says, "Be Blessed!"

Please join the Brooks family, Vern, and other friends 
at an open house to celebrate the induction of Al Brooks into
the Black Archives of Mid-America Heritage Hall on his 91st Birthday.


1:00 - 6:00pm

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Black Archives of Mid-America

1722 E 17th Terrace, Kansas City, MO 64108

In lieu of gifts, donations can be made to www.blackarchives.org
The Black Archives is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization


Location: Black Archives of Mid-America Heritage Hall, 1722 E. 17th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64108. The  museum itself is featuring much to see about our friend. The Black Archives staff and volunteers will be help guest register when you arrive. The museum has a large parking lot.

Time: 1-6 pm, May 3 Wednesday, with remarks and the Historic Induction Ceremony at 4 p.m.

Dress: Business casual is preferred.

Food/Beverages: We will be serving hors d'oeuvres and dessert. Bottled water and punch available. Alcoholic drinks have been donated by Beam Suntory -- we will have a “signature cocktail” served during the event. Food and drink are allowed in designated areas.

Book Signing: If you have not had an opportunity to purchase Alvin Brooks’ book Binding Us Together, copies will be for sale in the Black Archives Gift Shop. Al would love to personally sign your book.

Support Alvin Brooks Charities:
     * Metropolitan Community College Penn Valley campus is home to the Brooks Institute. Established in 2000 and named in honor of Alvin Brooks, the Brooks Institute supports the Civil Rights Learning Community, Civil Rights Pilgrimage and Civil Rights/Social Justice Speakers Bureau.
     * Alvin Brooks Center for Faith-Justice at Rockhurst University. The center will house many of the university’s faith-justice related efforts, including a chapel, mission and ministry programs, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs.


On my 81st birthday

As you know, most of my career has been devoted to the question, "What is sacred?" I have sought to bring the various answers to this question from the world's religions to address the three great crises of our time -- environmental, personal, and social.

While I have sought substantial familiarity with the world's faiths, I also have immersed in one. Choosing one was not easy, but as my late friend Huston Smith said, you are more likely to get water by digging one 100-foot well than ten 10-foot wells. Still, the tools for such excavation can be, and in my case, are, the insights from the other traditions.

My 2015 book of 154 sonnets, Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire, (website here) arrayed both the splendor of wisdom from the universe of faiths and the treasures within one (I chose a strange Hellenistic cult which has developed in curious ways over 2,000 years); and seven of the nine sonnets sonnets in the CREDO section of the book use Christian images to explore the most difficult questions of faith. In this and other sonnets, I suggest the old choices -- taking religion literally, or understanding religion symbolically (some might say "metaphysically"), or simply rejecting religion -- do not satisfy me. Rather for me, entering into the narrative, the myth, is life-giving and can guide me forward, even through my failures.

My friend Anton Jacobs wrote me, "The wealth of effort, insight, and erudition in your sonnets deserves serious attention." Like me, Anton has been both pastor and academic. Below is my Sonnet 84 with the glosses, followed by his "hermeneutic of a sonnet."

84. Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?
My God, is this a dagger that I see?
     Am I observing actors in a play?
     Is this a dream or film of tragedy?
     or just computer games where I’m to slay
     with it? Perhaps I’m high on LSD
     or wearing VR glasses that display
     an archetype if not a snickersnee.
     Is this getik, menok, or Judgment Day?
Oh no, no dagger but Christ’s cross, that tree
     which bares illusions in one Truth, one Yea!
     It tears and it repairs reality
     and wakes us to attend and watch and pray.
I know the Gospel is a pious tale,
     but who grabs facts when worship cannot fail?
Pilate put the question to Jesus; John 18:38. Perhaps anticipated by the ancient Jain teaching of anekantavada, the doctrine of multiple viewpoints, Jean-François Lyotard described Postmodernism as “incredulity toward meta-narratives” such as theological systems or myths regarded as literal reality. In the 1957 Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, Prose, p163, Wallace Stevens wrote, “The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction, and that you believe it willingly.” W H Auden wrote, “It is as meaningless to ask whether one believes or disbelieves in Aphrodite or Ares as to ask whether one believes in a character in a novel; one can only say that one finds them true or untrue to life. To believe in Aphrodite and Ares merely means that one believes that the poetic myths about them do justice to the forces of sex and aggression as human beings experience them in nature and in their own lives.” The client following a therapist’s suggestion to “place your father in this chair and tell him how you feel” may appear little different from one who prays. Religion is more about commitment than certainty. Perhaps Vico (1710) anticipated Postmodernism with his Verum factum principle: truth is not observed; it is  constructed. The first line derives from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, 2, 1, “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” An exquisite example of the problem of distinguishing dream from reality is portrayed in the Illustration to the Second Prose Poem on the Red Cliff by Qiao Zhongchang (Northern Song Dynasty, 960-1127) at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO. LSD is a psychedelic or entheogenic drug. VR is Virtual Reality. Key terms from pre-Islamic Iranian thought reinterpreted in the epistemology of Suhrawardi (1155-1191), “Sheikh al-Ishraq,” the Master of Illumination, are getik (the ordinary world) and menok (a heavenly realm, perhaps akin to Plato’s realm of forms, or archetypes as in the New Testament’s Hebrews). Judgment Day cf «Love Locket». The Christian Gospel includes the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, a figure paralleled in other religious traditions. A snickersnee is a large knife that can be used for fighting. Tree: cf «Barren Golgotha». Facts: “We are poor passing facts” —Robert Lowell, “Epilogue,” Day by Day, 1977. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1817 Biographia Literaria, XVI: wrote of the “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” This sonnet uses only three end-rimes.

On Knives: Vern Barnet’s ‘Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?’
By Anton K. Jacobs

    Knives…. Dr. Vern Barnet’s sonnet titled, “Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?” plays with metaphors of the knife. It begins with a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “My God, 'is this a dagger that I see?'” Raising questions pertinent to perception and conception, from LSD to VR (that might mirror archetypes), Barnet wonders if a snickersnee is displayed. Towards the conclusion of the sonnet, he takes us to “Christ’s cross” as no dagger but nevertheless as an instrument that “tears and…repairs reality,” thus waking “us to attend and watch and pray.”

     Every seeing is a seeing from some angle, and for human becomings, that is always and unavoidably conditioned by time and place in history and culture. One of postmodernism’s patron saints is Friedrich Nietzsche (Cahoone calls him “the godfather of postmodernism”), who argued that there are no facts, only interpretations, and that perspectivism is the only way to see. “Henceforth, my dear philosophers,” writes Nietzsche, “let us be on guard against the dangerous old conceptual fiction that posited a ‘pure, will-less, painless, timeless knowing subject’; let us guard against the snares of such contradictory concepts as ‘pure reason,’ ‘absolute spirituality,’ ‘knowledge in itself’: these always demand that we should think of an eye that is completely unthinkable, an eye turned in no particular direction, in which the active and interpreting forces, through which alone seeing becomes seeing something, are supposed to be lacking; these always demand of the eye an absurdity and a nonsense.” When we seek to freeze life in this manner, argues Nietzsche, it is a type of revenge on life.

    In other words, the quest for the one, pure, objective, correct, absolute, incontestable truth—metanarrative––a quest characterizing the history of much of Western philosophy, religion, and more—is a fool’s quest. Lyotard’s concern reflected the historical atrocities, which social critics from the Frankfurt School to postmodern thinkers saw as culturally rooted in the West’s drive for the one perfect, timeless, and unchallengeable truth, a drive that went on secular steroids during and after the Enlightenment in dialectical relationship with the priorities of capitalism’s instrumental reason. As Lyotard states, “The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have given us as much terror as we can take. We have paid a high enough price for the nostalgia of the whole and the one, for the reconciliation of the concept and the sensible, of the transparent and the communicable experience.” As I have written elsewhere, “Postmodernism is a highly varied movement of the last sixty years that promotes the idea that all human knowledge is relative to its historical and cultural context, and that modernism’s attempts to find the one true and rational blueprint for organizing human life has been misguided and contributed to some of the horrors of the twentieth century.”

    If I understand the argument of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, the dialectic of Enlightenment on the cultural level between secular reason, on the one hand, and religious faith and mythology, on the other, resulted in the demise of religious mythology and its bastardization into fundamentalism and consequently to the disenchantment of life, the world, and the universe. However, that very triumph of Enlightenment reason in service to the alienating structures of bourgeois priorities resulted in a new mythological faith with a legitimation of domination and alienation. This has resulted in a dehumanizing world in which individuals measure themselves according to their monetary worth, while feeling controlled by powers of which no one appears in charge. Among the results are increased vulnerability to the resentments thereof which make fertile ground for fascism.

    Another intellectual development of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with some likeness to postmodernism was carried, primarily first, by the pioneer anthropologists and then deeply cultivated by what I’d call the metamythologists. These are the likes of Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, William Irwin Thompson, to a lesser extent Carl Jung and followers, and many others. Their cross-cultural investigations and correlations of humanity’s mythologies have helped us get away from the narrow and sometimes violent provincialisms and dogmatisms of so much of the world’s religions to appreciate the challenging and liberating aspects of nature’s and culture’s marks of transcendence. “An experience of transcendence has always been part of the human experience,” writes Karen Armstrong, and she echoes Campbell when she writes, “A myth…is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information.” In a footnote for a different sonnet, Barnet writes that “a myth is a story that reveals the nature and structure of sacred reality.” It might not be wrong to suggest that the metamythologists and postmodernists, each in their way in their respective venues in modernity’s alienated cultural segmentations, have been doing much the same thing. They have sought to contribute to the liberation of souls and bodies from the unnecessary spiritual and material brutalities of the societies of human becomings. These are not minor objectives.

    Barnet has fruitfully mined the canons of the metamythologists, whom he cites regularly, even having studied under Eliade. They serve him well for his, if you will, sonnetical remythologizing of human desire, including its erotic and mystical drives that, I think he suggests and, if so, I agree, cannot be separated. They come to us as two-edged swords, though, as mystics and lovers have always discovered. The ecstasies of human love and of mystical union are always shadowed by their opposites—whatever you want to call them at any given time—heartbreak, tragedy, loss, alienation, dark night, fear, anxiety, terror. Which brings us back to the dagger of Christ’s cross. “Indeed,” writes the unknown author of the Christian epistle to the Hebrews, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” At their best, so it seems to me, that is the project of the metamythologists and postmodernists alike. They exegete and deconstruct and interrogate to tear and repair human existence and open up to us the authentic realities of the thoughts and intentions of our hearts; and, perhaps, in the process, alongside the Gospel’s “pious tale,” waking “us to attend and watch and pray.”
    The cornerstone, still, of any discussion of postmodernism, and which Barnet cites in a footnote, is Jean-François Lyotard’s statement, “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodernism as incredulity toward metanarratives.” However, the common core of postmodern sentiment is the insight that there really is no escape from an angle of seeing. Ironically or paradoxically, this insight at the center of postmodern thought is true of postmodernism itself. Defining postmodernism is near impossible, which the leading postmodern advocates acknowledge and probably embrace. Postmodernism is “contested terrain between moderate and extreme postmodernists,” notes Stephen Best and Douglas Kellner, referring to complete ultraskeptics and relativists, on the one hand, and, on the other, to those still in pursuit of constructs on which to do philosophy and social critique in light of that understanding that we cannot stand nowhere. Simply stated, there is no ultimately objective and infallible blueprint that can be imposed on reality or society without violence and atrocity.

Armstrong, Karen. A Short History of Myth. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005.

Barnet, Vern. Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire. Kansas City, MO:
     La Vita Nuova Books, 2015.

Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner. The Postmodern Turn. New York & London:
     The Guilford Press, 1997.

Lawrence Cahoone, ed. From Modernism to Postmodernism. 2nd ed.
     (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2003).

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment.
     Translated by John Cumming. N.Y.: The Seabury Press, 1972 [1944].

Jacobs, Anton K. “Postmodernism.” In The Sage Encyclopedia of the Sociology of
, vol. 2. Edited by Adam Possamai and Anthony J. Blasi, 598-599.
     Los Angeles: Sage Reference, 2020.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
     Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Theory and History of Literature.
     Vol. 10. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984 [1979].

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ. Translated by
     R.J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 1968 [1889, 1895].

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals. Translated by Walter Kaufmann
     and R. J. Hollingdale. N.Y.: Vintage; Random House, 1967 [1887]), 119.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Translated by Walter Kaufmann and
     R. J. Hollingdale. N.Y.: Vintage; Random House, 1967 [1901].

     Radnitzky, Gerard. Contemporary Schools of Metascience. Chicago:
     Henry Regnery Co., 1973.
Anton K. Jacobs, Ph.D.
Instructor, Kansas City Art Institute 
Author of Religion and the Critical Mind; My Country, My Faith, & Me; and a few other things.

Our friend Steve Nicely alerts us to the Funeral Consumer Alliance spring newsletter containing updated funeral prices for 114 funeral homes in our area, with practical information for clergy, social workers, health care providers and others.

Here is the website: funeralskc.org  where you can read the articles and survey the research data.

AI: The Singularity
Artificial Intelligence, Consciousness, and the Soul

"One possibility is that people would add a computer’s processing power to their own innate intelligence, becoming supercharged versions of themselves. Or maybe computers would grow so complex that they could truly think, creating a global brain.

"In either case, the resulting changes would be drastic, exponential and irreversible. A self-aware superhuman machine could design its own improvements faster than any group of scientists, setting off an explosion in intelligence. Centuries of progress could happen in years or even months. The Singularity is a slingshot into the future.
. . . .
"Sundar Pichai, Google’s usually low-key chief executive, calls artificial intelligence 'more profound than fire or electricity or anything we have done in the past.' Reid Hoffman, a billionaire investor, says, 'The power to make positive change in the world is about to get the biggest boost it’s ever had.' And Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates proclaims A.I. 'will change the way people work, learn, travel, get health care and communicate with each other.'

"A.I. is Silicon Valley’s ultimate new product rollout: transcendence on demand."

Notes: The luncheon meeting of Retired Clergy of All Faiths
A Discussion with Vern 2023 June 13

     Does does AI differ differ from a thermostat in kind or degree?
     Does the universe permit an entity to organize and govern itself?
     Does AI support Cartesian Dualism or rebuke it?
     How will business, government, and rogues use AI?  
     How will AI shape homo sapiens with devices and implants?
     How does the debate about abortion relate to the idea of the soul in AI?

This is what I wrote in 1969 (in my Klindebook) --

21.  With surgical shaping of body and brain, the State crushes utterly!
     he shouted, fighting his way through the fleshy programmed robots,
     working on social security.
     The spirit controlled by a switchboard,
     the body is like a machine,
     the mind made lame,
     the soul disposable!

     O Brain! pricked with electronic spikes and probes
     controlling emotion, action, consideration,
     within the skull enlarged from infancy
     to house the coils, the cords, the needles
     and transistors needed to receive the orders
     from a local console run by a local positivist
      who loves control of his slave village
     and all the merit he will get if his boss is amused.

Now I am more concerned about corporate than state control.

Remembering working with the University of Chicago's IBM 360 in 1968-70 (all those punch cards!), I discuss VR goggles, medical-electronic-computerized implants (without such assistance, Stephen Hawking could not have been productive for so long), the smart phone, and what arguments about "when life begins" in the abortion debate reveal about consciousness and personhood. Our bodies themselves are communities with more non-human than human cells on which we are utterly dependent. I argue that
consciousness arises when an entity moves beyond merely reacting to its environment (a thermostat senses its environment) but also has sufficient data not only to have a model of the world (or immediate environment) but also a model of itself. That model of itself is the soul. And it is illusory, as David Hume (d. 1776) and the Buddha showed. A cockroach responds to its environment but probably has a very rudimentary model of its environment with which to negotiate its activities, and hardly any model of itself; a dog more; elephants perhaps even more; and whales may be as sophisticated in their models of themselves in their environment as humans in ours.

Douglas Hofstadter's 1979 Godel, Escher, Bach and his 2007 I Am a Strange Loop [see the David Brooks column added below] show how consciousness develops and examines whether computers can be conscious.
(Of course most of our functioning depends on non-conscious operations. I sketch his 1983 lecture at KU -- one of the greatest lecture I have ever heard. A computer can approach human consciousness -- or what it is like to be a human -- only when it utilizes similar sensory pathways as humans have (sight, hearing, touch, smell, etc).

I reject John Searle's "Chinese Room" response to the Turing test as defective, but admire Thomas Nagel's 1974 "What is it like to be a bat?" I think much of Gilbert Ryle's 1949 Concept of Mind  ("category mistake") has stood the test of time. Both materialism and dualism as usually discussed are inadequate; and the subjective experience cannot be reduced to an objective account, but neither can consciousness or the soul be separated from the material basis. I find David Chalmers to ignore a proper application of non-reductive epiphenomenonalism.
A car is a machine; what it does is move through roadways. A brain is an organ; what it does is (help to manage bodily functions and) give rise to present consciousness (and think). A computer (with hardware and software and inputs and outputs and "memory") is a device which, when it will have a sophisticated model of the world and of itself in real time will be a singularity worthy of being considered conscious and possessing a soul.

OTHER NOTES: rectangle, triangle, circle, psychiatrist; Hitchhiker's, Tad/Hiroshima, self-organizing (salt in water), Mona Lisa coffee cups, abacus.

I asked the computer: "Is there a God?"
After 11 seconds, the computer answered: "There is now."
An article appearing after this presentation was given identifies three ways Artificial General Intelligence will dehumanize us by its corporate use based on these beliefs:

that private actors outperform public ones (the market bias), steigman
that adapting to reality beats transforming it (the adaptation bias)
and that efficiency trumps social concerns (the efficiency bias).

A.G.I. will never overcome the market’s demands for profit.
A.G.I. will dull the pain of our thorniest problems without fixing them.
A.G.I. undermines civic virtues and amplifies trends we already dislike.


VOX: artificial-intelligence-machine-learning-safety-alignment

Forbes: 15-biggest-risks of AI


Douglas Hofstadter Now Terrified

Douglas Hofstadter on the state of AI today (2023)  go to minute 21

David Brooks on AI
What follows was added  here 2023 July 14 because it largely revolves around Douglas Hofstadter, perhaps the key figure I discussed in the luncheon presentation, notes for which appear above. I think Brooks may misinterpret Hofstadter's early work, but otherwise I applaud this column, though I would add the caveat that real-time AI consciousness like that of humans would be dependent upon sensory inputs quite like our eyes, ears, fingers, etc. Click on the title-link immediately below to go to see the Brooks column as it appears in The New York Times.

‘Human Beings Are Soon Going to Be Eclipsed’
July 13, 2023
By David Brooks
Opinion Columnist

Recently I stumbled across an essay by Douglas Hofstadter that made me happy. Hofstadter is an eminent cognitive scientist and the author of books like “Gödel, Escher, Bach” and “I Am a Strange Loop.” The essay that pleased me so much, called “The Shallowness of Google Translate,” was published in The Atlantic in January of 2018.
     Back then, Hofstadter argued that A.I. translation tools might be really good at some pedestrian tasks, but they weren’t close to replicating the creative and subtle abilities of a human translator. “It’s all about ultrarapid processing of pieces of text, not about thinking or imagining or remembering or understanding. It doesn’t even know that words stand for things,” he wrote.
     The article made me happy because here was a scientist I greatly admire arguing for a point of view I’ve been coming to myself. Over the past few months, I’ve become an A.I. limitationist. That is, I believe that while A.I. will be an amazing tool for, say, tutoring children all around the world, or summarizing meetings, it is no match for human intelligence. It doesn’t possess understanding, self-awareness, concepts, emotions, desires, a body or biology. It’s bad at causal thinking. It doesn’t possess the nonverbal, tacit knowledge that humans take for granted. It’s not sentient. It does many things way faster than us, but it lacks the depth of a human mind.
     I take this to be good news. If A.I. is limited in these ways, then the A.I. revolution will turn out to be akin to the many other information revolutions that humans have produced. This technology will be used in a lot of great ways, and some terrible ways, but it won’t replace us, it won’t cause the massive social disruption the hypesters warn about, and it’s not going to wake up one day wanting to conquer the world.
     Hofstadter’s 2018 essay suggested that he’s a limitationist too, and reinforced my sense that this view is right.
     So I was startled this month to see the following headline in one of the A.I. newsletters I subscribe to: “Douglas Hofstadter Changes His Mind on Deep Learning & A.I. Risk.” I followed the link to a podcast and heard Hofstadter say: “It’s a very traumatic experience when some of your most core beliefs about the world start collapsing. And especially when you think that human beings are soon going to be eclipsed.”
     Apparently, in the five years since 2018, ChatGPT and its peers have radically altered Hofstadter’s thinking. He continues: It “just renders humanity a very small phenomenon compared to something else that is far more intelligent and will become incomprehensible to us, as incomprehensible to us as we are to cockroaches.”
     I called Hofstadter to ask him what was going on. He shared his genuine alarm about humanity’s future. He said that ChatGPT was “jumping through hoops I would never have imagined it could. It’s just scaring the daylights out of me.” He added: “Almost every moment of every day, I’m jittery. I find myself lucky if I can be distracted by something — reading or writing or drawing or talking with friends. But it’s very hard for me to find any peace.”
     Hofstadter has long argued that intelligence is the ability to look at a complex situation and find its essence. “Putting your finger on the essence of a situation means ignoring vast amounts about the situation and summarizing the essence in a terse way,” he said.
     Humans mostly do this through analogy. If you tell me that you didn’t read my column, and I tell you I don’t care because I didn’t want you to read it anyway, you’re going to think, “That guy is just bloated with sour grapes.” You have this category in your head, “sour grapes.” You’re comparing my behavior with all the other behaviors you’ve witnessed. I match the sour grapes category. You’ve derived an essence to explain my emotional state.
     Two years ago, Hofstadter says, A.I. could not reliably perform this kind of thinking. But now it is performing this kind of thinking all the time. And if it can perform these tasks in ways that make sense, Hofstadter says, then how can we say it lacks understanding, or that it’s not thinking?
     And if A.I. can do all this kind of thinking, Hofstadter concludes, then it is developing consciousness. He has long argued that consciousness comes in degrees and that if there’s thinking, there’s consciousness. A bee has one level of consciousness, a dog a higher level, an infant a higher level, and an adult a higher level still. “We’re approaching the stage when we’re going to have a hard time saying that this machine is totally unconscious. We’re going to have to grant it some degree of consciousness, some degree of aliveness,” he says.
     Normally, when tech executives tell me A.I. will soon achieve general, human level intelligence, I silently think to myself: “This person may know tech, but he doesn’t really know human intelligence. He doesn’t understand how complex, vast and deep the human mind really is.”
     But Hofstadter does understand the human mind — as well as anybody. He’s a humanist down to his bones, with a reverence for the mystery of human consciousness, who has written movingly about love and the deep interpenetration of souls. So his words carry weight. They shook me.
     But so far he has not fully converted me. I still see these things as inanimate tools. On our call I tried to briefly counter Hofstadter by arguing that the bots are not really thinking; they’re just piggybacking on human thought. Starting as babies, we humans begin to build models of the world, and those models are informed by hard experiences and joyful experiences, emotional loss and delight, moral triumphs and moral failures — the mess of human life. A lot of the ensuing wisdom is stored deep in the unconscious recesses of our minds, but some of it is turned into language.
     A.I. is capable of synthesizing these linguistic expressions, which humans have put on the internet and, thus, into its training base. But, I’d still argue, the machine is not having anything like a human learning experience. It’s playing on the surface with language, but the emotion-drenched process of learning from actual experience and the hard-earned accumulation of what we call wisdom are absent.
     In a piece for The New Yorker, the computer scientist Jaron Lanier argued that A.I. is best thought of as “an innovative form of social collaboration.” It mashes up the linguistic expressions of human minds in ways that are structured enough to be useful, but it is not, Lanier argues, “the invention of a new mind.”
     I think I still believe this limitationist view. But I confess I believe it a lot less fervently than I did last week. Hofstadter is essentially asking, If A.I. cogently solves intellectual problems, then who are you to say it’s not thinking? Maybe it’s more than just a mash-up of human expressions. Maybe it’s synthesizing human thought in ways that are genuinely creative, that are genuinely producing new categories and new thoughts. Perhaps the kind of thinking done by a disembodied machine that mostly encounters the world through language is radically different than the kind of thinking done by an embodied human mind, contained in a person who moves about in the actual world, but it is an intelligence of some kind, operating in some ways vastly faster and superior to our own. Besides, Hofstadter points out, these artificial brains are not constrained by the factors that limit human brains — like having to fit inside a skull. And, he emphasizes, they are improving at an astounding rate, while human intelligence isn’t.
     It’s hard to dismiss that argument.
     I don’t know about you, but this is what life has been like for me since ChatGPT 3 was released. I find myself surrounded by radical uncertainty — uncertainty not only about where humanity is going but about what being human is. As soon as I begin to think I’m beginning to understand what’s happening, something surprising happens — the machines perform a new task, an authority figure changes his or her mind.
     Beset by unknowns, I get defensive and assertive. I find myself clinging to the deepest core of my being — the vast, mostly hidden realm of the mind from which emotions emerge, from which inspiration flows, from which our desires pulse — the subjective part of the human spirit that makes each of us ineluctably who we are. I want to build a wall around this sacred region and say: “This is essence of being human. It is never going to be replicated by machine.”
     But then some technologist whispers: “Nope, it’s just neural nets all the way down. There’s nothing special in there. There’s nothing about you that can’t be surpassed.”
     Some of the technologists seem oddly sanguine as they talk this way. At least Hofstadter is enough of a humanist to be horrified.


Three Independence Day readings
     * David Nelson
     * Vern Barnet
     * Frederick Douglass


Remembering the Past: Commemoration vs. Celebration
David E. Nelson, D.Min

The following remarks were presented in person to the Gladstone City Council and Clay County Commissioners. As a fuller picture of our past becomes clearer, and as we observe the American Independence Day this year, these thoughts are worthy of contemplation. David Nelson is senior associate minister of CRES and president of The Human Agenda.

I volunteer one day a week to be a docent at the Atkins Johnson Farm and Museum. I have enough time sitting on the front porch to ponder the past, the present and the future. Like other human beings, I decide how to spend my time. Pondering the past is my focus in this statement.

Commemoration and celebration are two related but distinct concepts. Commemoration is often in the context of an event or a person that has been influential in the world or in a person's life. It often includes a ritual of laying a wreath or flowers, a silent gathering of a group or a short liturgy of reflections. Commemoration is possible for events that both brought great joy into the world or that resulted in tragic loss. It remains honest about the past. Celebration is typically a recognition of a joy or happiness or recognition of an achievement. It often includes a party, gifts, and happy participation of others. Celebration can attempt to ignore mistakes and is sometimes an attempt to rewrite history to make people feel better.

I think I first learned this idea from the Lutheran Movement of Catholic Christianity. We do not worship the saints; but we do commemorate men and women who have lived lives that revealed a sacred truth and inspire us to live our lives with more integrity and hope. Often in remembering a person or an event it remains important to seek and remember the sad and broken parts even as we receive gifts of inspiration. We even use the phase that we "are simultaneously saint and sinner." In remembering a past we can learn from the mistakes and commit to not repeating them again.

As I prepare to spend another Fourth of July and look to the 250th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in 2026, I am hearing many voices on the media of newspapers, internet, radio, and social apps. Some seem to be suggesting we must ignore the systemic racist slavery that has been such a significant part of our nation's history. I live in a former slave state and seek to learn more about what that meant to my siblings in the past as well as my sisters and brothers in the present. As we remember 1776, we can also hear the stories of 1619. As I sit on the front porch, I realize that when Columbus "discovered" this land there were somewhere between 2 and 18 million indigenous people living here. In this part of what is now Clay County, the Osage, Kansa, and Missouri Nations were living a good life. As I greet visitors to our Farm and Museum, I can acknowledge and honor the Osage, the Kansa, and Missouri Nations, upon whose land we gather.

"celebration" is more festive if we ignore that tragic part of our heritage. However, a "commemoration" gives us the possibility of recognizing that we have made mistakes, we have even participated in an economic reality that treated some as less than fully human. We can learn from that experience and seek to build a more perfect union through our actions now. The USA, Missouri, Clay County, and Gladstone have each made mistakes, but we are not a mistake. We can recognize and learn from past behavior to work cooperatively with all our citizens to keep learning and restoring that beautiful vision once expressed.

We can commemorate our nation and learn from the imperfections as we seek to affirm our common humanity. We stay human when we both stay honest and stay committed to building that more perfect union.


Visit Sacred Citizenship for a 2-page PDF version of our June, 2001 Many Paths essay with themes of loyalty, freedom, greatness. Does this essay still work after September that year, and as we are continuing to come to a fuller appreciation of our history, from before 1619 to the present disfunction of much of government, local, state, federal -- as well as international agreements?


Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, NY
by Frederick Douglass
July 5th, 1852
Rochester: Lee, Mann & Co., 1852

[Frederick Douglass, 1817/1818--1895]

"The 4th of July Address, delivered [on the 5th] in Corinthian Hall, by Frederick Douglass, is published on good paper, and makes a neat pamphlet of forty pages. The 'Address' may be had at this office, price ten cents, a single copy, or six dollars per hundred."  
Visit oration on the CRES website for the text.

Supreme Court religion ruling is good news for all

Special to The Star

The recent unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision, Groff v. DeJoy was not the most important religious case on which the court has ever ruled.

Still, the justices' affirmation of the importance of individual religious freedom gives Americans a new chance to grasp the significant changes in our nation's religious landscape over the past 60 or 70 years. If, as a result, Americans gain a better appreciation Of the many faith traditions now followed in the U.S., that would be good news.

That hope may sound ephemeral, but let's not dismiss it immediately. Rather, let's put the decision in historical context and see if we can better understand and appreciate the range of religious choices we Americans have — and should have.

The suit described plaintiff Gerald Groff as C' an evangelical Christian who believes for religious reasons that Sunday should be devoted to worship and rest." Ian Millhiser, a senior correspondent for Vox, summarizes the case this way:

"The Groff case involves a postal worker who wanted to be exempted from working on Sundays because of his religious beliefs. (Although the post office typically does not deliver mail on Sundays, the postal service contracted with Amazon in 2013 to deliver Sunday packages.) The post office claimed that this worker's request could not be accommodated because he worked in an office with only a few employees, and exempting one of these employees from Sunday work would place too much of a burden on the other workers, who would have to pick up his Sunday shifts.

"The Supreme Court, however, did not resolve whether this particular request for a religious accommodation should have been granted. Instead, it sent the case back down to the lower courts to reevaluate this request in light of the court's newly announced, more proworker rule. '

So we can expect many court challenges from people asking lower courts now to outline specifically what constitutes too heavy a burden on employers.


This affirmation of religious liberty gives us a chance to recognize the dozens and dozens of faith traditions (including none) to which Americans now pledge allegiance. After all, even if our neighbors don't follow the religion with which we're most familiar, they're still our neighbors. And religion has played a central, but shifting, role here since before the U.S. became a nation.

Indigenous residents of this land, Of course, had (and have) their own spiritual practices. But then European invaders arrived, imagining they were going to help save the souls of "savages" by converting them to Christianity. (You can find the term "merciless Indian savages" in the Declaration of Independence.)

If Indigenous people are called savages, what more accurate term might describe the imperious Europeans who were following the pope's 1493 "Doctrine of Discovery" as they uprooted ancient cultures and tried to convince natives that they were sinners in the hands of an angry (Christian) god? "White supremacists.

Since then, the story of religion in what's now the U.S. has been complex. The American court system has added to that complexity and confusion in various ways, including in the previous decision that the Groff case has undone. Still, the courts are required to make sure that Americans can practice their religions without invasive government mandates or other interference.

I found it intriguing and encouraging that, as the Religion News Service reported, the Groff ruling is also popular with Americans Of non-Chistian faith traditions because it protects their rights, too.

There's still much to negotiate about time off requests based on religious practice. But it's now clear to everyone that religion still matters in the U.S.

So this would be a good time for Americans to learn about when and why not just Christians but also Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'is, Jains, Sikhs and American followers of other faith traditions might ask an employer for a religious accommodation to the work schedule — and when. For Passover? For Ramadan? For Vaisakhi? For Ridvån? (You could look those up.)

The U.S. still has an opportunity to show the world what it looks like to live in religious harmony in a multifaith country. That's been a goal of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council since its founding in 1989. Because the Groff decision keeps that hope alive, our frustrating Supreme Court, in this limited circumstance, deserves some applause.

Bill Tammeus is a former Kansas City Star columnist.
Read his Faith Matters blog at billtammeus.typepad.com.
Email him at wtammeus@gmail.com

Bill is a friend and inspiration to many people and organizations, including CRES. An earlier column this year appears on this website here:


Remembering Tom Brous

"I'm looking forward to my next adventure."

This photo was taken at Burnt Norton manor house near Chipping Campden, England,
best known for being the inspiration for T.S.Eliot’s poem of the same name.

Thomas Richard Brous, 80, died peacefully with family surrounding him on June 24, 2023, after a hard-fought battle with cancer.

Tom was born on January 7, 1943, in Fulton, MO. After his father returned home from WWII, he and his parents moved to Kansas City, MO where he attended Kansas City schools, was known as “T.D.”, and was a proud Eagle Scout. He was president of his Southwest High School class of 1961. He graduated from Northwestern University (Bachelor of Science in Economics) in 1965 and the University of Michigan (Juris Doctor, cum laude) in 1968. He was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity at Northwestern. He was the Assistant Editor, Michigan Law Review, 1967-1968.

While at Northwestern, he met Patty Catlin, who was also from Kansas City. They married in 1964, moved back to Kansas City, and had two children, Anna, and Joel. Tom and Patty were devoted parents, enjoyed the arts, and spending time at Ottertail Lake, Minnesota and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

After passing the Missouri Bar exam in 1968, he served four years as a captain in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps. Following military service in 1972, he spent his law career with Watson, Ess, Marshall & Enggas and Stinson LLP, until his retirement in 2016. Tom was a national speaker and thought leader in his practice focusing on taxation and employee benefits. For over ten years, he taught tax courses as an adjunct professor at the University of Kansas School of Law.

After 35 years of marriage, Patty died in 1999. Tom was blessed to meet Mary Lou McClelland Kroh through a mutual friend and they were married in 2001. Tom and Mary Lou shared a passion for travel, T.S. Eliot, family, and each other, for 21 glorious years.

Tom was a philanthropist, serving as a trustee for Kansas City Repertory Theatre, The Barstow School, and various other boards and organizations, as well as an active member at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (serving multiple terms on the Vestry including Senior Warden and Chancellor) and Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral (Chancellor).

Tom was a voracious, life-long reader, published author (“Why Read Four Quartets?”), avid runner, loyal attendee of Anna and Joel’s sporting events as they grew up, movie buff, fan of Northwestern and Michigan football, art and theater enthusiast, and Civil War expert.

Tom is preceded in death by his parents, Richard Pendleton Brous, and Augusta Gilpin Brous, and first wife Patty Catlin Brous. Tom leaves his second wife Mary Lou Brous, children Anna Catlin Brous Mills and Joel Pendleton Brous (Carrie Brous), stepsons Bradford Piersol Kroh (Jan-Marie Kroh) and Miles Reed Kroh (Alice Kroh) and eleven grandchildren: Skylar Catlin Mills, Samantha Reddington Mills, Sloane Grace Mills, Zoe Catlin Brous, Phoebe Callin Brous, Sophie Mulholland Brous, Caroline Grace Kroh, Claire McClelland Kroh, Brigid Christine Kroh, Emily Elizabeth Kroh and John Patrick McClelland Kroh.

A service and celebration of life was be held on July 24, 2023, at 11:00 AM at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 West 13th Street, Kansas City, MO. Donations in Tom’s name will be graciously accepted by St. Luke’s Hospice House, saintlukesgiving.givevirtuous.org.

Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at www.mcgilleymidtownchapel.com for the Brous family.

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

Some years ago I heard Tom lecture on Four Quartets, and wanted to make his acquaintance. When some time later I thought to become an Episcopalian, I had some questions. He was Chancellor
of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral at the time and took me to lunch. It was not lost on either of us that Eliot had been a Unitarian who became an Anglican, and here was I, a Unitarian minister seeking adoption into Anglican tradition. I wrote about Tom's love of Four Quartets, and how it affected his life, in one of my weekly Kansas City Star columns in 2004. His 2017 book, Why Read Four Quartets? summarizes his immersion of many years in the Eliot poems and the background research he did to understand their references and context. It was fun to promote the book in several ways, including a mention (page 3) in the program for the 2018 CRES Candlemas which included lines from Eliot.
     I could not have imagined the profundity of our friendship. I should not have been surprised, however, that in hospice he would say, "I'm looking forward to my next adventure."
Since I am an Episcopalian layman, not a priest, I never would have guessed that he would ask me to lead his memorial service. In the context of family and friends present on that occasion, using the theme of Incarnation highlighted by Tom's study of T S Eliot renewed and enlarged my own understanding of the meaning of the gift and grace of Incarnation, and the breath and depth of Tom's faith.
--Vern Barnet

Here is a link to the printed bulletin for the July 24 memorial service, which includes my setting of lines from Four Quartets to the "Sursum Corda" hymn tune:
BrousThomas 2023_PROGRAM_final.pdf

Here is a link to the text of the KC Star column:

Here is a link to Tom's book on the Target website:

Why Read Four Quartets? is offered to encourage readers unfamiliar with T. S. Eliot's masterpiece to ""take up, read, and inwardly digest"" these beautiful and sacred poems. Commentary is offered to hopefully make the poems more accessible to a general reader. Most critics and commentators do not seem to take Eliot's own spirituality seriously, or at least they don't choose to comment on it. Literary analysis is often emphasized to the exclusion of viewing the quartets in a personal or biographical manner. In sharp contrast to these typical studies, this book endeavors to show that the quartets, along with his earlier post-1927 poetry (Ariel Poems and Ash Wednesday), can be read as the story of Eliot's own mystical journey to the Divine. ""Good teachers convey a sense of wonder about their subject. Tom Brous demonstrates himself to be such a teacher in this deeply personal and passionate account of his sustained meditation on T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. Brous' expert knowledge is everywhere evident, but his aim is not narrowly academic: it is to inspire in us a love for this poetry, and to empower us to undertake our own journey of understanding. The book is wonderful."" --Edward Upton, Christ College, Valparaiso University Tom Brous is a retired attorney-at-law and adjunct law professor. He has studied and lectured on Four Quartets for over thirty years and wishes to share his insights with the general reader.
The book is also available from other booksellers.


World Religions
and the Three Great Crises of our Age
with Vern Barnet
September 17 Sunday 9-9:50 am
St Paul's Episcopal Church Sunday Forum
Garden Room, 11 East 40th Street at Main, KC, MO 64111

From "100-thousand feet," is there a way to see the world's religions that will show us how to deal with three great dangers of our time -- the harm we are causing creation, the violation of personhood, and our broken communities?

Such an overview is possible if we ask the question, "What is Sacred?" and attend to the answers the various faiths offer. With three religious objects and four stories, we will find that the Primal traditions locate the sacred in nature, the Asian faiths in selfhood, and the Monotheistic traditions in the history of covenanted community. With their wisdom we can move toward the restoration of nature, the self-made whole, and community governing though justice. Handouts supplemented the presentation.  

(Thanks to Dr Joshua Paszkiewicz for the photo.)
● In Primal faiths we find ecological awe: nature is respected more than controlled; nature is a process which includes us, not a product external to us to be used or disposed of. Our proper attitude toward nature is wonder, not consumption. Our lives depend on nature.

● In Asian religions we catch the awe of genuine personhood as our actions proceed spontaneously and responsibly from duty and compassion, without ultimate attachment to their results.

● In Monotheistic traditions, the awesome work of God is manifest in history’s flow toward justice when peoples are governed less by profit and winning and more by the covenant of service. Our lives depend on community.

This gift from three different directions can bring us together to save the person, the society, and the planet. This interfaith promise is nothing less than the restoration of nature, the recovery of the whole self, and the life of a community of love.

Here are some CRES resources:

A View of Our Decacralized Society and the World's Religions as a Whole System

Caveats for the Study of Religion

Awe Is the Cure

Perhaps the best single book on world religions to disrupt many common misconceptions is Stephen Prothero’s 2007 Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.  His 2011 God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World
 is a readable and accurate account. My late friend, Huston Smith, wrote what was for many years the standard text, The World's Religions, which went through many editions; and while it focused on the wisdom of the faiths, important history was given secondary place; still, the book reveals an unrivaled love affair with the world's traditions in extraordinarily cogent and beautiful writing.

#220911  #911


A way of understanding the years since 9/11

While the 9/11 attacks opened new 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? And what of other international conflicts, especially the war of Russia against Ukraine? and the attack by Hamas on Israel?

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


1. Before 9/11, 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 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. COVID should have taught us that, as Martin Luther King said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”


To think clearly about war, it is critical to distinguish cause from justification. Many causes might have contributed to the 2023 attacks by Hamas on Israel --
(a) poor Israeli intelligence,
(b) distracted political leadership,
(c) Netanyahu's policy of permitting foreign financing of Hamas,
(d) the government's 
preference for separating Gaza from the West Bank in order to forestall or prevent a two-state solution ("I’m proud that I prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state" said Netanyahu, saying that a Palestinian state would have been like terrorist Gaza -- instead of the possibility that statehood might have produced peace instead of endless wars where the Palastinians fight for a state of their own and Israel fights to prevent it, while falsely saying the Palestinians do not recognize Israel when in fact the Palestinian Authority cooperates with Israel every day),
(e) settlements in regions not recognized as part of Israel and occupation of, and attacks on, West Bank Palestinians and their stateless land,
(f) the dire conditions created by border-economic controls of Gaza,
(g) genocidal rhetoric which unfortunately invites a violent response by both Israelis ad Palestinians, as when Netanyahu says, “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible — we do remember.” Amalek is understood as the enemy of Israel. Netanyahu quoted from I Samuel 15:3: "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." Such framing of the conflict makes this war a religious war. Thus it is not surprising that according to the NYTimes, "During the first six weeks of the war in Gaza, Israel routinely used one of its biggest and most destructive bombs in areas it designated safe for civilians."
(h) and so forth.

In the context of the religious obligation to respond to hatred with love, all this does not justify the attacks by Hamas; it may explain, but not justify. A disease metaphor helps in focusing on causes since disease cannot be justified. Focusing on causes as factual matters than as blame is more likely to lead to restoration of health.

As a preface to discussing problems with the Israeli response to the wicked, violent, horrific attack by Hamas on Israel in the fall of 2023, Zeynep Tufekci in her October 31 NYTimes column says --

if the U.S. response after Sept. 11 is a model, it is as a model of what not to do.

After the attacks, the United States received deep global sympathy. Many Muslims around the world were furious about this blemish upon Islam, even if they opposed U.S. policies: Citizens held vigils, politicians condemned the attacks and clerics repudiated them in mosque sermons. (The idea that Muslims widely celebrated the attacks has been repeatedly shown to be false or traces back to a few instances of dubious clarity.)

But, instead of mobilizing that widespread global sympathy to try to isolate the extremists, the United States chose to wage a reckless and destructive war in Iraq, driven by an impulsive desire for vengeance and justified by falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration’s lies in the lead-up to the war, the fiasco of its occupation and the chaos, violence and death that the invasion set off have deeply and indelibly damaged the standing and credibility of the United States and its allies.

People in the region were seared by images of Iraqi institutions — hospitals, ministries, museums — being looted while the U.S. military did little, of families shot as they returned home from a hospital or at checkpoints as they missed a hand signal or instructions shouted in English, of the torture and sadism at Abu Ghraib.

People also saw how occupation policies, like the quick and thoughtless disbanding of the Iraqi Army, contributed to the creation of ISIS a decade later.

In the Middle East, the devastating aftermath of that war — justified by false claims — has never ended.

You can read how she continues her analysis of the Hamas-Israel conflct here.

Is the disease metaphor give us any insights into the war of Russia against Ukraine? I think this metaphor gives us an essential insight into debilitated world governance, enfeebled by the failure to place armaments under international control requiring some body (a strengthened United Nations) to manage conflict between states when states cannot resolve problems peacefully. One way of looking at this situation, using the disease metaphor, is the war as an auto-immune disease of the world body; Russia, which benefits from a peaceful world order, attacks that very order, and the body must address this illness by sending resources to return to homeostasis. Just as chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and other cures, can destroy healthy cells, so the body's response to Russian aggression requires the short-term sacrifice of some otherwise healthy parts for long-term health. Whether the expansion of NATO will inspire a true government of all nations is very unclear, and whether the many increasingly complex forces of civilization lead to planetary senescence and death, or to universal peace and florescence is a question we might ask as we work for health.

What about the Israel-Hamas War? Of all people, Thomas L Friedman commends the restraint of India's Prime Minister then, Manmohan Singh, when Pakistani terrorists attacked India as Friedman views the attacks of Hamas on Israel:

What was Singh’s military response to India’s Sept. 11?

He did nothing.

Singh never retaliated militarily against the nation of Pakistan or Lashkar camps in Pakistan. It was a remarkable act of restraint. What was the logic? In his book “Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy,” India’s foreign secretary at the time, Shivshankar Menon, explained, making these key points:

“I myself pressed at that time for immediate visible retaliation” against the jihadist bases or against Pakistani military intelligence, “which was clearly complicit,” Menon wrote. “To have done so would have been emotionally satisfying and gone some way toward erasing the shame of the incompetence that India’s police and security agencies displayed.”

He continued, “But on sober reflection and in hindsight, I now believe that the decision not to retaliate militarily and to concentrate on diplomatic, covert and other means was the right one for that time and place.”

Chief among the reasons, Menon said, was that any military response would have quickly obscured just how outrageous and terrible the raid on Indian civilians and tourists was; “the fact of a terrorist attack from Pakistan on India with official involvement on the Pakistan side” would have been lost. Once India retaliated, the world would immediately have had what Menon called a “ho-hum reaction.” Just another Pakistani-Indian dust-up — nothing unusual here.

Moreover, Menon wrote, “an Indian attack on Pakistan would have united Pakistan behind the Pakistan Army, which was in increasing domestic disrepute,” and “an attack on Pakistan would also have weakened the civilian government in Pakistan, which had just been elected to power and which sought a much better relationship with India than the Pakistan Army was willing to consider.” He continued, “A war scare, and maybe even a war itself, was exactly what the Pakistan Army wanted to buttress its internal position.”

In addition, he wrote, “a war, even a successful war, would have imposed costs and set back the progress of the Indian economy just when the world economy in November 2008 was in an unprecedented financial crisis.”

In conclusion, said Menon, “by not attacking Pakistan, India was free to pursue all legal and covert means to achieve its goals of bringing the perpetrators to justice, uniting the international community to force consequences on Pakistan for its behavior and to strengthen the likelihood that such an attack would not take place again.”

You can read his October 29 NYTimes column as he applies these lessons to the Hamas-Israel situation here.

The billions of foreign dollars Netanyahu approved these past years to fund Hamas, and the Israeli strategy of keeping Gaza and the West Bank separate in order to prevent the creation of a unified Palestinian state, are horribly ironic facts that, among so many others, deserve considering in this continuing and complex human tragedy, in order to think better ways forward. Netanyahu's coalition government's policy statement makes clear that the West Bank and Gaza are to become part of Israel, thus ending any hope for a Palestinian state. MORE

These two wars and causes that precipitated them are assaults against nature, against persons, and against social order in so many ways. 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.

Yet 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 these healing powers to bear. With generosity, fellowship, and understanding to one another, unless sorrow can be redeemed by an expanding circle of service.

Religious teachers of many faiths have in one language or another said that hatred does not cease by hatred but by love. Using Buddhist language again, greed, fear, and ignorance arise from political pride, from decades of military occupation, and from division. A strengthened United Nations is one therapy that might reduce the fever in the world's body and lead to clearer thought and fairer consideration. WWI led to WWII and its horrors, and WWII has led to the disputes in the "Holy Land," where, without justice, one war generates hatred in the defeated people which leads to the next war, and on and on. War calls us to choose sides and tempts us toward dehumanization of the "enemy" as we dehumanize ourselves. War does not cease by war but by justice and peace.  

Rather than kill one another, let us attend to the disease and find the cure in understanding, forgiveness, and compassion. (Medicine such as this.)

I pray for the end of antisemitism, the extinction of Islamophobia, the cessation of all forms of religious prejudice, the recognition of the right of all peoples to safety, the revival of compassion over division and destruction, and reverence for the natural world. I wish the vanishing of the metaphoric language of fight, "combat," and war, and the care of the human spirit as a way of transcendence.


Biden's statement of 2023 November 19

A very imperfect geographical perspective: The area of Gaza (141 sq mi) is less than half of the City of Kansas City, MO (319 sq mi) with a density of 1,614 per sq mi and the population of Gaza (2,375,259) minus recent deaths is about five times that of the City of Kansas City, MO (508,090), with the initial Gazan density of 16,853 per sq mi  increasing during the relocations), or about ten and a half times the KC density.  At its longest, the Gaza strip is about the distance from downtown Kansas City to Olathe; its average width is like the distance from State Line Road east to Arrowhead Stadium.


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

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


From Aporia to Praise:
(postponed from 2020 May 24)
A late 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 (amor fati - love of fate) and the public expression in worship. The Latin is not so hard but living it, through wonder, gratitude, and service, is maybe sort of like learning to play an instrument, and once mastered, learning new scores.


Interfaith Exchange about the Gaza War

The following is a major excerpt from a Kansas City Star editorial October 13, 2023, page 6. Without supporting any particular statement, CRES applauds the Council for discussing an issue in which religious identities are entwined.


Monday night, the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council had its monthly meeting. When we learned the theme — Israel and Palestine — we knew we had to join and hear what this multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious organization had to say about what was happening.

That night, a group consisting of members from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Scientology and transcendental faith traditions listened to a Jewish man talk about the war and the history of the land people are fighting for.

Alan Edelman, chair of the interfaith organization, said the conflict is as old as the Bible, and that one way to understand it is by asking an important question, maybe the question:

"Is it possible for two people to share one piece of territory that is sacred to both of them?"

Edelman described himself as a member of the peace movement. "In the peace camp, we like to say that the Palestinians (need to) understand that after 2,000 years of homelessness and a good deal of persecution, the Jewish people are entitled to return to their homeland."

But then he added: "And the Jews have to understand that when they got a homeland, the Palestinians lost theirs."
After Edelman gave a history lesson on the land and its people, he said the thing on everyone's mind:

"If you're confused, join the club. It's a complicated situation."

Edelman said he believes both the average Israeli and the Palestinian just want to raise their families in peace. "The innocent people suffer" at the hands of extremist leaders making decisions.

"You really don't have a government on the Palestinian side or the Israeli side who wants to have conversations about peace. What is going on now isn't going to encourage anyone to come to the table to talk peace," he said.

Edelman gave a measured, informative talk, but did he provide solutions? Could anyone?

Zulfiqar Malik, not a Palestinian but a Muslim and Interfaith Council member, thanked Edelman for the presentation, and added, "I am of the Abrahamic faith and, God willing, we have to continue our efforts. We have to pray for it. I know it takes a lot of effort, a lot of patience, a lot of prayers for peace. If we don't have peace in our hearts how can we expect peace around the world?"


As we listen to the many sides invested in the conflict, we can say who we think is more  right or more  wrong. Was it wrong for Hamas to attack the way it did? Many news outlets are using the words "unprovoked" attack. On the surface and at the level of aggression used, it certainly was.

But could the attack be a response to human rights violations outlined in a United Nations Human Rights Council report in April 2023? The UN council said it was "gravely concerned about the dire humanitarian, socioeconomic and security situation in the Gaza Strip, including that resulting from the prolonged closures and severe economic impediments and movement restrictions that in effect amount to a blockade." The report called Israel "the occupying power."

The Rev. Kelly Isola of the Unity faith said she saw terms such as "occupied" and "under oppressive rule" used on social media. She said people are discussing this in a "binary way" but believes there's more than two sides.

"I don't support Hamas and yet there's innocent people everywhere being killed and paying the price. I don't want to discount that," she said.

The council wants to educate people and craft a statement against the violence, and we think that's a good idea, but it won't end a war. Only peaceful talks will. And as it stands, the ongoing violence, pain and grief will prevent that from happening anytime soon.

A message for those of us neither Jewish, Muslim nor Palestinian: One way to work toward peace in our community is to get to know those different from us. There are many groups, such at the Interfaith Council, that can provide an answer. The council has an upcoming "Table of Faiths" dinner next week For more information, visit kcinterfaith.org/2023-table-of-faiths

The Kansas City Star Editorial Board wants to hear the voices of Palestinians and Jews on the topic of peaceful solutions to the war. Please send your thoughts to oped@kcstar.com

Note: CRES founded the Council in 1989 as one of its ongoing programs and helped the Council become an independent organization in 2005.  [eBlast 231013]

CRES applauds the
Greater KC Interfaith Council's annual
Table of Faiths event - with awards to
our friend of many years, Karta Purkh Khalsa,
and a key organization seeking to cure prejudice,
MCHE, the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education,
and remembering CRES Amity Shaman Ed Chasteen

Karta Purkh Khalsa, left, and
Ed Chasteen in photos
from 2000. Click here for
our remembrance of Ed.

Karta Purkh has been
promoting interfaith
understanding perhaps longer than any other religious figure in KC.
Even before before CRES published Many Paths,
he assisted with the
community calendar in
The CRES Release.

I regret I cannot attend the 2023 Table of Faiths event tonight. There are two reasons especially, in addition to the importance of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education heightened by the current events in the Holy Land.

Ed Chasteen was a great friend. One story from when we used to meet monthly. We asked, What were our favorite books? Ed's answer was Uncle Tom's Cabin, signifying his long career seeking understanding amkong all people. A prolific writer and organizer, he accepted the staff position at CRES of "Amity Shaman." Indeed, he had a unique spiritual capacity to transform strangers into friends.

No religious leader has been more faithful for as long in supporting and promoting interfaith understanding in Kansas City as Karta Purkh Khalsa. Almost as soon as I moved here, I learned about him and became acquainted. Before the formation of the Interfaith Council, he helped survey the area for activities of interfaith interest. I have personally benefited from his spiritual advice, so today's award has personal as well as institutional meaning for me, and I am sure many others.
Vern Barnet
minister emeritus, CRES
founder, The Kansas City Interfaith Council


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, cultural, and business leaders. With a longer evening format, the first in the new Table of Faiths dinners was held May 8, 2014, at Unity Village. 

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.

The Council's ancestry, in brief: the 1893 Chicago Parliament of World Religions; the interfaith gathering in Assisi, Italy, convened by Pope John Paul II, the first such gathering in North America since the 1893 Parliament, the "North American Assisi" held in Wichita, KS (Vern was on the planning committee), and with some from the Kansas City area and others who had been drawn into interfaith relations through CRES, the hosting organization, the members of 12 different faith traditions began their work to honor and learn from one another and encourage the community to celebrate the rich diversity available in the Kansas City area.

 The Funeral Consumers Alliance
Annual Program

Friday, Nov. 3 ● 1:00–4:00 p.m.
All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church
4501 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo.

Free and open to the public
3 free continuing education credits!

Attend in person or on Zoom

Program details and other news and useful information
 in the current newsletter at funeralskc.org

Our friend Joe Walker and George Gordon are featured in the 3-3:50 session on Spirituality around Death Rituals. Gordon is the retired minister of pastoral care at Country Club Christian Church, where he has presided at more than 700 funerals. Joe  is the current minister of pastoral care at the church. Gordon says Walker is “undoubtedly the most widely read person and minister that I know in the area of devotional literature, from almost every tradition known to humankind.” They will address contemporary spirituality, the changes they have witnessed, and the lessons they have learned in their roles. We know Joe from his extraordinary work for interfaith understanding.

Congratulations and Thank -You to our friend Steve Nicely who is retiring after 18 years editing the Funeral Consumers Alliance newsletter and serving on the organization's board. You'll want to read this last newsletter's two short essays by Steve on page 7: "She was dead but she changed my life" about a youthful experience that produced the arc of Steve's personal and professional life, and "Exposure to death can begin early" about his son Ben and Ben's dog. Both essays are simply and beautifully written, and touching, as you'd expect from a master writer.


2023 Nov 12 Sunday 4-6 pm
Unity Village, 1901 NE Blue Parkway, Building 500, Lee’s Summit, MO

 Information about purchasing tickets soon.
Thanksgiving dinner options include traditional and vegan options.
You are invited to come early to experience Unity Village's new labyrinth!

Sponsored by Heartland Alliance of Divine Love and
The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council
The 2023 Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award,
"so named in 2010 in recognition
of the lasting contribution of the Rev. Vern Barnet
to our vibrant interfaith community," is presented to
The Rev. Mary Gibson McCoy and
The Rev. Gregory McCoy


"The event offers traditional Thanksgiving
and vegan meals, including dessert and refreshments.
We will bless our space, food, and each other
as we listen to prayers
 from multiple faith traditions,
and enjoy sacred ceremony and music for Diwali,
the Hindu holiday that falls on this same day
as our Thanksgiving dinner."

The dinner includes a presentation by documentary filmmaker Cynthia Lukas
 on her latest film about the wife of Mahatma Gandhi,
“Kasturba Gandhi, The Accidental Activist.”

Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner Tickets, Sun, Nov 12, 2023 at 4:00 PM | Eventbrite


To the sponsors' announcement above, CRES is happy to add its congratulations in the choice of the Gibsons for the award. One cannot think of another couple who, for so many years, has done more together to support interfaith understanding in so many ways, both behind-the-scenes grunt-work and in leadership.

As visible examples, above we show Mary's 2021 book, Ethics without Scripture: Creating a Code of Conscience. To the right, from 2014, we show Sheila Sonnenschein (who received the "Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award" in 2017) with Mary and Greg at the Plaza Library opening of the Human Spirit section of interfaith books which the McCoys created. It was the McCoys who, in 2010, after the CRES announcement ending a 25-year tradition of a Sunday Interfaith Thanksgiving Meal, 
and found ways to continue it, and instituted an award in the name of the founder of the Council, initially as a program of CRES. So it is especially fitting that they themselves should receive the award this year.

Of course the countless invisible examples are impossible to show except in the effects of a continuing interfaith community which they persistently and inspiringly represent.

The annual observance was sponsored by CRES for its first 25 years as a family ritual meal. Since 2010, the event has been updated and sponsored by the Heartland Chapter of the Alliance of Divine Love, and the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council (GKCIC), in cooperation with the interfaith community. This year, 2023, is the 38th year of the tradition and we are indeed grateful to both sponsors for continuing to celebrate the place of Thanksgiving in all faiths.

#231217    #231227

An Impromptu Report on an
Unexpected Work of Public Art

Several times a week I walk through Mill Creek Park just east of the Country Club Plaza Shopping District with its famous (I think cruel) fountain which you can see in the background of the photo above. December 27 I was surprised to encounter what, from a distance, looked like a mandala. I returned the next day to study it more carefully and was pleased it did not appear to have been molested. I remain worried that this ephemeral, complicated, thoughtful public art at the southwest end of the park will be vandalized soon.

I wish I had a drone camera so I could get a better, higher view of what has obviously been constructed with great thoughtfulness and care. Careful to plant my feet not to disturb any part of the piece, I saw that a ring near the center were stones wrapped with white children's socks, and the yellow ring you can make out in the photo is made of pencils. In between are peppers. I saw other produce as well. 

I read the labels around the circle:

   23 hospitals
   100 journalists
   296 schools
   10305 children
   473 health staff
   52390 injured
   1900000 displaced
   26612 martyred

At the outside of the circle large stones near Mill Creek Parkway read "1 stone = 1 martyred in Gaza."

I do not know how accurate the statistics might be.

This closer look made clear that this is not a mandala except in the original Sanskrit sense of "circle." It reminded me not Buddhist or Hindu art but rather of  Picasso's Guernica which I first saw at the modern art museum in New York when I was young, before it was repatriated to Spain, where I saw it again more recently in Madrid.

Reading this Mill Creek art as a pro-Hamas statement, as I suppose is possible in our reactive, political environment, is as much a misinterpretation as viewing Guernica as a pro-Socialist statement. Though not composed of cloth and pigment, the ground itself becomes its canvass with materials like stones and socks and pencils and bits of food, transporting the rubble we see in the news from there to here, and from horror to art we can just barely endure*. Like Guernica, it is a statement about the violence and horror of war, and transcends the particular occasion which originated the artistic expression. Would that such art be heeded with compassion.  

Hatred does not cease by hatred but by love
-- such statements are found throughout the religions of the world.

2024 January 3 NOTE: Except for the missing vegetables, this art seems unmolested.


* “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure . . . ." --Rilke


WEDDINGS of all kinds click for information

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

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

see also
our publications page

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


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

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


A Vital Conversation Coffee
Vital Conversations
monthly  hybrid  schedule  with
2nd Wedneday each month 
1-2:30 pm
MidContinent Public Library  Antioch Branch,
6060 N Chestnut Ave, Gladstone, MO
64119 and via Zoom
 (816) 454-1306   --   to receive the active zoom link, email

humanagenda@gmail.com -- or call David at (816) 453-3835

David answers questions about Vital Conversations

A 13-minute YouTube video with Vern
¶ What is VC? ¶ You initiated it. When and why? ¶ Who sponsors it? ¶ Give some examples of the range of topics. ¶ You have had a number of authors, local and national, participate. name some and talk about why you like to feature them. ¶ Who attends and who is welcome to attend? ¶ How can people prepare if they wish, even if they don't read the book? ¶ Where is VC held? Is there a dress code? ¶ What changes did COVID bring about? ¶  What is OWL? ¶ When have you done remote locations? ¶ How do people find announcements and the material to prepare?

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

"Listen with curiosity, not judgement.”  David Nelson

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 Monday monthly 8 am
Now on Zoom
311 NE Englewood Road
Kansas City, MO 64118

2023 Vital Conversations Schedule

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

2023 January 11 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. hybrid on Zoom  and in person
100 Views From This Seat by Leroy Seat
     Leroy and his wife June attended Vital Conversations from the time we started meeting at the MCPL – Antioch Branch over 10 years ago. He is clearly a “thinking friend” and remains persistent in sharing his reflections. Beginning in 2009 he has blogged on every day divisible by five. “Reflections about Life, Love, Light, and Liberty” have been both personal, light-hearted, religious, ethical, and political. I have appreciated these provocative reflections even though I have not responded to every one of them. This collection is an excellent representation of the delicious variety of subjects. I invite you buy his book, select one of your favorites and come on Zoom or at the library to thank Leroy and give some response.

The View from This Seat blog

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

 This book consists of 100 blog postings selected from over 800 postings that the author, Leroy Seat, made at regular five day intervals between the years 2010 to 2020 on his blog, The View from this Seat.

On this date (January 9, 2023) as I write this review, I am anticipating that tomorrow Leroy will be posting his 1,000th blog post!. Then the following day he will be meeting with the Vital Conversations book group to discuss this book, and presumably there also will be some discussion of posts made since the era covered by this book including his 1,000th blog post.

His posts over these past twelve years have provided reflections on religious, ethical, and political issues as well as personal experiences and memories. His views come from eighty-four years of living, beginning in rural northern Missouri, then obtaining a PhD, and then working as a Baptist missionary to Japan and as full-time faculty member at Seinan Gakuin University (Fukuoka, Japan) from 1968 to 2004. Since his retirement he has continued to be active in many facets of life including the writing of the following books in addition to 100 Views from This Seat (links are to my reviews).

I have found Leroy's blog posts quite readable, partly because he conscientiously kept the word count per post below 700. Now that I've read this book I know of another reason seven hundred is a good word limit, it fits on two pages (front and back). Thus the one hundred posts fit neatly onto two hundred pages of this book. This word limit also allowed the inclusion of some of the comments left by readers on the blog. Those of you who are personally acquainted with Leroy will probably recognize some of the names of the comment writers. I was surprised to discover two comments written by me!

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2023 February 8 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m. Hybrid on Zoom and in person.

100 The Way of Happiness by L. Ron Hubbard
    This is a non-religious moral code based on common sense distributed by the church of Scientology worldwide. “The Way to Happiness” and the program it inspired have helped millions around the world lead happier, more fulfilling lives.” Present for our Vital Conversation will be members of The Kansas City Church of Scientology. The booklets are free, and you can pick one up from me (David Nelson) or free online at www.thewaytohappiness.org.

We will have members of this "new" religion with us. You can visit their website, https://www.scientology.org, to view very professionally done videos. Remember to listen and watch with "curiosity not judgement" as we seek to understand others

[This program should not be construed as an endorsement or disparagement of Scientology or this booklet. This session of Vital Conversations is an opportunity to learn first-hand about Scientology and to share our varied perspectives about it, with the opportunity to pose questions and seek clarifications. -Vern]
Releasing Conversation: 
     Share your name, and your Star (*) and your arrow (»).
     Look over these 21 items from The Way to Happiness and select the ONE you are personally very efficient in doing, good enough to coach others in doing.  Put a Star (*) by it.
     Look over list again and put an arrow (») pointing to the one you personally need to work on to be more effective as a human being.
     Are there any on the list you do not understand, disagree with, or would like to discuss further?  If so put a question mark (?) by it.

⦁    Take Care of Yourself.
⦁    Be Temperate.
⦁    Don’t be Promiscuous.
⦁    Love and Help Children.
⦁    Honor and Help Your Parents.
⦁    Set A Good Example.
⦁    Seek To Live With the Truth.
⦁    Do Not Murder.
⦁    Don’t Do Anything Illegal.
⦁    Support A Government Designed and Run For All the People.
⦁    Do Not Harm A Person Of Good Will.
⦁    Safeguard and Improve Your Environment.
⦁    Do Not Steal.
⦁    Be Worthy of Trust.
⦁    Fulfill Your Obligations.
⦁    Be Industrious.
⦁    Be Competent.
⦁    Respect the Religious Beliefs of Others.
⦁    Try Not to do Things to Others that you Would Not Like them to Do to You.
⦁    Try To Treat Others As You Would Want Them to Treat You.
⦁    Flourish and Prosper.

Q: Using this “research program chart,” describe the “new religion” of
     Scientology.  Which of the three families of faith would you say
     Scientology fits best?
Q. If you could put the message of Scientology in a sentence parallel to
     the Four Wisdom Treasures, what would that sentence be?
Q. Describe the worship, education, evangelization, outreach, service,
     and other practices of Scientology.
Q. Are there sacred texts in Scientology?
Q. Are their core theological doctrines in Scientology?
Q. Who is L. Ron Hubbard? Do you worship or honor him?
Q. Does Scientology continue to adapt scientific findings into their practice?

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2023 March 8 Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.
in person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

To Keep From Undressing by Aisha Sharif
     “From the intersection of Black culture and religion, to conversations with jinn, to motherhood, marriage and the meaning of hijab, Ms. Sharif beautifully melds private and public, interweaving bold and delicate themes into a one-of-kind tapestry of words and freeing truths.” --Nadirah Angail.
     Aisha Sharif shared an original poem at the last Tables of Faith gathering of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council and will be with us to share in our conversation. When I read her poems, I feel like I am eavesdropping into the personal journey of a sister I long to know better. We will meet two weeks before the beginning of Ramadan.

Aisha Sharif's website poetry:

Releasing Conversation:  Share your name and an opening line or sentence quote from a poem that says something about you.  It could be a lyric from a song, classic poetry, or personal poem.

Q.  Aisha, will you share the poem you wrote for and shared at The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council Table of Faiths Dinner?

Quotes and Questions
My Islam be black.
My Islam be Sister Clara Muhammad School
My Islam be the only Muslim girl at a public high school
My Islam don’t hate Christians
My Islam be just as good as any Arab’s.
My Islam be universal
My Islam just has to be. (p. 11-13)
Q. Why have you chosen poetry to tell your story, share your religion, and connect with world in such a personal and inviting way?

“To My Muslim Father”
     Q.  Reading this poem, I felt grief and joy.  What were you feeling when you wrote it?  How do you feel about it now?

“If My Parents Hadn’t Converted: Questions & Answers” Parts 1-5
“A very special thank you to my family: to my parents, you stepped out and spoke the truth of your belief and taught me that I can do the same, and through you, I learned how to own my background and create a path reflective of that…to my extended family, thank you for showing me how faith and love blend beyond religious line!” (p 95)
     Q. You keep coming back to your parents’ conversion.  “How They Remained” tells us a great deal about them. Was there a time when you were not Muslim? 

     Q. Would you read "Security" out loud while we listen?  Listening to an “art form” is important because what we hear, and experience is important.  Before you tell us about the poem, participants can share their feelings, thoughts, questions from listening with our ears, hearts and minds.
     Q.  "Iddah: Part I and Part II" tells a story of a period for waiting after a divorce.  Why did you choose a line from this poem for the title of your book?

     Q.  "Hijab Be" (p 89) When I read your poem out loud it felt like rap.  Is that your intention?

“The jinn are spiritual beings made of smokeless fire, neither angels nor devils.  They have free will and can inhabit the earth in a physical form, acting as somewhat of a trickster for the purposes of good or evil.  Every human is said to have a jinn. The Prophet Muhammad was said to have made his jinn Muslim.” (p 94
     Q.  Can you tell us more about a jinn?  Have you revealed your jinn in these poems and in this conversation?  Do other participants understand more about their jinn at this moment?

     Q. Do you have other books of your poetry? 

 Clif Hostetler's complete review on Goodreads.com

The author of this book of poetry identifies as Muslim, African American, and a woman. Thus, not only do I have very little in common with the author, I seldom read poetry and am not worthy to be writing a review of anything called poetry. By happy coincidence I happen to participate in a book group that met with the author, so I've been exposed to some additional commentary about the original writing of these poems.
The poems are mostly autobiographic in nature and divided into five segments that are roughly chronological in order. Issues of being black, muslim, and wearing a hijab are frequently addressed. The early poems address the author's experience of being identifiably different from her classmates. Also the fact that her parents were converts to the Muslim faith prior to the author's birth is repeatedly addressed. Each of the book's five sections contains a poem titled "If My Parents Hadn't Converted, Questions and Answers..."

Since most of the poems appear to be autobiographic, when I came to a poem toward the end of the book titled "Vanna White Reconsiders Her Pact with Her Jinn" I assumed that it must be a metaphor applicable to her own life in some way. The poem ends with the phrase, "I want to solve by own puzzle." I wondered if that meant she was rebelling against something in her life.

I asked the author to explain the Vanna poem during our group's meeting with her. She said the poem was simply a product of her interest in watching the TV show Wheel of Fortune. She imagined Vanna may have made a wish to her Jinn that she become a show business star, and subsequently it came true but not in the way she had hoped. Vanna's career ended up being one who obediently turned letters as requested by other people.

This collection of poems conveys truths and meaning beyond the finite collection of words. The insight into the author's life seems intimate and personal. I'm glad to have had an opportunity of read this book.

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April 12, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

Freshwater Road: A Novel by Denise Nicholas

     This book tells the story of one young woman’s coming-of-age in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964.
     Nineteen-year-old Celeste Tyree leaves Ann Arber to help register voters in Pineyville, a place best known for a notorious lynching that occurred a few years earlier.
     As the summer unfolds, Celeste confronts not only the political realities of race and poverty in this tiny town but also the deep truths about her family and herself. a summary of the book appears here.

Dear Friends,
     I am thrilled that Denise Nicholas has agreed to join our Vital Conversation on April 12th. Denise is an actor and writer who has starred in numerous films and TV shows, including "Room 22", for which she earned three Golden Globe nominations, and "In the Heat of the Night", for which she also wrote several episodes.  Freshwater Road, her novel, is our book for April 12, according to the Washington Post, "Surely the best work of fiction about the civil rights movement since Ernest J. Gaines's The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman."  I invite you to read her book and join us either at the library or on Zoom. "Quotes and Questions" will be sent the week before the gathering. All are welcome. --David
Please watch this interview and read
the most important book I have read in years. Denise Nicholas will be with us on Zoom on April 12th at 1 pm (CT)
for Vital Conversations. This book is disturbing and redeeming. It tells a
story we all need to hear again. --David
Here is her Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denise_Nicholas

Releasing Conversation: Share your name, your location and what you were doing during the summer of 1964.

Quotations and Questions

1. “Dear Daddy: By the time you read this, I’ll be in Mississippi volunteering for the Freedom Sumer project to help with voter registration. I know you know what’s been going on down there. Lots of kids from schools all over the country are going down. It’s a big thing. Maybe by the end of the summer, the whole racial thing will be different in the south, the rest of the country, too. This will be great if I go to law school, don’t you think? I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. You can leave a message from me at the One Man, One Vote office in Jackson, Mississippi. Will call as soon as I can. Love, Celeste.” (p 15) Think of a time you had hope to make a big difference in something. What drove Celeste and what drives you to follow your dream?

2. “The local newspaper carried stories about the invasion of northern ‘rabble-rousers.’ She never thought of herself as a rabble-rouser, and she didn’t think fo Pineyville’s Negroes as rabble. She saw the Freedom Summer volunteers as right up there with the great patriots, the idealistic founders, supporting the idea of one person, one vote, making America more true to itself.” (p109).
Celeste is experiencing large difference between Michigan and Mississippi. Compare and contrast these differences with the divides in today’s America.

3. “They grubbed an existence in the weather-beaten, no-industry towns of Southern Mississippi all week long. This church was theirs and they came to it for rest and reprieve. All Celeste could think was God bless Sophie Lewis. She reminded herself that it was 1964, that she wasn’t watching a film based on a history often distorted and mostly forgotten. This obsolete place lived, and it was like a movie. What might have been quaint looked dispossessed up close with living people. This wasn’t some anonymous village in Africa or South America where people washed their clothes in a stream, emptied their bowels just yards away, and drank the water from the same stream a few yards in the other direction...The sermons stoked the burn and led the way, and the way was nonviolence. The road was steep and hard, but no other road offered redemption to the oppressed and epiphany to the oppressors. The old way reiterated bad treatment, deception, and deprivation.” (p116-117).
Describe the many roles of the church in the deep south in 1964. How has religion been both a divisive and a healing factor in the civil rights movement? Read out loud p.117-118m.

4. “Pass it down.’ She handed the picture of Frederick Douglass to the boy sitting on the end of the row. ‘Stand and say your name.’ She asked them to stand and say their names before speaking when it became very clear that they seemed to feel more comfortable staring at the ground whey they spoke. It was a way of encouraging them to inhabit the space they lived in, a way for them to plant themselves in the earth and say, ‘I’m here and I matter.’” (p.156)
What was Freedom School teaching and why? Tell about the Freedom School at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, KS.

5. “The night heat spread the smell of their lovemaking all through the car. She imagined it smoothing out over Freshwater Road like the smell of night jasmine, like the faint scent surrounding the stands of long-needled pines.” (p191).
What role does Celeste’s love for Ed play in this story?

6. “Celeste had an urge to sit on the grass in the shade, lie down under the grand canopy of trees. Then she wondered which of the town’s old trees had suspended the dancing apoplectic feet of a bug-eyed Negro man who had laughed walking down the street or turned his head to a white woman whose sweat-wet dress clung to her body, or simply didn’t step off the pavement when a white person walked by. And the boys. What had been the last thing they heard or saw or thoughts? All of life ahead of them, all the good in the world in the to give.” (p.195).
When reality presses you down, how are you restored? Where do you find hope when you are experiencing nothing but dead ends?

After reading a letter from her birth mother Wilamena, informing her that her birth father was not Shuck, who had been her father all her life: “She’d never speak to Wilamena again. She’d never say a word about it. Do like the people in Mississippi do. It never happened. She’d throw the letter in the outhouse hole in the morning. For now, she put it back in its envelope and stuffed it into the pocket of her suitcase as if otherwise it might gather strength and run out into the world screaming.” (p 203). How do you deal with shocking news about your family, your community, your personal life? What are the ways you sooth your wounds? Are they adequate?

After little Sissy’s body was found, “She was child, like the children in the church in Birmingham, completely innocent, no threat to anyone for any of the well-known reasons. A child who wanted to dream herself out of this place.” (p231. “They mourned her as if by rote, as if mourning children compared to feeding chickens. The Negro community of Pineyville crying, sobbing really, but no one said a word.” ((p240). Are we getting used to mourning our children and accepting that it is inevitable, outside our control?

9. “Sissy had drawn Frederick Douglass with wings in the night sky and the north star up on the corner. The drawing vibrated with color. Douglass’s dark skin and beard and huge crinkled hair flowed back in a draft of flight.... Sissy’s self-portrait as Frederick Douglas reminded her that if she hadn’t come to Pineyville talking about freedom, north stars, and better places, Sissy would still be alive.” (p 310)
In the human drama sometimes death and life, captivity and liberation, despair and hope are so close they almost connect. Can you share a story when your life was renewed, turned around, or liberated through pain?

10. “Hard to summarize Pineyville, though. There were so many stories, burned-down churches and houses shot into and injuries and incarcerations, but she accepted the movement’s statistical version, its shorthand. Her truest life, she felt, had stretched out over her time on Freshwater Road. Sissy’s death. Ed’s birth in her life.” (p. 322)
Sometimes we do not recognize the mystery of the sacred in our lives until we have lived through it and beyond.


 Clif Hostetler's review on Goodreads.com  -- click for embedded links 
bookshelves: historical-fiction  -- really liked it

This novel tells the story of the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi. The story is told from the viewpoint of a female African American college student from Detroit who spends the summer as a volunteer in the Black community of a small Mississippi town organizing a voter registration drive and leading a Freedom School for the children.
     The book provides a thorough description of life in a fictional small town typical for Mississippi at the time. This is a long book (16.5 hrs audio) that takes its time to fully recreate a historic time that compares the Black community of Detroit with that of rural Mississippi and provides a descriptive pass through Hattiesburg, Jackson, and New Orleans.
     Aside from the the historical outline the book fills the pages with a fictional cast of characters which illustrate the divisions between and within the Black and White communities as well as the variety of personalities involved. It's a story that explores issues of family loyalties and infidelities. The book includes elements of a romance, and it tells of a mysterious death of a child that may have been murder. These elements of the book conclude much the same as the historic summer of 1964—not all mysteries and problems have been solved.
     The book's narrative frequently reminds the reader that danger lurks from all directions, and the locals—including some of the Black population—don't appreciate the presence of these outsiders. This is the summer when James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered, and the mystery of their disappearance hangs heavily over the first half of this book's story. It doesn't take much imagination to fear that the same fate could happen to any of the other Freedom Summer volunteers.
     This book does strive to recreate a specific time and place in history. However, it is a work of fiction and it's interesting to note some of the obvious name changes of organizations that the book used. For example the organizing entity for Freedom Summer in this book was named "One Man One Vote" whereas in actual history it was COFO or SNCC. Also, there's an organization in this book's story that doesn't agree with the nonviolent approach that goes by the name "Deacons of Justice."—probably patterned after the "Black Panthers".
The following are some excerpts from the book I found of interest. I included my own introductory comments for context.

Early in the book the protagonist acknowledges her relatively privileged background, but understands that race in America transcends class.
... race in America lived outside the purview of class or privilege, out there in a world all its own, not tethered to anything except hatred. (p.23)
Near the end of the summer our protagonist considered staying in Mississippi, but she discerned the following message from the local community she had been serving.
... that the Negro people of Pineyville needed the best: no more half-educated teachers, no more zealous "would-be-if-onlys." (p.461)
In the near future I look forward to participating in a book group Zoom meeting that will also be attended by the author Denise Nicholas. The following is a link to an interview with her. She talks about writing this book from 22 to 25 minute point. https://www.youtube.com/
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May 10, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.  
David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

May 10, 2023, A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus
by George W. Baldwin
George Baldwin, who will be with us on May 10th, was a local pastor for twelve years and a seminary professor for fourteen years. He felt called to live in voluntary poverty and moved into a community in Kansas City.  

     From 1984 until 1996 he resided in Nicaragua and worked in both a religious and a political setting. 

     In this book he tells the story of Jesus and the Biblical theme of liberation, as seen through the eyes of the poor. He now lives here in the greater Kansas City area.

Releasing Conversation: Share your name, location, and briefly a time your theology and life were interwoven.

Quotations and Questions

1. “In 1984 I gave up my credentials to the United Methodist Church as a pastor, resigned from my position as a professor at the seminary, and went to live in voluntary poverty with the poor in Nicaragua.” (15). Why would you or anyone make such a radical move “downward”? What were you thinking at the time? Did you have a support system in place if your transition did not work out?

2. The Political Model of Jesus      VS.     The Political Model of the Powers
  The politics of Liberation and Freedom   vs.             The Politics of Power and Domination
  A Theology of Grace                             vs.             A Theology of Law and Judgement  
  A Methodology of Non-Violet Agape        vs.            A Methodology of Violence

                                                                                          (Pages 4-12)
Share quotations and conversation about these distinctions. Our first goal is to understand what George Baldwin is suggesting. Can you give illustrations in current life that help us understand these different models?

3. “A major shift in my Christology emerged while living and participating with pueblo (the people) in Nicaragua over a period of the next twelve years. Before going to Nicaragua, I would have expressed my Christology in a very orthodox manner. In other words, my belief was basically in agreement with the Biblical theme of salvation, which is the prevailing approach to understanding Christianity in our society. Drawing upon the background I would have written my Christology in three chapters: Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection.” (16) Would you agree with this orthodox view? Has this been your dominant view
as well?

4. “No universal doctrine of atonement has ever been adopted. However, linking personal salvation to the atonement is what we have inherited through orthodox Christian tradition.” (17) Which of these or other “theories” make the most sense to you? Why has “Atonement” continued to be part of Christian theology?

5. “Reflecting on the Biblical theme of liberation has led to some major changes in my Credo, especially withregard to my Christology. There is a wealth of scholarship identified as Liberation Theology.” (19). Read the letter written after 7 months back to friends and family in the US. (p.20-21). What stands out? Why does it end of Poverty, Peace, and Love?

6. “I have come to a better understanding of Jesus by including this major segment of his story in my Credo: Incarnation, Insurrection, Crucifixion, Re-Insurrection.” (22-23). Discuss INSURRECTION and RE-INSURRECTION. What do these words mean to you? Why is this important in your Christology? What is new for you? What questions remain for our conversation?

7. “The Biblical theme of liberation reveals that God does not require some kind of payment or ransom before being willing to engage in the pain and suffering of the human community.” (25) Do you agree that a doctrine of atonement is no longer necessary?

8. “The prophets (of the Hebrew scriptures) called for repentance and made it clear that the promotion of justice is the true expression of faithfulness in response to the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt.” (28)
“Through both preaching and offering the ritual of baptism John (the Baptist) was calling for repentance...repentance meant to engage in doing God’s will and so seek justice for both themselves and their oppressors...One possible explanation is that Jesus submitted to John’s baptism in order to identify himself totally with the struggle of el pueblo.” (28) Can you see the focus on liberation and justice especially for the oppressed as a theme of the Jesus movement? Illustrate from today’s news.

9. “To say that people were ‘converted’ on the day of Pentecost means they came to believe that the liberation of their Jewish homeland could be achieved in the manner which Jesus had taught, i.e., through non-violent insurrection. In that sense, Jesus becomes the hoped-for Messiah. This was not a conversion to save their souls; this was a conversion to engage in the re-insurrection...It meant turning around from cooperating with the Powers.” (31) “Adopting the Politics of Liberation and Freedom was a dangerous undertaking, so they had to conceal some of their activities.” (32) What would a commitment to the politics of liberation and freedom look like today? Where have you witnessed it? Where have you entertained the idea for yourself? How might issues of racism, gun violence, gender equity, classism, and peace building fit into the politics of liberation and

10. “It is not easy to be the re-insurrection body of Christ. The cost of  disciple- ship seems far too great. The Biblical theme of liberation calls us to expend the full extent of our energy and agape in the political task of creating the reign of God on this earth. It seems that as a society we prefer to adopt Salvation Theology and personalize our religion in the hope that we may go to heaven when we die.” (53) What steps can you take today, this week, this month to be part of the “re-insurrection of the body of Christ”? What can you do to stay
human by participating in liberating the human family from their bondage? Read out loud list on page 61.

11. “Expressing what I believe about God is a process of discovery as new levels of understanding about the Bible, tradition and my own experience take shape in and through reasoned expression and dialogue. Expressing my Credo is not simple an intellectual conclusion to which I come but an awareness that leads to
other levels of truth that continue to change and develop.” (72) “It is my sincere hope that you, the reader, will be motivated to reconsider your own Credo.” (74). Discuss the 9 “Credo to Credo” dialogues. Which one stands out for you. Can you share your current Credo? How has it evolved by reading and pondering this book?

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June 14, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.  
David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

June 14, 2023, Out of The Pews and Into Politics: Francis Schaeffer and the Evangelical Takeover of the Republican Party
by Charlie Broomfield  

Our friend Charles Broomfield, who will be with us, is a lifelong Missourian with 50 years of experience and involvement in politics, government, religion and business. He served in the Missouri House of Representatives for 8 years and came very close to being elected to the United States House of Representatives.  He has paid special attention and now published this book to explore the connections between religion and politics.  His friendship and partnership with Francis Schaeffer has assisted in Charlie’s deep conviction that “Right Wing Politics” is a threat to our democracy in the United States.

Releasing conversation:  Share your name and say something about your political activity.

Quotations and Questions

1. “Judge Broomfield, are you a secular humanist? (p 7) Secular Humanism: ‘The Western world in general and the United States in specific have been undergoing a process of secularization since the eighteenth century.  Sociologists identify secularization in general as ‘the process whereby religious sentiment and organizations lose their dominance over culture.’” (p 15) Q.  Charlie, are you a secular humanist?  Share some highlights of your life journey that have brought you to write this book.

2. “The family’s (Francis and Edith Schaeffer) interest in nature, the arts, literature, architecture, and history had a significant impact not only on their enjoyment of life, but eventually it gained for Schaeffer considerable recognition and respect from America’s conservative Protestant as an intellectual theologian.” (p 36).  “It is here that Schaeffer, in his later years, seems to have departed from his old belief of separatism and concluded that humankind was so bad and had fallen so far from God’s grace that instead of ‘coming out from the world and being separate,’ true believers must now go back into the world, particularly to America and ‘take back America to God,’ as God had originally intended.  This change occurred in a major way in the 1970s.” (p 47) What made Francis Schaeffer such a powerful force and how did he change over his lifetime?

3. “It was Francis Schaeffer who made the call to Falwell to urge him to get his followers out of the church pews and into politics over the abortion issue…Schaeffer told Falwell that he had a responsibility to confront the culture where it was failing morally and socially.” (p 80-81) “I (Frank – the son) helped create seduced the Republican Party.  I was there – and/or Dad was – participating in various meetings with Congressman Jack Kemp, Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush, Sr. when the unholy marriage between the Republican Party and the Evangelical Reconstructionist infected ‘pro-life’ community was gradually consummated…continues to this day.” (p. 83) Who seduced who?  The argument could be made that the political party seduced the religious group or vice versa.  This alliance continues to this day as one of the most powerful political machines in the USA.  How has it impacted local, state, national, and world politics?

4. “Frank says, ‘To our lasting discredit, Dad and I didn’t go public with our real opinions of the religious-right leaders we were in bed with.  We believed that there was to much at stake both personally, as we caught the power-trip disease, and politically as we got carried away by the needs of the pro-life movement.  And however conflicted Dad and I were, like the other religious-right leaders, we were on an ego-stroking roll.  We kept our mouths shut.” (p 95) You seem to be implying that Francis and Frank both had a change of mind and heart before Francis died.  Is that accurate?

5. “In 2016, 80% of the block of white evangelical voters in the United States voted for Donald J. Trump giving him the presidency over Hilary Clinton, a woman who might have been the most qualified person ever to run for the American presidency!” (p 99). Discuss the irony of such a high percentage of Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians voting for the Republican candidate.

6. In The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism (the first book discussed in Vital Conversations, in 2002) Karen Armstrong writes about radical fundamentalists throughout the world.  She makes the following observation about the American breed” ‘Fundamentalists have no time for democracy, pluralism, religious toleration, peacekeeping, free speech, or the separation of church and state.’”  (p 105).  How can we continue to have moral and political discourse without these basic values?  Charlie’s book reveals a very serious reality.  What are specific steps we can take to address this toxic situation. 

7. “Whether it is called a vast right-wing conspiracy, the Religious Right, the Tea Party, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, or some other name, it is evident to any citizen who cares to take time to examine the facts, that such an entity, or combination of entities, exists and that they appear to dominate Republican politics today.” (p 123) Discuss the difference between “Church and State” and “Religion and Politics.” 

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July 12, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 p.m.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541 Passcode: 076621

    United States Constitution
David says: I invite you to read the US Constitution and Bill of Rights as well as other resources about citizenship.  I invite you to take the test for US Citizenship.  I invite you to pick a specific amendment or portion of the Constitution to introduce in depth with the group. You can also take The US Citizenship Test to see how you would do.
Releasing Conversation: Share your name and what
questions or comments about a part of the Constitution you select.

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August 9, 2023, Wednesday 1-2:30 pm.  David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

Wired For Love: A Neuroscientist’s Journey Through Romance, Loss, and the Essence of Human Connection
by Stephanie Cacioppo

One of the world’s leading authorities on the neuroscience of human conditions. Her work on the neurobiology of romantic love and loneliness has been published in top academic journals and covered by The New York Times, CNN, and National Geographic, among others.  In Wired for Love, Stephanie tells not just a science story but also a love story.  She shares revelatory insights into how and why we fall in love, what makes love last, and how we process love lost – all grounded in cutting-edge findings in brain chemistry and behavioral science.

"I used to see love only through the lens of science, but my husband taught me to see it through the lens of humanity as well.  And once I did, my life and my research were changed forever.  So in this book, I have tried to tell both the story of my science and the science behind my story, in the hope that it will help you not only appreciate the nature of human connection but also give you some inspiration for how to find and sustain love in your own life."  --Stephanie Cacioppo, PhD.

1. “Loneliness has in fact become so pervasive and so damaging that many public health experts describe it now as a full-blown epidemic, one that touches not only single people but also unhappy couples. (p3). We have experienced an epidemic in recent years. Would your experience agree with these public health experts?

“I am not only a neuroscientist of love but also a hopeless romantic...the world is changing, yes, but love will change with it. Love will evolve. This is one of love’s best features, its adaptability. Yet while love is endlessly customizable, we must remember that it is never expendable. Love is not optional. It is not something we can do without. Love is a biological necessity. My scientific research on the brain has convinced me that a healthy love life is as necessary to a person’s well-being as nutritious food, exercise, or clean water. (p7) Share your understanding of the importance of love from your life experiences or from other stories you have heard.

“We see the brain not as a classic computer but as a smartphone with a wireless, broadband link to other devices. Just imagine how useful an iPhone would be without the ability to access the internet or send a text. Our brain also requires a strong connection to realize its full potential. And, like a smartphone, its connectivity makes it vulnerable. It can be hacked, cluttered with unnecessary apps, bombarded with distracting or anxiety-induing notifications. Yet the brain can also do something that smartphone designers can only dream of. It can reprogram itself. (Neuroplasticity) This is the capacity of the brain to grow while pruning inessential neurons when we’re young; to expand and form new connections and repair or compensate for damage caused by an injury...social interaction is often the very thing that drives the vital changes inside the brain.” (p22-23). Illustrate this amazing capacity with your reading or your experience.

“The power of the brain to rewire itself is fundamental to understand how this organ works.” (p50). Read this section, pages 50-51, out loud. “Often it was their passion for the thing they loved most in lifewhether that was a vocation, or a hobby, or a personthat helped them rediscover the skill or ability that they had lost.” (51)

“Yet as much as the amygdala registers fear, it really is out to detect saliency, changes in the environment that are worth noticing...The amygdala is famous as a threat detector when, in fact, it picks up on all kinds of changes, positive or negative...we are hardwired to respond to the opportunity for positive experiences, things we don’t want to move away from but toward.” (p58) How can we practice and use the power to discern the positive possibilities rather than just the threats?

"People often feel like their own love story is unique, but on a biological level, love looked the same no matter who felt it. Regardless of where you were born, whether you are gay or straight, male, female, transgendered, if a person is significant to you, they will light up this network in the same essential way. (p65). Love is not a social construct, but a hardwired into human nature. Love is therefore stronger that racism, homophobia, hate or fear. How can we better live that truth?

“If you define romantic love in a broad and polymorphous way as just a deep affection and attachment, it is of course possible to love a person without desiring them physically. But, if you define love based on its unique neurobiological blueprint, it is clear that desire is not an incidental feature of a loving relationship but an essential ingredient. This desire, as we will discover, doesn’t necessarily need to be sexual but it must be physical. By that I mean it must involve not just the mind but the body as well.” (p85) How does this truth play out in your life? How have you witnessed it in older persons you know and love?

“Studies show that rumination, recurrent negative thinking, self-focused thinking, and even obsessive-compulsive disorders are associated with changes in the PFC. The prefrontal cortex on overdrive is not a pretty sight.” (p103). Share stories when you have witnesses that in others. Have you had a time with your PFC kicked into overdrive? Antidotes to combat negative overthinking include breathing, meditation, and mindfulness exercises. (p105) Which ones work best for you?

“Love sharpens our mind, improves our social intelligence, and makes us more creative together than we could ever hope to have been alone.” (p118) Reflect on your own love story and share stories that illustrates this reality.

“To be with your partner when they are suffering is more than just some psychic balm it actually changes the biological reality of whatever medical experience they are going through. When the love network is turned on, it activates the brain’s reward centers.” (p128) Share some stories of being with a partner who is experiencing a difficult situation. Who has been present for you when you needed someone? Describe “good grief” as you have witnessed it.

11. “Emotions are merely emotions neither positive nor negative. It’s how we react to them that will determine whether they have a positive or negative impact on our health, our happiness, our longevity.” (p180)

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other,
but in looking outward together in the same direction.”
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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

A unique mix of neurology and memoir, this book describes brain activity caused by falling in love, and then the author goes on to recount her own personal experience of falling in love. Readers who enjoy a true love story will find it here, and unwittingly learn a bit of science while immeshed in the love story.

I enjoyed learning how disparate parts of the brain become active in response to love.

“By looking deep into the brains of people in love, we discover that this complex neurobiological phenomenon activates not just the brain’s mammalian pleasure centers but also our cognitive system, the most evolved, intellectual parts of the brain that we use to acquire knowledge and make sense of the world around us.”

The author is a credentialed social neuroscientist who has researched the human brain’s reactions to falling in love, and she also has experienced falling in love and getting married at midlife at age thirty-seven. After seven years of marriage her husband died, consequently the experience of grief is explored near the end of the book. Ironically, her husband was an internationally renowned scholar author of multiple books about grief and loneliness. Their friends referred to their match as the marriage of love and grief.

The following excerpt is part of the author's summary near the end of the book.

... love is much more expansive concept than we give it credit for. We must begin to view this phenomenon not as an isolated and ineffable emotion but as a cognitive and biological necessity, one that is measurable but ever changing, one that has the power to make us not only better partners but also better people.

I began this book alone and I'm ending it ... alone. Yet by coming full circle I believe that I found the key to lasting love both as a neuroscientist studying it in a laboratory and as a human being experiencing it in life. The key is to have an open mind. That is far, far, easier said than done, but the process of opening the mind begins by understanding how it works. That is exactly what you and I have tried to do in this book.

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September 13, 2023 David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship
by Pope Francis  -- read it here, borrow it from your library, or purchase it.

In his third encyclical, Pope Francis reflects on a topic of great important: human solidarity and friendship.  Following his election to the papacy, Pope Francis first greeted the world with the words Fratelli e sorelle – “brothers and sisters.” In this encyclical, he continues to address all men and women as his brothers and sisters, calling us to consider what our common brotherhood requires of us. By fostering a genuine affection for all, we affirm the dignity of every human person created in the image and likeness of God.

1.“Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth, which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her belief and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all. (p13).

RELEASING CONVERSATION: Share you name, current location and briefly a dream you have about a better world in the future.

Introductory remarks about Pope Francis

2. “When the dignity of the human person is respected, and his or her rights recognized and guaranteed, creativity and interdependence thrive, and the creativity of the human personality is released through actions that further the common good.” (P22.). Tell a story of a person whose dignity was restored who began to thrive. Could be person in a novel or movie or someone you know.

3. “The first victim of every war is ‘the human family’s innate vocation to brotherhood.’ As a result, ‘every threatening situation breeds mistrust and leads people to withdraw into their own safety zone.’ Our world is trapped in a strange contradiction: We believe that we can ‘ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust.” (P26). When have you retreated into your safe space because of fear?

4. “It is one thing to feel forced to live together, but something entirely different to value the richness and beauty of those seeds of common life that need to be sought out and cultivated.” (P31). “We begin to realize that our lives are interwoven with and sustained by ordinary people valiantly shaping the decisive events of our shared history; doctors, nurses, cleaning personnel, caretakers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteer, priests and religious...They understood that no one is saved alone.” (P54). Describe some of the rewards and benefits of mutuality, shared activities, cooperation, and partnership with people who are different from you.

5. “Every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally; this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country. People have this right even if they are unproductive or were born with or developed limitations. This does not detract from their great dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstance but on the intrinsic worth of their being. Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity.” (P107) Where have you witnessed this not happening in today’s world. What can we do to address this threat to humanities future survival?

6. “Saint John Chrysostom summarizes it in this way: ‘Not to share our wealth with the poor is to rob them and take away their livelihood. The riches we possess are not our own, but theirs as well.’” (P119) “The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.” (P120) How do we respond to this provocative challenge? Is there a way to limit capitalism and the ownership of private property that remains faithful to the Gospel message? See P 123 for a possible response.

7. “We can aspire to a world that provides land, housing, and work for all. This is the true path of peace, not the senseless and myopic strategy of sowing fear and mistrust in the face of outside threats. For a real and lasting peace will only be possible ‘on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family.” (P127) Is your community ready to engage in this conversation in a way that may not create a solution, but at least a willingness to wrestle with the thoughts of a more equitable human cooperation?

8. “We need to sink out roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place, which is a gift of God. We can work on a small scale, in our own neighborhood, but with a larger perspective...the global need not stifle, nor the particular prove barren’; our model must be that of a polyhedron, in which the value of each individual is respected, where ‘the whole is greater that the part, but it is also great than the sum of its parts.” (P145) “Other cultures are not ‘enemies from which we need to protest ourselves, but differing reflections of the inexhaustible richness of human life.” (P147) What does that mean to you? Can you illustrate some examples?

9. “For ‘our own cultural identity is strengthened and enriched as a result of dialogue with those unlike ourselves. Nor is our authentic identify preserved by an impoverished isolation.’ The world grows and is filled with new beauty, thanks to the successive syntheses produced between cultures that are open and free of any form of cultural imposition.” (P148) The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council is one of the best illustrations of this in my world. Talk about this organization and how you have been involved.

10. “What is needed is a model of social, political, and economic participation that can include popular movements and invigorate local, national, and international governing structures with that torrent of moral energy that springs from including the excluded in the building of a common destiny. While also ensuring that these experiences of solidarity which grow from below, from the subsoil of the planet – can come together, be more coordinated, keep on meeting one another.” (P169). Are you aware of movements like this?

11. “Politics too must make room for a tender love of others. What is tenderness? It is love that draws near and becomes real ... appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love...No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force.” (P194,195) Can you dream with me a such love? One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp or what’s a heaven for? How cwill you have tender love for someone in the next week? 

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

Fratelli Tutti (translates to Brothers All) is an encyclical from Pope Francis in 2020 which encourages a spirit of human social friendship (a.k.a. fraternity), and it is a plea to reject wars. It was written during the first year of the COVID-19 so the encyclical also notes that the global management of the pandemic had revealed a failure in global cooperation.

It is interesting to note that Pope Francis associated this encyclical with the memory of Saint Francis of Assisi first by signing the document during his visit to the tomb of his namesake, and second by using a title taken from Admonitions, a writing of the Saint’s. But perhaps the most surprising feature of Pope Francis’ narrative is that it makes frequent reference to his agreement with the Islamic grand imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad el-Tayeb based on a previous document the two had co-signed. The sighting of his meeting with an Islamic leader echos the trip made by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1219 during a time of active war of the Fifth Crusade to Egypt to meet with the Islamic Sultan of Egypt in the pursuit of peace.

After an opening chapter that reviews numerous examples of lack of global cooperation the encyclical has a Chapter Two which could pass for a Sunday morning sermon based on the Good Samaritan parable. Those two opening chapters are followed with six additional chapters addressing specific issues.

The following is a listing of the names of the final six chapters with a short excerpt from their opening text.

3. Envisaging and engendering an open world
Human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop and find fulfilment except "in the sincere gift of self to others". Nor can they fully know themselves apart from an encounter with other
persons: "I communicate effectively with myself only insofar as I communicate with others".

4. A heart open to the whole world
If the conviction that all human beings are brothers and sisters is not to remain an abstract idea but to find concrete embodiment, then numerous related issues emerge, forcing us to see things in a new light and to develop new responses.

5. A better kind of politics
The development of a global community of fraternity based on the practice of social friendship on the part of peoples and nations calls for a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good. Sadly, politics today often takes forms that hinder progress towards a different world.

6. Dialogue and friendship in society
Approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and to find common ground: all these things are summed up in the one word "dialogue".

7. Paths of renewed encounter
In many parts of the world, there is a need for paths of peace to heal open wounds. There is also a need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter.

I found the following excerpt from Chapter 7 of particular interest.

... it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a "just war". Never again war!

8. Religions at the service of fraternity in our world
The different religions, based on their respect for each human person as a creature called to be a child of God, contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society. Dialogue between the followers of different religions does not take place simply for the sake of diplomacy, consideration or tolerance. ... "the goal of dialogue is to establish friendship, peace and harmony, and to share spiritual and moral values and experiences in a spirit of truth and love".

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October 11, 2023 David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541

Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi Journey West and Freemasonry’s Journey West
by Steven L. Harrison, 33, FMLR

By the end of the 18th century, Freemasonry in America had advanced to the shores of the Mississippi River.  With the advent of the Louisiana Purchase, the population began to shift westward.  Freemasonry followed suit and, in many cases, led the way.  Freemasons were among the pioneers who traveled across what was called the “the great American desert,” and, upon settling in their new homes, wanted to resume their symbolic journeys as Freemasons.  Early in the 19th century those pioneers, in the interest of time and limiting the grueling travel back to the eat, called upon the closest established group of Masons to charter their lodges – the Grand Lodge of Missouri.
     Steven Harrison
, 33 degree, FMLR,
joins us for the discussion. He has written many books about Freemasonry and has posted a regular blog online.  I invite you to prepare by visiting and reading some of his blogs and watching "The Musterion".  Below questions for VC in blue is his "Freemasonry for non Freemasons."

The address of his blog is https://oneminutemason.blogspot.com/
Here are some articles:
The Origins of Anti-Masonry: https://tinyurl.com/Anti-Mason-Origins
Musterion (everyone has secrets): https://tinyurl.com/Musterion-Secrets

Releasing Conversation:  Share your name, location and identify an organization that has been important on your human journey.

Q.  What is the history and significance of Freemasonry, and how has it evolved?  What are the core values and principles and how do they shape the organization’s activities and goals? “Symbols are only the vehicles of communication. They must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference.” This quotation from Joseph Campbell, a renowned mythologist and scholar, offers an insightful perspective on the human attraction to symbols and ritual.  Liturgical Christianity and Freemasonry are rich in symbolism and ritual.  What is it that is so attractive?  Would you agree that these practices tap into universal human needs for belonging, meaning, and connection to the sacred?

Q.  Can you explain the role of secrecy and confidentiality in Freemasonry, and how it is maintained with the organization?

Q.  What misconceptions or myths exist about Freemasonry?  What would you like to never hear about Freemasonry again?

Q.  "Founded in 1821, just a year after Missouri became a state, the Grand Lodge of Missouri has chartered more Lodges in other states than any other Grand Lodge.” (Preface) Please share some of the stories of freemasons of Missouri.  Thomas Hart Benton (the first).  David Rice Acthison.  William H. Russell.  Other brothers you appreciate.

Freemasonry for Non-Freemasons

To those who are not members of the fraternity, Freemasonry is somewhat of an enigma. In the extreme there are those who see it as a cult – a secret society of elitists who want to – or do – control the world. The entertainment world exacerbates the mysterious nature of the organization when it gives members supernatural powers, meeting in lodges with secret passageways and furnishings that open to reveal mysterious things. Freemasons, they would have us believe, know all the secrets… not just of Freemasonry but of life and the universe. Without much more to go on, outsiders' views of Masons range from seeing them as the all-knowing Adept to the emissaries of Satan himself. The truth does not, in fact, lie somewhere in between. It lies elsewhere.

Origin: Medieval European Stonemason Guilds

Freemasonry is a fraternal organization with roots going back to the medieval European stonemason guilds consisting of men – "operative Masons" –  who built the great stone cathedrals of the era. Gradually those guilds evolved into a social and charitable organization of men who did not necessarily work with stone – "speculative Masons." That transformation took place over many years until the first Grand Lodge was founded in the year 1717 in England.

Tenets of Freemasonry: Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth

The tenets of Freemasonry are Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. It is a fraternal and social organization, committed to doing charitable work, and seeking – not defining – truth, through education, study, and discourse. Members are committed to personal growth and self-improvement, as well as the betterment of society.

Symbols Used to Convey Moral and Ethical Lessons

Freemasonry uses symbols to convey moral and ethical lessons. Many of these allude to the fraternity's origin as a group of men working in stone. For example a trowel, used to spread mortar which holds stone in place is seen as a symbol of that which spreads the cement of brotherly love and unites Freemasons into a society of friends and Brothers. Other Masonic symbols do not allude to stone Masonry, such as the beehive, which signifies industriousness and hard work.

Not A Secret Organization; An Organization With Secrets

It has been said many times and bears repeating: Freemasonry is not a secret organization; it is an organization with secrets. If Freemasonry were a secret society, it would not have signs advertising its presence hanging outside its buildings. Its lodges would not be making their phone numbers publicly available and its members would not be wearing jewelry announcing their membership. Members do, however, have certain aspects of their ritual and ceremonies they do not reveal, such as handshakes and passwords.

Meetings: Ritual Opening & Closing, Business, Education and Discussion

In their regular lodge meetings, Masons have an opening based on a ritual. While that ritual is not public,  a pretty good representation of it can be found in your local libraries or on the all-knowing Internet. After opening the lodge, members conduct business and sometimes have an educational program or discussion. Afterward, there is a ritual-based closing. On certain occasions Masons initiate new members into the Masonic degrees. They also hold officer installations and other ceremonies which are open to the public.

Inclusive of All Religions

Freemasonry is not a religion, but it requires its members to have a belief in God. Men of all faiths are welcome, and the fraternity is committed to religious tolerance and diversity.

The Individual Lodge

The individual lodge is the bedrock unit of Freemasonry. It is in his local lodge that a Freemason receives the first three Masonic degrees in separate ceremonial initiations. It has been said the Third Degree is the highest Masonic degree, even though those with higher numbers follow. In Masonry, no advancement to those degrees is mandatory.

Appendant Masonic Organizations

The Scottish Rite is a Masonic organization that is focused on the continuation of the philosophical and educational aspects of the fraternity. It is composed of 29 additional degrees from the Fourth through the Thirty Second. The Scottish Rite awards the well-known Thirty-Third degree as an honorary degree to a select few members who have given exemplary service to the fraternity and community.
The York Rite is another Masonic organization that is also focused on continuing the philosophical and educational aspects of Masonry. It is composed of three bodies: the Royal Arch Chapter, the Cryptic Masons Council, and the Commandery of Knights Templar. The Chapter and Council, like all preceding degrees, are open to Masons of all faiths. The Commandery of Knights Templar, however, is reserved for Christian Freemasons, and is patterned after the order of the same name which was active during the Middle Ages.
The Shrine (The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, or AAONMS) is an American organization composed exclusively of Freemasons. It was established in 1870 "based on fun, fellowship, and Masonic principles." Now known as Shriners International, it is headquartered in Tampa, Florida. Members, wearing their trademark maroon fez headpieces, participate in parades and other fun activities all the while raising funds for charity. In 1920, the group founded the Shriners Hospitals for Children, opening the first hospital in 1922. Today the organization consists of a network of hospitals and clinics throughout the country offering a variety of services to children aged 18 and under.
In fact, one of the most important aspects of Freemasonry is its commitment to charity. Freemasons are involved in a wide range of charitable activities, from supporting local community organizations to providing disaster relief around the world. In addition to the Shriners Hospitals, other charities include the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, The Scottish Rite Clinics and others.

Governing Bodies

There is no worldwide head or governing body of Freemasonry. Each jurisdiction stands on its own and is connected to others simply by the mutual recognition of each. A jurisdiction usually consists of a country or, in the case of places like the Untied States, a state, province, or locality. The leader of each jurisdiction has the title of Grand Master. Grand Lodge members elect the Grand Master and, in most cases, he serves for only a year or two, with the final, almost dictatorial, word in all matters. In the United States there are 51 Grand Masters, separately governing each state plus the District of Columbia. The Grand Lodge is responsible for overseeing the operation of the lodges within its jurisdiction, setting standards for those lodges to adhere to, and promoting Masonic education.

African American Lodges

In 1784, the Grand Lodge of England granted a charter to a group of free black men who were Freemasons but, due to prevailing racial segregation were not a part of existing lodges. Led by Prince Hall, the group founded African Lodge 1, becoming the first Masonic lodge for men of African descent. From there, Prince Hall Freemasonry spread quickly throughout the United States in the face of discrimination and segregation. Today, Grand Lodges throughout the United States as well as several other countries recognize the Prince Hall Grand Lodge as a legitimate part of Freemasonry. Apart from Prince Hall Freemasonry, regular Freemasonry also admits African Americans as well as men with all other ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Women in Freemasonry

Perhaps surprisingly, there are also women Freemasons. The Eastern Star is an appendant body of Freemasonry which includes women. The organization uses symbolism and rituals, is devoted to charitable work and community service, but its members are not Freemasons. There have been a few women who were what might be called "mainstream" Freemasons. In these cases Masons discovered the women had overheard the Masonic degrees. They decided the best way to deal with the situation was to initiate the women into the order and put them under obligation to keep secret what they had learned. Other women, most notably a group called Le Droit Humain, have formed their own Masonic organizations paralleling the rituals and practices of regular Freemasonry. To date, no women's group of Freemasons has been recognized by any regular Masonic group.

Youth Groups

Masons support three youth groups which include males and females up to the age of 21.

DeMolay: The International order of DeMolay was founded in Kansas City, Missouri in 1919. It is a fraternity for boys and young men ages 12 to 21, and named after the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. The organization has seven Cardinal Values: Filial Love, Reverence for sacred things, Courtesy, Comradeship, Fidelity, Cleanliness, and Patriotism. Requiring a belief in a supreme being, DeMolay accepts members of all faiths and defends religious, civil, and intellectual freedom.

Job's Daughters International: An organization for girls and young women aged 10 to 20. Founded by Ethel T. Wead Mick on Omaha in 1920, Job's Daughters promotes loyalty to country, respect for parents, and reverence for God and the Scriptures, welcoming many religions and cultures. The only prerequisite is a belief in a Supreme Being. It promotes itself as a sorority "where girls rule."

Rainbow Girls: Reverend W. Mark Saxson founded The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls (IORG) in 1922. It is a Masonic youth service organization for girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 21. Members are expected to believe in a Supreme being, be loyal to each other, and provide community service. Their values are love, religion, nature, immortality, fidelity, patriotism, and service.


Freemasonry, a fraternal organization with a commitment to charity and self-improvement, currently has a membership of about four million men around the world with about one million members in the US. Fifteen US Presidents have been members along with countless others who have been a part of Freemasonry’s unique role in American and world history. In spite of Freemasonry’s high standards, record of community service, and role in American History, it still remains a mystery to many outside the fraternity. 
    Roughly from the late 5th to late 15th centuries.
    The first degree is known as the Entered Apprentice degree, the second is the Fellowcraft Degree, and the third is the Master Mason degree.
    This brief overview cannot tell the full story of Freemasonry. For further information, there are a number of in-depth books available, not the least of which are Freemasonry For Dummies by Christopher Hodapp, or The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry by S. Brent Morris. Both are well-crafted and by no means are they for dummies or idiots. Each is available online and at most bookstores.

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November 8, 2023 David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541
From Here to Eternity:  Traveling the World To Find the Good Death
by Caitlin Doughty

Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead.  From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world’s funeral industry – especially chemical embalming – and suggest that the most effective traditions are those that allow mourners to personally attend to the body of the deceased.  Exquisitely illustrated by artist Landis Blair, this book is an adventure into the morbid unknown, a fascinating tour through the unique ways people everywhere confront mortality.  


Colorado: Crestone
Indonesia: South Sulawesi
Mexico: Michoacan
North Carolina: Cullowhee
Spain: Barcelona
Japan: Tokyo
Bolivia: La Paz
California: Joshua Tree

Quotations and Questions
“Adults who are racked with death anxiety are not odd birds who have contracted some exotic disease, but men and women whose family and culture have failed to knit the proper protective clothing for them to withstand the icy chill of mortality.” – Irvin Yalom, Psychiatrist

     Share your name and very briefly your plans for funeral and burial.

1. “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.” – William Gladstone (8)
Why is the care of the dead so central to our tender mercies? Tell a story about special care of the dead you have experienced.

2. “Many of the rituals in this book will be very different from your own, but I hope you will see the beauty in that difference. You may be someone who experiences real fear and anxiety around death, but you are here. Just like the people you are about to meet, you have shown up.” (15)
Think about your feelings about death and the presence of a dead body. What feelings do you have?

3. “Cremation machines only grew larger, faster, and more efficient. Almost 150 years later, cremation has reached record heights in popularity (for the first time, in 2017, more Americans will be cremated than buried).” (27)
Does that surprise you? “From the ash pile he pulled out the largest bone fragments –chunks of femur, rib, and skull – which some families like to take home and keep as relics.” (39) Would you like to keep a small bone relic from a loved one?

4. “According to their animistic belief system, there is also no barrier between the human and nonhuman aspects of the natural world: animals, mountains, and even the dead. Speaking to your grandfather’s corpse is a way to build a connection to the person’s spirit.” (56-57).
Do you speak to your death loved ones? Do you have pictures or places where you connect with them?

5. “For Torajans, hauling someone out of their graves after their death is not only respectful (the most respectful thing they can do, in fact), but it provides a meaningful way to stay connected to their dead.” (76)
Why in one culture is this OK and in another it seems totally bizarre?

6. “In the last forty years, Dias de los Muertos has come to represent popular culture throughout Mexico. And Mexico itself is viewed as a world leader in practicing engaged, public grief.” (81).
Describe Day of the Dead. Have you witnesses some of these events? How else does Mexico engage public grief?

7. “How else to explain the increasing popularity of the refrain: ‘When I die, no fuss. Just dig a hole and put me in it.’ A sensible request, indeed. Sending your corpse back into nature would seem to be both the most inexpensive and the most ‘green’ option for your death. After all, the plants and animals we consume during our lives are grown and nourished by the soil.” (108).
How do you feel about this simple suggestion and solution? What about the various ways of composting that are mentioned in this chapter?

8. “The dead at Roques Blanques start out in a ground grave, or in a wall mausoleum. But the dead haven’t purchased a home at the cemetery as much as they have rented an apartment. They have a lease, and their time in the grave is limited…This ‘grave recycling’ is not just a Spanish practice.” (144-145).
As space demands will this become more common in cities in America?

9. “Undeterred, Hachiko (a real dog) returned to the station every day for the next nine years, when his own death, halted the ritual. Dogs are a solid meeting point from a cross-cultural perspective. Everyone respects a devoted canine.” (153)
Tell about a comfort pet you have experienced. Some pets were buried with their owner in some cultures.

10. “The cultural meaning of suicide in Japan is different. It’s viewed as selfless, even honorable act. The samurai introduced the practice of SEPPUKU, literally ‘cutting the abdomen,’ self-disembowelment.” (155).
There seems to be expanding conversation about physician assisted dying. Share your feelings about this possibility.

11. “The sixty-seven skulls in Dona Ely’s house were NATITAS. The name translates to ‘flat noses’ or ‘little pug-nosed ones,’ an adorable infantilization of a skull. To be a natita is to have special powers to connect the living and the dead. As Paul put it, ‘Natitas have to be human skulls, but not every skull gets to be a natita.” (189-190). Women like Dona Ana and Dona Ely represent a threat to the Catholic Church. Through magic, belief, and their natitas, they facilitate a direct, unmediated connection to the powers of the beyond, no male intermediary required. It reminded me of Santa Muerte, the Mexican Saint of Death, who is unapologetically female.” (195)
Skulls seem to be very present in Mexican markets, homes, and churches. Compare and contrast how skulls are viewed in your community.

12. “Death avoidance is not an individual failing; it’s a cultural one. Facing death is not for the faint-hearted. It is far too challenging to expect that each citizen will do so on his or her own. Death acceptance is the responsibility of all death professionals…It is the responsibility of those who have been tasked with creating physical and emotional environments where safe, open interaction with death and dead bodies is possible.” (232)
How do you think and feel about dying and dead bodies? How can you become more open in this conversation and living fully even as you ponder the reality of death and dying?

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December 13, 2023 David Nelson, humanagenda@gmail.com
In person at the library and on Zoom ID: 832 3534 6541
The Bill of Obligations: Ten Habits of Good Citizens
by Richard Haass

The United States faces dangerous threats from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, terrorists, climate change, and future pandemics. The great peril to the country, however, comes not from abroad but from within, from none other than ourselves. The question facing us is whether we are prepared to do what is necessary to save our democracy.

“Richard Haass has turned his keen mind
 and large heart to the most important of
questions: the meaning of citizenship. 

      If American democracy is to endure,
it will require all of us to embrace what
Haass calls our common obligations.

     This is a vital work for a decisive time.”
                                   --Jon Meacham

“Beyond rights, obligations are the other cornerstone of a successful democracy – obligations between individual citizens as well as between citizens and their government …habits of citizenship – are things that should happen but that the law cannot require.” (xiv-xv)
                                    I. Be Informed
                                    II. Get Involved
                                    III. Stay Open to Compromise
                                    IV. Remain Civil
                                    V. Reject Violence
                                    VI. Value Norms
                                    VII. Promote the Common Good
                                    VIII. Respect Government Service
                                    IX. Support the Teaching of Civics
                                    X. Put Country First

Releasing Conversation: Share your name and identify from the list above your strongest habit as a citizen. Also share the one you need to improve.

Quotations and Questions

A. “The Bill of Rights made progress in protecting individuals against the federal government but not the states…The Civil War resolved what the Constitution had not, and established the supremacy of the national government over the states.” (11) Discuss the relationship between the states and the federal government today. Who has more power? Is that as it should be in your opinion? Think about “the electoral college”?

B. “Our transitions (from one president to the next) were peaceful even in times of war or after elections that were fiercely fought, in years where the loser believed the results were unfair and there was no love lost between the candidates. But this has now changed since 2020…What we don’t know is whether what happened in late 2020 and early 2021 was an aberration or a precedent.” (19) What happened in 2020 and why? Is it an aberration or a precedent?

C. “John Adams wrote that ‘Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy yet, that did not commit suicide.’ Or, as Abraham Lincoln said, ‘If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.’” (23) Is our Democracy ending? Is there hope for renewal? What is your opinion and prepare to defend it.

D. “Social media is especially pernicious, as it tends to undermine social trust, weaken institutions, and create mini-societies with their own narratives. We have moved from broadcasting to narrowcasting.” (32) Do you agree? Give examples.

E. “None of what is essential for a democracy to thrive is automatically passed on from generation to generation.To the contrary, it needs to be taught, including its history, values, and obligations. There is no accepted national curriculum. It is impossible to preserve a system that is not widely understood or valued.” (33) What is the state of civic education? Share your experience as a student, educator, and citizen.

1. BE INFORMED.-- “An INFORMED CITIZEN is someone who understands the fundamentals as to how the government and the economy and society operate, the principal challenges facing the country at home and abroad, and the contending options or policies for dealing with those challenges.” (41-42)

2. GET INVOLVED.-- “What matters in a democracy is not the views of a majority of the populace but those of a majority willing to get involved politically.” (56) Share examples of where this matters. “Ronald Reagan in 1989: ‘All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins…That would be a very American thing to do.’” (58) Do you talk about democracy and our nation at your dinner table?

3. STAY OPEN TO COMPROMISE.-- “Compromise is the process by which all relevant parties are incentivized to go alone with an alternative arrangement. An all-or-nothing approach to bargaining will almost always result in the latter.” (65)

4. REMAIN CIVIL.-- “George W. Bush expressed it this way: ‘Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment; it is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.’ Opponents on one issue need not become opponents on all issues, much less enemies. Civility greatly decreases the chances that disagreements will spill over into violence.” (75-76) “Changing one’s mind can be a sign of strength and wisdom, especially if new facts emerge or if what were thought to be facts are shown to be otherwise.” (78)

5. REJECT VIOLENCE.-- “There are multiple alternatives to using violence in pursuit of political ends…double down on efforts…registering more citizens to vote…civil disobedience, or nonviolent political action…accept the penalties …protest …good trouble (John Lewis) …Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and others.” (90-91)

6. VALUE NORMS.-- “Norms are the unwritten traditions, rules, customs, conventions, codes of conduct, and practices that reduce friction and brittleness in a society….Laws provide the scaffolding of a society, but norms are what fill it in and make it livable, the furniture within the building, so to speak.” (97)

7. PROMOTE THE COMMON GOOD.-- “Equal opportunity is not to be equated or confused with equal outcomes. To the contrary, unequal outcomes in society are inevitable, the result of what we are born with, and what is garnered from effort, experience, opportunity, luck, and more. A society does, however, have to grapple with whether to limit inequality, either by forming a government-provided safety net or setting a ceiling on income, inheritance, or wealth through taxation, or some combination of the two.” (117)

8. RESPECT GOVERNMENT SERVICE.-- “Why should we want young Americans to perform one or two years of government service? One reason is that a common experience would help break down some of the barriers that have arisen owing to geography, class, race, religion, education, language, and more.” (127) “It would also expose young people to government, breaking down the perception of government as alien from the people.” (128)

9. SUPPORT THE TEACHING OF CIVICS.-- “No people should assume their history, their heritage, and what is central to it, is widely known among them much less automatically handed down. Collective identity, along with an appreciation and understanding of what lies behind it, is a matter of teaching, not biology. This is true of particular groups of people, be they defined by religion or gender or race or geography or history. It is less true of a people who constitute a nation, in this case the American nation.” (134)

10. PUT COUNTRY FIRST.-- “I speak of the obligation to put the country and American democracy before party and person. This obligation is a thread that helps bind the fabric of this society and is an essential element of patriotism.” (148)

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

If democracy is such a good idea, why is authoritarianism on the rise globally? Meanwhile, it appears that some in the United States no longer value democratic ideals. Is American democracy anything that other countries would want to emulate?

Several years ago I would have not found this book, The Bill of Obligations, to be particularly prescient because in the past the concept of a practicing democracy in the USA seemed to be secure. But after January 6, 2021 things have changed. There are many Americans who no longer respect the peaceful transfer of political power. Thus this is a good time for us to remind ourselves of the common values and obligations that hold us together as a democratic nation.

In this book the author posits that certain good habits of citizenship are needed for democracy to be successful. He refers to these habits of citizenship as obligations that are not required, but nevertheless they are needed. Everyone values their rights, however this author says “beyond rights, obligations are the other cornerstone of a successful democracy …”

This book proposes the following ten obligations for good citizens to observe and support.
          I. Be Informed
          II. Get Involved
          III. Stay Open to Compromise
          IV. Remain Civil
          V. Reject Violence
          VI. Value Norms
          VII. Promote the Common Good
          VIII. Respect Government Service
          IX. Support the Teaching of Civics
          X. Put Country First

The book provides supporting commentary on the above proposed obligations with reasoning I found to be compelling and convincing.

In the current polarized political climate I approached this book with cautious skepticism. Thankfully the author addressed the subject early in the book by saying he had been a Republican most of his life, but in the past couple years had disassociated himself from that party and now considers himself unaffiliated. This information gave me enough assurance to conclude that he must be among the minority with an ounce of integrity and consequently is now a former Republican. This gave me the motivation to read the rest of the book, and after finishing the book I can't recall anything in the book which I would disagree.

I summarize this book's contents as the definition of good citizenship.


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

Click here for 2024 Vital Conversations.

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While I have sought substantial familiarity with the world's faiths, I have also pursued immersion in one.