Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events
Tuesday, August 11
10:30 – 11:30 AM
Five Women Five Journeys at the Senior Women’s Club, Birmingham Community House, 380 S. Bates, Birmingham
Thursday, Sept. 17
9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Conference on End of Life issues across faith traditions
Henry Ford Hospital, Gilmour Conference Center,
One Ford Place, Detroit
Sponsored by Henry Ford Hospital, and the InterFaith Leadership Council
Contact Nancy Combs for more information firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, October 18
3:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Head Coverings Across the Faith Traditions
Sponsored by the InterFaith Leadership Council
A showing of “Hats of Jerusalem” documentary, followed by an interfaith panel
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 26998 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak
Contact Gail Katz at email@example.com for more information.
WISDOM’S WOMEN OF NOTE EVENT ON APRIL 29TH!!
If you attended Wisdom’s first “Women of Note” banquet April 29 at Birmingham’s First Presbyterian church you had an occasion to meet and/or learn about the unseen guests at our event. Some more famous ones were MIriam, Queen Esther, Julia Child, Mother Theresa, Harriet Tubman and Jane Austin. Guests were also treated to mentors of the women who came to honor an important woman in their lives: Rev. Sandy Hess, Lady Justice, Dr. Jane Faily, Henrietta Szold, Marianne Williamson, Sophie Seligsom, Henrietta Szold and Mary Burnell as well as mothers, grandmothers and elders of the Presbyterian Church. After sharing the stories of our women of note, one sister quipped, “I think they would have had a fabulous time meeting one another,” as did we.
Guests signed up for a food offering on “Sign-Up Genius” so the food was varied and delicious. We even had some unexpected drop-in guests who were welcomed and enjoyed the camaraderie. The potted tulips were sent home with guests whose names were drawn from a “hat.”
Rev. Amy Morgan was our hostess, dressed as Jane Austin, and welcomed us into one of her church’s social halls. See for yourself from the picture included and join us next year if we reprise the event.
INSIGHTS OF A 20TH CENTURY IMMIGRANT
(WISDOM Advisory Board Member)
Padma Kuppa, a Troy resident for the last 17 years, moved to the United States from India before she started kindergarten. In 1969, her father came to the Stony Brook University on Long Island in New York as a graduate student and later became a post-doctoral fellow; her mom also went back to school and eventually earned a PhD in biology, and was a post-doctoral fellow at MIT and Georgetown University. Padma’s family was one of many who arrived in the US from Asia, following passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. This legislation changed US immigration policy to welcome Asians and Africans with technical skills or family ties in the United States. While Padma grew up as an American she was always aware that she was different, and sometimes the “other.”
When she was fifteen Padma’s family returned to India, unlike most immigrants of that era. “That move was very difficult,” she said. “I did not think or behave as an Indian. I was Indian on the outside and American on the inside. I went from being a nerdy goody-two-shoes to the rebellious child my parents did not want me to be.” But Padma remained in India for the next seven years.
After she completed her bachelor’s degree in engineering, Padma obtained a student visa in 1998 and returned to the United States for graduate school. “I needed to return to America to find balance, to understand who I am,” she explained. She and her husband made their home in New York while they got their green cards; soon after their two kids were born, he took a position in Michigan and the family moved to Troy.
“We bought a house in Troy,” Padma explained. “That house became home and will always be our home. For me, family is the community I live amongst. I have met friends and mentors and people who have become like sisters. . . I wanted to be involved in this community. When my children were very young I volunteered to run a preschool play group through the temple. When they attended school, I got involved in Girl Scouts.” Padma also served on Troy’s Ethnic Advisory Committee, which was formed after 9/11/01, to engage and celebrate the diversity of the community, and was a founder of the Troy Area Interfaith Group.
In 2015 Ms. Kuppa submitted her application to fill a seat on Troy City Council that was vacated when Wade Fleming was elected as an Oakland County Commissioner. While she was not selected for the position, Padma was appointed to the Troy Planning Commission. “I am the first Asian-American woman to serve on the commission,” she stated proudly.
Padma Kuppa believes that pluralism is a noun and a verb. It is a balance of who you are, how you think, and how you act. She defines herself as Indian-American, Hindu and Telugu, as well as a wife, mother, employee and friend – accepting the plurality of her identity helps her understand who she is.
An inclusive vision for National Day of Prayer
By Raman Singh
InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit President Raman Singh
MANY in our nation celebrated the National Day of Prayer on May 7, 2015.
Signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1952, this is a day set aside for people of faith to introspect and connect with a power higher than themselves, within the context of our national community. Most important to those of us in the interfaith community is the inclusivity of this occasion. In the spirit of democracy itself, the National Day of Prayer offers all of us an opportunity not only to pray in our individual religious traditions, but engage others of different faiths to find commonalities and build a stronger community based on common values. People of faith generally aspire to do good in the world. We want people to be literate; to be fed and nourished; to be warm in the winter; to achieve holistic well-being.
I’ve spent a lot of time doing interfaith work. It seems to be part of my DNA. My vision for interfaith has always been about making connections and breaking barriers; pulling people together based on commonalities-aspiring to our highest self. People of faith, when called to look at their highest vision realize there should not be barriers. Hopefully we can come together and do good work, drawing on strengths of a shared vision. My vision, as the newly elected president of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, is to bring together people of faith and to continue the work of eliminating barriers between groups and organizations. I believe that through interfaith engagement we can harness the resources and good intentions of people to impact some of the challenges facing our region.
The InterFaith Leadership Council has served as a hub for uniting people of faith in common purpose. Our focus areas are “Connections, Conciliation and Education.” One of the areas of great promise is our adult religious literacy work. Understanding the great belief traditions and practices not only reduces social difference, but expands our collective consciousness of the possibilities of faith.
When we came together for the National Day of Prayer, we contemplated and evoked many of the same aspirations: to reduce conflict and the inequity suffered by our vulnerable populations. To improve ourselves as human beings. We sought the strength to carry out the important work that creates community and promotes well-being.
We hope this Day will always serve as a reminder to continue to educate ourselves about other faith communities. Do they pray? How do they pray? What does prayer mean to them? Through education we can continue to make connections. Which aids in conciliation. It is our hope that we can use the National Day of Prayer as one of the times during the year when we can come together in commonality: as Americans of faith and people of purpose.
Interfaith Coffee Cooperative Exports
More Than Just Beans
JJ Keki, a Jewish farmer from eastern Uganda, was far from home on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He was in New York City on a fundraising tour, and had planned to tour the observation deck of the World Trade Center later that day. As he watched the twin towers crumble, he worried about the wave of hate and intolerance sweeping across the entire world. He was especially concerned about his home in East Africa, where Muslim extremists from Somalia were advancing toward Kenya and Uganda. Eastern Uganda is a unique pocket of the country known as the “pearl of Africa.” The rolling hills at the foot of Mount Elgon are bursting with green. Crops grow well in the region, but the lack of proper techniques and the region’s severe poverty mean that farmers barely grow enough food to survive, and never move beyond subsistence farming.
But an interfaith coffee cooperative called Mirembe Kawomera, which translates as “Delicious Peace” in the local language of Luganda, is aiming to combat the threat of religious violence and poverty at the same time. More than 2,000 Muslim, Christian and Jewish farmers have joined the cooperative since Keki started organizing the community in 2004. Uganda is 84 percent Christian and 12 percent Muslim, though Muslims are a majority in the Mbale region of eastern Uganda. There is also a tiny community of 2,000 indigenous Ugandan Jews in the area.
The Sept. 11 attacks were “religious-motivated violence, and I said to myself, this could happen in Uganda, too,” Keki recalled while showing off the new drying house for the season’s harvest. “We must do something. So in 2004, we started this co-op. The Muslims also said they didn’t want the violence to come here. They said, ‘We’re already brothers. Even though we have differences, we don’t want to fight and kill each other.’ “Relationships between the three religions were cordial but distant before the coffee co-op began. There was some animosity stemming from Idi Amin’s brutal dictatorship in 1971-79, when he outlawed Judaism and killed a number of Catholic bishops. But after the land disputes stemming from the war years were resolved, the three communities lived as uneasy but quiet neighbors. Today, Ugandans are worried about the influence of extremist Muslim violence. The Somalia-based al-Shabab terrorist group carried out attacks in neighboring Kenya, including the Westgate mall attack in September 2013. Ugandans constantly worry that these kinds of terrorist attacks will creep across the border.
The Delicious Peace interfaith cooperative is a pre-emptive strike against that fanaticism, by creating close working relationships across religions. This means children grow up in a more tolerant environment, watching their parents join Easter, Hanukkah and Ramadan celebrations with the neighbors.
A coffee cooperative is an effective economic tool for the community. Individual coffee growers face a tough market, especially those in isolated rural villages, because transportation on bad roads is so expensive and problematic. On their own, farmers have no power to negotiate for a better price if they feel the offer is too low. Because they have so little coffee to sell, buyers are loath to make the journey, and the farmers are forced to take rock-bottom prices. But selling their product together as a cooperative gives them much more leverage in the market and helps raise the economic level of the entire community. Additionally, fair trade certification means that farmers are guaranteed a price “floor” of minimum payment, safeguarding them from the volatile coffee market. The cooperative got certified as a fair trade coffee producer, and it exported its first coffee in 2005, within a year of its founding. The cooperative started with 250 farmers, and today has more than 2,000 members. “Since we formed the co-op, there has been a working relationship between the religions,” said Samuel Ngugo, a Protestant who has served as the cooperative’s treasurer since it began. Reflective of the region’s population, the majority of the farmers are Muslim, but the board of the cooperative includes representatives from every religion. The cooperative also holds bimonthly lectures to help members improve their coffee production.
“There wasn’t a problem [between religions] here, but we didn’t know this aspect of working together,” said Elias Hasulube, a Muslim who serves as a manager and senior field officer who oversees quality control. “The coffee cooperative has also helped the community grow — it supports primary schools from all three religions.” Ngugo added, “Since we formed the co-op, farmers have the chance to sell coffee at a higher amount, and this means they can pay school fees and build new houses.”
In addition to growing coffee, farmers also formed a number of interfaith musical groups that adapt local songs to sing about coffee: the economic benefits, gratitude to the organizers, encouragement, and even tips for growing the best type of coffee. Rabbi Jeffrey Summit of Tufts University recorded an album called “Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music & Interfaith Harmony in Uganda” to celebrate these songs. Music is so interwoven into daily life in Uganda that songs are the ideal vehicle for passing on knowledge about proper growing techniques and interfaith cooperation. Actor Ed O’Neill, who plays Jay Pritchett on the popular U.S. sitcom “Modern Family,” narrated a documentary about the Delicious Peace cooperative in 2010. The leaders of Delicious Peace are hoping to export more than just coffee. They want to export their story of interfaith cooperation as well. They proudly print their story on each bag of coffee, which is sold by the American fair trade company Thanksgiving Coffee. “Whoever hears our story says, ‘Why are we fighting?’ ” Hasulube said. “The more we get customers and they read the story on our packages, the more we’ll get that message across.”
Keki said, “Our coffee has a wonderful story that we want people to copy, like Israel and Palestine. Our coffee must teach the world that even if you have differences in religion or culture, you can still be good friends.”
Muslim leader praises 50-year-old church document on religious dialogue
Catholic church leaders and scholars are not the only ones praising the 50-year-old church document Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”), the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations with non-Christian religions.
During the first part of a May 19-21 symposium on the document at The Catholic University of America, it also got high marks from a U.S. Muslim leader who said Nostra Aetate helps different faiths “recognize common roots and build a new sense of direction.”
Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances, said the church document links Catholics, Muslims and Jews by urging them to “promote the values” in their sacred texts.
Today, he said the goal should be “to see Nostra Aetate fully reinforced at every level.”
The document, promulgated Oct. 28, 1965, by Blessed Paul VI, has inspired decades of interfaith dialogue, which Syeed described as something that “doesn’t diminish our faith but helps us build an understanding with others.”
Put another way: “We keep our identity but work together,” he said.
Syeed also noted the time frame when the document was being put together, saying it occurred at the height of the civil rights movement in the United States and when there was a concentrated effort to start Islamic centers and Islamic student groups on university campuses in the U.S.
During these “humble beginnings” of Islamic life in the United States, he said the “Catholic church acted as a big brother” in its understanding of a religious minority.
This sentiment has continued in days since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he said, when the Catholic church showed support to Muslims and opened its doors to them amid a growing Islamophobia.
Syeed said it is unfortunate that Americans know so little about Islam but praised Catholic universities for taking a leadership role in changing this on many of their campuses where there are departments of Islamic studies.
Auxiliary Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore, immediate past chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said when he speaks about interfaith efforts at parishes he often gets questions about Islam that “can’t be ignored; they are in the air.”
He said the focus of interfaith efforts needs to be what was emphasized in Nostra Aetate — the “notion of commonality” — or the realization about what is the same in our faith practices.
That sense was echoed by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, former papal nuncio to Egypt and former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who said the Vatican II document points the way to interfaith relationships by stressing in its opening paragraph: “We are conscious we belong to one family.”
He also said interfaith dialogue needs to recognize the importance of freedom of religion. “It’s not enough to say a religious minority can pray at home. No, they have a right to have a place of worship,” he said.
Msgr. Paul McPartlan, a priest of the archdiocese of Westminster, England, and professor of systematic theology and ecumenism at Catholic University, said the day’s discussion was a great example of how religious leaders can work together.
He said currently in Europe, there is a sense that all religions need to be pushed to the margins because they might offend one another, which he said is a mistake. “We stand or fall together,” he said, adding that faith groups can do this in friendship and in solidarity. McPartlan also is acting dean of Catholic University’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, which co-sponsored the symposium along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. All of the day’s speakers noted that interfaith work is not over. Catholic University’s president, John Garvey, said in introductory remarks that it could be “tempting to pat ourselves on the back and say ‘good job’ but this document tells us not to.” “We must continue to examine the church’s relationship with other faiths,” he said, and also look at what we
hope to accomplish through this effort.”The heart of interfaith dialogue,” he said, “is that God will make himself better known to us.”
Dialogue: an essential ingredient
for peaceful relationships
Tony Magliano | Apr. 13, 2015 Making a Difference
According to The New York Times, during a White House luncheon in 1954, Winston Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw [talk-talk] always is better than to war-war.”
While clearly not a pacifist, the United Kingdom’s World War II prime minister had seen up close the absolute horror of war and became convinced that tirelessly striving to resolve disputes through respectful dialogue was always preferable to war.
Yes, indeed, “to jaw-jaw always is better than to war-war.” But then why is it that when faced with differences of opinion, we often opt for violence instead of dialogue?
When harsh words are directed at us, why do we often respond with a harsh reply? When spouses continue to hurt each other, why do they often resort to a mean-spirited divorce? And when different ethnic groups, tribes, religions and nations find themselves at odds, why do they so often take up arms to kill each other?
I suspect that the sin of pride — the foundational sin of all other sins — is at the center of all this. Pride puffs up the ego, which tempts each one of us to selfishly concentrate on what we want, often with no thought of the God-given rights of others.
Instead of taming the pride-filled ego with honest humility, we often allow it to dominate our thoughts, words and actions, which make respectful dialogue nearly impossible.
And when respectful dialogue is absent, violent words, violent actions, murder, and the mass murder of war take over.
Unfortunately, many people often rationalize that violence must be met with violence. They have not learned the tragic lessons of history. Violence never leads to genuine, lasting peace. Instead, it plants the seeds for future violence, which grows like weeds.
Respectful dialogue is absolutely necessary to root out the weeds of violence. Respectful dialogue communicates first and foremost from the heart. It speaks from the heart and listens from the heart. It is heart-to-heart communication. It tries to genuinely understand the other person’s legitimate needs and the pain of not having those needs met. Respectful dialogue walks in the other person’s shoes.
The late Marshall Rosenberg, teacher of peace and founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication , insightfully said: “When our communication supports compassionate giving and receiving, happiness replaces violence and grieving!”
The late Jewish philosopher Martin Buber offers wise and lovely insight here. In his book I and Thou, Buber explains that there are two primary ways of being in relationship with others: “I-Thou” or “I-It.”
We are in an “I-It” relationship when we think of and treat another person as an “it”; that is, as an object to be measured, manipulated and used. How sad it is that so many people today are treated as an “it.”
But when we are in an “I-Thou” relationship, we see each other as another self — another human being of equal dignity.
Buber further explained that this respectful view toward each other invites us to relate our entire being to another person. This in turn leads to a response of give and take for the mutual good of both people. This is what respectful dialogue is all about: where, as Buber points out, real communion with each other is possible, and God’s presence is experienced.
In the words of Pope Francis: “All wars, conflicts and troubles we encounter with each other are because of a lack of dialogue.”
Instead, we must “dialogue to meet each other, not to fight.”
[Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist.