June 2019

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Tuesday, June 11th at 7:00 PM, Citizens for Peace Interfaith Panel on Peace at the Livonia Senior Center.  
See Flyer Below
Wednesday, June 26th 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Voorhies Hall, Bay View, Michigan
An Interfaith Response for Climate Action
See Flyer Below
Friday July 12th and Saturday July 13th 2019 Freedom Tour,
Michigan Coalition for Human Rights
See Flyer Below
Friday August 9th, Greater New Mt. Moriah backkpack project.
More information to come
Tuesday, August 20th noon – 1:30 PM
Five Women Five Journeys Panel at BCBSM Detroit

Sameena Basha, board member of WISDOM, remarks on the Zaman graduation ceremony!
(26091 Trowbridge, Inkster, MI
Paula Drewek and Sameena Basha
at the Zaman Boost Graduation

I’m so proud to attend Zaman International’s Graduation Ceremony – over 40 women graduated with degrees in English literacy, sewing & culinary arts. Some couldn’t even attend because they had achieved the goal of the program: they were at work!
Zaman International’s B.O.O.S.T. program offers single mothers and marginalized women the skills to gain employment for a chance at a better life.  Congratulations to Najah Bazzy, Gigi Salka and the power team at Zaman! I am humbled to be a co-sponsor on behalf of WISDOM.

          On May 21, the women of WISDOM’s “Five Women, Five Journeys” program met about 150 middle schoolers at the Covington School in Bloomfield Hills. Their language arts and social studies teacher, Rick Joseph, arranged the gathering and introduced panelists to several of his students prior to the panel’s start. They were studying various cultures through narratives of people from places like India and China and were most anxious to share their excitement with Wisdom ladies. The students filed into the media center and were instructed on behavior by Mr. Joseph and proved a most attentive and curious audience. After the 4 women presenters shared their responses to the program questions, students were interested in what kind of discrimination the women had faced as children. Raman, our Sikh presenter, noted that most were not aware of her faith as children, an experience shared by Paula, the Baha’i presenter. One young man shared a question at odds with Brenda, our Jewish presenter, on her favorite holiday—Christmas. He was of the opinion, learned at his church, that Jews killed Jesus; so how could she enjoy the Christmas season so much? Other questions showed interest in the issue of head-coverings worn by Parwin, our Muslim presenter. She explained that it was for purposes of modesty and other panelists cited similar customs in their faiths. Holidays were another interest of the students. Students became emboldened as their classmates were called upon. Paula Drewek moderated the session and had to call an end to the questions as the period was over and students needed to return to other classes.

Honoring St. John XXIII, pope and Bulgarians
give witness for peace
May 6, 2019
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Prayers for peace are important, but they must lead those praying to roll up their sleeves, reach out their hands and open their hearts, Pope Francis said at an interreligious meeting in Sofia.
The event May 6, the pope’s last public appointment in Bulgaria on his three-day trip, was a tribute to St. John XXIII, who was apostolic delegate to the country from 1925 to 1935 and, as pope, wrote the encyclical, “Pacem in Terris” (“Peace on Earth”).
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church had announced before the pope’s trip that it would not send a bishop to the gathering and it did not; rather it was represented by an Orthodox layman who works for the government department overseeing religious affairs.  

Armenian Bishop Datev Hagopian and Sofia’s grand mufti, Mustafa Hadzhi, joined Francis on the stage along with a government official, a Protestant minister and a woman representing the Jewish community.

Children from the religious communities, including the Bulgarian Orthodox, bore lanterns, which Francis said “symbolize the fire of love that burns within us and that is meant to become a beacon of mercy, love and peace wherever we find ourselves. A beacon that can cast light upon our entire world.” “With the fire of love,” he said, “we can melt the icy chill of war and conflict.”
Francis noted that from the square, a gathering place for centuries, people can see a Catholic church, a Bulgarian Orthodox church, an Armenian church, the synagogue and a mosque. Yet their parents, grandparents and other ancestors would gather together in the square at the most important moments in the life of the nation, and people today can make the square a symbol of peace.
“Peace is both a gift and a task,” the pope said. “It must be implored and worked for, received as a blessing and constantly sought as we strive daily to build a culture in which peace is respected as a fundamental right. An active peace ‘fortified’ against all those forms of selfishness and indifference that make us put the petty interests of a few before the inviolable dignity of each person.” As the rain poured down and guests, including the cardinals in the pope’s entourage, huddled under shared umbrellas, Francis said dialogue is the only path to peace and it must include an effort to understand one another.
Members of different religions, he said, must “focus on what unites us, show mutual respect for our differences and encourage one another to look to a future of opportunity and dignity, especially for future generations.”

A religious Jew and a devout Muslim find common ground
Elhanan Miller is a kippa-wearing Orthodox Jew and Thana Jawabreh is a devout Muslim who covers her head; together, they created a project to educate members of each other’s faith and break down barriers.
The concept of inner faith exists in Judaism as well as Islam, but the concept is understood differently in the two religions. Elhanan Miller, an Orthodox Jew, and Thana Jawabreh, an Arab Muslim, created the “close neighbor” project, a series of videos uploaded to the People of the Book YouTube channel,  intended to create an interdenominational and cultural bridge between Jews and Muslims in Israel.
“I like to say that I am religious,” Jawabreh says. “There are people who are just Muslims, without any commitment. They were born Muslim but are essentially secular.”
“Both religions are focused on faith, and then there are the ritual commandments required to lead a religious life,” says Miller. “I wonder if the two can be separated. You (Muslims) also have words like ‘religious,’ ‘committed,’ and believer.’ Can one be religious without believing in the whole narrative?”
Jawabreh: “I define myself as religious and there are some people who are mere Muslims. We have no equivalent in Islam to someone who is religious but does not believe in the whole religious narrative. A religious person believes in the entire narrative. They may have some reservations but not on the principles. Most people I meet among my crowd are more traditional and less religious. Some will not allow their daughters to be out later than seven or eight o’clock at night and are deliberate in their dress, but they won’t call themselves religious but rather traditional.”
“I like to say that I am religious,” Jawabreh says. “There are people who are just Muslims, without any commitment. They were born Muslim but are essentially secular.”
Miller: “In Judaism, there are many devoutly religious people who accept without question every word of Jewish scripture. But those who study at university and engage in research know that there are frequently gaps between what science tells us about our history and the narrative conveyed by the Torah and Jewish texts. It can cause an identity crisis for religious people.”
Miller says that he handles the issue by not concentrating on the big, cosmic issues. He prefers to not focus on the essence of God and the question of divine justice:
“In the 20th century, with all the wars and disasters that have taken place for us and the Muslims, it is very difficult to talk about a God who is just, at least in the way we understand such concepts of ‘good’ and ‘justice.’ It’s much more complex than that. I am more attached to the concept of “observant,” because as far as I am concerned, my connection to Judaism is expressed in practice and in this system of laws which I call Judaism.
“There is a widespread phenomenon of people abandoning their religious faith, ex-religious, who remove their head covering,” Miller continues. “There is hardly a religious family that does not have at least one child who went through such a phase. It is a phenomenon that is swept under the rug, there is an aspect of shame involved, but it is widespread. Is there something similar among Muslims?”
Jawabreh: “The issue has not been investigated thoroughly. Recently, there have been quite a few women who have chosen to remove their head covering… Go to Baka (al-Gharbiyeh) and see how the mother wears devout Muslim garb and her daughter is wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt with her hair down. Something about her mother’s religiosity was not conveyed to her.
“I think there was a religious renaissance in the 80s, but it didn’t last. If those women understood the religion something would have been passed on. But apparently there exists a mental block regarding the religious fundamentals. Universal ethics draw inspiration from our religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism,” she says.
Miller: “I believe that there is a problem with role models in religion. Children and young people lack role models and often, leaving religion stems from a feeling that adults are hypocritical. People avoid talking about their difficulties with religion and faith and it creates alienation among the youth. What we are trying to do with this project is discuss the personal experience in our religion in order to attract the young.”
Jawabreh: “I think there is a problem of the inability to accept criticism within our religious community. If I have a problem with one verse in the Quran, leaving religion is still a far cry. But religious institutions have trouble accepting this; they should be examining the interpretation of the text and see if it remains appropriate.
“I always claimed that there is male domination of religion. For example, it is written in the Quran that a woman inherits half compared to the man, but in Arab society in Palestine and in other places women do not inherit at all. It is demeaning to have to ask for our rights from our parents who bequest their inheritance to the brothers. The clerics will not talk about it because it does not affect them,” she adds.
Since her childhood in the northern town of Fureidis, Jawabreh has been careful to perform the five daily prayers required by Muslims. Similar to Orthodox Jewish feminists, she watched how her mother – a female cleric – made progress on the issue of Muslim women in the mosques.
“My mother always believed that women must see the imam (Muslim leader) during prayers otherwise the prayer is less valid. She always said that a mosque should not be two stories high so that if one sees that the imam made a mistake, they can notify him. For example, the bow which is essential to the prayer ceremony (must be performed correctly) and a woman must know this.
“So, my mother opened the first women’s mosque in our town and she leads the prayers for the women. She stands in front and the others are in rows behind her,” she said.
Adherents of Islam are required to perform five prayers daily. The morning prayer is called Fajr and is performed shortly before sunrise. The second, Zuhr, is performed just after midday; the third prayer, Asr, is performed in the afternoon; the fourth, Maghrib, after sunset and the final prayer, Isha, is performed at night.
Devotees of both Judaism and Islam both face difficulties waking up for morning prayers and if you thought that the Muezzin (who recites the call to prayer over loudspeakers) is the solution, “the Muezzin simply does not do his job, “she says. “I understand that his calls may not be so pleasant for Muslim ears but he does not wake us.”
Some Muslims combine two prayers that are performed adjacent to one another, similar to how some Jews perform the Mincha service just before sundown and then pray the evening Ma’ariv evening service, all in one synagogue visit.
“Our prayers are different than yours because it is not merely the recitation of texts but rather it is about a dialogue with God,” Jawabreh says. “(In Judaism) part of our prayers consist of supplications,” interjects Miller, “but the prayers are not always personal, they are phrased generically.”
In Islam it’s a bit different. “There are texts that allow for improvisation, you can say whatever is on your heart. We also have supplications which involve submission to God and talking to him through your heart,” she says.
Jawabreh: “The Quran consists of 114 chapters and the final chapter has a number of short verses. Many Muslims, myself among them, find it easy to remember those verses and recite them during prayers. The more pious Muslims recite longer verses in their prayers.”
“There exists some tension between spontaneous prayer and prayers that are set in established prepared texts,” says Miller. “Oftentimes we find ourselves automatically reciting our prayers mindlessly, with rote repetition, and our head is in another place. How do you make yourself focus?
Jawabreh nods in agreement. “It’s the same by us and I believe that we are not praying correctly… Prayer should be combined with meditation, which I recently began doing and I fell that it strengthens my connection with God. During prayers, I think about life, about the children and work… I want to further work on combining prayer and meditation.”
Miller makes an effort to pray with a minyan (quorum of 10 men), at least on Fridays and Saturdays, similar to how Muslims gather at the mosque on Friday. Jawabreh explains that in Islam, praying together has a special potency. “They say that Satan cannot enter a group of people, therefore it is advised that men, not necessarily women, pray together in a mosque and not at home.
“Our women don’t need to go to the mosque for prayers; it is incumbent on men. We women pray at home but we can pray together at home,” she adds. “I recall my mother would lead the prayers and we would stand behind her. On Friday’s women go to the mosque to pray on the second floor, but the (male) sheikh leads the prayers.”
If you would like to watch the videos included in this article, please go to https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5491947,00.html
Elhanan Miller is a journalist, researcher and student of Jewish law at the Harel Academy in Jerusalem.

Christian And Jewish Congregations Celebrate Easter And Passover Under One Roof
By Jamie Doolittle
Under the banner of “One House, Two Families,” two major congregations in Miami decided to take a stand against divisiveness during this Passover and Easter weekend.
On Sunday, Unity on the Bay, a non-denominational church, held its Easter Sunday Service at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, just hours after the celebration of the second night of Passover.
“I think it is exciting and meaningful to have people worshiping God in a structure that was built just for that. The two holidays are always connected by the calendar, but in spirit they are connected in someways too,” says Scott Brockman, the Director of Temple Israel of Greater Miami.
To emphasize the commonality, a sign that reads “One House, Two Families” was placed at the entrance of the Temple to greet all believers.
Reverend Chris Jackson, senior minister at Unity on the Bay, said he hoped this Easter Celebration could convey to the South Florida community  that people do not have to come from a common belief system, but with respect and love they can embrace each other as human beings.
“I think above everything else it symbolizes that people of differences, even sometimes radical differences, can still come together as members of a human family and recognize that we are in this all together,” said Jackson.
The two congregations have a history of collaboration and friendship, according to Brockman.
About 5 years ago, the membership of Unity on the Bay decided to sell their property to fund a new home that could better support their growing ministry and community. With the deadline for the move looming, they reached out to Temple Israel for a temporary venue for services.
Brockman said when Unity on the Bay contacted them about the partnership he did not hesitate to say yes. He said he wanted to honor the strong Jewish belief in hospitality.
Brockman says this weekend is a symbolic representation of their partnership.
“Saturday night the synagogue is holding a second Seder, it is the second night of Passover, and just hours later in the morning, Chris will be leading Sunrise services, just in the same space we are holding our Seder,” said Brockman.
Looking forward, Jackson said the two congregations are looking into the possibility of holding interfaith services on Sundays.

Russia’s largest yeshiva attacked with arson and swastikas ahead of Passover
(From the Times of Israel)
No one reported injured in fire at Torat Chaim in eastern Moscow, hours before 60 people gathered for traditional seder meal .
MOSCOW, Russia – Jewish officials said Friday an arson fire was set at the largest yeshiva in Russia just ahead of the Passover meal celebration. Swastikas were also sprayed on the seminary.
No one was reported injured in the early Friday fire at the Torat Chaim school in an eastern Moscow suburb.

There were about 60 students, rabbis and guests in the building at the time, the state news agency RIA-Novosti reported. While Russia has a long history of anti-Semitism, it has noticeably declined under Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Putin has made considerable efforts to reach out to Russian Jewish communities, both within his state’s borders and in Israel. His country’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, is a close confidante.
He has encouraged the restoration of dozens of synagogues destroyed under communism and taken a hard-line on anti-Semitism.

For millennials, mysticism
shows a path to their home faiths
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (RNS) – Anthony Graffagnino describes himself spiritually as both frustrated and curious. A Pentecostal turned Unitarian, the 28-year-old Graffagnino said he’s had his fill with “stale and dead expressions of faith that I saw really doing nothing to better the people around me or the world around me.”
Discovering the Christian mystical tradition through the work of Franciscan friar Richard Rohr helped change that.
“Father Richard’s work allowed an entryway into Christianity when I didn’t think there was any,” said Graffagnino, who is studying to be an interfaith chaplain at Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist seminary in Berkeley, Calif.
Graffagnino was one of a number of millennials drawn to The Universal Christ – a four-day conference in New Mexico’s capital last month led by Rohr, one of the preeminent Christian contemplatives of the last century.
Pentecostal in his early childhood, Unitarian through his teen years and then spiritually unaffiliated until he began “flirting with the Quakers” in his late 20s, Graffagnino also has explored Vedic Hinduism, spiritual Taoism, mystical Judaism, and Sufism.
Rohr’s work has been a bridge between those spiritual traditions and his native Christianity, where they have “found a resting place in my own backyard,” he said.
While many younger Americans today are spiritually unaffiliated, aka “nones” – a quarter of all adults under the age of 30 in the United States say they don’t identify with any religion or spiritual tradition, according to the Pew Center for Religion and Public Life – millennials are increasingly finding contemplative spirituality appealing.
“One of my publishers says (younger Christians) are my biggest demographic – not Catholics but post-evangelicals,” Rohr told Religion News Service in an interview a few days before The Universal Christ conference began in late March.
“The collectives are emerging outside of formal religion, for the most part, because we became too insular,” the 76-year-old Catholic mystic said. “They’ve imbibed this kind of universal sacred, and we’re seeing this especially in the millennials. They just put us to shame.”
Whether it’s in the stillness of silent meditation, walking a labyrinth, or centering prayer; the practice of engaging with scripture through Lectio Divina, the Ignatian tradition’s Daily Examen; or a combination of Buddhist mindfulness, Kundalini breath work and Taizé prayer, many young adults are happy (to borrow a line from Van Morrison) to sail into the mystic.
“My heart speaks to me in the silence,” said Laurie Wevers, 35, a mental health therapist and spiritual director in San Diego.
Growing up as an evangelical Christian in the Midwest, Wevers wasn’t exposed to contemplative practice or mystical tradition. Then, a professor at her Christian college in Minnesota suggested she meet with a spiritual director.
Laurie Wevers, left, 35, a mental health therapist and spiritual director from San Diego, and Tracy Bindel, 30, a law student and anti-racism activist from Boston, stand with a cardboard cutout of Richard Rohr while holding table stanchions looking for “young-er” and “under 40” contemplatives for a meet-up after an evening session at The Universal Christ conference in Albuquerque, N.M. RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani
While similar in practice to psychological talk therapy, spiritual direction’s aim is different. In the Christian tradition, a spiritual director is a person of faith who is trained to help guide other people of faith into a deeper relationship with God.
Like all contemplative traditions, it places a high value on personal experience with the divine.
In the dozen or more years since Wevers found contemplative spirituality through spiritual direction, she has become a spiritual director herself and earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.
Most recently she enrolled in The Living School, an intensive two-year program of study in contemplative practice and mystical tradition at The Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Rohr in Albuquerque 32 years ago.
“Being contemplative and being quiet did something to my heart and brought peace – it brought change without me having words (for) how that happened,” said Wever, adding that other contemplatives, including Christians Parker Palmer, Meister Ekhart and St. John of the Cross and the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, also have influenced her faith and practice.
“I can’t imagine doing a non-contemplative spirituality,” she said.
Presently, about half of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s four-dozen staff members are millennials – including Executive Director Michael Poffenberger.
“Richard’s definition of mysticism is experiential knowledge of God, and in evangelical-speak you could call that the ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ,'” said Poffenberger, 36, who grew up in Washington state, the son of an Irish Catholic mother and a Protestant father.
While he was reared largely as a Roman Catholic, Poffenberger, who joined Rohr’s staff in 2014, spent a few years in evangelical Protestant communities as a teenager.
“I had more of what I would call mystical experiences through evangelical worship than I ever did through my Catholic formation experience,” he said.
Poffenberger’s first exposure to Christian mysticism came during his college years at the University of Notre Dame, where he became involved in social justice efforts. One spring break, he spent a week at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky (the Trappist community where Thomas Merton was a member) reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.” “I was radicalized by that experience,” he said.
Later, during a summer spent volunteering alongside Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, Poffenberger had a life-changing mystical experience. In the evenings, after working with the Missionaries of Charity sisters as they tended to the poorest of the poor in their Home for the Dying, the community gathered in the chapel for the eucharistic adoration, where they would sit in silent meditation.
“Serving dying people throughout the day and then just sitting in total silence for an hour in the evening alongside these women who are just such symbols of love and courage in the world… It’s hard to then go on with life after that as if something hasn’t changed,” he said. After graduating from Notre Dame, Poffenberger relocated to Washington, D.C., where he worked for a decade on various anti-violence efforts in Central Africa. At a men’s retreat during his tenure there, he became acquainted with Rohr’s contemplative work.
“A lot of struggles I had were around power-privilege questions for me as somebody working in D.C.,” he said. “What I experienced in Richard was an access point into the spirituality that actually gave meaning to those deeper questions and spoke to the reality of suffering that I was seeing and engaging with, and trying to make sense out of it.”
Tracy Bindel, an anti-racism activist, attends law school in Boston and runs Freedom Beyond Whiteness, a nationwide network of contemplative action circles. For her, the Center for Action and Contemplation has been a spiritual community where she doesn’t have to hide any part of herself.
Bindel grew up in an evangelical Christian community where she learned about the power of prayer. But as a young adult coming to terms with her sexuality, she felt she no longer fit in that tradition.
“When I realized that it didn’t welcome my queerness, I kind of pulled that string and many other things fell apart in the world for me,” Bindel said. “Once I knew very clearly that I was a beloved child of God, it just became a matter of how do I actually live into that truth? The church that I grew up in didn’t affirm that.” Eventually, with the help of Rohr, who teaches that “everything belongs,” she found a home in completive practice.
Wes Lambert’s unlikely path toward mysticism began a decade ago when he was a Southern Baptist teenager. Some friends asked if they could lay hands on him and pray over him, something that to a very “hands-off” Baptist was an uncomfortable proposition. But Lambert relented, and when he did, something happened that changed his faith and life.
“This white light kind of overcame me and I ended up-the best way to describe it is in a trance-and I saw this vision of Jesus,” said Lambert, 27, who works in the fashion industry in New York City. “For me, my whole faith was in my head… This is what God had to do to get me out of my box.”
Years later, after a relationship breakup sparked a period of questioning everything-including his faith-Lambert turned to meditation, which eventually led to a five-month stay in 2017 at the Trappist-run Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga.
“The silence and contemplation has really kept me grounded, holding the paradoxical questions of faith,” Lambert said.
The contemplative tradition is “expansive enough… that it leaves room as you grow,” he said. “To be Christian is to see Christ in everything.”

Thousands of miles and hundreds of years separate St. Mary’s Basilica in Livonia from many of the 
most revered cathedrals in the world.

On a recent Wednesday Vlasios Tsotsonis worked to bridge a continental divide as he brought the divine to the Wayne County church. Perched high on scaffolding in the northern cove of the basilica’s sanctuary, in paint-splattered pants, Tsotsonis writ large the scene of the Passion of Christ. He is nearing completion of a years-long masterpiece of which his canvas covers hundreds of feet of walls and ceilings with Biblical iconography in St. Mary’s sanctuary.
“This art is a window to heaven,” Father George Shalhoub said, gazing up and around the church with a smile. “It is what we are expected to be and where we are going. All these icons are not worshipped, but they are honored and venerated to give us a taste of the kingdom of God here on Earth and in Heaven.” He had searched the world over to find an artist who could create something worthy of the old world’s masters since the church opened in 2003. In that quest for the best, Shalhoub commissioned Tsotsonis, a Greek artist he calls “the Michelangelo of the 21st century.” The artwork has been in progress for the past 12 years and is expected to be fully completed by December.
The altar was the first phase, completed in 2007. Next in 2014 was the dome fresco, 100 feet above the floor of the sanctuary. Tsotsonis returned this January to finish the final phase of his masterpiece, the majority of which will be done by June. He notes he had already been working on this particular phase for more than a year at home and now, having painted each day since January in St. Mary’s, he feels some impatience to see the work completed.
“This is also what I do daily while I’m in Greece, so my routine hasn’t changed in terms of work,” he said. “This gives me the sensation that I’ve lived in this space for a long time. There’s the feeling of continuity in everything.”His biggest challenge is to create in the accompanying architecture, a spiritual, almost metaphysical feeling to the believer, while his reward is the ability to praise God and show his devotion through his paintings.
“I believe that my artistic journey doesn’t begin from me, but from a necessity to serve something that has always been inside me since I was a kid, but I was never able to explain what that is,” Tsotsonis said. “My reward for all I did is the fact that I didn’t waste my life, I dedicated my life to creation.”
Read the rest of this story at

WISDOM Mission Statement

To Provide concrete modeling of women from different faith traditions working together in harmony for the common good.
To Empower women to take a more active role in furthering social justice and world peace.
To Dispel myths, stereotypes, prejudices and fear about faith traditions different from our own.
To Nurture the growth of empathy and spiritual energy that result from our projects and interfaith dialogue.


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