330. 001227 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Glory surrounds us in the everyday
NEW YORK -- Dec. 25, 26 and 27 in 1734,
the musicians under the direction of J. S. Bach first performed Cantatas
1-3 of his ``Christmas Oratorio,'' recently offered here by the New York
Philharmonic with the choir of the St. Thomas Church of Leipzig, where
Bach was a busy man, and
when he was required to compose this sacred music for the 13-day span Lutherans
recognized as the Feast of Christmas, he drew upon secular pieces he had
written earlier that year, including one for a birthday party for an 11-year
old prince and one to celebrate a real estate deal. The cradle song the
shepherds sing to the Christ Child was originally about the temptation
While this musical transformation
from secular to sacred may say something about Bach's skill, it also suggests
that perceiving the holy depends at least in part on our readiness to behold
it in the ordinary. The Christmas story is about incarnation, the God beyond
space and time taking on the frailties of human flesh. In a mere baby the
shepherds saw hope for the world.
Bach involves us in the sacred
story in another way. The chorales in the oratorio were tunes familiar
to his audience who might have sung along. Just as a Renaissance painting
of the Nativity may collapse time by placing the donor in the ancient scene,
so singing presently as if we were with the shepherds back then enables
us to participate in the original wonder they saw.
Or, if we really understand
Bach's setting of the Christmas story, it may be that if our eyes are open,
God's glory unfolds all around us every day.
329. 001220 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Time to build a spiritual
NEW YORK -- When the Woolworth Building
opened here in 1913, it was immediately called a "Cathedral of Commerce."
Its wide bays inside and exterior grandeur seemed to sanctify the making
of treasure. At 60 stories, 800 feet high, it was then by far the tallest
building in the world. (The Empire State Building opened in 1931.)
In its current exhibition,
"Inventing the Skyline: The Architecture of Cass Gilbert," the New York
Historical Society features the work of the man who designed the Woolworth
Building. Gilbert (1859-1934) is credited with envisioning the "staccato
skyline" of skyscrapers this city celebrates. The office records, contracts,
sketches, photographs and other papers document his achievements.
Throughout the ages, humans
have sought to extend themselves beyond caves and huts. The biblical story
of the tower of Babel suggests that we may sometimes overreach. Business
and governments have constructed elaborate structures to trumpet their
importance and power; religions as well have orchestrated talents, assets
and labor into edifices of inspiration and beauty -- and prestige for those
who claim them.
This month's observances
of Judaism, Christianity and Islam play a different tune. The insignificant
band led by Judas Maccabee won religious freedom from an imperious Seleucid
tyrant. The Christ Child was born not in a magnificent palace but a smelly
stable. Ramadan is a month of daylight denial, of attention to the poor,
not alliances with principalities.
A skyscraper city reverberates
in its praiseworthy concert of soaring inventiveness and resourcefulness.
But these holy seasons remind us also to hear the simple beating of the
328. 001213 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Enter the young of many faiths
The Kansas City Christian Jewish Muslim
Dialogue Group, formed in 1987 and vigorous for some years, is now moribund.
The violence and mistrust in the Middle East now makes it difficult to
exchange views, especially between Jews and Muslims. Some Christians who
fear their remarks might be regarded as biased also feel discomfort.
But the problems of the adult
world are not detering young people here from organizing a humanitarian
campaign. Youth Helping Youth seeks to aid children in the Sinai, West
Bank and Gaza regions with winter clothing and medical, dental and educational
Organized last month, the
group already has about 40 college and high school young people of Christian,
Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths throughout the metropolitan area.
Using Shifa International, a relief agency that has worked in Bosnia, the
Ukraine and elsewhere, they hope to take what they have collected to the
Holy Land Dec. 27.
Richard Thompson, a senior
at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, said, "We feel that humanitarian
aid is the mechanism through which the youth of Kansas City can promote
peace in the world." Fatimeh El-Sherif, a student at UMKC, added, "We do
this by reaching out to the children and students in areas of conflict."
Some of the young people
met through a Peace Jam week-end conference last October, sponsored by
Rockhurst University, the RLDS Church and the YMCA. Sudents learn about
peace-making through study, talking with a Nobel Peace Prize lauret, and
working toward solutions in a year-long experience of inspiration and action.
Perhaps the older folk can
draw some insight from the practical and cooperative spirit at work with
young people helping to shape tomorrow.
327. 001206 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Information superhighway gets
Is God working through the internet? Walter
P. Wilson, author of The Internet Church, thinks so. Just as Alexander
the Great's spread of Greek throughout the world made possible the reading
of the New Testament, and just as the extensive road system built by the
Romans was later used for the spread of Christianity, so the gospel can
be conveyed through the information superhighway which "eliminates time
and space" impediments.
Wilson spoke last week at
a conference, "YourCongregation.Org," which demonstrated how the work of
churches can be enhanced with the internet. The conference, held at Colonial
Presbyterian Church, was organized by Spirit of Service, which can, of
course, be found on the web at www.spiritofservice.org.
But does the web really favor
Christianity? One person expressed concern about unsavory materials found
on the web. Another speaker noted that fraud is six times as likely on
the web as in retail.
Can a religion based on embodiment
-- God's incarnation into this messy world, celebrated at this Advent season
-- be conveyed in cyberspace pixels, independent of space and time?
Christianity, like Judaism
and Islam, is rooted in space and time; the conflict over Jerusalem illustrates
the importance of place. Further, Christianity is hierarchical: God the
Creator is supreme over God's creatures.
But the web is not hierarchical;
it is a network, and its structure is more akin to Buddhism which has no
creator god in space or time; things are infinitely interrelated and develop
from each other.
Wilson called Buddhism a
"developmental faith" particularly attractive in Silicon Valley. He said
Christians, too, need to come to understand their spiritual life as developmental
rather than as an achievement.
Perhaps as religions appear
in cyberspace, there will be lessons for all.
326. 001129 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
John the Baptist a man of the
This Sunday at 2 p.m. Father Paul Turner
will give a slide presentation on John the Baptist in the Atkins Auditorium
at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Admission is free through the east
door of the gallery. Turner, pastor of St. John Francis Regis Catholic
Church, explains the theme of his talk:
Every year as Christians
prepare to celebrate Christmas, one of the biblical figures they hear most
about is John the Baptist. John's command, "Prepare the way of the Lord"
(Luke 3:4, borrowed from Isaiah 40:3), still strikes the heart of all Christian
John is an important figure
for Advent because he himself prepared the way for Jesus in two important
manners. He was a spiritual leader who gathered a band of disciples, and
he suffered martyrdom. In both life and in death John foreshadowed the
coming of Christ.
John the Baptist appears
frequently in Christian art either as a solo figure or in groups of saints.
His image adorns many baptistries because he used a pre-Christian form
of baptism to lead followers into conversion. Whether depicted as a child
or an adult, he often carries a cruciform staff that ominously reminds
the viewer of suffering.
The museum's brooding image
of "Saint John the Baptist" by Caravaggio especially captures his melancholy
Although the message of Christmas
is unbounded joy due to the birth of a savior, the message of John the
Baptist reminds the Christian of the sadness of human life that the savior
came to lift. The artistic depictions of John the Baptist reassures the
believer that God understands human suffering, and prepares the believer
to receive the joyful news of salvation in the birth of Jesus Christ.
325. 001122 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Dedication of Buddhist center
brings faiths together
How do you dedicate a Buddhist institute
here in Kansas City? Do you focus on Buddhism or the community? Lama Chuck
Stanford, who founded the Rime (pronounced "Reemay") Buddhist Center and
Monastery, did both in opening the facility at 700 W. Pennway earlier this
Khamtrul Rinpoche, Tantric
Master to Namgyal, the personal Monastery of the Dalai Lama, was brought
here to join in the inaugural festivities by teaching and leading ceremonies.
And representatives of other
faiths came to welcome the new organization into the community. Participants
included George Noonan, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St.
Joseph, Baha'i Kenyon Gross, Hindu Anand Bhattacharyya, Muslim Dr. A. Rauf
Mir, Sikh Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa and Unitarian Universalist Ted Otteson.
Like neighbors welcoming
a new resident to their block, the speakers congratulated the Buddhists
on their new home.
This welcoming attitude by
those of other faiths avoids three dangers to healthy relationships. One
danger is ignoring significant events in each others' lives. Another danger
is seeking to impose our views on others. A third danger is trying to meld
all traditions into one.
Instead, the welcoming attitude
encourages the Buddhist to be a better Buddhist, the Hindu a better Hindu,
the Christian a better Christian, by celebrating both our differences and
This Thanksgiving we can
be grateful the American tradition of freedom of religion is being so powerfully
and respectfully exercised in Kansas City.
324. 001115 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
People of other faiths are people,
Why learn about other faiths? I asked Prof.
Marla J. Selvidge, Director of the Center for Religious Studies at Central
Missouri State University, whose most recent book is about the New Testament,
for her answer.
"Every time I open a window
or crack a door to an unfamiliar religion or misunderstood religious practice,
I hope that I am laying a foundation for peace. The exposure students gain
from a world religions class may help to prevent another world war or a
Columbine or even a Waco.
"During my first year at
Central, we watched a short clip of a Greek Orthodox service. Many Christian
students were outraged by the ritual, complete with incense and holy water.
They called it `Satanic' or anti-Christian. They had not known how other
Christians worship. They reacted with fear and hate. I could tell hundreds
of such stories.
"Classes are different now.
Most students expect the multi-cultural experience needed to understand
other faiths. Students are required to attend a religious service other
than their own or to interview someone of another faith. None complain.
They tell stories of nervousness, light-headedness, trembling, and some
have even taken their parents with them to a service. But the outcome is
almost always the same.
"They begin to realize that
religious services are attended by people who look just like them. Most
of the time the people of the unfamiliar religion welcome them with open
arms. The fear begins to melt and many end up making friends. Once they
cross the rigid and high fences between 'us' and 'them,' they begin to
see that there are no real boundaries at all. We are all people of the
323. 001108 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Three faiths teach that God is
Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship
the same God? Jews, informed Christians and Muslims say Yes, but a half
dozen Christians called me to challenged this answer in a quiz which appeared
in this space two weeks ago.
They argued that Jews and
Muslims do not believe in the God of Christians because Christians believe
Jesus is one of the three persons in God.
But does this mean that there
are different gods for each faith or that each faith understands the same
Even Christians have frequently
understood God in varied ways. In 1054 Christianity split into the Roman
Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, in part because they disagreed
about how the persons in the Trinity are related. In the 16th Century,
Reformers came to see God more in terms of purpose and will than the earlier
Catholic ideas of truth and beauty. Today some Christians emphasize God
as love and others see God mainly as judge.
Judaism, Christianity and
Islam all teach belief in one Creator. They have different conceptions
of God, but they all claim their God is the God of Hebrew patriarch, Abraham.
The New Testament contains many such references, including Acts 3:13 which
says that the "the God of Abraham . . . hath glorified his Son Jesus."
The Qur'an speaks of Islam as the religion of Abraham because of his recognition
of God, called Allah in Arabic.
Muslims do not believe Muhammad
is God, as some callers asserted.
Some religions teach belief
in many gods, some in none; but these three faiths teach God is one, though
they may understand God's nature differently.
322. 001101 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Kansas 3rd District candidates
share their views
In separate interviews, both candidates
for the Kansas Third Congressional District expressed strong views about
the importance of the role of religion in American life.
Both candidates base their
positions on the work of our nation's founders. Incumbent Congressman Dennis
Moore emphasizes the development of the tradition of religious liberty
from the colonists and framers of the Constitution. Republican challenger
Phill Kline believes all rights start with the individual; government's
role is to intervene when those rights come in conflict.
Moore is concerned about
"well-intentioned people who would impose their religious beliefs and practices
on others" and believes that religious minorities have an "absolute right"
to be protected from governmental involvement for such ends.
Kline opposes state-sponsored
prayers, but he would let questions like student-led prayer at school football
games be settled by local communities. Kline would also permit the posting
of the Ten Commandments in schools as a "teaching tool" for the "respect
for human over property rights" as long as belief is not compulsory. "The
coercive power of government" should not be used to convert people from
one faith to another, he says.
While Moore supports the
right of a woman to end pregnancy in consultation with her doctor and,
if she wishes, with her religious advisor, Kline identifies the question
of abortion, which he opposes even in cases of rape and incest, as a "political"
rather than a "religious" issue. He would permit abortion to save the life
of the mother.
Both Moore and Kline oppose
school vouchers. In some proposals, vouchers could be used to aid religious
321. 001025 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
What is your faith quotient?
If you miss more than three on this True-False
quiz, you'll want to brush up your knowledge of the world's three monotheistic
1. Jews, Christians and Muslims
worship the same God.
2. In general, religious
law covers more areas of personal and social life in Judaism and Islam
than in Christianity.
3. Most Muslims are Arabs.
4. When King David united
the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, he chose a neutral place claimed by neither
for his capital, Jerusalem, and honored the sacred sites of its Jebusite
5. Jerusalem had no special
status within Christianity until 300 years after Christ.
6. In the last three thousand
years, Jerusalem has been under Muslim administration longer than either
Jewish or Christian administration.
7. While the Temple Mount
is exceedingly important for Jews, some Jewish authorities believe Jews
should not walk there until the Messiah arrives.
8. The Dome of the Rock in
the same area, called the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims, is the site associated
with the ascension of Muhammad to heaven, commemorated every year.
9. Many Jews and Muslims
in Kansas City are directly or indirectly affected by the crisis in the
10. Local Jewish and Muslim
leaders report that biases against their faiths have virtually disappeared.
ANSWERS: Only items 3 and
10 are false.
320. 001018 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Library crosses mark the spines
in fiction section
"A first impression is that Christianity
has some sort of favored status," said Lama Chuck Standford, the Buddhist
member of the Kansas City Interfaith Council, commenting on the practice
of the Olathe Public Library to place blue stickers with large crosses
atop the spines of selected books in its fiction department.
The library does not mark
books with Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or other religious symbols, according
to Emily Baker, head librarian. "We have not had any requests to do so,"
"The effect of the stickers,
intended or not, is to send a message that Christian books are preferable
to non-Christian books," says Dick Kurtenbach, executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri.
Some libraries place books
in the science fiction and western genres on separate shelves. The books
with the vivid cross stickers are shelved alphabetically with other fiction.
The library began the labeling
two years ago as a service to patrons. Many of the books receiving the
cross stickers belong to the Christian fiction genre as identified by publishers.
The books, many of which are romances, need not have religious themes to
qualify for the sticker, but the content needs to be inoffensive to those
with a "Christian" perspective.
But what is a "Christian"
perspective? The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis,
from which a controversial movie was made, is not designated as Christian
fiction, though some consider it a powerful meditation on religious issues.
Should librarians determine
which books merit a sticker with a cross? Should public funds support decisions
among competing visions of Christianity or any other faith?
319. 001011 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Religions have prayer in common
"Why can't religions just get along?" readers
ask persistently. They are frustrated by what they consider minor quibbles
because in their view religions all teach the same basic thing. I suppose
the core teaching they identify can be summarized in secular language as
Religions do not agree about
God, an afterlife or the purpose of existence. They do agree on four moral
principles. They teach not to murder, not to take what is not ours, not
to misspeak, and not to misuse sexuality. But even within a single faith,
believers may differ greatly about what these and other teachings mean.
Is capital punishment state-sponsored
murder or required to fulfill the demands of justice? Are the different
roles assigned to men and women in many of the world's scriptures valid
today? While some faiths honor same-sex relationships, others find them
an abomination. Some believe that ensoulment occurs some time after conception,
that a fetus does not become a person until viability or birth; others
consider an abortion of any human embryo to be murder.
But the issue that may be
the most perplexing is peace itself. The conflict between Israelis and
Palestinians, sometimes framed as a problem between Jews and Muslims, involves
serious questions of justice. Neither party is disinterested, as the competing
claims over Jerusalem painfully reveal. Such disputes cannot be dismissed
with a simple "Be nice."
I do not know whether God
will answer prayers for peace, but I do know that prayer can help to quiet
the mind and make one more receptive to hearing others, and thus advance
the cause of peace and justice. We could do a lot worse now than praying.
318. 001004 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Word's meaning elusive as butterfly
The audiences for "Madama Butterfly" produced
last month by the Lyric Opera heard the Japanese word kami repeatedly
throughout the evening. What does this term mean?
Kami, often translated
"god," is singular and plural at the same time. Kami may be used
for either masculine or feminine forces. kami may refer to personified
deities or awesome impersonal powers.
There are nature kami
such as mountains, birds and trees. Extraodinary humans -- ancestors, the
emperor, heroes -- may be regarded as kami. Japanese myths have
their own kami. There are kami of the professions, of food
and of productivity.
Westerners are frustrated
with the Shinto faith if they try to find a consistent statement about
the kami. The religion is expressed more in dance and ritual than
At the Tsubaki Grand
Shrine in Mie Prefecture some years ago, I came to understand what encountering
kami might be like. After dressing in a white loincloth and headband,
clapping and bowing, some physical exercises and a drink of sake with salt,
I was placed under a waterfall so strong that I felt I merged with the
stream, itself considered
kami. My skin vibrated as much as the
water, it seemed. This ritual cleansing is called misogi and aims
to restore the union of kami and human.
The rush of the water and
the loss of my sense of personal identity in its flow helped me to sense
why sometimes kami is considered more a verb than a noun. The divine
is not so much a being as a process.
Kami is less a way of saying
that there are gods and more an affirmation that the universe is "god-ing."
317. 000927 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Red Cross ready to give aid to
"Where is God in this tragedy?" asks Erin
E. S. Lynch who has participated in disaster response for over ten years.
Lynch is now assisting the
American Red Cross prepare in case of an aviation disaster at Kansas City
International Airport. She is working with people of many faiths.
"A commercial aircraft may
hold more than 200 passengers from different walks of life, cultures and
religious beliefs. Family members traveling to the crash site may come
from afar and may especially need religious leaders as bridges to their
own communities of faith," she says. "Any aircraft may be carrying Christians,
Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists -- or those of any religion."
"We want to respond sensitively
and in a coordinated manner to meet the spiritual needs arising from any
mass casualty. The Red Cross is guided by values of humanity, impartiality,
neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.
"We are offering to train
those interested within each of the diverse faiths communities to be able
to serve if they are needed to respond in a disaster.
"A airplane disaster differs
from individual accidents in context, circumstance and magnitude, but the
skills needed for effective response are the same skills spiritual care
providers use in their daily work.
"One of the greatest gifts
they are able to offer is the gift of presence. As a good friend once told
me, 'There are some rooms we can not walk into, but we can guard the door
for those going through the tragedy.' I know God is present as we seek
to serve those in need," she says.
316. 000920 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
KXTR-FM a spiritual loss
"I have no pleasure in any man who despises
music. It is no invention of ours; it is the gift of God. I place it next
to theology," said Martin Luther.
Most religions find music
an avenue of worship. In the concert hall, at the jazz club, on the dance
floor, or even at those events called rock concerts and the like, music
has the power, perhaps even better than theology, to express the spirit.
Our annual Kansas City Spirit Festival is largely about music.
In my youth, I decided to
explore every possible arena of the soul. I found that Beethoven's Last
Quartets could take me to realms so rich and profound that all these years
later I am still rubbing my eyes in wonder. Is there offered anywhere a
vision greater than the Quartet in C sharp minor? For the past year, I've
been studying his rarely performed "Hammerklavier" Piano Sonata with its
amazing juxtapositions within a structure so secure that it is like the
inevitability of surprise in a life of faith.
In my 1970 theological
school dissertation, I wrote not only about Isaiah, the Buddha and Wittgenstein,
but also The Who's rock opera, Tommy. But of course even all kinds of Western
music do not complete the possibilities. Music of primal peoples and Asia
give us additional paths and modes for religious insight.
This is my response to a
reader's question about KXTR. My family did not own a TV or a phonograph.
We did have a radio, and that's how I learned about music. I saved money
to buy an FM radio when classical music began to be broadcast on FM. I
thought "FM" meant "fine music." The loss of KXTR FM is not just a cultural
blow. It is a spiritual devastation.
315. 000913 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Religion has remained relevant
When I chose a career in religion 35 years
ago in the wake of Harvey Cox's book, The Secular City, I was warned
I was entering a field that would be increasingly irrelevant. Religion
as we had known it was going to disappear.
Two weeks ago at the United
Nations, 800 spiritual leaders from many countries concluded their unprecedented
meeting about world peace, poverty and the environment.
Religious sites in Jerusalem
may be the pivot of negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Last week's Vatican statement
rejecting the equal validity of all religions and declaring the superiority
of the Roman Catholic Church over all other faiths disappointed leaders
of other traditions and some Catholics as well.
George Bush's identification
of Jesus as his favorite philosopher and Joseph Lieberman's advocacy of
a greater place for religion in public discourse raise anew the old, difficult
questions about the relationship of faith to public policy and the role
of religion in our Constitutional system of government.
In the courts are controversies
regarding the posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings.
A "no pray, no play" movement, said to be student-led, has sprung up in
response to rulings that schools may not support prayer before football
In our own region, Shawnee
County Treasurer Rita Cline's posting of "In God We Trust" is being tested
in court. Religious interest was keen in last month's election for State
Board of Education members because of the dispute over the teaching of
Looks like religion hasn't
quite disappeared yet.
314. 000906 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
United Sabbath seeks to unite
In Denver over a hundred years ago, two
Protestant ministers, a rabbi and a Roman Catholic priest began what has
become the United Way. Then it was a pioneering act of interfaith cooperation.
The Kansas City area now
also includes significant Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Baha'i, Wiccan,
American Indian and Zoroastrian centers.
Two years ago in Kansas City,
community-minded religious leaders wanted to embrace the largest possible
diversity here as part of a new United Way focus. They called it the "United
Sabbath," scheduled for this week-end, Sep. 8-10. The goal is to widen
participation in raising nearly $40 million this year to support over 150
local charities, like the American Red Cross, the Boys and Girls Clubs
and Children's Mercy Hospital.
"We believe people of faith
want to express their gratitude for the gift of life through the moral
exercise of helping others," says Al Sassone, Heart of American United
However, as people of various
faiths work together, they sometimes discover language problems arise.
"Sabbath," for example, is a concept not found in all faiths.
"We are re-examining the
name for this initiative to find a term that would uplift our goal of people
of all traditions joining together for the betterment of the community"
says Sassone. "In reaching toward inclusiveness, we are learning about
"But the needs of the community
mean we cannot wait until we know everything before we act. We hope our
good will is clear. We are eager to find language we can use that people
of all faiths can accept enthusiastically, but the act of giving is a universal
response to need, in the faith community and through United Way."
313. 000830 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Rabbi wants to go beyond tolerance
Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, serving the New
Reform Temple here since June, supports interfaith activities because he
"opposes religious toleration."
Originally from Brazil, Cukierkorn
explains, "I am not intolerant--I just oppose tolerance. Tolerance for
me is a tamed form of racism. When I deal with individuals of different
traditions and religions I aim at acceptance. I do not want to be merely
tolerated, I want to be accepted, respected and understood.
"Conversely, I also seek
to accept and understand others. Attempting to understand other people's
faith is a way of reaching for the divine in them and becoming one with
them just as God is one," he says.
Rabbi Cukierkorn most recently
served Temple Beth Israel in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and did his internship
in Omaha. He has also served in Louisville, Philadelphia and Washington,
He is "absolutely puzzled"
that Kansas City offers him "no active metro-wide ministerial alliance."
He recalls his previous settlement where he was active in many interfaith
pursuits including a Catholic-Jewish TV show and an interfaith study of
Rabbi Cukierkorn is not the
only one amazed that a metropolitan area like ours has no organization
open to all religious leaders. Nor do we have a functioning network of
We do have organizations
like Kansas City Harmony, Spirit of Service, the Kansas City Interfaith
Council and the National Conference for Community and Justice, which perform
important roles in deepening religious understanding. But who can explain
to the new rabbi why we do not have an area-wide alliance to move beyond
mere religious tolerance?
312. 000823 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The meaning in the apple of Magritte's
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jesus repeatedly called
himself "Son of man," and a painting with that title is reproduced as the
poster for the exhibition of works by Rene Magritte here at the San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art.
Actually a self-portrait
with an apple obscuring almost all of Magritte's face, the painting recalls
the Hebrew origin of the phrase,
ben 'adam, and the fruit of the
Garden of Eden. Just as the expression, used over 90 times in Ezekiel,
is problematic in the Gospels, so the painting raises questions it does
Magritte (1898-1967) wrote,
"My painting is visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery.
One asks, `What does that mean?' It does not mean anything, because mystery
means nothing; it is unknowable."
Mysteries abound. Docent
Sonia Marcus calls an apple nearly filling a room in another painting "an
invader." Is this apple an obstruction to salvation or abundant nourishment?
A painting of a tuba afire
reminds her of Moses and the burning bush which burned but was not consumed.
But why a tuba?
Perhaps the most famous work
is of a pipe with the sentence painted underneath, "This is not a pipe."
But is it just a painting of a pipe? The French philosopher Michel
Foucault wrote a whole book about the painting deconstructing the traditional
understanding of words and to what they refer. The Gospel of John says,
"In the beginning was the Word." Is the incarnation, the copy, just as
real as the original? Are the mysteries of faith more life-giving than
A good collection of the
artist's paintings can be found at http://www.magritte.com.
311. 000816 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Profit margin vs. prophet margin
Our nation's triumph is indistinguishable
from "spiritual death," writes Morris Berman, in his new book, The Twilight
of American Culture. Like the masses of Rome "zoned out on bread and
circuses," we are distracted from what is really going on by violent entertainment,
medication and shopping malls ("to be is to buy").
What is going on?
Berman argues, as others do, that what passes for "spirituality" today
is empty, feel-good platitudes, and that our lives are cheapened by religion
that has become more entertainment than education.
Perhaps he has a point. Religion
is silent about the rapid changes in the distribution of wealth, for example,
and what this portends for democracy. By 1998 one person, Bill Gates, had
a net worth larger than the combined net worth of the bottom 40 per cent
of American households, and the 447 richest people on the planet were worth
more than the combined wealth of over half the world's population.
Berman's depressing analysis
is lifted by the encouraging stories of individuals who are living their
lives in "renunciation" of mere profit and discovering deep meaning in
service to others, a pattern he finds prefigured in the monks who preserved
remnants of culture in the Dark Ages.
While Berman studied many
dimensions of our culture, he does not consider what may be happening to
religions of the world as they seek to identify themselves and understand
one another as they meet in earnest for the first time in America. If this
process leads to mutual purification, then could the "spiritual death"
Berman identifies instead be revealed as the ambiguous adolescence of an
310. 000809 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
In blessing the animals, we remember
Theologians may question whether pets are
found in heaven, but for many people pets bring a taste of heaven to earth.
Learning how to care for
animals is also a way children can learn about being human and how to treat
other people, according to Suzanne Dotson, who developed a curriculum on
the subject for grade school children, now used in five metro school districts
and several library systems.
Already the Rev. Robert Lee
Hill, minister at Community Christian Church, is planning the annual outdoor
"Blessing of the Animals" ecumenical service for Oct. 8. Hill says "we
affirm that God loves all creatures, not just humans. As we bless the animals,
we recognize that they bless us, and we remember our responsibilities with
and for creation."
The observance, with over
a dozen churches participating, falls near the Oct. 4 feast day of Francis
of Assisi, named in 1979 by Pope John Paul II as the patron saint of ecology.
The words of Francis are found in the
well-known hymn beginning, "All creatures of our God and King, lift up
your voice and let us sing . . . ." Many stories describe the love Francis
had for animals.
Dotson quotes from Henry
Beston's book, The Outermost House: "We need . . . a more mystical
concept of animals. . . . They are not underlings; they are other nations,
caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of
the splendor and travail of the earth."
Dotson volunteers in fund-raising
efforts for Wayside Waifs, (816) 761-8151, an organization that educates
young people and saves pets.
St. Francis would surely
approve these earthly devotions.
309. 000802 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Believers find renewal in waters
Readers often ask me, "What is your own
faith?" I usually avoid a direct answer because it is more important for
the reader to focus on his or her religion, not mine. I hope I am an honest
broker treating those of all
traditions with respect even when I personally
disagree with a particular belief or practice.
So I sometimes say, "On Mondays
I'm Sikh, on Tuesdays Buddhist, Wednesdays Hindu, Thursdays Wiccan, Fridays
Muslim, Saturdays Jewish, Sundays Christian."
"Oh, so you pick and choose
what you like."
I would like to think that
35 years of studying religions of the world is not a casual cafeteria approach
to faith. A sage has said that when one needs water, it is better to dig
one 100-foot well rather than a dozen 10-foot wells.
Those who have failed to
dig beneath the obstructing rocks in their own traditions
sometimes seek easier ground for their
religious questions, but remain on the surface because they cannot turn
the stones in the new plot, either.
Still, it is possible to
find fonts of spiritual refreshment in all faiths. I can drink from any
well and quench my thirst.
This is not to say that all
religions are the same.
To say the Kaw is the same
as the Nile or the Ganges or the Amazon is to misunderstand the importance
of geography, history and accessibility. The familiarity we have with one
stream does not necessarily mean that a distant faith is less worthy to
those whose waters it refreshes -- or that the powers of its waters will
somehow bless us in ways that our own river cannot.
308. 000726 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
He wrote the manual of pastoral
How do you -- as a friend, a clergyperson
or a health care professional -- provide spiritual support to someone sick
or dying whose faith is different than your own?
Most pastoral care experts
agree that attempting to use your own religious vocabulary, symbols, stories
and beliefs is not nearly as effective as acknowledging the religious perspective
of the person you want to help. Of course, simply being present can in
itself be a powerful spiritual benefit, regardless of differences in faiths.
We are just beginning to
learn how to visit each other's places of worship, how to honor each other's
holy days and how to relate in times of vulnerability to those whose religions
we hardly understand.
To assist both clergy and
laity in offering spiritual support to the sick, community outreach chaplain
Steven Jeffers has prepared a manual, Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First
Century: Communicating God's Love to Hospitalized Persons. Jeffers
says he consulted many sources in preparing the book: "healthcare professionals,
educators -- and clergy and lay persons of differing religious traditions."
The manual explains what
a hospital environment is, how to view a patient's needs and how to use
effective pastoral "strategies." It includes prayers from many faiths.
Quentin Jones, Senior Pastor
of Merriam Christian Church, found the book recently and says "I wish I
would have had this document my first day in a clinical setting."
The manual can be purchased
for $40 through the Department of Spiritual Wellness at Shawnee Mission
Medical Center, 9100 W. 74th Street, Shawnee Mission, KS 66204 or by phone
at (913) 676-8104.
307. 000719 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
True or false, creation vs. evolution
Which of these statements about evolution
and creation are true?
1. For some religions, creation
stories are unimportant because they regard the world as an ongoing evolution
which has no beginning.
2. In some religions the
Creator is regarded as a bungler.
3. The famous cosmologist,
Stephen Hawking, never refers to God.
4. At his death in 1883,
Charles Darwin, who developed a theory of evolution, was eulogized at Westminster
Abbey and Saint Paul's Cathedral in London.
5. Darwin based much of his
thinking about populations on the work of the Rev. Thomas Malthus.
6. Most biblical scholars
find two distinct stories of creation in Genesis, both echoing earlier
7. Most biblical scholars
say the Hebrew text of Genesis 1 does not support the idea that God created
the world out of nothing.
8. While we understand a
"day" in terms of the rotation of the earth with respect to the sun, the
Genesis 1 creation story says that God made the sun on the fourth day.
9. In some creation stories,
the world is made from the broken or sacrificed body of a god.
10. The Thirteenth Century
Muslim theologian and poet, Rumi, and the Twentieth Century Catholic scientist
and poet, Teilhard de Chardin, both wrote about evolution as a spiritual
11. Evolution is taught at (Baptist)
Baylor, (Mormon) Brigham Young and (Roman Catholic) Notre Dame universities.
Answers: All are true except
306. 000712 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Life meanders by design, and
so we meet
DES MOINES -- The chairs have been set
up, it seems, for a lecture, but that's not the occasion. If I were showing
overheads or using a flipchart, the arrangement might make sense, but I'm
about to preside at a wedding, here under the dome at the Botanical Center.
Except for the positioning
of the chairs, I don't see any straight lines. Everything is organic. The
Japanese koi do not swim directly. The finches do not rise and swoop according
to compass alignment. The orchids and spider lilies are shaped by inner
design, not forced rectilinear pattern. The fig tree and the coconut palm
have bumps and bends, suggesting not so much a ruler as the moving sun
and the changing wind.
So I quickly put the chairs
in meander mode. It seems so natural that no one notices as guests take
their seats. The people now are participants in this lush environment,
not intruders from a land of rigid pews.
The groom and bride did not
find each other by orthogonals or lime lines. Life is often haphazard and
unexpected, beauty growing out of chance circumstance more than blueprint.
The love we celebrate spills over boundaries, uniting two families as well
as two persons, an enriched ecology, not a new wing to a building.
It is an unexpected splendor.
Who could have predicted it? The spirit, Jesus said, is like the wind:
you don't know whence it comes and goes.
Yes, we need straight lines,
rules and plans, in their place; but on this occasion, in this space, to
celebrate the spirit and ways of love, subverting the rows and files of
chairs seems a better way to match this garden glory.
305. 000705 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Histories of religion expound
A reader asks me to recommend books on
Better for a beginner than
a lot of dates and institutional history, Huston Smith's The World's
Religions takes the reader into the heart of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism,
Taoism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The selection of photos in his
World's Religions is disappointing and the text is reduced by half.
Except for a brief chapter
on primal religions, Smith's book is like most popular works in omitting
ancient religions. Geoffrey Parrinder's World Religions from Ancient
History to the Present and Ninian Smart's The Religious Experience
are good remedies.
The Complete Idiot's Guide
to the World's Religions is generally reliable and full of facts, though
it doesn't provide the inside feel of the different faiths. Peter Occhiogrosso's
The Joy of Sects includes helpful glossaries for each faith.
The three volume History
of Religious Ideas by my teacher, Mircea Eliade, is a comprehensive
interpretation of religion from the Stone Age through the Reformation and
excels in showing how religions develop.
Moojan Momen's The Phenomenon
of Religion treats the world's faiths not one by one but comparatively
by themes, such as suffering, gender, the nature of reality and ethics.
It is an exciting approach.
All of these are in paperback.
For those who think nothing
much happened in Jewish theology between the First and the Twentieth Centuries,
I recommend the very readable Twenty Twenty: Jewish Visionaries Throughout
Two Thousand Years by Kansas City's own Morris B. Margolies.
KYLE S. THOMAS -
The Kansas City Star
Date: 08/08/00 22:30
clergyman was recently praised for promoting religious unity. The Rev.
Vern Barnet, convener of the Kansas City Interfaith Council, received the
Pike's Peak "Interfaith Cooperation and Achievement" award from Pike's
Peak Interfaith Council in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The organization promotes better understanding and respect for different
religions and cultures.
"I really appreciate the people in Colorado recognizing the work in Kansas
City," Barnet said.
For the past 15 years, Barnet has been the founder and minister in residence
at the Center for Religious Experience and Study in Overland Park. He also
writes a weekly faith column in the FYI section of The Kansas City Star.
"Barnet is one of the few community interfaith leaders in this country
who has the patience and wisdom to bring people together in ways that affirm
the distinctive character of each faith," said Pike's Peak chairman Dean
Barnet has received numerous awards from Muslim, Christian and Jewish organizations
in the Kansas City area.
"It is a great satisfaction and thrill to be a part of a process that makes
people aware of different spiritual religions," said Barnet.
304. 000628 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Being faithful to faith includes
Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day
of Prayer Task Force and wife of James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family,
has responded to questions raised in this space last week from Colorado
Members of a millennial commission
there sought to include all faiths in the May 4 prayer observance as a
way of bringing the entire community together. This effort failed and instead
the major celebration in town was Christian.
Dobson explains that ``according
to the 1997 CIA World Fact Book,'' the Judeo-Christian heritage ``reflects
the beliefs of 84 percent of the nation'' and ``the National Day of Prayer
Task Force is an expression of the Judeo-Christian faith.''
However, no Roman Catholic
and Jewish speakers were included in the six-hour program. A rabbi there
told me he was working toward embracing all who respected the Bible in
the local observance. I asked him if this included Muslims who have historically
protected Christians and Jews as ``people of the Book.'' He said his concern
was getting his own faith as a full partner in the observance, as it is
in Washington, D.C. When I asked about Hindus and Buddhists, he said that
might be a long-term goal.
Kansas City's style is more
inclusive when city-wide efforts are planned, such as the yearly Martin
Luther King, Jr, service and the Harmony Choir Concert. The Midwest Bioethics
Center's ``Compassion Sabbath'' program involved Hindu, Muslim, American
Indian and other faiths.
An anonymous caller condemns
me almost every week for even mentioning that non-Christian religions exist,
but Kansas City seems to find that faithfulness to one's own tradition
means respecting others as members of our community.
303. 000621 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Ideas differ about inclusive
COLORADO SPRINGS -- "Of all peoples, religious
leaders should talk to each other," says the Rev. Richard Trussell, Lutheran
minister and spokesperson of the Pikes [ folo ] Peak Interfaith Council.
Trussell was disappointed in May when months of discussions had overcome
most of the objections Christian evangelicals had to a community-wide observance
of the National Day of Prayer and were ended "at the 11th hour by Shirley
Dobson," wife of James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, headquartered
As part of a city millennial
commission, Trussell had worked toward a religiously inclusive event. Instead,
separate celebrations were held.
The largest gathering, in
Memorial Park, was sponsored by Net, a group of evangelical churches, affiliated
with a national network headed by Shirley Dobson.
At Acacia Park, a smaller
but more religiously diverse group was sponsored by the Interfaith Council.
Jaan Heinmets, coordinator
of Net, says that the plan was always for many events around the city at
the same time. "How can a Christian and a Buddhist not feel awkward in
praying together?" he asked.
Trussell responded, "The
Buddhist leader at Acacia led a mediation on kindness. I was not harmed.
At first the Muslims were wary of inclusion because they don't do petitionary
prayers like Christians. We asked them to show us what prayer was like
in Islam and we learned about `throwing one's face before God.' We were
enlarged, not compromised."
Repeated attempts to reach
Shirley Dobson for comment were unsuccessful, but others praised the Memorial
Park event as a moving expression of Christian unity.
302. 000614 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Buddhist says, 'Hello pain, sit
"When you are strong, you can invite your
pain to visit, like an old friend," says Kansas City Buddhist leader Bethany
Freshnock. She advises knowing, not suppressing, one's longstanding
inner conflicts in order to reconcile them. This is a path to "understanding
the past, with freedom and the ability to love yourself and others."
Freshnock is an ordained
member of the Tiep Hien Order of Interbeing founded by the Vietnamese Zen
Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh in 1966. His students call him Thay.
"Thay teaches that all of
us have the seeds of every thought, word and deed in our store consciousness.
Only the seeds that are watered bloom. Too many of us water the seeds of
anger, fear and sorrow, often without even being aware of it. This was
me ten years ago," Freshnock reports.
"Thay teaches mindfulness
to recognize the seeds within us and to practice watering the most wholesome
seeds. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of the present moment.
By practicing mindfulness, I learned there is much to be happy about right
here and now.
"This isn’t simply looking
on the bright side or ignoring pain. My suffering was always present, yet
I could not touch it without more pain. We have to build our strength first.
Thay says the easiest way to do this by touching joy and peace. Calmly
breathing in and out, we can look deeply at our pain.
"Everyday I practice being
happy, with mindfulness. And when pain arises, I look deeply. I now
have friends, the Community of Mindful Living, who support each other in
living this way."
For information, call the
American Buddhist Center, (816) 561-4466 ext. 143.
301. 000607 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Buddhism takes shape of language
As religions expand from their countries
of origin, they adapt in various ways to the new places in which they take
root. Buddhism, for example, began in India 2500 years ago. About 500 years
later Buddhism began to reach China, where it was transformed.
One factor in its transformation
was language. The Buddha spoke an Indo-European language which, like English,
structures sentences out of nouns and verbs: things and what things do.
Yet the Buddha taught that "things" have no existence distinct and separate
from other things, an idea which the language made difficult to express.
But the Chinese language
more naturally structures thought around conditions and relationships than
around "things." By its very syntax, Chinese was more congenial to the
Buddhist understandings of reality. Buddhism flourished there while in
India it all but disappeared or was reabsorbed into Hinduism.
As Buddhism spread into many
countries, it found hundreds of different expressions. Not even Christianity
with its many denominations, is as varied.
Today in America, different
forms of Buddhism, shaped by various cultures, are encountering each other.
What do Japanese Soka Gakkai, the Tibetan Nyingma lineage and the teachings
of the Vietnamese leader, Thich Nhat Hahn -- all represented in Kansas
City -- have in common?
To answer this question,
in cooperation with Buddhist groups here, my organization is bringing the
remarkable Thai Buddhist monk, Santikaro Bhikkhu, to speak Friday at 7:30
p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at All Souls Unitarian Universalist
Church, 4501 Walnut. For information, call (913) 649 5114.
300. 000531 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Kansas City can learn from other
Last Wednesday's column drew an unusual
number of responses. I wrote about the cancellation of an interfaith service
planned to end the "peak week" of the KC150 celebrations. [Kansas City
has perhaps a dozen interfaith organizations, but none of them were invited
to lead such a project, and none are equiped to do so. Ad hoc efforts failed.]
The Most Rev. Raymond Boland,
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph, called to affirm
his support for recognition of the role of religion in the life of the
community. Others expressed frustration that Kansas City has no effective
vehicle through which religious groups can cooperate.
Why doesn't Kansas City have
a metro-wide religious alliance?
Answers are complex. Past
efforts have failed because of geographic, racial and socio-economic factors.
Some groups of ministers worry that citywide efforts will rob them of resources
they need for their own efforts. They fear top-down decision-making.
In addition, we have no consensus
on the mission of a metro alliance. Should its function be mainly communication?
Should it also educate? Should it address social distress through relief
programs or issue statements on abortion or capital punishment?
A few in almost every faith
worry about being compromised or swallowed up by a larger, diverse organization.
Every religious group faces the challenge of distinguishing itself from
others on one hand, and finding ways to participate in the life of the
larger community, on the other.
With varying degrees of success,
other cities have found ways to recognize the integrity of each faith while
cooperating toward mutual goals. Kansas City can learn from the experience
of others while forging our own solutions.
299. 000524 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Religion's role needs city recognition
Despite the best efforts of some extraordinarily
talented religious leaders, the June 4 interfaith service originally planned
to conclude the Kansas City sesquicentennial "peak week" has been cancelled.
Why? Why cannot Kansas City
recognize the role religion has played in the development of civic life,
from our sense of morality to the founding of hospitals? Why are we unable
to celebrate with each other in our rich diversity?
Of course we can, we do,
often, in small ways -- but not as part of the main observance of Kansas
City's big anniversary. Without any permanent organization through which
all religious groups can work with each other, countless good ideas, like
the KC150 proposal, fail.
"Kansas City is known throughout
the country as having a fractured religious community," says Rodger Kube,
executive director of Spirit of Service, one of several organizations trying
to help fill the gap. Mayor Cleaver's 1996 Task Force on Race Relations
also noted this hole in civic life.
Maurice Culver, formerly
executive director of Project Equality, spent his sabbatical leave a few
years ago studying metro-wide religious councils in other cities. When
he explored the possibility of such an association here, he discovered
"nobody wants to fund it." The cancelled June 4 interfaith service is a
case in point: the task religious leaders faced was to pull off a major
city-wide event with no staff and no budget.
Surely a gift Kansas City
deserves to give itself on its 150th birthday is an alliance through which
all faith communities can work together.
298. 000517 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Myth has a power all its own
You know the story. The boastful hare challenges
the tortoise to a race. The tortoise accepts and steadily plods along the
course. He finally passes the over-confident hare who has stopped to take
a nap. The moral: Slow and steady wins the race.
This famous fable attributed
to Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller, has the ring of truth to it, whether
or not a hare and a tortoise ever agreed to a contest. The story is true
not in a literal sense, but in the sense of being genuine.
We often use the term "myth"
to refer to something untrue, as in the Vietnam era book by Senator J.
William Fulbright, Old Myths and New Realities. But scholars of
religion use "myth" to mean not what is untrue, but truth in story form
so important that it is a pattern or guide for living, just as Aesop's
fable provides a specific insight into how to achieve a goal even if we
are not as naturally gifted as others.
Myths are sacred stories
that disclose answers to the tough questions: Who am I? Who are you? Can
I trust myself with you? How should I relate to others? Is there a purpose
or destiny for us? What are my duties? Why does anything exist? Why is
there both good and evil? How do I want to live my life? What does death
In the secular world, advertisers
now answer these questions. Commercials replace myths. Sponsorships supplant
scriptures. We can trust ourselves with the right mouthwash and underarm
deodorant. The label on our clothes confirms our identity.
One function of myth is to
reveal how all life fits together. In abandoning such sacred stories, we
lose the wisdom showing us how to participate in the vitality of the cosmos.
297. 000510 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
God knows all -- except the future
MINNEAPOLIS -- Does God ever change his
mind? Twin Cities theologian Gregory A. Boyd is in the midst of a controversy
that has moved beyond his Baptist denomination because he believes the
Bible suggests that the "future is open."
Boyd is a professor at Bethel
College. Seven years ago he founded Woodland Hills Church, now with 3,000
members. "How can you be a full-time teacher and also lead your church?"
I asked. "I don't have to control everything," he answered, his management
style in keeping with his understanding of a God who "delights in empowering
others and in diversity."
Charged with heresy, Boyd's
responses are both Biblical and philosophical.
Boyd says scripture contains
indications that God "does not know exhaustively what is to come." God
repents, regrets, expresses surprise, and is frustrated, as in Gen. 6:6,
when God sees how wicked humans have become. Boyd cites both Hebrew and
New Testament texts.
God knows all that can be
known, Boyd says, but since the future is unsettled and not yet reality,
and since God has ordained a measure of free-will for humans, even he cannot
be certain of how free agents will act.
How God can know general
outcomes while not determining individual behavior? Boyd answered by describing
chaos theory, a powerful mathematical model developed in the last thirty
years, to show how to predict the limits of a system while it is impossible
to predict the condition of individual variables.
Boyd's seventh book, God
of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God, was
published last month.
296. 000503 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Network has something to offer
Unlike most metro-areas, Kansas City has
no comprehensive religious council through which all faith instititions
can relate to each other and the larger community. Many organizations play
specific roles. The Kansas City Interfaith Council, for example, provides
speakers from various traditions, from American Indian to Zoroastrian.
But the 1,300 congregations here have no regular way of working together.
Now this gap may be closing.
Late last year, the Rev Rodger Kube became executive director of Spirit
of Service, an interfaith ministries network. Kube say the new non-profit
organization "aims to be the catalyst for creating a membership association"
of all congregations.
"We know that congregations
are doing great work in our community, and we want to celebrate their contributions.
We believe that as congregations are connected, enter into true dialogue
with one another and begin to collaborate to solve community problems,
their positive influence will grow," Kube said.
Spirit of Service plans to
develop "cutting-edge electronic resources for the faith community," including
a metro-wide religious master calendar, service need bulletin boards, congregational
home pages and calendars, volunteer resource linkages and chat rooms for
community problem solving, according to Kube. Some of these tools are already
available through the interfaith ministries network website, www.spiritofservice.org.
Education, community forums
and a corps of consultants are also planned to support all aspects of congregational
life. For more information, contact Spirit of Service through its website,
by phone at 816-942-2224, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
295. 000426 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Group helps with discerning the
Translated into English perhaps more than
any other scripture, the Tao Te Ching (pronounced Dow Duh Jeeng) consists
of 5000 Chinese characters and takes less than half an hour to read. In
its brevity and simplicty is the naturalness and sponteneity of its legendary
author, Lao-Tzu, often regarded as the founder of Taoism (pronounced Dowism)
in the Sixth Century B.C.E.
Taoism, or more correctly
Tao Chia, is the discovery that everything arises and returns to an ultimate
Source, that this Source is a process changing one thing into what appears
to be its opposite, and that the best way to live is to yeild to its flow.
Water is a favorite metaphor
for the Tao because it takes the shape of its vessel, it is a universal
solvent and it is powerful enough over the course of time to wear away
mountains. The virtues of acceptance, absorption and patience are
Over the years dozens of
people have asked me if there is a Taoist group in the Kansas City area.
Now one is starting, facilitated by the Rev. Johanna Perri, Wednesdays,
6-7 pm, at Unity Temple on the Plaza, (816) 561-4466. Each week the group
discusses one of the 81 short chapters of the Tao Te Ching. Perri welcomes
the use of multiple translations because the text is so rich in meanings.
Perri says that we "spend
most of our time fighting" the Tao, instead of knowing and working with
it. It is "like expecting gravity or electricity to operate with different
or sporadic equations when we want it to," she says.
While Perri encourages each
person to spend time alone discerning the Tao, she hopes the group can
help each participant to find how the Tao is working in one's life.
294. 000412 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Take a look at other faiths through
the eyes of a believer
Scholars describe religion as a mix of
beliefs, rituals, rules of behavior and a sense of belonging to a group.
Different religions may emphasize one of these elements over others. Christianity
often focuses on beliefs, unlike Zen Buddhism which warns against beliefs
as impediments to experiencing the depth and fullness of the "here and
now," and unlike many expressions of Judaism where group solidarity is
probably more important than most theological formulations.
This diversity is a problem
for one whose faith is centered in a creedal statement such "Christ is
the only salvation for the world." In relating to other religions as if
they are mainly belief systems, subject to rational discourse, one is likely
to misapprehend their actual natures.
So what is a Christian to
do who feels responsible to share the Christian truth with others? Should
other faiths be considered false?
At a lecture at Rockhurst
University last week, Professor Linda Zagzebski of the University of Oklahoma
proposed working on such questions as I, they and you.
She contrasted subjective,
"first-person," with objective, "third-person," views of truth. My subjective
view arises from my personal involvement with my faith. An objective view
is broader and more likely to contain elements which people from other
faiths see. Both views are valuable but both are incomplete.
She recommends a "second-person"
person perspective which combines first-person commitment with third-person
scope. In learning to see ourselves from the view of the person with whom
we speak, we contribute to a communal effort to identify the truth.
293. 000405 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Supplication recognizes commonality
Readers have asked for the invocation I
offered for the Kansas House of Representatives Mar. 23. It will disappoint
some who feel I missed the opportunity to proclaim social standards or
propose a flashy legislative agenda. I thought it would be presumptuous
to use a moment of reverence to make a political speech. Sometimes simply
recognizing who we are, and what we hope to become, is better. Here is
"Infinite and Ultimate Mystery,
the citizens of Kansas call you by many names — God, Yahweh, Wankantaka,
Allah, Brahman, Goddess, Tao, Sat Nam, Creative Interchange, Void, Ahura
Mazda, Ground of Being — these names planted and transplanted here, in
Kansas soil, the great traditions of the world now growing in our own garden.
"We are joined as a sunflower
is joined with the plains while it reaches upward beyond itself. We are
joined as the rivers and streams of Kansas are joined as they travel to
the oceans of the planet. We are joined as the eagle is joined with the
"So are we joined in this
chamber with the citizens on whose behalf we hold offices of trust, and
joined with past and future as we live together honoring you as the Eternal
Spirit of Service.
"You, who from ancient times
have joined us in shapes like covenant, compact, and constitution as means
by which we may co-create a humane, educated, and prosperous society —
you, Spirit of Generations: bless all those here and everywhere serving
the public weal in many ways.
"On this new day, accept
us anew as we join again with the calls to stewardship, liberty, justice,
righteousness and love."
292. 000329 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Convention calls for children's
"In the Christian faith we believe that
unless we become as children, we cannot enter the kingdom of God," former
Kansas City mayor Emanuel Cleaver, a United Methodist minister, said in
explaining why he supports the United Nations Convention on the Rights
of the Child.
Cleaver says it is "tragic"
that, while 191 counties have ratified the 1989 treaty, the United States
has yet to do so. He said it is especially appropriate that Kansas City
host a conference to encourage U.S. ratification of the Convention because
"Kansas City has for the last decade moved toward being recognized as the
'children's capital of the world.'"
At the conference Cleaver
will speak on "The Role of Religious Institutions in Ratification" of the
Convention. Cleaver said that the churches "have failed to be vigilant"
in supporting such efforts on behalf of children.
The recent shooting-deaths
of children at school make this a poignant concern, he said.
Ahmed El-Sherif, head of
the American Muslim Council Midwest Region, welcomes interfaith attention
to the Convention and will join Cleaver in speaking at the conference.
"Children are the leaders of the future, and it is essential that we protect
their rights now so they can grow with health, education and morals."
El-Sherif, an American citizen,
says he is embarrassed when he visits Egypt, his native country, that it
is ahead of the U.S. in affirming the rights of children. "The U.S. should
be showing the way," he said.
Chaired by former Kansas
City mayor Charles B. Wheeler, M.D., the conference begins Friday and runs
through Sunday at the Kansas City Marriott Country Club Plaza.
291. 000322 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Prayer in House could be for
Several times this column has questioned
whether certain prayers offered before the Kansas House of Representatives
fully recognized the religious diversity within the state.
Tomorrow I am scheduled to
offer the invocation in Topeka. Dear reader, I can use your advice. I'm
finding it is a lot easier to scrutinize someone else's effort than to
find words for the large embrace implied in the Kansas Bill of Rights which
prohibits any preference "by law to any religious establishment or mode
Just as prayer in such a
setting should be inclusive religiously, it should also recall shared aspirations
rather than pushing legislators toward partisan positions. It might be
right to pray for honest government, but I'd prefer the legislators figure
out for themselves whether lobbyists should be required to report their
expenditures on each representative than for me to pray God into cosponsoring
any particular bill.
Praying for any governmental
function is inherently problematic. Skeptics point to the sometimes disappointing
work of those for whom the prayer is offered and ask for evidence that
the daily invocation does any good at all.
And some religious leaders,
mindful of the exhortation of Jesus to avoid public prayer (Matthew 6:6),
worry about it as merely a sanctimonious veneer on the political rough
Still, most people I know
in government are honorable and dedicated. They often sacrifice personal
gain for the larger public good. Perhaps I can at least offer a prayer
of thanksgiving for them.
290. 000315 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Cartoon at least has some honest
NBC has braided the ancient stories of
Noah, Lot and Job into a new half-hour animation, "God, the Devil and Bob."
The show's chief human character is Bob Alman, whose last name recalls
"Everyman," a 15th Century English morality play.
Bob is a 32-year-old Detroit
autoworker. God, who enjoys a good beer with a twist-off cap, is pretty
disgusted with humankind and, as in the days before the Flood, contemplates
destroying everything. As Abraham persuaded God to search for the righteous
when God wanted to consume Sodom, God now wonders if one person can prove
that humankind is worth saving. The Devil picks Bob and God agrees to the
test. Unlike Job, Bob's task is not to merely to maintain his own integrity,
but to save the world.
Bob thus becomes a prophet
or savior-figure, a role not particularly pleasing to his family. And since
God gives no instructions, Bob is filled with Kafkaesque anxiety. When
a bum asks for five bucks, Bob, perhaps recalling Matthew 25:40, wonders
if the bum is Christ in disguise.
Called a comedy, the show
raises the really big questions that our secular culture usually ignores.
Why did God create a world he knew would be so foul? If we are made in
the image of God, what does that say about God? Since God can intervene
but doesn't, isn't he ultimately responsible for the horrors around us?
This is hardly the sentimental
"Touched by an Angel." Some may think the show verges into blasphemy. I
find too few hints of redemption. And although Bob's theological problems
plague mainly Western faiths and Eastern approaches are ignored, still
the questions are more honest than pat answers.
289. 000308 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Faiths provide a mirror to unity
Many readers have let me know they understand
the dangers of religious prejudice. They believe that everyone has the
right to one's own religion, or none.
This is an advance from the
days when people were forcibly converted to another faith or denied opportunities
because of their beliefs. Home associations can no longer prevent Jews
from buying in their areas. While Wiccans and other minorities still encounter
discrimination from time to time, we have come a long way.
But are their deeper levels
of engagement with faiths other than our own?
We can move from respecting
others' right to their own faiths to respecting their faiths.
This is a subtle but crucial distinction. It is one thing for me to agree
you have the right to have whatever painting you wish in your living room,
and it is another thing for me to learn why it is beautiful to you, even
if I do not want it in my living room.
We take another step toward
deeper understanding when we participate in interfaith exchange. I need
a mirror to see myself. When Christians discover why Jesus is so revered
by Muslims, when Tibetan Buddhists and Jews tell their stories of suffering,
when Hindus and American Indians share dances, all can see their own heritage
more clearly with the mirror of the other.
But there may be an even
fuller engagement possible for us. The mirrors of faith transmit and reflect
the holy from many angles. Bringing and focusing them together, a powerful,
curative light can shine to heal the three great crises of secularism:
the endangered environment, the violation of personhood, and the broken
This may be the key religious
task of the new millennium.
288. 000301 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Coalition says religious freedom
Does Missouri need legislation to protect
religious liberty? Cynthia S. Holmes, a St. Louis attorney representing
the Missouri Coalition for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),
met with Kansas City religious leaders recently to say that it does.
"Government used to
be required to have a compelling state interest before it could infringe
upon religious practice," she said. "But recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions
have lowered the standard so that if a governmental action is simply neutral,
it may be permitted."
Organizers have turned their
attention from the federal to the state level. She said that RFRA has received
committee approval in the Missouri Senate, and a similar bill has been
introduced in the House.
She cited many examples where
she believes remedy is necessary. "In Missouri, a party and a witness were
forced to appear in court on their sabbath without any compelling reason."
She told of instances where prisoners were not allowed access to the Bible
and other religious literature. "Sunday School enrollment records have
"The RFRA Coalition
consists of both religious conservatives and liberals, Christians and non-Christians,
many of whom frequently disagree on other issues," she said.
"RFRA is necessary
to make sure that everyone has the right to practice one's faith" said
Juan Rangel, Jr, executive director of the Greater Kansas City Region of
the NCCJ, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews, now
the National Conference for Community and Justice.
287. 000223 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Different stories teach same
Both Job in the Hebrew scriptures and Vimalakirti
in the Buddhist tradition are model human beings. Both are family men,
men of wealth, men of stature, known for their virtue.
Both get sick. And both receive
"comforters" who inquire about the cause of their illnesses. But the differences
in the stories are striking.
Job is afflicted because
Satan persuades God to test him. We admire Job for maintaining his integrity
throughout the ordeal. The main text explores the problem of a just man
beset with undeserved misfortune. In a famous speech out of a whirlwind,
God responds by daring Job to question His wisdom and power.
In the end, Job's health
and wealth are restored in passages scholars think derive from different
Buddhism, on the other hand,
has no God to set the story in motion. It is Vimalakirti himself who assumes
his disease, and he does so willingly, without complaint. Just as parents
suffer when their children are distressed, so the model Buddhist vicariously
takes on the difficulties of others, but without "owning" them.
In opening ourselves to understand
others, we gain understanding of our own true natures. Enlightenment comes
when we so completely identify with others that we lose any sense of personal
misery and enter the bliss of selflessness.
Vimalakirti thus can also
be compared with Isaiah's suffering servant and with the Christians' Jesus,
whose wounds show us our own frail nature and paradoxically bring us healing.
286. 000216 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
The deep Muslim roots of respect
"For the first time in my 73 years, I have
the opportunity to thank you for your heritage," Sr. Rosemary Flanigan,
CSJ, told the Muslims gathered several weeks ago at the Crescent Peace
Society fourth annual Eid celebration dinner, after Ramadan, the month
Flanigan's topic was "respect,"
and her acknowledgement of indebtedness to Muslim culture illustrated her
theme to an audience of Americans who were born in 21 different countries.
"Aristotle came to the West
through Latin translations of the Arabic versions of the original Greek.
The great theologian in my Roman Catholic tradition, Thomas Aquinas, studied
Aristotle from the Muslims. The Muslims philosophers Avicenna and Averroes
also influenced Western thought." She said her ideas about respect come
from the Greeks through the Arabs.
"Respect arises from the
relationship between me as the decider and me as the doer. Respect involves
the will as well as the intellect. Showing respect is a habit of behavior
built upon our dignity as self-deciding actors. It is the essence of what
it means to be human," she said.
"This was the shortest, most
insightful philosophy lecture I have ever heard," said Andrew S. Bergerson,
asssitant professor of history at UMKC, a guest at the dinner.
Bergerson is completing a
book about a German town where the habit of respect disintegrated when
people decided they were not responsible for the well-being of their neighbors.
"This was a critical change which made Nazi dehumanization possible," he
285. 000209 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Romantic love pales beside divine
"Romantic love is a secular version of
the religious yearning for God," Morris Berman, author of the just-published
God, told me when he was in Kansas City a few weeks ago.
Both depend upon what Berman
calls "interiority, the sense of inner life, a state of mind, rather than
external order. We now select parnters based on how we feel about them
rather than having our marriages arranged, and we value guilt and contrition
over merely mechanical performances of penance. In law we consider intention
as well as a result--did the accused mean to hurt his friend with the saw
or was it an accident?
in the West after St. Augustine's Confessions, he said. For reasons
we do not yet fully understand, it was reawakened about the time that romantic
love became an ideal.
"Romantic love is the exception
in most cultures," he said, "but since the 11th Century it has fascinated
the West. Popular music today repeats the same themes of 12th Century French
troubador songs: I am nothing without you, I can't live without you and
such -- sentiments which, of course, are rubbish.
"Courtly love arose with
the knight's affection for his lord's wife, who could not be possessed.
We value unsatisfied passion, a high state of desire. If you get what you
want, as in marriage, romantic excitement diminishes." Since we cannot
be united with God, the yearning continues. We want what we cannot attain.
Berman advises those moving
toward mature love to become "transparent," hiding nothing from ourselves
about our interiority. And how else can one truly seek God?
284. 000202 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Christian churches have a duty
to foster unity
"Within our local churches, ecumenism may
seem like a second dessert, nice but hardly necessary,'' says retired Episcopal
bishop Arthur A. Vogel. But Vogel agrees with Roman Catholic theologian
Karl Rahner that "Christians have a duty of unity, that disunity is disobedience
Vogel cites the prayer of
Jesus for unity in John 17 and Ignatius of Antioch in the First Century
who wrote, "Where division reigns, God does not dwell.''
Paul's admonition in II Corinthians
5:19 says that as God has reconciled himself to us through Christ, so our
service to others must be reconciliation.
"If God's presence in the
church is not able to overcome the divisions in the church, why should
the world believe that the God to whom Christians witness can overcome
the world?'' he asks. "This is why the union of the church is its very
For Vogel, who was active
in international Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue for 22 years, unity does
not mean uniformity. Vogel advocates a unity of faith within a "pluralformity,''
the one truth expressed necessarily in various ways because of the richness
and plentitude of God.
The "ultimate ecumenism"
includes non-Christian religions was well, in Vogel's view. What is needed
is a shared awareness of the Infinite Mystery, however that is inflected
in worship. "What we need is witness, not battle,'' he says.
Vogel speaks on "The Gospel
Imperative for Ecumenical Dialogue'' Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at Abiding Savior
Lutheran Church ELCA in Independence. The evening is cosponsored by St.
Michael's Episcopal and St. Mark's Catholic Church. For information, call
283. 000126 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Monk seeks the self through the
Some people get upset and defensive when
they hear the Buddhist 'not-self' teaching," said the Ven. Santikaro Bhikkhu,
a Thai monk visiting Kansas City earlier this month." Others are relieved.
The stressed-out competitive ego has become a burden."
The bhikkhu approaches the
doctrine two ways. The "classic" explanation sees what we conventionally
call a self as a system of interdependent activities such as touch, thought,
emotions and consciousness.
"All of these are transient;
they arise and pass away, endlessly interacting with each other. They are
impermanent and have no fixed, independent, isolated existence of their
own," he said.
The second, "relational"
explanation jibes with the modern yearning "for the perfect relationship
'that will bring me happiness.' Our lives involve others: bosses, families,
friends, lovers. What we are is collected from parents, teachers, friends--even
enemies. And we would be different without, say, automobiles. Our ideas,
beliefs, behaviors, values, and even our bodies come from others. It is
impossible to draw real boundaries between 'self' and 'other.'"
The 'not-self' insight can
be understood only within the context of the Buddha's teaching about suffering
and the end of suffering, he said. "Suffering arises from the illusion
that there is a separate 'me' that is ultimately distinct from others and
persists from moment to moment. Suffering ends when we abandon clinging
to a false idea of self. Freed of illusion, we no longer need to be possessive,
defensive, anxious or hateful. We can live with wisdom and compassion,"
282. 000119 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Students see the diversity in
All grades at the Kansas City Academy,
a private school, returned to classes the first week after the holiday
recess to study world religions. The students took field trips, listened
to guests, did research and projects and performed and watched Inherit
the Wind, a play about the Scopes Trial and evolution.
During the week, students
encountered Baha'is, Buddhists, Jews, Unitarian Universalists and Wiccans
and well as members of the three branches of Christianity--Roman Catholicism,
Greek Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Later this month, Muslims will visit.
The week was focused on what
religions teach about our relationships with the environment, ourselves
and each other.
Principal Mary Statz said
the students helped select the social justice theme of diversity in religions.
She was enthused about how the week affected the students. "All the speakers
and the hosts at the places we visited were excellent role models because
they felt strongly about their own faiths but refused to criticize others.
We were all touched."
Projects presented as the
week ended included a dance depicting the birth of good and evil, a newspaper
called "The Sinai Scrolls" reporting the activities of Moses and a brochure
about a student's own new religion, Mechanical Naturalism.
Rosemary Yarmo, a teacher,
called the week a "truly enlightening experience."
Since the students "were
not forced to accept a specific doctrine," the acceptance of diversity
helped the students to accept themselves, said academic dean Martha Fly.
Stella Doering, a parent,
said the week strengthened her son's understanding of his own faith while
enabling him to appreciate others.
281. 000112 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Buddhist monk encourages real
For the past 20 years, the Ven. Santikaro
Bhikkhu has lived as a Buddhist monk in Thailand. Born in Chicago, he became
a student and translator of perhaps the greatest Thai Buddhist teacher
in history, Ajahn Buddhadasa.
He was in Kansas City last
week for talks with several different Buddhist groups here after leading
a retreat at Conception Abbey.
"While some indigenous peoples
have no concept of what we call a 'self,' Americans are hyper-individualistic.
Still, everywhere I go here, these isolated American individuals want to
talk about community. Community is a deep human need, but America is consumer-oriented,
forcused more on products than on community," he said.
"The closest some get to
community may be identifying with a team at a football game.
"The Christian doctrine of
the Trinity has become opaque. How can three persons be one? Premoderns
found in it a model of relationships, a way of understanding God as community.
Now we don't understand community or God."
Leading his own monastery,
the bhikkhu (monk) believes community requires regular face-to-face interaction
and connection to place. Cyber communities like GeoCities are useful but
insufficient as a substitute.
"Buddhism teaches that a
community depends upon six virtues of harmonious living under the two rubrics
of caring and sharing. Metta, kindness, includes caring in body,
speech and mind -- what we do, say and think. Sharing involves property,
a moral code and a world view," he said.
The task today, he said,
is to create community not only within groups of individuals, but world-wide
communities of communities.
280. 000105 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Now the real challenges to religion
The next 100 years may bring the greater
challenges to all religions than the last 10,000 years. The technological
advances of the agricultural, industrial and information revolutions resulted
in new religious developments, but they may seem trivial compared with
the biotechnologies already beginning to raise difficult questions.
All religions have wrestled
with the meaning of death. Some teach this life is followed by heaven or
hell as reward or punishment. Others believe the soul is reincarnated repeatedly
until one is absorbed in God. Still others say that we can know nothing
beyond the grave, so life's meaning must be found within the limits of
But how will religions deal
with the emerging possibility that humans -- through biological and computerized
replacement parts, through mastering the aging process and other medical
advances -- may be able to live forever? And how will religions say the
resources to support endless life should be allocated?
What it means to be human
today in America is very different than what it meant to be human in ancient
Sumer, for example. They didn't have cell phones. But soon it may be possible
to place a hardly-noticeable, voice-activated device in one's ear and communicate
instantly with others. The step just beyond that is a biological implant.
Will we still be human? With the completion of the human genome project
within five years, we may gain the power to create new species.
Already the internet is transforming
old notions of identity -- the soul. One can adopt many different on-line
personalities interacting in cyberspace with other identities. When these
creations gain independence from us in virtual reality, will we usurp God's
center offers blending of beliefs for modern times
By OSCAR AVILA -
The Kansas City Star
Date: 01/04/00 22:15
Ben Worth doesn't
like labels. Too limiting. But he uses a few labels for himself to make
a point. Christian minister. Recovering lawyer. Follower of Buddhism.
Worth, founder of the American Buddhist Center, says the Eastern faith
is compatible with a person's career pressures and Judeo-Christian roots.
Many Kansas Citians seem to agree. Since the center opened in 1996, attendance
has tripled and the mailing list is five times larger.
Interest in Buddhism is growing throughout the area, though the numbers
still are relatively small when compared with other religions. The increase
has been bolstered by the American Buddhist Center, other houses of worship
and scores of Asian immigrants.
And, Worth says, the demands of a stressful society are steering many to
Buddhism as a way
to find peace and
satisfaction with life.
"I subscribed to how my generation defined happiness: a nice house in Johnson
big garage, a lot
of possessions," Worth said. "I woke up one morning and realized I wasn't
"I think a lot of people are realizing the same thing."
The center, at Unity Temple on the Plaza, presents several meditation sessions
The center also
sponsors lectures, study groups, book discussions and retreats.
On Sunday mornings, one can find Worth at Unity Temple, lighting a candle
and hoping to
spark a figurative
one as well.
At his one-hour meditation sessions, he tries to provide a calm haven for
the storms of the
Several participants join Worth in sitting cross-legged on the stage. Dozens
more sit in
Light filters in through colored windows featuring the authors of the four
gospels. The piano strains of Christmas tunes leak in from a nearby room.
Worth rings a bell and greets the "Buddha nature in each one of you."
"Each one of us has the potential to awaken our true nature and release
ourselves from fear,
greed, hatred and
ignorance," he says softly.
The participants breathe in. They breathe out.
Footsteps shuffle outside the door. Some squirm. A clock ticks.
They breathe in. They breathe out.
"Breathing in, know that you're breathing in," Worth says. "Breathing out,
know that you're
"Keeping things as simple as possible, this breath, this moment is all
A few years ago, this would have been torture for Worth.
He was a high-powered lawyer in Johnson County. Every career advancement
enough. He needed
more. To get ahead, to buy, to...succeed.
He was born in 1946. He was the classic Type-A personality, he said, always
organizing. Even his attempts at spiritual retreats became well-orchestrated
outings, not relaxing affairs.
He turned away from religion. He began developing ulcers. His marriage
He started attending Buddhist meditation sessions. After a short while,
he had left his law
practice to start
a prison ministry. He became an ordained Christian minister and started
pursuing Buddhist philosophy more deeply.
"Now I have less stuff and less money in my life than I've ever had," Worth
said. "But I have more joy, hope and love."
Worth acknowledges that traditional Buddhist teachers might take issue
with his meditation techniques and how he presents the faith. His center
offers a taste of many different approaches, from American to Korean.
He also teaches a Communiversity course on the subject through the University
The Rev. Vern Barnet, minister in residence at the Center for Religious
Experience and Study in Overland Park, said the American Buddhist Center
is a good resource for those seeking an introduction to the faith.
He said the Buddhist belief in impermanence appeals to many concerned about
a modern world that seems to change with the speed of a mouse-click.
Nothing good lasts forever, the Buddhists believe. Likewise, even extreme
suffering will end too.
"I think a lot of people are grabbing hold of that message," he said.
Also helping has been the emergence of the Dalai Lama into Western consciousness,
the embracing of the faith by celebrities such as Richard Gere and the
sprinkling of Buddhism into popular culture, including movies such as "Little
Buddha" and "Seven Years in Tibet."
Other Buddhist centers remain vibrant. The Mindfulness Meditation Institute
is making plans for a monastery and institute. The Shambhala Center in
Kansas City, Kan., attracts dozens for meditation and study. The Kansas
Zen Center in Lawrence draws teachers from around the world.
Meanwhile, immigrants from China, Vietnam, Laos and Korea practice their
faith in more orthodox manners in temples and private homes.
Worth's center has become a networking point for the many interpretations
of the faith, which is considered more diverse than Christianity.
On Tuesday nights, teachers from the Kansas Zen Center lead meditation
sessions based on the Korean tradition. The meetings combine quiet thought
with lively chanting in a Sino-Korean tongue.
Wearing traditional gray robes, the teachers share Buddhist stories and
explain their relevance for modern society. Judy Roitman, a teacher at
the Zen Center, meets individually with participants who want to learn
"The only thing these people have in common is the desire to understand,"
Each manifestation of Buddhism -- be it from Vietnam or Korea -- has been
shaped by the national character of its birthplace, Worth said.
Worth said he hopes the multicultural flavor of America will create a Buddhism
that embraces the traditions of many schools.
Many who participate at the center, like Worth, are Christians seeking
other answers about the great questions of life.
"The search for truth with a capital `T' cuts across all religions," Worth
said. "I don't go with the idea that you should be a Buddhist or non-Buddhist.
It's just a good way to live your life.
"We don't necessarily need more Buddhists. We need people finding about
their own religion and seeing what's best for them."
What's best for Worth has been a blending of his Christian roots with the
four noble truths of Buddhism.
Since he began meditating, he has made peace with relatives after his divorce.
He doesn't worry about money. He doesn't fume when a motorist cuts him
off. He's happy.
"I've had such great blessings in my life," he said. "That's what I'm hoping
to do with the center: share that with other people."
reach Oscar Avila at The Star, call (816) 234-4902 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
2000 The Kansas City Star