Author Archives: Emma Grisanzio

December 2019 – When Is Intervention in Other Countries Justified?

December 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

When Is Intervention in Other Countries Justified?

  Monday, December 16, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Is the US the global policeman? Should we invade other countries and if so, for what reasons? Is intervention limited to troops on the ground and drone strikes? What about the tentacles of trade which may influence economies and cultures? If the US avoids invasions and missiles, will others like Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, etc. fill the gap? How can the US or any country combine justice and self interest in confronting a dangerous world?

After Pearl Harbor no one questioned if attacking Japanese held islands was justified. After 9/11 few asked if invading Afghanistan was an overreaction. But should we stay there? Should we have invaded Iraq? What level of threat warrants the deaths of foreign civilians and our own soldiers? Have we entered a cycle of endless wars easy to start but difficult to end? Do we build walls and protective anti-missile domes instead? Who are our real enemies—foreign invaders or those who urge conflict? Can we be safe and just?

Do our interventions come back to haunt us? In the 1950s we helped overthrow governments in Guatemala and Iran. Guatemala suffered a bloody Thirty Years War with 200,000 dead. Iran Is a dangerous opponent. But Vietnam now loves American tourists and Grenada seems grateful for what we did in 1982. Should we worry about the world’s oil supply when we don’t import petroleum? Besides we now regret not intervening in Rwanda and the death toll in the former Yugoslavia could have been much lower if the US and European countries had acted sooner. Is there a science to calculating when sending forces overseas is the right and smart thing to do?

Are we naïve to have such qualms? China’s One Belt One Road initiative seeks global control of trade and supplies. Russia seems happy to intervene in the affairs of its neighbors and in our political system. Iran, Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia will act against perceived threats and possibly to cement regional power. Can we afford to sit back and let these conflicts play out? What if participants have or are making nuclear weapons? Does the world look on when ethnic cleansing and genocide kill thousands who did no wrong? What is our responsibility to right wrongs or combat enemies?

Does intervention just consist of troops and explosives? Do trade embargoes cause as much suffering as bombs? As McDonalds and KFC penetrate the world and t-shirts celebrating US sports teams and rock stars blanket the globe, are we undermining cultures just by product placement? If global climate change creates new deserts and raises the sea level submerging islands and coastal areas, is our carbon footprint more dangerous than even nukes? By just existing is the US intervening?

On Monday, December 16 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if intervention should happen and if so, when. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality should curb our aggressive tendencies. For all there will be a multicultural selection of treats!

November 2019 – How Can Different Worldviews Live in Peace?

November 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

How Can Different Worldviews Live in Peace?

  Monday, November 18, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Exasperated moms chide their children, “How can the nations of the world live in peace if you kids can’t stop arguing?” With ongoing Middle East conflict and polarized U.S. opinion, are we too a dysfunctional global family? If peace in Ukraine and Northern Ireland depends on our belief in Russia’s U.S. and Brexit propaganda, how fragile is any respite from sectarian strife? Can peace be more than an illusion when everyone thinks they’re the ones in the right? Is any common ground doomed to sink under tidal waves of partisanship? If even families can be war zones, how much can “Agree to disagree?” work as a worldwide peace plan?

Our ideologies on gender, race, culture, religion, commerce, and politics are as fractious as ever. Do we live chained in separate caves with the shadows of FOX or MSNBC being projected on our respective walls? As Thanksgiving approaches for family members divided over Trump, will affection overcome worldview? Can any house divided against itself stand? Is what we think more important than what we feel, and can they be disentangled? Is a respectful conversation possible about things other than local sports and weather?

What happens when our worldviews spark deadly conflicts? We see persecution, indoctrination, imprisonment, and DNA tracking of Uyghur Muslims in China. Sunnis, Shi’as, ISIS, Kurds, Turks, and others fight in the Middle East. White Nationalism and Isolationism rekindles in the US and Europe. Russia invades Ukraine — twice. Hundreds of thousands die in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia over ethnic differences. All these peoples once lived side-by-side, before triggering events. If these disasters are possible in modern times, what is the solution? Or IS there no solution?

Do we have to accommodate every worldview? Human sacrifice is no longer acceptable. In the U.S., enslavement and polygamy are now banned with the approval of the Supreme Court. But we and other countries still effectively make certain beliefs, opinions, or identities dangerous to have. Are we saying we’re open to any idea except the ones on our “bad list”? What if we change our minds? Same-sex marriage was once presumed absurd, but now is protected as constitutional. Is tolerance a fad, or mature reflection? Are we expected to listen to worldviews we see as morally repugnant? Should we be asked to accept people we consider inherently vile? Is the moral universe black & white, or 50 shades of grey?

Is there a blueprint to construct permanent peace and concord? Is it buried somewhere in our ancient codes of ethics, religious edicts, wise sayings, parables, and common laws? Or is the perfect moral interface yet to be drafted? Can “Love thy neighbor…” or “Do unto others…” or “There shall be no compulsion in religion…” or “To each according to his need…” be twisted into something dark? Are our worldviews the problem, or is it something more fundamental to being human? Through what path other than our worldviews can we all just get along?

On Monday, November 18 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to bring peace and amity, or at least détente and a ceasefire, to living together in difference. Our reasoning interbelief dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may be inherently designed to promote this process, but will they be enough? If not, at least those of every worldview are entitled to share the treats!

October 2019 – Does White Privilege Exist?

October 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Does White Privilege Exist?

  Monday, October 21, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

White privilege has been called the implicit or systemic advantage that white people have relative to people who are objects of racism. It is said to exist in cultures where racism is prevalent, and whiteness is considered normal. It supposedly includes the absence of the suspicion and negative reactions that people subjected to racism experience. But it may also include mostly hidden benefits that whites possess in society: It has been called “a special advantage beyond non-whites being disadvantaged…an invisible, weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks” that all white individuals unconsciously wear. Is this real, or a fantasy of social activists and the politically correct? Does white privilege actually exist?

Are there not only phenomena like “driving while black” but also “being let off with a warning while white”? Is such segregative treatment more than class-based? Is this a serious societal problem needing redress by Black Lives Matter? If whites stereotype it as “an excuse for underachievement,” could it be whites who’ve actually been the underachievers? Can white people even know if they’ve coasted along on privilege?

Who has such privilege? Aren’t stereotypes about blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans once directed at Asians, Jews, Irish, Italians, East Europeans, poor whites, and Catholics? Has that gone away? Is affirmative action the answer or the source of more stigma, claiming that minority achievements aren’t “real”? If Oprah succeeds in business or Obama in politics, is white privilege disproven? Do whites rise on escalators while blacks must race up the one going down? Have Asian Americans actually progressed from being “the Yellow Peril” to being a “model minority”? Did Catholics graduate to being “white” in the Twentieth Century? Do poor white Appalachians count as white? If so, where did their escalator go?

Is there institutional racism that makes white privilege possible? Are minorities confined in “those neighborhoods” by past explicit racial zoning, lack of access to bank loans, criminal records for minor offenses for which white offenders escape arrest and punishment, and hiring processes that permit employment discrimination against applicants named “Tanisha” over “Tanya”? Or are complaints about a stacked deck excuses for refusing to work? Haven’t other groups faced white or WASP privilege and still made it out of the ghetto? Is it society’s fault or the individual’s fault? If it’s both, who must solve the problem? Have government solutions done more harm than good?

Should white privilege be addressed by education and awareness? Or does that just lead to pushback and cynicism? If a person is told success isn’t possible without such privilege, why even try to succeed? Are whites now talking of a reverse “minority privilege” or claiming it seeks to deny opportunity to less affluent whites, all in the name of diversity? Is white privilege a reason not to judge whites by the content of their character, but to judge them by their skin color? Are whites and minorities equally at risk of being judged wrongfully? Do we eliminate white privilege by creating new privileges for non-whites? Do we give reparation for past wrongs? Do we trust that time will heal hearts and wounds and transform our own prejudices into celebration of differences? Who do we blame for white privilege —the white descendants of slavers, or of whites who came to America long past our Civil War?

On Monday, October 21 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will explore white privilege and its consequences, or maybe conclude it’s all a whitewash. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will help explore who wears the white hat and who the black hat in how we treat each other. But even if our views are in shades of grey, we’ll have brightly colored treats!

September 2019 – What Do We Do with Immigration?

September 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

How Do We Handle Immigration?

  Monday, September 16, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Should we welcome the stranger at our door, given almost all our ancestors were once strangers in a strange land? Do we face an invasion from the wretched refuse of the world (or at least parts of Central America)? Shall we rewrite the inscription on the Statue of Liberty to clarify which of the huddled masses get valet service at the Golden Door, and which must shuffle on home? Is border control racism or just the security any country must maintain? Has our past or present treatment of illegal, legal, and refugee immigrants been the solution, or caused the problem? Should children ever be jailed in cages?

There are 350 million crossings of the US-Mexican border every year. People commute from Mexico to jobs in the Estados Unidos and vice versa daily. Students living in one country cross the border to go to school. These are on roads, some of them superhighways. Trump says he wants The Wall to be “black.” What will a black wall, or any walls, do when so many cross each day? Most illegal drugs are shipped in not on boys’ backs, but at seaports. Would even a wall as high as the Tower of Babel keep them out? Should Department of Defense and FEMA money be used to fund a wall now 13% complete?

The number of illegal immigrants has fallen by two million since 2007. Net migration from Mexico peaked then reversed in 2010. A major reason was improvement in the Mexican economy. Should we not then be helping Central America create jobs locally? Why cut off aid programs as the Secretary of Homeland Security was negotiating them? Are we the keepers of our brothers and sisters in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador? If we fear drug gangs like MS-13, why do we provide so many drug buyers for their goods? Why did we deport members of a gang “back” to El Salvador, when the gang was founded in Los Angeles? Is there a path to a rational immigration policy, one not dominated by sound bites and internet pundits?

What does national sovereignty mean? Are we a nation of immigrants or a place founded by Anglo-Saxons whose Western culture must be preserved? Who’s a good American? What’s the good language? The good religion? May a good American ever wear a hijab? What fundamentals of the US Constitution must an individual know and accept to be allowed in the US, or to stay? Should birthright citizens — whether babies, infants, or teens — be made homeless as their parents and older siblings are deported? Why not take away these kids’ “fake” citizenship, too? When we shout to people, “Go back where you came from,” are we being racist? But what if they are non-white people born in Brooklyn or Michigan? Maybe all Mayflower and later white immigrants’ descendants could all be sent back to England and Ireland to “dig potatoes?” Shouldn’t we define American as only the descendant of the Indigenous First People?

Are illegal immigrants taking our jobs? But aren’t we at full employment? Don’t they do jobs, even for low wages, that legal residents won’t do? America faces a “population bust”, so who’ll do the work if not immigrants? Don’t they pay millions into Social Security and Medicare but get no benefits? Didn’t we drain the best and brightest from the around the world to start up Silicon Valley?

On Monday, September 16, from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to solve immigration — or at least not make it worse. Agreements of open-mindedness (not open borders), acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will try to keep us secure but welcoming. But for all participants, no matter where you come from, there are treats!

August 2019 – Is Saving the Environment a Moral Imperative?

August 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Is Saving the Environment a Moral Imperative?

  Monday, August 19, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

If the Earth is our mother as some say, are we exceptionally naughty children? If we are headed for a sixth extinction is the only sad part, the really nice plants and animals that we will be taking with us? Do we have dominion over the environment and should expect it to serve our purposes or are we stewards of nature and possibly bad ones? Would the world without us run by cockroaches be an improvement? Are there moral issues even more important than our physical survival to consider in what is happening to our planet? Are we coming close to answering for our sins?

Once subduing the wilderness was considered essential to progress. Wolves and grizzly bears were considered threats to humans not endangered species needing protection. It was man against nature and the environment had better look out. Could these attitudes have been all wrong? Could fossil fuels be something other than the basis of civilization? Could plastic not be a miracle product but death to oceans, fish, and birds? Should we go back to the Shire and be one with nature? But when people only ate organic foods, didn’t they all die by age 40?

Is it already too late? Have we passed the tipping point for global climate change? Will melting glaciers in Antarctica raise the ocean level two feet and flood even Trump Tower? Or is the future still in our hands? E.F. Schumacher, the author of Small Is Beautiful, was asked what could be done about the degradation of the environment. His response was to advise everyone to plant a tree. What acts like walking or biking to work, getting energy from solar panels, and setting thermostats lower in winter and higher in summer be enough? Even if too late is there an obligation to do something? Do we have to succeed to be moral?

Who is obligated to take up the fight? Religious leaders? Politicians? Environmental activists? Concerned scientists? Ordinary people? All of the above? Do we know what we should be fighting about? Might we boycott useful products because someone on the internet says they are dangerous? What expertise should guide us and who can we trust? Could global warming really be a hoax? What about the New Ice Age we heard about in the 1990s? Can we do the right thing if we are misinformed as to what the right thing is? Is this just a pragmatic quest to save our skins or are our souls at risk if we destroy the world we were born on?

Is it all about human beings? Animals have become extinct long before the arrival of homo sapiens. The first five extinctions had no help from us. Isn’t death and destruction part of the natural order? Do we have to save every endangered insect? Wouldn’t we be better off focusing on making the planet more livable for human beings and restrain our homicidal impulses towards them? Shouldn’t we be our brother’s keeper not every buffalo’s keeper? Do we really miss the dodo and the passenger pigeon? Or are we all fellow passengers on spaceship earth and the disappearance of each species takes something away from us? Should there be priorities set and who sets them—Greenpeace or the current Environmental Protection Agency?

On Monday, August 19 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will seek to be environmentally moral. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may keep us from doing more good than harm. No matter one’s ecological views; treats for everyone!

July 2019 – What Morality Should Be Legislated?

July 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Morality Should Be Legislated?

  Monday, July 15, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Some say that one cannot legislate morality, but why do we keep trying? The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal”. Homicide and larceny statutes legislate the consequences of ignoring these divine rules. We are commanded not to bear false witness. Contract law tells us that we pay a penalty if we do and perjury and fraud statutes promise to send us to jail for our false words. But even without divine command, there are practical reasons for these bodies of law. What happens when one person’s morality rejects the moral imperatives of society or at least its most self-righteous members.

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was called “a noble experiment” striving to save the country from the curse of alcohol and the wicked saloon the refuge of drunks and questionable foreigners like Irish, Germans, and Southern and Eastern Europeans. It led to a counterculture of flappers and bootleggers. Draconian enforcement led to a Detroit mother being sentenced to life in prison for liquor violations but no end to gangland killings. The experiment was eventually deemed a failure leading to repeal by the 21st Amendment. The country fights a war on drugs but street prices for cocaine and heroin keep dropping indicating a robust supply chain. Meanwhile minority citizens are incarcerated in growing numbers. Is there a lesson to be learned? Can morality be legislated if many ignore the law? Is insanity the process of taking the same action again and again and expecting a different result? Or were prohibition and drug laws not tried and found wanting, but instead found difficult and not really tried?

The Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade found a constitutional right to an abortion. Why are there annual demonstrations to denounce it? Why do some states seek to restrict on grounds of health and the rights of the unborn while others expand coverage to protect a woman’s right to make fundamental choices about her own body? Who speaks for morality in this controversy? Civil and human rights legislation bars discrimination, but white supremacists and nationalists seem as outspoken as ever. A Green Bill of Rights is proposed but environmental regulations are repealed. Next year the U.S. celebrates the centenary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Has sexism vanished and women achieved their rightful place in society? What place is that exactly? Do efforts to impose fundamental change by law or judicial decision generate more resistance than acceptance?

In the world America is sometimes called a “shining city on the hill.” Does our immigration policy make us seem more like a walled island? Does the rest of the world see us as a moral beacon or the heart of darkness? Are we the good people we think ourselves or a threat to world peace and economic stability? Is morality welcoming refugees or detaining them as threats to our way of life? What legislation would make us moral?

On Monday, July 15 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if legislation and morality can co-exist. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully lead us to the high ground. But even if we can’t find morality; we will have treats!

June 2019 – What Are the Limits of Free Speech and Who Sets Them?

June 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Are the Limits of Free Speech and Who Sets Them?

  Monday, June 24, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Should we be allowed to say anything we want without regard to its veracity or potential to harm others? If not, how far can we go? The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution seems to guarantee freedom to speak, but aren’t there practical restrictions? John Stuart Mill in On Liberty spoke of a free marketplace of ideas in which the people would decide which were compelling and which dangerous nonsense. But in a world of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, online stalking, and Russian, Chinese, Korean, and Iranian hackers is that marketplace even safe? And are any of the watchdogs we might appoint to protect us less scary than the threats?

We are told by the U.S. Supreme Court that we are not free to falsely shout fire in a crowded theater. Speech may not present a clear and present danger of violence. Blackmail, extortion, and terroristic threats are all illegal. Some members of Murder, Inc. who went to the electric chair only used their words to order killings not to fire the guns themselves. People can be sued for defamation if their words falsely disparage others. Pornography may be prosecuted even if a Supreme Court justice asked to define it merely stated, “I know it when I see it.”

But surfing the internet finds claims that one president is a Muslim, one ordered people murdered in Arkansas, one allowed 9/11 to happen because of cozy relations with Saudi oil sheiks, and one is failed businessman who has never told the truth in his life. Conspiracy theories abound. Foreigners are out to get us. The nation is in peril from the Far Right, the Far Left, and everyone in between. Is this what James Madison wanted when he drafted the First Amendment?

When a killer livestreams shootings at New Zealand mosques and finds inspiration for his murders on the internet and Facebook, mustn’t someone stop it? When teenagers are driven to suicide by false web postings, are the perpetrators murderers? Should possession of child pornography mean years in prison? When Wikileaks posts government secrets, should Julian Assange be dragged from an Ecuadorian embassy to answer for them? Should leakers be prosecuted under the Espionage Act? What about government officials who speak “off the record” to promote an administration’s spin on events? Should ISIS be allowed to recruit suicide bombers online? Should Russian hackers be free to influence elections? What do we say is acceptable and what reprehensible?

Do we want Mark Zuckerberg to decide for us which Facebook site is hate speech or phony? Do we trust him? Do we trust government watchdogs? Do want the NSA to monitor all our conversations to allow some terrorists to be caught? Do we want our every stupid, thoughtless, and angry expression from years ago exposed to public scrutiny and perhaps ridicule? Is political correctness itself incorrect? Is the best protection not outside agencies but our own sense of right and wrong? But looking in the mirror, are we still so sure?

On Monday, June 24 (the fourth Monday this month) from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask what is unsayable and who gets to say shut up. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality plus a general spirit of civility will be our only free speech limitations. (They may be enough). No matter what you say; treats will be available!

May 2019 – How to Create Community in a Time of Division

May 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

How to Create Community in a Time of Division

  Monday, May 20, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”. So said Robert Frost in his poem, “The Death of the Hired Man”. What is home to us? Is it enough to be our community or does community mean something more? Is it the whole world? Our country? Our state? Our city? Our neighborhood? Our religion or place of worship? Our like-minded friends? A meetup group? Can we only have a community through exclusion? Is it always us and them? Do communities thrive on division because we can more easily define who isn’t part of the community? Or do communities cooperate with each and ally to make larger, more inclusive communities?

There is a perception that America is polarized into two or more antagonistic communities. Possibly the discord goes far back in our history. But, weren’t there moments like immediately after 9/11 or World War II when we all came together? Or was this an illusion forgetting attacks on Muslims and Sikhs or the internment of Americans of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbor? What would it take for a Trump supporter or a fan of Ilhan Omar to be part of one community? Can one watch Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC without smashing the TV set? Can we lose family ties or close friendships over our political differences? Or does community transcend these disagreements as ephemeral in light of what binds us?

Just as a frame defines where the picture ends and the wall begins, don’t we need boundaries to our community? Is it true that the earth is one community and all humankind its citizens? Is this hopelessly naïve or a recipe for chaos? How big can a community be and still have cohesion? Possibly we are members of many communities and our existence a juggling act? To create a community don’t we first have to know who we are? How easy is it to say, “This is my community.”? Can we truly welcome other ones?

Can we create communities of common purpose? Can Planned Parenthood and fundamentalists work together to find parents for abandoned children? Can we agree to help wounded veterans even if we opposed the wars they fought? Should those who leave water in the desert for illegal immigrants be praised or arrested? Do guidelines of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the afflicted, and visiting the prisoner apply to all whether theist or atheist? Who exactly are our neighbors, and do we really have to love all of them as if they were ourselves? Aren’t some of them too flawed to love?

On Monday, May 20 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to create community and avoid division. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality seek to bind us together. But even if it all falls to pieces; we will have treats!

April 2019 – What Is Your Water?

April 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Is Your Water?

  Monday, April 15, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

It is said, “Fish are the last ones to discover water.” Do we know the most basic and present thing in our life even exists before it’s gone? Does one learn of one’s “water” only when flopping on the ground, gasping for breath? Are we immersed in that which, like the fish its water, we take so totally for granted we cannot even see? Do others see us swimming in our fishbowl without a clue as to where (and who) we really are, no understanding of the bubble in which we eke out our existence? Would we even want to know it, if it meant accepting our life was so encaged?

Is white male privilege the water in which Caucasians unknowingly swim? What will happen when America’s majority becomes non-white? Will “blancos” still expect storekeepers’ respect, still see the justice system as fair, still assume police are their protectors, and still see mortgage lenders as only concerned with their credit score, not their color? When white and multiracial females become the majority of professionals, will white males still dismiss the idea of glass ceilings and wage differences?

Is American exceptionalism our water? Or are we, too, just fancy goldfish, 80% of us bottom-feeding on the red-white-and-blue gravel, in a glass bowl perched on the razor’s edge? When we shout out, “Make America Great Again,” where is the room for everyone else? Is exceptionalism comprising 5% of the world’s population while caging 25% of the world’s prisoners? Where is the place at the table (or is it in the kitchen?) for the children of those we enslaved? Where is the home for our First People, as we again don our dark mantle of “Manifest Destiny?” What destiny is it, again? To create God’s “Shining City on a Hill,” or just screen our porcelain aquarium castle with a bubble-curtain to blow away the clouds of brown algae? Is America, upon whom we claim God “shed His Grace,” not a visible object lesson in materialism, hedonism, and narcissism? Is America the world’s policeman, or its greatest crook?

It is said, “A lobster can be cooked alive by gradually raising the temperature in the pot. He can boil and not realize anything’s wrong — until it is too late.” Are we the lobster, swimming in the rising oceans of global warming? Will we keep funding oil drilling, and leasing ever-larger SUVs, while “just moving a little further inland” and filing insurance claims for our submerged home? Will we take our (literal) water for granted until we find we’re living in a desert? Will we enjoy bumblebee and hummingbird visits to our windowsill flowers, until one day we see no more bumblebees or hummingbirds, ever? With each annual “500-year flood,” will we still deny global warming when the snow again falls? Will the rich still pay pseudo-scientists to convince their “lower”-class worker bees that all will be well, while buying up gated ranches in far inland Montana?

Ram Dass said, “Be here now.” Do we today even see joy in life? Do we appreciate those close to us before they’ve departed? Do we take love for granted (until we have no love)? Do we daily welcome Dawn, without first brushing Death’s cloak? Do we live each day accepting it can be our last? “Men die every day, but Man acts as if He will live forever.” Is human mortality the water in which we swim, but will not see? Could seeing it give our lives more meaning, even if it means no more collagen injections and brow-lifts to smooth our frown & laugh lines, and no more red corvettes to flee from who we’ve become?

On Monday, April 15 (Tax Day!), 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Ave., Inter-Belief Conversation Café will “wonder about what our water is,” and other things taken for granted. Our interbelief reasoning dialogue’s certainties will be our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, & confidentiality. Treats will be available — as well as actual water!

March 2019 – What is the Purpose of Life?

March 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Is the Purpose of Life?

  Monday, March 18, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Is life as Shakespeare’s Macbeth states “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Is it a quest for meaning and a search for the authentic life? Is it all about us or should we try to fit in an interdependent web of relationships? Is the simple life best or are we political and economic animals who are defined by the society in which we live? Are we islands or part of a continent? Or are we taking ourselves too seriously and should go with the flow? Are we the heroes of our lives or just extras in someone else’s story? Do we actually get to make these decisions? Are we headed for a teleological goal or just trying to do the best we can?

To Confucius life was about knowing our place in a family and culture and striving to be a just and faithful participant. Taoists sought to cut away this complexity to the underlying simplicity of existence. Who is right? Are we seeking salvation from a personal God or ending suffering by being in tune with the basic rhythms of the universe? Should we see ourselves per Nietzsche as artists striving to create a masterpiece from our lives as opposed to the equivalent of Elvis on a black velvet background? Do we try to be one with nature or embrace science and modernity? Will some final judge look at our lives and say we did well or poorly, or do we make our own final judgment? Is it true that the one with the most toys wins or is that a symptom of a disordered life?

What do other people have to do with our purpose? Do family, friends, and duties to humanity fulfill us or are they barriers to self-realization? Like Buddha should we abandon family to find truth? Like Gaugin should we abandon them to find artistic expression in Tahiti? Was St. Francis of Assisi who stripped off the clothes his father gave him an example of one seeking a higher purpose or a misfit? What do we owe to others and which others? If we sacrifice ourselves to them, should we expect gratitude or do it because it is our duty? Are the casualties fighting in an unsuccessful war our martyred dead or wicked losers? Should we maintain monuments to Confederate soldiers? Is patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel or sublime sacrifice?

Is freedom our goal or is freedom just nothing left to lose? Do we seek a flourishing life carefully avoiding extremes to find a golden mean? Do we seek intense experience in pleasure, natural beauty, great art, personal attainment, or drugs? Do we want inner peace and how do we get it? Is it from meditation or action, from hedonism or ascetism? How can we be all that we can be? Should we want that if so many can’t have it as well? Is one person’s perfect life another person’s monument to selfishness? Do we set our own goals or are they set by a divine order or some other person? Do we want the approval of others or does an authentic person have an internal compass for guidance? If we follow the beat of a different drummer are we to be praised or feared?

On Monday, March 18 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action for Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will seek the purpose of life. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality hopefully will help keep this a good purpose. However this all ends up; we will have treats!

February 2019 – What Is Your Tribe?

January 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Is Your Tribe?

  Monday, February 18, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Are tribes just groups of indigenous people or Middle Eastern clans? Or do our ethnicities and interests define a modern cultural tribalism? Can Packers fans co-exist with the oft-disappointed but always hopeful believers in the Vikings? Do our “tribes” unite us into something better or divide us from others? Can humanity be a mega-tribe or are social groups limited to a finite number we can actually know–be it 150, 231, or 290 depending on the anthropologist of choice. Or are we so alienated that a tribe is too much organization for us as we sink into urban anonymity and anomie? Isn’t even the most primitive tribe better than this?

In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger offers a definition of tribe or community as the group of people one would both help feed and help defend. This is similar to poet Robert Frost’s statement that home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Outside family perhaps how many people are so close to us to offer sustenance and protection as an obligation? Maybe our tribes are all on line now. Are internet communities tribes? Are rock concerts the new locale for tribal gatherings? What about sports events? The local bar? Political rallies? Where do we find modern tribes?

Is tribalism good? Do those who wish to make America great again diminish it? Do we shatter into religions and ethnicities with Catholics against Protestants or Serbs against Croatians? Does the success of one tribe depend on dominance over all others? Should each tribe have its own quota for jobs and benefits? Has our country been made better or more chaotic by the many tribes that have come here? Or are these the old tribes and in the new melting pot we form others? Besides if we are part German, Norwegian, English, and Welsh, what is our tribe exactly? Are Southerners, New Englanders, and Californians all different tribes with their own peculiar cultures? Where do we look for identity?

Are tribes a starting point for building a greater whole? After all tribes of pre-Columbian North America had a trading network that extended from Alaska to Panama. Do tribes cooperate and combine for mutual support? Do they make us more interesting rather than an anonymous island in an urban sea? Is the Earth really one country and all humanity its citizens or family members? Do tribes represent a barrier or a safety net that tells us who we are? If we have no tribe, do we have an identity? Do tribes represent order or rigidity? Do we make our own or are they imposed on us at birth? Can we have a little of both?

What kind of tribe member was the Good Samaritan? He belonged to a group antagonistic to Jews but aided a wounded traveler when the man’s own tribal leaders would not. Did he ignore his tribe or was altruism something his tribe expected such as the hospitality nomadic people give to any visitor? Do shared experiences and kindnesses create new tribes? Are these shared actions part of the “mystic chords of memory” Abraham Lincoln believed bound all Americans North and South together? Can we be a good tribal member and a good citizen?

On Monday, February 18 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask for tribal identification but also if we are more than that. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully warfare from breaking out. No matter your tribe there will be treats!

January 2019 – What Is the Relationship Between God and Science?

January 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Is the Relationship Between God and Science?

  Monday, January 21, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Does God need science — or just worship? Albert Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” Was he correct? Or is theism, like magic, merely a way to “explain” what our reason cannot now comprehend? Does science undermine belief, bringing science and religion to war? Will miracles still be left once science explains everything — or is “complete explanation” a fallacy of those who have faith in science but do not understand it? If “God” has given us two books—a book of scripture (religion) and a book of nature (reason and science), can the two ever legitimately be in conflict? If not, whose fault is it that they often are?

Are God and magic the same thing scientifically? Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell once stated that, “The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to go sharper.” What is left of Russell’s wits if Richard Feynman is correct in stating that, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum mechanics”? Is quantum mechanics magic? A single electron, atom, or even molecule fired toward two slits goes through BOTH of them to reach its endpoint, colliding with itself along the way. Entanglement means that two photons will act reciprocally even if they become billions of light years apart. Is “God’s” omnipresence and telepathic hearing of prayers quantum mechanical, sci-fi, or fantasy? Is “God” a spirit, a magical being, or a rabbit in a hat? Einstein was flummoxed by his own version of magical spirits — “spooky action at a distance” — and accused quantum physicists for asserting that “God played dice.” (In response to which one of them, Niels Bohr, criticized Einstein for “telling God what to do.”) Does reason’s search for knowledge finally result in discovering it is unknowable? Or will it result in discovering (or inventing) God? Do the religious know this already, or are both theists and scientists wrong?

Is science actually “miraculous”? One definition of “miracle” is “an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to intervention by a divine agency.” Must God violate scientific principles to perform a miracle? But “miracle” also is defined as “an extraordinary or amazing event, product, example, or achievement.” In Rogers & Hammerstein’s The Flower Drum Song, we’re told that a hundred million miracles such as “sun and rain” happen every day. So, are miracles the inexplicably impossible, or the amazing beauty of existence on the only known habitable planet in the Universe? Notwithstanding how the Celts’ equine Goddess Epona might feel about it, how deeply do we want to look our gift horse in the mouth?

Do scientific theories undermine belief in “God”, or are they compatible? Can the Book of Genesis and the Qur’an be reconciled with Darwin’s theory of evolution? If we’re created in the divine image, why are there fossils of ape-like hominids? Do we believe Bible interpreters’ claim that Creation occurred 9,000 years ago or should we believe the astrophysicists’ 13.2 billion year-old Big Bang? Why does ISIS no longer teach the field they invented — mathematics? Are “God” and science going to war, or reconciling (perhaps by reading translations and hadiths differently)? Does attempted reconciliation subordinate to science our “God”, angels and saints, as relics of a superstitious time? Do we end up with lame science and blind religion? Do science and religion occupy different spheres of reality that never connect? Can they have dialogue? Are they in creative tension with one another? Can they integrate as one ultimate truth? And will we care?

On Monday, January 21, 2019 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask whether Science and “God” are marrying, living in mutually beneficial tension, or divorcing. Our inter-belief reasoning dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may bring unity or reveal how divided we are. But we’ll surely have faith in one thing — treats, generated by the best of science!

January 2019 – Faith Formation in a Multi-faith World

January 2019 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Faith Formation in a Multi-faith World

  Tuesday, January 8, 2019
  11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  Luther Seminary, Olson Campus Center 10
1490 Fulham St., St. Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)

We live in an increasingly multi-faith world, country, state, and community. Children, youth, and adults live and work with peers from many different religious traditions. Minority religions in America have always had to teach about Christianity. Today, all religions have to teach about other religions and confront the cognitive and emotional dissonance of people of different faith traditions living together. We need to know about our neighbors’ faiths as part of faith formation. As a step in that direction, the Saint Paul Interfaith Network, in cooperation with Luther Seminary, offers the following opportunity.

Join us for a panel discussion – with brief presentations! – from four local educators who work closely with their communities of faith on this topic. This will be an interactive and conversational event, and we welcome people who are new to the topic as well as those who have long done work in it. The panelists are Dr. Jeffrey Schein (Jewish), Rev. Jane Buckley Farlee (Christian), Dr. Ned Mohan (Hindu), and Nadifa Osman (Muslim). The moderator for the conversation is Dr. Mary Hess, Professor of Educational Leadership, Luther Seminary.

This event is free and open to the public. Though lunch is not offered, light refreshments, coffee, tea, and water are.

Please share this with whomever you believe would be interested.

December 2018 – Should the Government Be Religiously Neutral?

December 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Should the Government Be Religiously Neutral?

  Monday, December 17, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Is America a Christian nation? A religious nation? A secular nation? Or something else entirely? Do the mottoes “In God We Trust” or “Novus Ordo Seclorum” (A New Order for the Ages) on our money reflect the real national ethos? Do we care if children pray in schools or say a Pledge of Allegiance with the words “under God” as added in 1954? Should we look back to Pilgrim founders or the Enlightenment rationalists of the American Revolution for our true heritage? What is the relationship, if any, between God and America?

What exactly is religiously neutral? Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, Sikhs, etc. are treated the same as Christians? That all religious symbols be removed from the public square to avoid offending atheists, agnostics, and those believers who feel separation of Church and State means something? Should public offices forbid employees from saying Merry Christmas? Should “holiday trees” only be allowed if there is representation for Festivus (The Seinfeld Show’s holiday for the rest of us) and the Giant Spaghetti Monster? Can the desire to avoid offending the secular become discrimination against the religious?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution promises freedom of religion but forbids the establishment of religion by government. Does no establishment just mean no national church as some argue or no government action favoring one or any religion as others claim? What do we do with Santa Claus who started as the Dutch name for St. Nicholas but who now seems to be running a factory at the North Pole with elf labor and a reindeer transportation system? How Christian is this religious figure who lived in what is now the predominantly Muslim country of Turkey? Is this the fate of religion—to be turned into a fairy tale figure distributing toys to good girls and boys? Is Santa safe now for secular society or is there still something insidiously religious about him?

Ten Commandments monuments are acceptable on the Texas State Capitol grounds, forbidden at the Alabama Supreme Court, and being uprooted from public parks. But the U.S. Supreme Court Building still has Moses on its walls and he is in a mural at the Minnesota Supreme Court. Are the Ten Commandments part of our legal heritage or a step towards theocracy? Do they make fears of Sharia law in the U.S. seem silly? Does the U.S. Supreme Court opening statement of “God bless this honorable Court” make banning prayer in schools appear hypocritical?

What about the indirect benefits religion receives? Church property including some which look like businesses cannot be taxed? Contributions to the religion of one’s choice are tax deductible. The armed services, prisons, and health care organizations have chaplains. There are chapels in hospitals, on college campuses, and military bases. Discrimination laws require religious accommodation from businesses which may mean work breaks for Muslims to pray. Should Congresswomen change the dress code to wear hijabs? Should school cafeterias drop pork from the menu? What is free expression and what is oppression of the rest of us?

On Monday, December 17 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if God and Caesar can co-exist or should stay in separate venues. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully keep the peace. Christmas is just around the corner and treats are available to all!

December 2018 – Words Matter: Two Approaches to Bridging Divisions on Controversial Issues

December 2018 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Words Matter: Two Approaches to Bridging Divisions on Controversial Issues

  Thursday, December 6, 2018
  12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

In our increasingly polarized and angry country many people are finding it hard to have a civil conversation with people with whom they disagree on controversial issues. As a result, people of differing perspectives on controversial issues are avoiding talking with one another. This avoidance means people do not really know the people with whom they strongly disagree. Therefore, exaggerated stereotypes replace real relationships.

The two approaches you will learn about at this forum, Respectful Conversations and Better Angels, are two ways to help overcome the growing divisions in our country.

Minnesota Council of Churches’ Respectful Conversations have involved over 5,000 Minnesotans in hundreds of conversations on polarizing topics, helping congregations and other organizations to radiate peace in their communities. Recent conversations have addressed post-election tensions and the Enbridge Line 3 replacement. Rev. Jerad Morey, MCC’s program and communications director, has a background in conflict resolution and co-founded Respectful Conversations. Rev. Arthur Murray of Bloomington’s Transfiguration Lutheran Church helped organize a series of Respectful Conversations on divisive topics concerning that city’s residents that were hosted in different faith communities.

Prof. William Doherty of the University of Minnesota is co-founder and a senior fellow on the staff of Better Angels. Better Angels was founded in 2016. Its mission statement says, “Polarization is tearing America apart. Through workshops, debates, and trainings, Better Angels is bringing liberals and conservatives together into a working alliance – building new ways to talk to one another, participate together in public life, and influence the direction of the nation.”

This event is free and open to the public. Though lunch is not served, refreshments are provided.

November 18 – Does Human Nature Improve?

November 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Does Human Nature Improve?

  Monday, November 19, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Are we better people than our ancestors? Have we improved through the ages, or declined from a “Golden Age”? From the years of Gentleman’s Club dads, cocktail-making homemaker moms, and baseball-playing kids? From our own teenage years, where we knew everything and elders were clueless? (Or are we more clueless now?) Based on headlines screaming of Synagogue slaughters, color-selective Kroger’s shootings, mail-bombs, reporter assassinations, ripped up nuclear treaties, wars, sexual predators, and “evil” politicians, don’t we have a long way to go before we can say we’ve “improved”? What even is “improvement,” when it comes to human nature? Is it material prosperity? Moral or spiritual development? Just niceness? Would a secular person’s “improvement” be a religious person’s “depravity”? Can we follow our better angels if we aren’t even sure what “better” or “angels” are?

Atheist Stephen Pinker, in Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, claims that despite appearances wars and violent death are less common than in the past. His reasons are the rise of powerful nation-states, global commerce, feminism, cosmopolitanism, and escalating use of reason. Do all people see these as improvements? But civil disasters in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, South Sudan, and Myanmar seem to argue that the world is far from improved. Are we missing a big picture in the “noise” of our dismal daily news?

Absolute poverty — defined as a household income too low to maintain food and shelter — has declined, with nations in Asia making great strides. But are fewer people now dropping dead from starvation only a sign of how bad things always were? Is material well-being more important than moral or spiritual development? Jesus warned that we could gain the world but lose our souls. Does a full belly outweigh damnation? Is attainment of the good a physical state, or a state that can’t be measured by science?

How much is our nature improving as Americans? The Dream of our Fathers was that their children would have better lives — hopefully in the family job. Their kids left the factories, sweatshops, mines, and farms for the service and information industry. Do they regret what used to be? Was a longer life pushing code online a good trade-off for the coal and camaraderie one could no longer mine? Is improved human rights worth lost status for whites? Why is there anger and resentment against the changes some assert are “improvements”? Are we in the midst of a culture war hyper-polarized between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump? What will be its outcomes? Will we acknowledge the human nature of transgender existence, or redefine transgender nature out of existence? Will we keep caging babies because they’re brown and not American? Will we consider such acts an ancient human defect, or a new improvement in human nature? Do we today lie, indoctrinate, and belittle less than we once did? Or do we do it more than ever?

And what of our spirit? With church attendance declining, and even atheism and agnosticism facing flat growth, in what can we believe or disbelieve anymore? Are we now — and have we always — drifted in a moral vacuum with ever-newer gadgets, diversions, drugs, and rumors feeding our prejudice? If we’re less violent, is it because we’re better people, or because our ancient desires now find their catharsis in TV crime shows and disaster movies? If we’ve moved on from our dark past, shouldn’t Hallmark Channel movies and cute, fluffy cat videos be our viewing pleasure?

Have we improved our environment? Or are we causing an Armageddon of rising oceans and escalating cyclones, droughts, flood, pestilence, and war? Will the species extinction we are causing possibly include us? Will measured declines in human violence and hunger still be meaningful if millions of our grandchildren perish, cursing us with their dying breath, because we didn’t want to use mass transit or give up beef? Or will such “End of Days” scenarios all go the way of Y2K, while we humans beings move ever onward and upward, our feet now free of every trace of the clay from whence we came?

On Monday, November 19 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if we’re improving, or even can improve. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may make us a little better. But our human nature will certainly improve, because we will have treats!

October 2018 – Corporate Farming: Helpful or Harmful?

October 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Corporate Farming: Helpful or Harmful?

  Monday, October 15, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

A bumper sticker states, “Crime Doesn’t Pay, Neither Does Farming!”. But if that’s true why do companies like Cargill and Monsanto seem to have so much money? Is the family farm dead or gone commercial? Are practices like overuse of antibiotics and hormones, emphasis on single crops like corn or soy beans, damage to the climate from food animals who produce methane, and slaughterhouse practices barred from public disclosure by agricultural protection laws proof our food may be killing us? Should we be more organic or make food in labs? Are we in a brave new world and not in Kansas anymore?

Do agricultural giants dictate farm practices for the worse? Is the family farm just a cover for these activities? Are captive farmers told what crops to plant, what herbicides and pesticides to use, and what antibiotics to feed livestock—all at prices sinking below a sustainable level for a viable independent farm? Or are farmers capitalists who make economic decisions based on their own best interests? Is a medium farmer selling crops to China and beyond a rube who must be protected? If there are abuses, is this rural entrepreneur an aider and abettor not a victim?

Is the problem agri-business or a government which buys votes with price supports and subsidies? What of large retailers like Walmart who make profits by squeezing suppliers? Doesn’t the consumer only care about what is paid for a full shopping cart not what is done to fill it? As America moves beyond agriculture and manufacturing to a service and information-based economy, how important is farming? Dinosaurs may be cute, but aren’t they relics of a mostly forgotten past or a minor cog in a massive machine?

Should we be growing animals to slaughter and eat them? Isn’t methane from cattle as much a cause of climate change as burning coal? Can’t we grow food in petri dishes and not use up the soil? In Star Trek food comes out of machines and Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, etc. seem to like it. Why not forget organic and go to better living through chemistry? Besides in Ancient and Medieval times when people only had organic food to eat, didn’t they all die by 40?

Do we need to rethink food, farming, and eating? A Green Revolution has massively increased food production, but farmers in India without access to new seeds and technology may be driven to suicide. Free range chickens may make us feel better, but they may peck each other to death. Besides we’re going to eat them anyway so why try to make them happy? Isn’t a pig just a machine to convert corn to pork? Do we sentimentalize a process which owes more to Darwinian survival of the fittest or least tasty than to religious or moral values?

On Monday, October 15 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if there should be freedom to farm or protection from agriculture. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will be the root of our discussion. Treats without meat or even food content will be available to all!

October 2018 – The Decline of Christian Churches

October 2018 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

The Decline of Christian Churches

  Thursday, October 11, 2018
  11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

A Conversation with Jean Hopfensperger, writer for the StarTribune and author of the series on the decline in Christian Churches in Minnesota. Christian churches are declining in Minnesota. Why? How is your community experiencing this decline? What’s to be done about it?

Free and open to people of all faith traditions. Limited to first 30 to register with

September 2018 – Is Slavery Over?

September 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Is Slavery Over?

  Monday, September 17, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Lincoln freed the enslaved — didn’t he? The 13th Amendment ratified in 1866 officially ended slavery in America. But are there still relics of slavery that treat African-Americans as having a lesser status than those of European descent? Is slavery limited to the treatment of blacks in the Antebellum South or does it include more widespread actions against them — as well as against Asian, Hispanic, and Native Americans? Is sex trafficking a form of slavery? Can debt, financial need or addiction create conditions of economic slavery? Can we even enslave ourselves, through bad choices, prejudice, and fear of freedom? Who is enslaved and who is free?

In post-Civil War America, blacks were often stripped of the rights provided by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Enslavement became debt-laden sharecropping under cheating landlords, indefinite servitude in chain gangs for “crimes” such as “loitering,” segregated but “equal” education and commerce, and the right to vote for those smart enough to pass a poll test, rich enough to pay a poll tax, and brave enough to face a noose. (And, today, for those lucky enough to not have been imprisoned for marijuana use, to have a driver’s license, and/or to be a week-day stroll from an unclosed polling station.) How much freedom is this?

Michelle Alexander argues in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness that our “War on Drugs,” and our justice system that punishes minorities more harshly, continues these “badges and relics” of slavery. Others point to racial gerrymandering and selective election law enforcement as denying the right to vote on account of race. But are these just excuses, belied by the successful votes of those who can work with the system?

Exclusion laws once targeted Asian immigrants with immediate imprisonment unless they carried papers. Today’s legal immigrants may be deprived of citizenship if they’ve ever filed for Obamacare-or earned-income- or Obamacare- tax credits (even if they were required to do so by ACA & IRS law). Native Americans’ land is now the “best” place to run pipelines. Must one be descended from enslaved ancestors to be less than free? Is slavery a symbol of pervasive white privilege? In our soon-to-be majority-minority nation, will all minorities equally share the stigma of lesser status, including blue collar and rural white citizens who see their way of life as under assault by groups who don’t accept their “American” values? Or will a shrinking population of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants still exercise inordinate power and privilege?

Are women being enslaved in an American Patriarchy? Did the #MeToo movement expose a culture of sexual abuse, or a culture of complaint? Is sex-trafficking within and across our borders the logical result of tyrannical attitudes towards “weak women”? Or was depriving all women of equal rights still not as bad as slavery and its lingering effects? Should we put gradations on evil? And should we just look in our own backyards, or consider other countries, like Sudan, where slavery is still practiced? Do we include child and debt slavery in India? What about “sexual tourism” victims in Thailand? Or peasants laboring for drug cartels in Latin America? What about the gulags of North Korea? The organ-donating prisoners of China? Can we “save” the world if our own house isn’t in order? (Should we ask a young black man making license plates for 50 cents a day in a for-profit prison, sentenced to life without parole for selling marijuana cigarettes to white kids driving into the city from their gated suburban communities?)

Do we need society to enslave us, to protect us? Can freedom of action land us in dead-end existences? Can drink, drugs, sexual pleasures, and tapping credit to gain the trappings of affluence dig us into Hell as “a prison with the locks on the inside?” Do we enslave ourselves? Are we ready for authenticity and liberty? How do our philosophical or economic worldviews, our ethical or spiritual orientations, or our religious or humanist traditions affect our attitudes about enslavement and freedom?

On Monday, September 17 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if we are free at last, or enslaved since the beginning. Our reasoning interbelief dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may be a path to liberation. But the treats always are free!

August 2018 – Are National Borders Ethical?

August 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Are National Borders Ethical?

  Monday, August 20, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Is all the world one country, and all humankind its citizens — just as our cosmonauts and astronauts behold us from distant space? Should our borders have visitor centers, not gates and walls? Or would that lead to chaos and peril? Can a nation even exist without borders to define it? Do we still need nations? Do we have no obligation to those who look, speak, and act strangely to us? Or are these the very strangers The Bible said we should welcome and “treat as a citizen among us,” if we’re truly “God’s Country,” the melting pot and beacon of hope to the world? Is the only true border on the “pale blue dot” we call home the border in our hearts?

Experiments in multi-nationalism like the European Union and NAFTA are under stress. Were they pragmatic blueprints, or utopian dreams become nightmares? If jobs are lost, must trade barriers be erected, or would that mean even more lost jobs? Can any nation absorb an endless stream of refugees and migrants? What would be the costs and who would pay them? What would be the benefits and who would receive them? If US drug use causes drug wars in Central America, aren’t we partly responsible for its asylum seekers? If NATO supported the Arab Spring and invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, can we let the resulting refugees drown in the Mediterranean Sea? But is there a danger that the refugees fleeing wars will bring war with them? Should countries’ problems only be solved “in-country”?

Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Breathes there a man, with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, ‘This is my own, my native land!’” Yet Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Can they both be right? Nationalism as we know it may date back only to the 18th century. So why fight wars over it? Is a nation those who speak a common language, inherit a common ethnicity, and share a common history or mythology — the mystic chords of memory cited by Lincoln in arguing against a Southern Confederacy? If a nation eludes definition, why set up borders to defend it? Or are the things which mean the most to us the hardest to describe because of their emotional power?

Can America ethically have borders? The Statue of Liberty asks to be brought the masses who are huddled, tired, poor, homeless, and wretched — but yearning to be free. Does it matter if those yearning to be free come from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia? Some say the US is a nation based on a creed of rejecting tyranny, concocted in anti-colonialism and clarified in civil war and civil rights movements. Its white Anglo-Saxon Protestants have added the Catholic, the African-American, the Native American, the Hispanic, the Asian, and refugees from wars they had a part in. If US political and economic policies create a new world order, shouldn’t those harmed be given sanctuary here? Or is this sentimentality, refusal to recognize that all countries harm others but needn’t redress their actions? Who says we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers, here in God’s Country?

Are borders a moral & religious issue, not just a geographic & historical accident? Is the “Hill” on which America’s “Shining City” sits not also in truth a burial mound — the sediment of generations of conquest, resettlement, and buyout? Do we need to know who comes here and why? Is the immigrant more dangerous, or the native-born? If citizens need jobs, should illegal workers be deported? If citizens refuse the work, should these workers be welcomed back, and paid a fair wage? How much change can we take? We required decades to welcome Catholics and Jews; can’t we have more time to adjust to the next wave? When Jesus spoke of helping the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the prisoner, did He mean immigrants, too? Are borders Caesar’s business, not God’s? Or do our values, whether religious or secular, require more of us?

On Monday, August 20 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will see if boundaries are a good thing or a bad thing. Our reasoning dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully keep us all in bounds. But regardless of where you’ve come from, all will receive treats!