Interfaith Insight - 2022

Permanent link for "Purpose and faith in face of tragedy" by Doug Kindschi on December 20, 2022

A successful attorney and real estate investor fell on hard times after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Horatio Spafford and his family had planned a trip to Europe, but his business interests required him to stay for a bit longer so he had his wife and four daughters go ahead and he would join them later. While they travelled on the SS Ville du Havre another ship collided with theirs, causing serious damage and the ship quickly capsized. Over 200 lives were lost, including the four daughters of Horatio and Anna Spafford. 

Anna was rescued while nearly unconscious and floating on a piece of wood. When she finally arrived on land in Wales, she telegrammed her husband with the words, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

Horatio Spafford booked passage to join her, and at one point on the way the captain called him to the bridge as they passed over the area where the SS Ville du Havre had sunk. On a piece of Chicago hotel stationery Spafford penned the poem “It Is Well with My Soul.” It was later put to music by hymn writer Philip Bliss, who titled the tune Ville du Havre, after the sunken vessel.

According to the digital records in the Library of Congress, placed there by the Spafford family, Horatio and Anna had additional children and moved to Jerusalem to establish an American center to serve those in need. Their purpose wasn’t to proselytize but to serve. All persons in need were welcome regardless of nationality or creed.

When a few years later Horatio died, Anna and their daughter Bertha continued the work. During World War I they established a hospital for wounded soldiers from both sides of the conflict as well as a soup kitchen for those in need during the war.  Their efforts continued by establishing an orphanage in East Jerusalem and a children’s center supporting the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. 

The Spafford Children’s Center still exists, serving all in need regardless of race, religion, or cultural background. Several great-grandchildren of Horatio and Anna Spafford continue serving on the center’s Board of Trustees. The staff is also diverse with persons from different faiths working together to help children and families in need.

A few years ago, for their Christmas concert, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir featured the Spafford story and the hymn that Horatio wrote. The narrator for the dramatic depiction is Hugh Bonneville, who became well-known for his role as Lord Grantham in the Downton Abbey series.  

In the telling of this inspiring story, Bonneville concludes that the “work of giving, of loving, serving and rescuing is ours if we choose to make it so.” 

Watch the inspiring story and choral presentation at:

As we enter this period of Hanukkah and Christmas, let renew our commitment to serving others who are in need and respecting all regardless of nationality, race, or creed.  

Posted on Permanent link for "Purpose and faith in face of tragedy" by Doug Kindschi on December 20, 2022.

Permanent link for "Responding to Antisemitism; we must 'never forget'" by Doug Kindschi on November 22, 2022

Antisemitism is on the rise again in our nation and made a recent appearance in Grand Rapids. Following the election, the Kent County Democratic Headquarters was vandalized with painted swastikas and other white supremacist symbols. 

Party Chair Bill Saxton told MLive that it was “not only shocking and disappointing, but is a direct assault on what should be the core values of all citizens, regardless of political party preference. … We cannot and will not allow hate like this to flow through our community. I am asking all of you to stand with us and send a resounding message that this form of hate is not welcome here and we will continue to fight against it every day of every year."

Cary Fleischer, active in Kaufman Interfaith Institute programs and with the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus, added: “Hatred is a danger to both parties and to all Americans. Nazi messages are especially anathema to Jewish people, but everyone should join in the condemnation.”

This attitude is not new to America as recently documented in the Ken Burns PBS series “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” In three parts, each two hours long, Burns and his team review the isolationist attitudes in America prior to the Second World War as well as the rampant fear of immigrants, including Jews, as the country was still trying to recover from the economic pressures of the Depression. While President Franklin D. Roosevelt had appointed more Jews to high government positions than any previous president, the mood of the population as well as his own State Department was not supportive of additional Jewish persons being admitted to the country.

The Atlantic magazine responded to the Burns PBS series in an article titled, “Why Democracies Are So Slow to Respond to Evil.” Even Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, who had taken his family to Amsterdam, was blocked from entry to the U.S. despite personal connections to the co-owner of Macy’s Department Store. The “Assistant Secretary of State Samuel Breckinridge Long,” The Atlantic article reports, “a notorious anti-Semite who fought hard against Jewish immigration, tightened immigration restrictions, buried reports on the killings, shelved approvals for rescue plans, and blocked funding to relief groups, all while publicly denying those actions.”

As Hitler’s armies moved into democracies throughout Europe, The Atlantic article continues, “Democracies, for all their strengths, are ill-equipped for identifying and responding to evil.” Referring to the “tyranny of the majority” the article points out, “Immigration restrictions, for instance, were not a democratic failure; on the contrary, they were what voters wanted. It was an elected government respecting majority sentiment.”

We cannot reverse our country’s inability to admit more Jews during this horrific period of genocide. We must, however, be aware of this failure and work to prevent current instances of antisemitism and other prejudices against those who may have religious or ethnic differences.  We can also keep informed and be vigilant against current instances of hate.

In our community on Wednesday, Nov. 30, is one such opportunity when the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids, in partnership with WGVU Public Media, will present an introductory screening of “The U.S and the Holocaust.” Also featured will be a panel discussion and audience interaction with Rob Franciosi, professor and Holocaust expert at GVSU, and with Linda and Steve Pestka, children of Holocaust survivor Henry Pestka. The event will be at 7 p.m. at Celebration Cinema North. Registration is required by clicking on this link: The U.S and the Holocaust    

Another opportunity in the next couple of months will be two exhibits at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute in the Center for Health Sciences at 301 Michigan St. NE.  The first, entitled, “From Darkness To Light: Mosaics Inspired by Tragedy,” features works that respond to the pain and horror of the 2018 shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. The second, “The Holocaust Unfolds,” depicts the history of what we now call the Holocaust as it unfolded in the pages of the Jewish News and its predecessor, the Detroit Jewish Chronicle. More information to come!

Let us join together to work against hate of all forms and keep promoting the call to “Never Forget.”  

[email protected]

Posted on Permanent link for "Responding to Antisemitism; we must 'never forget'" by Doug Kindschi on November 22, 2022.

Permanent link for "Thanksgiving Makes Us Stronger" by David Baak on November 15, 2022

You are invited to the Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service, next Monday, November 21, at 7 p.m. at Temple Emanuel, 1715 East Fulton, in Grand Rapids. 

I remember the first time that invitation was given, in the fall of 2000, in the middle of a divisive presidential election and a turbulent economic year. A group of pastors and music leaders were called together by Fr. Tom Bolster, rector of the Cathedral of St Andrew. Not a few persons were thinking, “For what do we have to be thankful?” But Fr. Tom suggested that we all ought to be able to come together in thanksgiving because, as The Grand Rapids Press quoted him at the time, “We all live together.”  

The group “kind of” knew each other; some of us had worked together on hunger and housing and racial justice issues; there had been a few joint services and peace vigils over the years. But this was new: representatives of a variety of religious traditions providing different sacred scriptures, music, prayers and reflections — all in the same place at the same time — hearing in the words of each other a reflection of their own faith, and all with the dynamic unifying theme of Thanksgiving. 

The anticipation was high (and so was the anxiety.) And then it began to snow, and not a few of us worried that no one except the participants would attend. Instead, through 10 inches of late afternoon snow, people streamed into the cathedral until it was filled to overflowing. 

A Distinctive Interfaith Community Thanksgiving

Months later, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the invitation went out again and we joined each other in lament and comfort (also powerful themes of the different religious traditions), as a crowd of a thousand gathered. 

Later that same year, and every year since, the same invitation has been given to all of us in this community. We express gratitude during the week of the Thanksgiving holiday at least partly because gratitude is common to our many faith traditions. And, partly, because it turned out to be a significant bonding event for our community.  After this many years, the celebration is now “normative” — we now “expect” it to be a part of our community’s Thanksgiving Day week’s activity.  

“Normative” or “expected” might be a stretch for some, but the service is distinctive. Few communities this week will have an interfaith service. And fewer will have a service with as broad a spectrum of faiths represented as ours. That, in part, is because of the increasing diversity of our community and, certainly, because of the intentionality of those who for over two decades have planned the service. It is also distinctive because of the number and variety of the congregations who have invited us into their sacred space to enjoy and celebrate and give thanks in a group expression that is much larger than our individual selves. 

The celebration is that we, from some 10 different faith traditions, without giving up our individual perspectives, are able to express our unity through doing thanksgiving together.

At least for that moment, we move past the divisions in our diversity and, as writer Brian Andreas has said: “We sit side by side … and look out at the future together.”  

In this time of heightened tension and division that includes a whole new round of attacks on religious belief and practice, an evening of reminding ourselves of how important gratitude is to and for (all) of our faiths is an expression of hope for the future. Gratitude empowers unity. 

I can’t promise you 10 inches of snow to make the evening distinctive, but I can promise you the warm space and hospitality of the people of Temple Emanuel. I do promise you the joyful participation of a whole range of people that is unique to this evening. And I promise you that as you meet and sit side by side with each other, our whole community grows a little stronger — and importantly, so does our future.   

[email protected]

Posted on Permanent link for "Thanksgiving Makes Us Stronger" by David Baak on November 15, 2022.

Permanent link for "Looking back and looking forward: interfaith in West Michigan" by Doug Kindschi on October 18, 2022

Last month the Aspen Institute released their report,  Building Interfaith Bridges: West Michigan’s Journey toward Principled Pluralism.  The occasion was the 10th anniversary of the Religion & Society Program held at their headquarters in Washington, D.C.  We are excited that our local and regional efforts are being recognized by this respected national organization. I was also on a panel with other interfaith leaders including Eboo Patel, president of Interfaith America, and Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Seminary.  

The report traces the beginnings of interfaith relations and the Kaufman Institute going back to the 1980s in Muskegon and in Grand Rapids. It also documents the development of Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogues, the Academic Consortium conferences, and the various special years beginning with the Year of Interfaith Understanding, as well as the years which focused on Service, Friendship, and Healing. 

The report explores the beginning of interfaith efforts going back to the Jewish-Christian Dialogue initiated by Sylvia Kaufman in the 1980s in Muskegon. In that same decade three women from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths in Grand Rapids began meeting in homes. Lillian Sigal, Marchiene Rienstra, and Ghazala Munir soon invited others from various faith communities to join in. This led to the formation of the Interfaith Dialogue Association that has now merged with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. 

You can read the electronic version of this report by clicking here.

It is noteworthy that both in Muskegon and in Grand Rapids it was Jewish women who took the leadership in bringing a wider and more accepting approach to the interfaith understanding. In an environment of increasing hate and violence it is often anti-Semitism that is expressed.  From the radical white nationalists in Charlottesville carrying their torches and shouting “Jews will not replace us,” to the tragic killing of Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Pittsburgh community, our Jewish brothers and sisters are often the target. When it comes to racial and ethnic hatred, we must always remember the extremes of this which emerged in the Holocaust and the systematic genocide perpetrated by Hitler and the Nazis.  

The recent Ken Burns series on “The U.S. and the Holocaust” exposes the depth of anti-Semitism in our own country that contributed to the tragedy. It is important that we never forget, and some upcoming events in our community will be important in that effort. 

On Wednesday Nov. 30, the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids in cooperation with WGVU will sponsor a screening of portions of the Ken Burns video along with a panel discussion. This will be held at Celebration Cinema North at 7:00 p.m.

Next week Wednesday, at Temple Emanuel, there will be a presentation “Stories of Hope & Courage from the Holocaust.” This interfaith presentation will feature Cassandra Kroondyk from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church sharing vocal and violin musical responses. Please respond to [email protected] to RSVP for this program on Oct. 26 at 10:30 a.m.

On the following Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 7:00 p.m. we are co-sponsoring the Padnos Public Engagement lecture at the Loosemore Auditorium at the GVSU downtown campus. “Remnants of a Mighty Nation: Jews through the Eyes of American Christians” will be presented by Dr. Julian Levinson, the Samuel Shetzer Professor of American Jewish Studies at the University of Michigan. RSVP for this event here

This year's Intefaith Thanksgiving Celebration, themed "Choosing Gratitute," will talke place on November 21, 7pm, at Temple Emanuel featuring a community refelction from Rabbi Michael Schadick. Many traditions and cultures will come together to give thanks for one another and to actively choose gratitude, even in the midst of uncertainty and division. A virtual freewill offering will be taken for Feeding America West Michigan. RSVP for this event here

Looking even further ahead, in February 2023 we are most pleased to bring a rising star from the Sikh community, Valarie Kaur, to our campus to talk about her book  See No Stranger  and her concept of revolutionary love. The Sikh community, along with other minority groups, is also discriminated against and even killed because its members look different. We must all be vigilant in living by the precept to love our neighbor and to love the stranger. 

A new book discussion group will begin this November reading  See No Stranger.  For more information and to join this group meeting by Zoom click here

As we seek peace among the religions, let us also work against the divisions that often become toxic, leading to hate and even violence.  This is so contrary to the religious teachings that we all share and to the basic concept of human dignity. 

[email protected]

Posted on Permanent link for "Looking back and looking forward: interfaith in West Michigan" by Doug Kindschi on October 18, 2022.

Permanent link for "Interfaith Efforts in Combating Hate" by David Baak on September 27, 2022

I think that many “interfaith issues,” like politics as some say, are local – certainly in impact and effect. But there are many larger events and movements that can help inform our local interactions.

One such event, earlier this month, was an under-reported conference at the White House that was intended to be a “first step” to combat extremist hate and violence. The summit, and its message, were largely lost in the flurry of other high-profile news reports, including coverage of the death and memorials of Queen Elizabeth II, the railroad contract settlement, inflation and stock market reports, the war in Ukraine … and more.

According to its website, “United We Stand” was hosted by the president “… to counter the destructive effects of hate-fueled violence on our democracy and public safety, mobilize diverse sectors of society and communities across the country to these dangers, and put forward a shared, inclusive, bipartisan vision for a more united America.”

The event drew “Uniters” who are working in their communities to build bridges and address hate and division. Representatives from across the country heard a national address from the president and participated in “bipartisan panels and conversations on countering hate-fueled violence, preventing mobilization to violence, and fostering unity.”

Even less reported was the role in the summit of representatives from faith communities, including survivors and family members of those lost to mass shootings at houses of worship and those in organizations and congregations working to counteract hate and violence.

According to a Religion News Service (RNS) report, the president intended the summit to address “hate-fueled violence, committing to new and renewed measures to combat hate, including attacks aimed at people of faith. … Federal resources will be allocated, administration officials said, to train people at houses of worship, in workplaces and local law enforcement to identify, report and combat violence linked to hate.”

Rana Singh Sodhi, the brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh man who was mistaken for a Muslim and killed in the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was one of those recognized as examples of the universality of grief, but also of love and hope. Said Biden, “The power is within each of us to transform the story of our time to rise together against hate, to show who we are. We are the United States of America. There’s nothing, nothing beyond our capacity.” 

Others were honored and provided their own reflections on their experiences and commitments. The RNS report states: “Long before the summit closed with a performance by the Howard University Gospel Choir, Susan Rice, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said she was struck by the ‘powerful’ comments by faith leaders and survivors. ‘I don’t know about you,’ she said, ‘but I felt like I’d gone to church.’”

There are several things in this event, it seems to me, that are important for us in our various communities of faith here in West Michigan. In addition to simply knowing about the event, its participants and content, we can note — and take advantage of — the initiatives and funding announced at the summit.

Look through the listing of people, efforts and initiatives that are noted, and find your own interest and place in that “universe” of information for involvement here where we live.

One effort is training by organizations like Interfaith America, Habitat for Humanity, the YMCA and others that will provide opportunities to “teach 10,000 Americans how to become bridge builders in their communities.” We, individuals and congregations, can find out where and how we might be involved — and those locally with whom we can connect.

I encourage you to review the “Engagement Tool Kit” that United We Stand provides. In addition to efforts to make sure that our congregations’ facilities and services are safe and secure, there are simple things each of us can do that are preventative in nature.

And, without too much apology, I urge you to consider your active involvement in the presentations and activities of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. You see them listed each week in this email or any time at our website.

As Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, reported to a conference the other day that several of us attended, the president’s “summary of that day is one word: ‘Possibilities!’”

That is an encouragement that is wonderfully “local.”

 [email protected]

Posted on Permanent link for "Interfaith Efforts in Combating Hate" by David Baak on September 27, 2022.

Permanent link for "Remembering interfaith anniversaries, from 1800s until today" by Doug Kindschi on September 20, 2022

Last September, Eboo Patel wrote about the 20th anniversary of 9/11, but he also wrote about another anniversary of September 11, from over one hundred years ago in 1893. That was the year of the first Parliament of the World’s Religions, which took place in Chicago in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition. At the opening session on that day, Indian mystic and Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda gave a welcoming speech to an audience of 7,000 that set the tone for the Parliament and for a new understanding of religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation. Vivekananda concluded his speech, as noted by Patel, with a prayer for the end of “all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between people wending their way to the same goal.”

Last week on the 9/11 anniversary, the TV program “60 Minutes” aired a detailed report of the bravery but also the sacrifice of hundreds of members of New York City fire department. While the 9/11 tragedy was born in a kind of religious fanaticism, it also triggered a new awareness and need for religious understanding. Ten years ago, the Kaufman Interfaith Institute initiated its “2012 – Year of Interfaith Understanding.”

This September the interfaith efforts of our area are being recognized by the Aspen Institute. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Aspen’s Religion & Society Program, their report will be released titled,  Building Interfaith Bridges: West Michigan’s Journey toward Principled Pluralism.

This study traces the beginnings of interfaith relations and the Kaufman Institute going back to the 1980s in Muskegon and in Grand Rapids. It also documents the development of Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogues, the Academic Consortium conferences, and the various special years beginning with the Year of Interfaith Understanding, as well as the years which focused on Service, Friendship, and Healing.

We are excited that our local and regional efforts are being recognized by this respected national organization. I will also be on a panel with other interfaith leaders including Eboo Patel, president of Interfaith America. You can join us by Zoom from 3:30 to 5 p.m. this Thursday, Sept. 22, but you will need to register by clicking on the link below.

Register Here

Eboo Patel concluded his comments on the various 9/11 events separated by a century by affirming the importance of recognizing religious diversity as a force for good.

“It is time for the United States to live into the vision of being a truly multifaith nation,” Patel added. “We are not a Judeo-Christian country; we are interfaith America, the most religiously diverse nation in human history. … Faith can be a bridge of cooperation, but bridges don’t fall from the sky, people build them. And when we build those bridges of cooperation between different faiths, we build a world that is worthy of the highest ideals of all of our faiths.”

We are pleased to be building such bridges in West Michigan and honored to be joining other such efforts as the Aspen Institute and Eboo Patel’s Interfaith America.

[email protected]  

Also note this evening’s International Interfaith Concert and Dialogue.  Hope to see you there! 

Posted on Permanent link for "Remembering interfaith anniversaries, from 1800s until today" by Doug Kindschi on September 20, 2022.

Permanent link for "The danger of a single story in a complex world" by Doug Kindschi on September 6, 2022

We live in a world of stories.  We have family stories, national stories, religious stories. Alasdair MacIntyre, a political and moral philosopher, wrote, “Man is essentially a story-telling animal, but a teller of stories that aspire to truth.” Our religious traditions over the centuries have given us the stories that form our identity, bind us together, and help us aspire to truth.

The variety of our stories helps define who we are as complex human beings with multiple identities.  There is a danger when we think of others, especially those we see as different from us, as having a “single story” that defines them. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discussed this topic for her TED talk "The Danger of a Single Story." It was recorded in 2009 and with over 31 million views is one of the most viewed TED talks of all time. You can view it at:

In her talk, Adichie tells of her childhood learning to read at home and beginning to write at age seven. The books available to her were British and American children’s books and so when she began writing her own stories, they were about what she had been reading. As she tells it, “All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out.” But she lived in Nigeria where there was no snow, or apples, and they didn’t talk about the weather. Her world of reading was a single story transmitted by the books she had available.

When she discovered African books, she “realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature,” she says. “I started to write about things I recognized.” Literature was no longer a “single story.”

When her mother told her that their new house boy’s family was very poor, that was the only thing she knew about him and felt nothing but pity for him. Later when they visited his village and saw the beautifully patterned baskets that they made, Adiche was startled. She reflects, “All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.”

When Adiche came to America for graduate study, her roommate asked how she learned to speak English so quickly and was shocked to learn that English was the official language of Nigeria. The roommate had felt sorry for her even before they met because she had a single story of Africa. “There was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”

Adiche continued, “I've always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

In the interfaith context I see a similar situation when we let one story about Muslims as terrorists or one verse in the Qur’an define a whole faith community. Telling a single story is the essence of stereotyping and of discrimination. It leads to seeing and treating Native Americans as ignorant, Blacks as criminal, brown-skinned people as not American. It leads religious communities to see themselves as complex while others are seen through a single one-dimensional story.

As we truly seek to understand our fellow humans, let us engage the complexity of their stories and see the commonality of what we share in our mutual humanity, to help us aspire to truth.

[email protected]  

Posted on Permanent link for "The danger of a single story in a complex world" by Doug Kindschi on September 6, 2022.

Permanent link for "Kindness, a Virtue of Religious Diversity" by David Baak on August 16, 2022

A few weeks ago I asked “Who’s on your list for an Interfaith Leadership Award?”

 A regular reader, Cary, responded with this:

My award suggestion is easy. Ray died three years ago. My father was the most religious person I knew. He was Jewish and followed teachings of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan who taught that Judaism had to reconstruct itself to adapt to changes in society. My father regularly attended our local synagogue. He taught me Torah but more often he simply taught me that the scriptures  of Judaism and every major religion centered on kindness. Love for your neighbor and love for all….

Kindness. How much difference can one person make in the lives of those around them simply, and profoundly, living a life of kindness?

I thought of Ray when I read an article in Religion News Service a couple of weeks ago by Eboo Patel (Interfaith America) and Robert P. Jones (Public Religion Research Institute) that focuses on the current expression of white Christian nationalism and the hatred, violence and danger to democracy that it exhibits. And, Patel and Jones suggest, there is a historical interfaith precedent that can help us “[cling] to our best virtues rather than our worst instincts, our democratic principles rather than our tribal fears.”  

Kindness rather than hatred?

Patel and Jones begin with the January 6 insurrection and the “powerful role that white Christian nationalism played in the attack. Among the insurrectionists there were crosses, Bible verses, ‘Jesus Saves’ signs…intermingled with antisemitic symbols and slogans.”

They suggest that “the scene could be mistaken for a Ku Klux Klan event from a previous era.” That era was the violent time begun in the “red summer” of 1919. Quoting further from their article:

The anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant and anti-Black currents so prevalent in that decade were powered by a white supremacist belief that America was ordained by God as a promised land to be run by white, native-born, Protestant men [and] was commonly legitimated in white Protestant pulpits, evangelical and mainline, South and North.

But, this earlier form of white Christian nationalism was defeated, in part, by a “movement of Catholic, Jewish and Protestant leaders who believed in a more open, inclusive America. …The [CH2] National Conference of Christians and Jews emerged in the late 1920s as a direct response to the KKK and quickly organized a host of interfaith activities across the nation.”

“Perhaps most importantly,” Patel and Jones say, “they offered early 20th century Protestants – in the conjured phrase ‘Judeo-Christian’ – a broader way of understanding the nation and their place in it.” However limited that phrase was – and is – “it redrew white Protestants’ mental maps of America.”

Cary’s father Ray was among the best of us during the time we were a “Judeo-Christian” nation.

Today, however, we need a new way of thinking. The country is very different from that of a hundred years ago, when Jews and Catholics were relatively new in the American religious landscape of the early 20th century. There were very few openly practicing Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or groups other than Jews or Christians in the nation. Now there are many.

For Patel and Jones, this growing diversity and its increased visibility will affect every facet of American life—from shifting traffic patterns because of religious services on Fridays, to vegetarian meals in cafeterias of businesses and schools, and even to religious leaders’ vaccine advice.

The authors believe that “despite its limitations, ‘Judeo-Christian’ did good work” to the end of the century. The term helped move us “beyond a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant America.” And, a recent PRRI survey reports that most Americans embrace the differences. “Fully 7 in 10 Americans say they are proud to live in a religiously diverse nation.”

Patel and Jones conclude:

It’s time to say goodbye to ‘Judeo-Christian’ America. But we can learn from its example – especially the way it creatively expanded our civic and moral imagination – as we write the next chapter in the great history of American religious diversity.”

“Faith is a Bridge to unlock the potential of America’s religious diversity,” claims Interfaith America on its website. We are all part of that diversity and its potential – our response to it will write the narrative of that next chapter. Rather than fighting against each other, attempting to exclude, to divide and to hate, we can work with each other, attempting to expand further our “civic and moral imagination” and to live out our “best virtues,” like kindness.

Cary says this about his father:

My dad believed in Judaism but more importantly believed people of all faiths had common beliefs in dignity, morality, and kindness. Life would be pretty easy if all people followed my father, and just tried to be kind.

We all know people like Ray who have shown us how. Leaders for us to follow.

[email protected]

Posted on Permanent link for "Kindness, a Virtue of Religious Diversity" by David Baak on August 16, 2022.

Permanent link for "Stories inform our faith and our theology" by Doug Kindschi on July 26, 2022

Last Tuesday’s Weekly Watch featured Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and Interfaith America speaking at our Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue in 2018. He described a theology of interfaith.  He did it with a story from the Qur’an about the creation of humans and how Adam could give the names of creation while the angels could not.  Patel noted that the term in the Qur’an is plural, “names,” indicating the variety and diversity of creation. Patel also noted that later the Qur’an affirms the diversity of people, and states God “made you different tribes so you could learn from each other and compete in doing good.”

The creation stories in Jewish and Christian scriptures have also had significant impact on the theology and the faith understanding of those communities.  The concept of each person’s intrinsic worth derives from the concept of being made in God’s image. Care for the weak, the stranger, and the refugee are also outgrowths of that concept. 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, prior to his death in 2020, wrote about the Jewish love of telling stories and of the formative power of such stories in the identity of the Jewish people. 

The Exodus story is the primary story that is told in the Jewish community each year during Passover and at the Seder meal. Scripture as well as the sages have for thousands of years taught that it is the story to be told to the children each year. Sacks writes, “We come to know who we are by discovering of which story or stories we are a part. … If we are the story we tell about ourselves, then as long as we never lose the story, we will never lose our identity.”

Sacks continued the theme, writing about an encounter between the Dalai Lama and the Jewish community that was documented by Roger Kamenetz in his book, The Jew in the Lotus. When the Dalai Lama and many of his followers had to flee Tibet because of the oppression from the Chinese who had been governing Tibet, he feared that the exile might last a long time.  He decided to ask the Jews for advice, regarding them as experts in maintaining identity in exile and he wanted to know their secret.

Following the weeklong discussion they learned the importance of storytelling to keep the culture and identity alive. They talked about the Seder service, leading to a special Seder in Washington D.C. with the Dalai Lama where he share these words:

In our dialogue with Rabbis and Jewish scholars, the Tibetan people have learned about the secrets of Jewish spiritual survival in exile: one secret is the Passover Seder. Through it for 2,000 years, even in very difficult times, Jewish people remember their liberation from slavery to freedom and this has brought you hope in times of difficulty. We are grateful to our Jewish brothers and sisters for adding to their celebration of freedom the thought of freedom for the Tibetan people.

Sacks concludes his recounting of the power of telling and retelling the Exodus story with, “It gave Jews the most tenacious identity ever held by a nation. In the eras of oppression, it gave hope of freedom. At times of exile, it promised return. It told two hundred generations of Jewish children who they were and of what story they were a part. It became the world’s master-narrative of liberty, adopted by an astonishing variety of groups, from Puritans in the 17th century to African-Americans in the 19th and to Tibetan Buddhists today.”

Narratives or stories are often the way we reinforce and carry our various group identities. Religious narratives not only build identity of whom we consider to be in our tribe, but also become the containers for our basic human values.  It is all too easy, however, to focus on differences in our stories, rituals, and beliefs rather than the deeper values that nearly all religious narratives support and teach. 

Alasdair MacIntyre, political and moral philosopher, wrote, “Man is essentially a storytelling animal, but a teller of stories that aspire to truth.” Our religious traditions over the centuries have given us the stories that form our identity, bind us together, and help us aspire to truth.   

Posted on Permanent link for "Stories inform our faith and our theology" by Doug Kindschi on July 26, 2022.

Permanent link for "Interfaith Leadership 'Award'" by David Baak on July 12, 2022

Last week the president awarded the Medal of Freedom to 17 Americans who, according to the White House, “demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation—hard work, perseverance, and faith.” The recipients range from athlete Simone Biles to former U.S. House member Gabrielle Giffords and, posthumously, Senator John McCain.

The list was immediately controversial—apparently everyone has an opinion about who should or who should not be on that list, judging from readers’ comments to the various media reports. That is the nature of such lists and it has been true for the Freedom list each year since President John F. Kennedy named the first group of recipients. But, that’s what makes such listings interesting—the list itself stimulates each of us to think Who would be my addition to that list?

Which is my point, as it relates to interfaith leadership.

Who would you list as someone, local or global, contemporary or historical, who has demonstrated the “power of the possibilities,” to use the Freedom Medal language, in the arena of interfaith relationships, through “hard work, perseverance and faith” – or by whatever might be your own qualifying standard?

I would include the Rev. Dr. Damayanthi Niles. She is Professor of Constructive Theology and Interim Academic Dean at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Her approach is to teach through the lens of “cultural and religious pluralism” that is “context specific but not context confined.”

She says “You don’t know who you are until you know who you are in relation to another” and she lists one of her mentors as a “post-modern Jewish Indologist, a studier of Hindu scripture who taught me Christian theology.” She also says “I don’t want to be right, just curious” and “I don’t want to win, I just want to relate.”

You can watch a video interview of Damayanthi Niles here:

Dr. Niles suggests that we need to think about Christian doctrine in a manner that sees openness to other faiths as inherent to Christian faith being true to itself. As she says, “You can’t have a conversation if you’re the only one doing all the talking.” She is one of the most open persons I have met.

I met Damayanthi years ago when she and I worked together on ecumenical and interfaith  committees and projects. I remember vividly her telling about a small gathering of strangers, in India, in a circle by firelight, talking quietly, getting to know each other, when one of them took some bread and shared it with the person next to them, and, thus, around the circle. It was not Eucharist; but the story, for me, brought a realization that the meaning in my own practice transcends its particularity. That moment had an immense impact on my commitment to and energy spent in interfaith relationships. Hard work, perseverance, deep faith… and strong relationships. Damayanthi Niles is high on my list.

And, so, who for you?

This list of ours, of course, is not in the least controversial—it is intended to be inclusive. There is no limit to nor judgment of the listing of those who have impacted our lives and who have shown what it is to be humble, generous and curious in the plurality and diversity of who we all are, in our many dimensions, and in this instance, as related to our faith and each other.

Let me know who’s on your list; write a sentence or two describing them and their importance to you. I’ll be happy to report back to you all and to expand the circle of acquaintance and to deepen, just a little at a time, our understanding of each other.

[email protected]

Posted on Permanent link for "Interfaith Leadership 'Award'" by David Baak on July 12, 2022.

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