Interfaith Insight - 2023

Permanent link for Celebrating the Kaufman Team on May 23, 2023

Last year, I was invited to speak about fostering interfaith relationships by a professor at Hope College. In my introduction, as I always do, I described myself as ‘Muslim American.’ A student raised her hand and asked me why I described myself this way. “I would never call myself Christian American,” she said. At first I was taken aback by this question, but then I realized my unconscious description of myself was a reflection of a deep-seeded need inside of me to dismantle the perception that for one to be Muslim and American was an oxymoron or worse yet, abhorrent. I wanted to start the conversation with these students by defining myself in a way that was authentic and valid to who I, a part of the 3.45 million Muslims in America, am. As an immigrant of Pakistani descent, a mother, an interfaith youth activator, a ‘Muslim American,’ and an active community member, I believe in the power of relationships and stories to change hearts and minds.

The importance of us each telling our own story is what my work at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute entails. As Program Manager, I am honored to work with the next generation of youth leaders via our summer camps and our co-curricular Scholars programming.

I cannot believe this will be our fifth year of hosting the Kaufman Interfaith Service Day Camp. What began as a dream of community leaders who were passionate about introducing the power of interfaith relationships to younger generations, evolved into a Summer Day Camp. The initial focus of the camp was shared experiences via service at area nonprofits and sacred site visits. Rather than a cursory cross-cultural experience, day camp has transformed into an exploration of equity and justice by making meaningful connections between the core values of a particular worldview, the service we engage in with area nonprofits, and the activities we do during camp. So, our visit to the Sikh Gurdwara, where we learn about “seva” or humble service as we partake in the Langar meal, connects to the service we perform with our hands at Plainsong Farm or New City Neighbors’ Urban Farm. Being called in their faith tradition to care for the earth by these nonprofits connects to the need for good nourishment, especially for those in non-system supported areas. And all of this connects to the Food Access simulation the students experienced as an activity during the same day at camp

Each day of camp is an exploration of the interfaith imperative to advance equity. Students explore their own spiritual, secular, or religious identity and how it connects to the theme of the day. They meet other students and hear their “why” for engaging in this interfaith experience, expanding their views and growing their perspective. Ultimately, they find time to make personal connections to others through story and by creating space within their imagination for other viewpoints outside of their own. Uniquely challenging and expansive, this camp has drawn in area students representing over eight different worldview expressions.

There is still room for your middle- or high-school age student to join our 2023 Interfaith Summer Day Camp taking place the week of June 12th from 9am-3pm. Transportation, meals, snacks, fun and engaging activities, and unique experiences will be provided by the Kaufman staff and our community partners. This year’s day camp would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship of the MillerKnoll Foundation, Gentex Corporation, Corewell Health, University of Michigan Health West, and the Dominican Sisters at Marywood. Here’s where you can find more information about our Interfaith Service Day Camp or to register your student.

Through working with the youth, we have been able to find a balance between narrative and data which drives the way youth leadership and embodied dialogue are framed and executed for effective change. Our Kaufman Interfaith Leadership Scholars meet every other Sunday throughout the school year. This year, as our fourth year of Scholars is coming to an end, we have three Scholars who have been with us since we began. Two of them are seniors and one is only a freshman in high school. Each year, the Scholars spend the first semester learning about interfaith leadership and personal asset mapping while receiving training from GVSU staff on identity, equity, anti-racism frameworks, and deep dialogue. They then apply that training to a project of their choosing during the second semester. This year, the students will host an interactive dialogue at area public schools focused on creating inclusive school environments for people of all spiritual, secular, or religious identities. The students will present their findings at the Parliament of the World’s Religions taking place in Chicago in August. This unique extracurricular opportunity is transformative for our area youth and our communities. While the fifth year of Scholars will begin in the Fall, registration is open now for all that are interested. No prior experience is necessary. Check out this page for more information about our Leadership Scholars

Our dreams for Kaufman’s Next Generation programming are vast. As students graduate high school and move on to jobs or college, we find ourselves wanting to stay connected. We hope that the seeds of learning we are planting produce sprouts of understanding, equity, and belonging wherever these students land. 

Posted on Permanent link for Celebrating the Kaufman Team on May 23, 2023.

Permanent link for "Finding Our Moral Center with Radical Hope Uncovering Needed Change" by Doug Kindschi on May 16, 2023

My regular reading includes the monthly Christian Century, which includes the descriptor phrase “Thoughtful. Independent. Progressive” on its cover. When it arrives, the first thing I do is read the first-page brief essay titled “First Words” from its Editor/Publisher, Peter W. Marty. This month he discusses living an interesting life. Of course, he wants to live a happy life, but also he wants “to live a life of deep meaning in which there’s a moral center: one where virtue is prized, depth of character matters, and purpose comes through serving others.”

Marty continues, “I can’t imagine how much more selfish and depressing my instincts would be if I wasn’t attached to a faith community.” But he then goes further in suggesting that there is something more, “something beyond a life of mere pleasure or a life dedicated to meaning and purpose. What about being an interesting person?” He wishes this for himself and for others.

He was struck with the words of one time NCAA coach Jim Valvano who, when receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, said, “There are three things we all should do every day.... Number one is to laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears.... If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.”

I was thinking about Marty’s and coach Valvano’s advice and wondered if that would apply not only to individuals but also to our nation. Even our Declaration of Independence affirms the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is hard to imagine the pursuit of happiness without life and liberty.  And yet many people in our nation’s history were deprived of that life and liberty, and hence had very limited ability to pursue happiness.

But the aspirational goal of all persons being created equal brings us to Marty’s goal of living a life of meaning with a moral center. Should this not also be our national goal? Can our nation have a moral center without ensuring the life and liberty of all our citizens? Shouldn’t our historical failure in this area bring us to tears? An interesting life includes recognizing the times when our best intentions are not realized, when we have failed to live up to our moral principles. Our memories are not all wonderful and we learn from our failures and our tears.

This brings me to the book by Jennifer Bailey, To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss, and Radical Hope. Bailey, who a few years ago was our featured Sigal Lecturer, has emerged as a national interfaith leader as well as founder and executive director of Faith Matters Network. In these letters she shares both high points of happiness as well as the sorrows of losing loved ones. Bailey, an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, shares the journey with her mother’s 14-year battle with cancer, which was diagnosed when Jennifer was just a teenager.

She promotes radical hope, which is “the everyday practice of believing that the material conditions of the world can be better and that we have the capacity to bring about that change in the here and now.”

The final letter in the book is addressed to her younger cousins who will soon be dealing with the unresolved problems in our society. She urges them to listen to “the voices of our ancestors crying out ... ‘Remember! Remember!’” Remember the failings of the past, remember the sins of our history. Bailey notes that this is counterintuitive to a nation that is “rooted in a misguided conception of American Exceptionalism ... that our values, system of governance, and history have set us apart, thus making us worthy of universal admiration and praise.”

Tears are required in this remembering as we learn from this history. She writes, “We are living in apocalyptic times.”  Not the end of the world, but a time “of remaking the world as we know it.” She reminds us that the Greek root of the word “apocalypse” means to uncover. We are in a period of uncovering those shameful and tearful aspects of our history that must not be covered but should be remembered and taught.

We can only pursue the radical hope required when we face our failings. When we uncover the parts of our history that bring us to tears, we can then seize the radical hope that brings about the needed change.

Posted on Permanent link for "Finding Our Moral Center with Radical Hope Uncovering Needed Change" by Doug Kindschi on May 16, 2023.

Permanent link for "Putting Talk Into Action" by David Baak on April 18, 2023

Now, the Food Club is a nonprofit, member-based grocery store. It is an innovative and dignified approach to food security that provides consumer choice, member participation and access to healthy foods. Income-eligible members pay a low monthly fee and are able to shop using points based on their household size. Members can shop as often as they’d like and select foods that fit their needs. More information is available here.

But, here is the backstory — and it is a metaphor for all of us in the Interfaith arena — of the process from Conversation to Action.

Representatives from seven organizations began talking about a “food club.” The organizations that began that conversation included Feeding America of West Michigan, Home Repair Services, The Salvation Army (and pantry), Westminster Presbyterian Church (and pantry), ACCESS, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and United Church Outreach (UCOM).

The representatives met nearly weekly for two years to formulate the principles, structure and logistics of a membership-based nonprofit grocery store. They also formed a consumers advisory council that brought important perspective and recommendations to the discussion. Not all the organizations finished the conversation, and the original representatives, who also formed the first board, have long been replaced by a fully established nonprofit, community-board-led, consumer-including, vibrant, organized “action” that, sincestarting seven years ago, now serves nearly 11,000 individuals annually.

There are other examples, of course, but the Food Club is a particularly good demonstration of the collaboration necessary to the success of such an effort. Collaboration, at its finest, requires that those in conversation set aside their own agendas in favor of developing a consensus around a new focus, a new mission: a unique “product” that pushes them all beyond themselves.

Each of the Community Food Club’s founding organizations was different from the others, although their values were consistent with each other and their missions were complementary.  Yet, in the larger “market place” there was a certain competitive pressure on each toward individual identity and service or funding priority that could have sidetracked the conversation. But the Food Club founders chose to focus their conversation on a new, mutual mission for a greater good and a successful action.

Many of us who are involved in interfaith dialogue and related projects are experienced in the demands and the opportunities of such collaboration. Collaboration is part of the essence and a core value of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University.

This week, Kaufman and its GVSU partners, the Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse, Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, and WGVU Public Media, are sponsoring a conversation that encourages us all to follow the collaborative path:  From Talking Together to Working Together: Strengthening Our Communities Through Putting Talk into Action.

How can we effectively and efficiently put “talk into action” in order to create positive social change in and across communities? In what ways can people move from talking about shared concerns to taking concrete action steps toward shared visions? How do we navigate the challenges and opportunities of the effort? And how can organizations ensure that these action steps and vision emerge from community-driven values, principles, and priorities?

As a part of this year's National Week of Conversation (April 17-23), this virtual panel-led conversation highlights the visionary bridge-building work of local community organizations. Panelists will share some of the joys and challenges involved in their community-based advocacy work and offer examples of how they are successfully working to collaborate across difference. The Q&A portion of the session will offer participants an opportunity to engage in this important conversation.

This session is free and open to the public both locally and nationally. Registration is required.

May this be part of your next “backstory.”

Posted by on Permanent link for "Putting Talk Into Action" by David Baak on April 18, 2023.

Permanent link for "Honoring Differences While Finding Common Values" by Doug Kindschi on April 11, 2023

The Kaufman Interfaith Institute has emphasized “thick dialogue” where we encourage participants to bring the thickness of their faith to the discussion. This contrasts with a “thin dialogue” approach that tries to water down one’s beliefs to the point where we can all agree. We have tried to honor the different narratives and beliefs that each tradition holds sacred, while being open to and learning from different traditions and their narratives and beliefs. In this way we honor the insights of others and become open to learning and growth.

Understanding the narratives and beliefs of the various religious and sacred holidays is one way to engage in thick dialogue. This is especially useful when they occur at the same time in the calendar year. It is also a time to look for similarities. 

As was noted in last week’s Interfaith Inform, this year is a time when the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim calendars coincide. This year the major holidays of Passover for Jews, Holy Week for Christians, and Ramadan for Muslims overlap. Last week was the beginning of Passover or Pesach and continues to sundown this Thursday. For Christians in the Western tradition, Holy Week culminated last Sunday with Easter, while the Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate this week with Easter on Sunday, April 16.  Ramadan this year began at sundown on March 22 and ends at sundown April 21.

Because of the different calendars in these three traditions, this confluence of holidays does not often occur. It will be another 30 years before this calendar combination will occur again. So, in this year of celebrating this common calendar occurrence, it might be good to look at some of the values our various traditions have in common.

Nearly all religious traditions teach love of neighbor or some form of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Various formulations go back to early Confucian times and are also reflected in the Jewish teaching to love your neighbor and to love the stranger.

Another common teaching of nearly all religious traditions is the importance to care for the earth and the environment as God’s creation to be preserved and maintained by our human efforts of stewardship. 

A recent event sponsored by the Aspen Institute focused on the important role faith traditions play in motivating understanding and action with an ethics of care for the climate and the environment. Led by Simran Jeet Singh, the executive director of the Aspen Institute Religion & Society Program, it included leaders from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths, as well as a prominent voice from the indigenous community of the Potawatomi Nation. 

All panelists affirmed the importance of climate care from the standpoint of their faith tradition and values. I was particularly impressed by Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, who related the concern to the season of Passover and the practice of singing the song “Dayenu” at the Seder meal marking the beginning of the weeklong celebration. 

Of note is that Grand Rapids’ Temple Emanuel again this year offered an Interfaith Seder that involved over 90 people attending. As is often the case it ended with the catchy singing of Dayenu. The title can be translated, “it would have been enough” and the 15 verses recount the many things the Hebrew people experienced in the exodus, any one of which would have been sufficient, but God did more. The escape from slavery, or providing manna in the desert, or giving the Sabbath or the law, or the Torah: In each case it would have been enough. Each verse is followed by the refrain, 

Da, da-ye-nu,  

Da, da-ye-nu,

Da, da-ye-nu, 

Da-ye-nu, da-ye-nu! 

It would have been enough. 

Rabbi Rosenn uses this word Dayenu or “enough” as the title of her organization, Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action. In the Aspen panel discussion, she emphasized that “we have had enough” of polluting our air and water, of climate destruction, of putting company profits over human life, of letting the impact fall disproportionately on indigenous communities and on people of color. “Dayenu! Enough! We’ve had enough.”

Rabbi Rosenn continued, “But, it also means, we have enough. We have the policies, we have the technologies, we have the resources, so that everyone can have enough.” Holding both meanings is where religious power can have an impact. She also referred to the hope and agency held by religious communities that can motivate “hopeful action.”

Yes, we celebrate our differences, our special narratives, and deeply held beliefs. But as we find values in common with other traditions, it is equally important to work together for the common good, to support love against hate, and to preserve our environment and heal the earth. 

Posted on Permanent link for "Honoring Differences While Finding Common Values" by Doug Kindschi on April 11, 2023.

Permanent link for "Learning to Love Others, Even One's Opponents" by Doug Kindschi on March 7, 2023

Less than two weeks ago, we hosted Valarie Kaur, the award-winning film producer, lawyer, social justice activist, and best-selling author. Her inspiring presentation was attended by over 300 people in-person and by livestream. She shared the principles from her Sikh faith tradition that she believes can be used successfully by all persons. What she calls “Revolutionary Love” begins with loving others, seeing every person as “a part of me that I don’t yet know.”

Her book,  See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love , addresses the second practice of loving opponents by seeing them not as enemies and evil, but as persons who have been wounded in life. Valarie then adds what she calls “the feminist intervention,” loving ourselves. Her mantra, taken from the experience of giving birth, is “breathe and push.” It enables us to go through the sometimes-painful process of transition to a new reality. 

Her challenge to us all is to not be overcome by the darkness around us that might look like the “darkness of the tomb” but to see it as the “darkness of the womb” giving birth to a new reality. If you missed her presentation, or want to view it again, it will be available via this link through this Friday, March 10th.

In a recent book by another person drawing from his Sikh faith and tradition, Simran Jeet Singh deals with his struggle in trying to forgive the killer of the innocent Sikhs gathered in their gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012. His book,  The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life , describes his growing up years in Texas as a turban-wearing teenager son of immigrants from India. He dealt with the prejudice and insults hurled his way, which increased significantly following 9/11 when Sikhs, because of how they looked, were often viewed as terrorists.

He was motivated to do what he could to change this culture of hate that led to his studying at Harvard Divinity School and completing his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He became a leader in social justice efforts to combat hate and religious bigotry, leading to his appointment as the director of the Religion & Society Program at the Aspen Institute.

The killings at the Oak Creek gurdwara, however, presented him with a significant challenge in living out his Sikh teaching of love for all people, especially for the white supremacist shooter. The killer had killed himself at the end of his massacre of six people, and Simran writes, “He was cowardly and hateful and unapologetic.  Could I really forgive someone who never felt remorse for the harm he caused? ... Forcing or feigning forgiveness didn’t seem like the right answer for me."

After considering all of the advice and suggestions from friends and experts, he finally found his answer in the survivors of the massacre. He writes, “The Oak Creek Sikh community had every right to be bitter and demoralized after the attack. And yet its members showed a kind of resilience I had never seen before. One theme rang consistently throughout my dozens of conversations with the survivors: Each and every person I spoke to referred to the Sikh teaching of chari kala, a phrase that translates roughly to ‘everlasting optimism.’” He notes how it became the rallying cry and “became the community’s unofficial slogan.”

Even when many called on Sikhs to abandon their turbans to “blend into mainstream society,” they refused and “some young Sikh women across the country did the opposite: They decided to start wearing a turban daily as an act of defiance and resistance.” Simran explains, “If we see people as evil, then we will be drawn to anger and pessimism … we are susceptible to negativity: negative thoughts, feeling, actions.”

So how did the survivors maintain the chari kala? “There was one practice that every survivor mentioned: gratitude,” Simran writes. They commented on the many things for which they were thankful: “I have my life” and “Many people I love are safe.” They referred to the many ways it could have been much worse, the bravery shown by members of the community and by the first police officer who appeared and survived 15 shots to his body.  

Simran concludes, “I learned about the immense power of gratitude from these survivors – that it can be an attitude, but only if we choose to adopt it as such and practice it every day. In this way, being thankful is the source of inner light in even the darkest moments we encounter.”

As a Christian I am influenced and moved by the teachings of Jesus to love your neighbor and even your enemy. Building on his own Jewish scriptures, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor. His stories of compassion, such as the Good Samaritan, illustrate the power of loving even when it extends to persons from a different ethnic or religious community. 

When I observe the lives and stories of people like Simran Jeet Singh and Valarie Kaur, I am challenged and moved by the ways in which these Sikh leaders can articulate and live out these teachings of my own Christian story in ways that have profound impact.  Can we each see truth, not so much in statements or creeds, but in lives lived with compassion and love?   

Posted on Permanent link for "Learning to Love Others, Even One's Opponents" by Doug Kindschi on March 7, 2023.

Permanent link for "You are a part of me I do not yet know" by David Baak on February 14, 2023

Next week is the beginning of Lent for many of us in the Christian faith tradition. Ash Wednesday begins a time intended for introspection, for reflection, sometimes for fasting—it is a time of meditation and renewal. It is the first of several similar religious practices this spring, including in several weeks, the ritual of the Jewish Passover and the Muslim month of Ramadan. These, and others, are times intended for us to get in touch with our most inner selves and with our own spirituality.

One of the persons who helps us in this “finding of ourselves” is Valarie Kaur from the Sikh faith tradition. Many of you know that she will be speaking on February 23 on the downtown Grand Valley State University campus. As Brian McLaren suggests, it sometimes takes someone outside your own community to come along to help you see yourself. You may wish to see a conversation between the two of them that expands on the following story.

Valarie tells of how she grew up in California’s Central Valley, a brown girl among mostly white people; a Sikh among mostly Christians. Her best friend was astonished when Valarie explained that Sikhism was not a sect of Christianity. That was a revelation that led to the fracturing of their friendship because her friend could “not continue to love her while convinced that Valarie was going to hell.”

Her friends and her teachers tried to convert her; one day a neighbor brought a woman to Valarie’s home to attempt an exorcism. For years she “burned inside” from trauma and devastation—until her frustration prompte her one day to pound on the door of a church where she heard organ music inside. The organist, rather than the “priest” she was expecting, answered the door. Taken aback, she asked if she could sit and listen to the music. “Of course,” said the woman. Soon the music was overwhelming her and as it ended, tears were pouring down her face. In her book See No Stranger, she writes on pages 25-26:

I tried to understand what just happened. This was my first experience
since childhood of ecstatic wonder, the taste of Oneness sweet as
nectar, the gift I had longed for...and it happened inside a Christian

“What do you feel?” The organist was looking at me.

I remembered my mission here. I wiped my tears and gathered myself
up tall. I saw this woman as every Christian, every white person, who
had hurt me, who had made me feel like a dog and condemned me to

“I just can’t believe that there could be a God who would send me to
hell,” I said....

“I can’t either,” she said. “I think that there are many paths. It just
doesn’t make sense otherwise. Of course, some people don’t agree.”
She was the first Christian I had ever met who did not believe I was
going to hell....I would go on to meet many more people like her and
learn there are many ways to be Christian, just as there are many ways
to be Sikh...she chose a vision of Christianity that saw me as beloved:
You are not a stranger to me, she said to me with her music and her
embrace. You are a part of me that I do not yet know. Sit down. Tell
me who you are.

An important part of meditation, of understanding my own spirituality, is getting in touch with who I am, and, understanding the context in which I am. All our faith traditions teach us that we are not alone, that love binds us together in community, with each other, including with those that we do not yet know.

Valarie Kaur calls it revolutionary love. And, she says, wonder is the beginning of that love. Sit down. Tell me who you are.

It is a worthy Lenten discipline.

Posted on Permanent link for "You are a part of me I do not yet know" by David Baak on February 14, 2023.

Permanent link for "The Power Of Stories From All Our Various Faith Communities" by Doug Kindschi on January 17, 2023

In October of last year, a group of scientists, scholars and religious contemplatives
traveled to Dharamshala, a city in India at the foothills of the Himalayas. They
came to meet with the Dalai Lama, who had lived there for over fifty years after
fleeing his homeland of Tibet. Among those attending was a neuroscientist from
Princeton University, Dr. Molly Crockett, who came to share her belief in the
power of moral stories to impact human action.

Her research brought her to the conclusion that while such stories can lead to
increased selfishness, they can also reinforce our basic capacity for compassion.
Current social media algorithms reward people for expressing outrage and
perpetuate a collective harmful spirit of anger. But her research also shows the
power of stories that build on the human experience of compassion, which begins
with the young child’s early survival built on the mother’s compassion and caring.
In response, the Dalai Lama affirmed the impact of compassion that can even be
extended to opponents who disrupt or even cause injury to others. We can
understand them as wounded people acting out of their own suffering.

In the United States we have a powerful example of such compassion and
“revolutionary love” in the stories of Valarie Kaur. She was raised by Sikh
immigrants from India who for over 100 years have been farmers in California.
Kaur tells stories of violence against her community which have been met with the
kind of rage that can understand and forgive, but not forget the task ahead to seek
change and justice.

She was a student at Stanford University during the 9/11 tragedy that led to
revenge against many people of color, especially in the Sikh community. Just four
days after 9/11, the first crime of hate against a Sikh took place in Mesa, AZ.
Valarie was informed of the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi by a friend who called
her the same day. Balbir, an immigrant from India, was a computer engineer who
worked for HP until he had saved enough to buy a gas station. He was known and
respected by the community as a kind and generous man. As a custom in the Sikh
community, the men do not cut their beards and wear turbans. His killer boasted
that he was going to go out and kill some “towel-heads.” The memorial that was
set up at his gas stations states, “He was killed simply because of the way he

Valarie changed her senior project at Stanford and began a tour documenting on
video places where violence and hate crimes against Sikhs and Muslims had taken
place. Her efforts culminated in the award-winning documentary film, Divided We
Fall: Americans in the Aftermath
. It has been shown on over 300 campuses and
houses of worship and inspired discussions of the resurgence of hate and violence,
as well as ways to respond with what she calls “revolutionary love.”

Valarie continued her efforts to fight for justice by getting a law degree from Yale
University and a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School,
where she said she received the theological foundation for her life’s work. Stories
of her social justice efforts, as well as many very personal stories of health and
other challenges in her personal life, comprise her best-selling book, See No
Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love

Valarie continues her campaign for justice and love as a public speaker, filmmaker,
civil rights warrior and promoter of revolutionary love, and her videos have
exceeded 60 million views. The Kaufman Institute book group has been reading
her book the past few months in preparation for her visit to Grand Rapids on Feb.
23 at 6:30 in the Eberhard Center, 301 Fulton St. W, on GVSU downtown campus.
See the event below for further details.

As a Christian, I am influenced and moved by the teachings of Jesus to love your
neighbor and even your enemy. Building on his own Jewish scriptures, Jesus
affirmed the greatest commandment to love God and love your neighbor. His
stories of compassion, such as the Good Samaritan, illustrate the power of loving
even when it extends to persons from a different ethnic or religious community.

When I observe the lives and stories of people like the Dalai Lama and Valarie
Kaur, I am profoundly moved by the ways in which a Buddhist and a Sikh can
articulate and live out these teachings of my own Christian story in ways that have
profound impact. Can we each see truth, not so much in statements or creeds, but
in lives lived with compassion and love?

Posted on Permanent link for "The Power Of Stories From All Our Various Faith Communities" by Doug Kindschi on January 17, 2023.

Permanent link for "What's the status of your New Year's Resolution?" by David Baak on January 10, 2023

Articles about New Year’s resolutions were everywhere this past week—just do a Google search and you’ll see what I mean. We make lists of things we want to change, or of growth areas we think we need, or of opportunities to be explored. Best of intentions. But, as one headline I read stated: “It’s time for our annual ritual of setting some resolutions and disappointing ourselves soon afterward by not living up to them.” 

Statistics indicate that half of Americans say they usually make New Year’s resolutions—and that 80% of those fail to keep their resolutions into February; only 8% stick with them the entire year.

We start strong, but within a few weeks, just like last year, our resolve slackens. In a recent article in Timeprofessors and authors Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer admit about their own resolutions, “…Twitter reappears on our phones … our warm beds grip us tighter when the alarm goes off for our morning jogs …. meditation never had a hope.” Within no time at all we feel defeated.

I wonder why we spend so much of our energy on the negative, either when we do not fulfill our promise, or in our anxiety and disappointment over that unfulfillment. I wonder if there’s a different way with a more positive result.

There are many origin stories of New Year’s resolutions – from the ancient Babylonian’s Akitu festival, to John Wesley’s Watch Night prayers and resolutions, to the promptings of age-old Hindu wisdom and the five eternal yamas, and many more.

I like the story of the practices introduced when Julius Caesar changed the calendar in 46BCE so that the year began on the first day of January. He named the month for Janus, the two-faced god who symbolically looked back into the previous year and forwards into the new year. Janus was a patron and protector of arches, bridges, time, transition, doors; of endings and beginnings. The Romans offered sacrifices to Janus and made promises of good behavior for the year ahead. 

The practices were communal and “the resolutions held a distinctly moral flavor,” according to historian Bill Petro. It was a time of new beginnings and promising to do good; energetic intentions to live positively. So, New Year’s resolutions have religious roots, however secular the practice has become today. Now, instead of making promises to the gods, most people make resolutions only to themselves.  

Therein may be some of our difficulty — our resolutions become overwhelming, especially when we try to meet our expectations all by ourselves.

I think the power of the variety of religious observances of “new beginnings” is helpful in responding to or maybe even eliminating the disappointment and self-doubt of resolution failure. That variety is a strength of our interfaith community and it is a good reason for understanding the diversity of beliefs and faith practices—our own, as well as others, even when we aren’t members of a particular group.

Our secular experience of resolution-making is focused on January 1, but “new beginnings” are also common to the observance of the many other markings of new time periods among our various religious communities. 

We may be most familiar with the Jewish Rosh Hashana, usually in September, at the “head of the year,” and the accompanying Yom Kippur that together conclude the past year and focus on beginning again. Or, the Lunar (or Chinese) New Year in later January that is also a time for new beginnings and, with family groupings, for reflecting on the past year and making resolutions for the coming year. Or, the Muslim month of Ramadan, while not a calendar beginning, it is an annual time of prayer, fasting, resolution and self-discipline. Even the Christian Advent, at the beginning of the annual liturgical cycle before Christmas, is a time of reflection, spiritual renewal and anticipation into the future. 

These are positive, communal observances that include regret, reflection, remembrance, confession and forgiveness but also a forward-focus on the opportunity for what is new, what is possible and what is next. 

I draw at least a couple of principles from all of this.

Most importantly, consider making a resolution within a supportive community, at least with one or two others. Authors Van Bavel and Packer suggest that “the people around us and the groups we belong to have a substantial influence on behavior—influence that can be leveraged to help achieve our goals.” Look to your community, religious or secular, to help you along the way.

And, a principle that is amplified by the practices of our various faiths, suggests that we work toward our resolution as a daily practice. Then, a resolution is not so “ultimate” or limited to one day a year. Each day is a new day, a start-over day, one day at a time, one step at a time. That is pragmatic…and it is life-giving.

Making a new resolution with support and recognizing that every day can be the first day of your resolve is a positive, energizing approach toward meeting your goal.

For me, that means at least a fifteen or twenty minute walk, even in these cold days, with an encouraging (accountability) partner, even if I missed yesterday — and then start over again, with the goal/resolution that this year two or three miles will become a habit by the time the warm, sunny new beginning of Spring arrives.

Happy New Year!

Posted on Permanent link for "What's the status of your New Year's Resolution?" by David Baak on January 10, 2023.

Page last modified May 23, 2023