Author Archives: Emma Grisanzio

Healing Minnesota Stories Moves to Minnesota Council of Churches


August 1, 2018
Rev. Jerad Morey, Program and Communicators Director
Minnesota Council of Churches
(612) 230-3211

Minnesota Council of Churches Proud to Welcome Healing Minnesota Stories; Announces 3 Dakota Sacred Sites Tours

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN – (August 1, 2018) – Healing Minnesota Stories, a program dedicated to creating dialogue, understanding and healing between Native peoples and Minnesota’s faith communities, is now a part of the Minnesota Council of Churches.

The program began in 2011, growing from a vision of Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs and supported by the Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN). Jacobs, who is Mohican, had a series of dreams about Pilot Knob Hill, a sacred burial site for the Dakota people. He began conversations with Dakota elders to understand the dreams. With their blessing, Jacobs and Bob Klanderud (Dakota) began offering Dakota sacred sites tours to religious communities, bringing more awareness to the Dakota history, their culture, and their ongoing presence in this area.

At its core, Healing Minnesota Stories believes that Native people have suffered deep trauma over many years and all who call Minnesota home are lesser for it. Because Christian churches were full participants in historic traumas, they must be partners in healing. Healing Minnesota Stories believes healing is doable and churches and other faith communities have a role to play in it.

Minnesota Council of Churches CEO Rev. Dr. Curtiss Paul DeYoung says “We at the Minnesota Council of Churches are glad to welcome Healing Minnesota Stories and Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs into our programming. Racial justice is a priority for the Council. The Sacred Sites Tours and other Healing Minnesota Stories programming help the church, and all Minnesotans, confront our state’s history and our historic complicity in the harm done to Native Americans. Rev. Jacobs will also provide leadership in our broader programming as the Director of Racial Justice for MCC.”

While Healing Minnesota Stories began with the Saint Paul Interfaith Network, the organization has blessed its relocation to MCC. Rev. Tom Duke, SPIN’s Founder, says “We are happy to see Healing Minnesota Stories transition to the Minnesota Council of Churches. It will give the program more visibility and statewide reach, as well as direct relationship with MCC member denominations. MCC also has a good track record of interfaith relationships which can benefit the program.”

The organizations have long been interconnected. MCC has been promoting the events and actions of Healing Minnesota Stories to the 3,500 clergy and lay people who subscribe to its newsletter shortly after SPIN began supporting it. Adding the HMS program to the organization’s racial justice initiative is like welcoming family home.

“In 2012 Healing Minnesota Stories partnered with the Minnesota Council of Churches to raise volunteer support and public awareness of events observing the 150th anniversary of the US-Dakota war of 1862. MCC was a vital partner in that work especially as we sought support from faith communities both in the metro area and in greater Minnesota,” says Jacobs. “I’m excited for this opportunity with MCC as we begin to dream how we might continue and expand the work of Healing Minnesota Stories on a larger scale.”

The Healing Minnesota Stories program also includes opportunities for speaking engagements with congregations and community groups on Native American spirituality, local history and barriers to free practice of Native religions, presentations about controversial images in State Capitol Art, and film presentations on the U.S.-Dakota War and the Doctrine of Discovery.

Three Sacred Sites Tours have been scheduled this fall. Sacred Sites Tours all meet at Church of St. Peter in Mendota Heights, 1405 Sibley Memorial Highway, Saint Paul, MN 55120. The announced tours are:

  • Saturday, September 1, 10:00am – 2:00pm
  • Saturday, September 29, 10:00am – 2:00pm
  • Saturday, October 20, 10:00am – 2:00pm

For more information about Healing Minnesota Stories, go to To register for a tour, email

About Minnesota Council of Churches
Representing 25 member judicatories and about 1,000,000 Christians, the Minnesota Council of Churches’ mission is to manifest unity in the church and to build the common good in the world. The Minnesota Council of Churches programs include welcoming refugees, civic engagement and fostering ecumenical relationships. For more information, visit

July 2018 – Can Life Be Meaningful If Death Is the End?

July 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Can Life Be Meaningful If Death Is the End?

  Monday, July 16, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Are we all like the atheist in the funeral parlor, “All dressed up and nowhere to go?” If this life is all we get, how do we find meaning? Is the afterlife promised in religious traditions something we should plan our lives around? Should we look to a perhaps unknowable future? Or live for ourselves, our loved ones, our country, our world, and our inheritors? Where does, and where should, our meaning come from?

Is immortality based on the memory we leave behind? Is it enough to be alive to family and friends after we are gone? Why not live for wine, debauchery, and song, and let posterity take care of itself? Are hedonists the only rationalists? Why help others unless there is a concrete reward? Why give to charity without a sizable tax deduction or a memorial plaque? Or perhaps, if this life is all we get, shouldn’t we be inspired to make the world a little better for our existence? Aren’t we made of the relationships we have with others? Don’t we owe a debt to Humanity — or to our own humanity?

Is immortality based on the “memes” we leave behind? Is it enough to have first voiced, “All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players?” Or if one’s not a Shakespeare, is it meaningful enough to have been the unknown creator of the “Hang in There” poster? Is our life meaningful if we cast a few pearls of homespun wisdom to our kids before exiting the stage? Or if we stand on a soapbox and try to make a difference? What if we just “chop wood, carry water,” and live in peace with the world? Would we, and the fallen sparrow, both live a meaningful life?

Existentialist philosophers speak of a life flowing from the choices we make. We create our essence from the fact of our existence. Are we then our own validation of meaning? Does anyone actually live that way? At decision points aren’t our actions predictable? Can they really give us meaning? Besides isn’t life something that happens to us, not something we control? Is this a vision of a cold, arid universe for loners?

Is the religious afterlife so wonderful? Is Christian Heaven a place to play harps all day? Are the delights of Muslim Paradise just the Playboy Mansion in the sky? Who gets to go there? The prudes, prigs, and self-righteous with whom we wouldn’t want to spend an eternity? If most folks go to Hell, why bother being good? Reincarnation may include coming back to live again as a cockroach — inspiring? Would death be more meaningful than this type of afterlife? (Or maybe cockroaches have gotten a bad rap?)

The Sufi saint, Rabi’a al-Adawiyya is claimed to have walked the streets of Basra with a pot of fire in one hand and a bucket of water in the other, saying, “I wish to put out the fires of Hell with my water and burn up Paradise with my fire-pot.” The fear of punishment and the promise of reward were, to her, obstacles to simply loving Allah. In Judaism there is a concept of healing the Earth of the harm we do it and walking with the Divine on His path. In this conception of religion, is life meaningful even if death is the end?

Who gets to have meaning? The regular worshipper? The good deed doer? The friend in need? The diligent family member? The celebrity? The ascetic hermit? The pioneer? The hoarder who dies with the most toys? All, or none of the above? It’s said that none should be deemed happy before his or her death, because fortunes may change. Is meaning the same — applied to our lives only in retrospect? Is it unknown whether we live a life of true meaning until after we die and our life is weighed in the balance, whether by God or by History?

On Monday, July 16, from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask for meaning in this life (if not the next). Our reasoning dialogue’s agreements of acceptance, open-mindedness, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully help us steer a worthwhile course. But even if we decide life is meaningless; there will be treats!

Transitional Steering Group Meeting Notes – July 11, 2018


JULY 11, 2018


Present were: Gail Anderson, Jessi LeClear-Vachta, Curtiss DeYoung, Adam Stock Spilker, Mary Pickard, Ben Connelly, Tom Duke, Onder Uluyol, Judith Lies, Ethan Levin (intern at Mount Zion).

Adam Spilker facilitated the meeting and opened it with one of the learnings from the Poor People’s Campaign articulated by Rob Eller-Isaacs at the last meeting: Deep relationship building can’t be hurried.

Introductions: Tom Duke led a discussion asking everyone to make a diagram of their networks and then to reflect on it with the group. He also asked them to comment on whether they have talked with anyone about the network since the last meeting. Some observations included:

  • Continuous maintenance of relationships can be difficult. Once good relationships are built, we don’t need to always be in touch because trust has been built. So networks that may seem dormant can be brought alive again fairly quickly.
  • Everyone is connected and has networks. This would be a good exercise for people who may not be aware of the social connections they already have.
  • Networks can include both grassroots people/leaders and positional leaders in large institutions. All networks can be valuable.
  • Using one person in a network (often a grassroots leader) to make an introduction to someone you want to meet can help that new relationship get off to a stronger start (than a cold call).
  • Networks lead to more networks.
  • Judith recommended Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman, which she says makes a strong case for networks in the last chapters.

Report on Organizing Meetings: Gail reported on the work she, Kim Olstad and Kevin Schill have done to recruit volunteers for the tasks that need doing. In addition to the written report they submitted, she noted:

  • About 300 emails were sent asking people to come to one of two meetings held in June, designed to introduce them to the MN-MN and inquire as to their interests.
  • About 32 people said they were interested in volunteering and there were 10-12 people at each meeting. People signed up for specific tasks and divided into groups to discuss their potential approach. The groups included: Communications, Convenings, Fundraising, and Technology.
  • The groups are now in the process of setting up meetings to answer the questions posed by Gail, Kim and Kevin under each task. This should result in a specific work plan. Gail, Kim and Kevin are hoping they are self-managed, but Kevin has agreed to manage the process in the beginning to get things started.
  • There will be a gathering of everyone in all the groups sometime late September or early October to create the opportunity for cross-pollination.
  • Gail reported there was a lot of energy in the room – lots of enthusiasm for the vision.
  • Most people were interested in the convenings work group. It will be necessary to recruit more people for the other work groups and to identify people who have significant expertise in communications, technology and fundraising.

Discussion focused on a question about time: Will the convenings draw us away from our mission because they might require deep staffing capacity that we don’t now have and limit our ability to achieve our other goals. Gail responded that it’s true, these could soak up a lot of resources and it will be important to set up expectations that the groups will be self-managed. Examples of groups might be something on higher education or racism. It is envisioned that individuals in the groups will “own” them because they are invested in the work and want them to continue as learning communities because they get something out of them.

Prospectus: The group agreed they like the revised prospectus, including the tag line and mission statement. While it can always be revised and is considered a living document, we’ve talked about it enough for now (Good Enough, Push On (GEPO)).

Requests for Help: There is a need for someone to help engage African American stakeholders, which we’ve been unsuccessful at thus far. We would like the Black Church involved on the Transitional Steering Committee or task groups. There is also a need for people to raise funds for the February event and to plan it. No one volunteered to take the lead on either of these items so they were tabled for now. In discussion the following thoughts were expressed:

Annual Event:

  • Someone needs to be paid to plan the annual meeting. It might be more of a priority now to find the funding for the network so we have someone to do it.
  • It was noted that someone can be hired to plan the event and the funding for that can be separate from operations (although it was agreed we also need to find the operations funding). Event funding can include sponsorships and contributions from local faith groups. It’s important to start planning now if we want an event in February.
  • Tom agreed to check the treasury to see how much money we have now that might be used for event planning.
  • The question was asked, “How can the event be generative and how can we use it to move the network forward?” It was agreed that we need to be clear about how the event last year was not a “one and done” event, but rather set the stage for the work we’re doing now and the next event will also be planned as part of a larger strategy to continue moving the work forward.
  • Another question: Are we doing the event to celebrate the end of a year or to initiate the beginning of a new year? What is it for? Are the convenings to feed into the annual event?

Operations Funding:

  • Tom has asked Melanie Lund (a fundraiser SPIN has used in the past) to come up with a list of potential funding sources. It was suggested we should try to find about $15,000 for the annual event and $100,000 per year over three years for operations (but it was also acknowledged we need to develop a budget).

African American Stakeholders:

  • It was noted that most ministers in the Black Churches are underfunded and over-committed. We may need to find ways other than regular meetings for people to participate.
  • There might be convenings/learning groups or other specific activities that will be of interest to the Black clergy. We might need to do a better job of identifying where our interests intersect and be more creative about how to connect.
  • Another question: Why do we want the Black Church involved? It was noted we have a common desire for social justice.

Name Check: It was agreed that the name Minnesota Multi-faith Network (MN-MN) will work, possibly with the acronym using a small n for Minnesota, i.e., MnMN.

Fiscal Sponsor: Tom announced that the board of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul has agreed that IA will be fiscal sponsor of MN-MN. A formal agreement will need to be developed and approved.

A “Network Approach” Learning Event: It was agreed that it would be a good idea to invite some local experts in networking to do a tutorial for the Transitional Steering Committee. Timing will likely be the next meeting on August 29. While primarily for this committee, we will also invite people from the task groups and the Selma 70 to join us. It was suggested that we might incorporate this kind of educational opportunity into an annual event.

Next meeting: The next meeting will be Wednesday, August 29 from 12:30 – 2:00 pm.

June 2018 – Are God and Science Mutually Exclusive

June 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Are God and Science Mutually Exclusive?

  Monday, June 18, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

To prominent atheists Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion and Jeff Coyne in Faith Versus Fact the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” But what of the Catholic Church, which in 1996 accepted evolution, in a proclamation by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences? Muslim authors argue that many scientific discoveries are confirmed by the Qur’an, including the origin of life in water. Is the issue that scientists claim the only worthwhile data comes from the scientific method? Is this claim a type of faith? If God does exist, does it matter what scientists believe? And if God doesn’t, can science prove it?

To Christians especially, the theories of Charles Darwin have been seen as an existential threat to Genesis and other teachings of the Bible. If dinosaurs predated man by millions of years, how can Adam and Eve appear on Day 6? Do geological layers of sediment prove or disprove the Great Flood of Noah? Does “nature red in tooth and claw” per Alfred Lord Tennyson fit with a Creation described as “very good?” But doesn’t the Bible agree things went bad quickly with Adam and Eve eating forbidden fruit and Cain killing Abel? Isn’t a nature which is both cruel and beautiful consistent with a Fall? Or is this a myth trying to make sense of an often disturbing reality whose cruelty and beauty are the intimately unavoidable consequences of evolution by natural selection?

Is the apparent conflict a secular myth? Ancients and Medieval scribes knew the world was round. Columbus was questioned not because he argued the world was round, but because he proposed China was just west of Europe. Is the war between science and religion a false narrative to exalt the scientist over the theist? Will religion collapse if some lost scripture contradicts the New Testament? Or haven’t lost gospels been found, considered, and discarded? Was Matthew Arnold correct when he stated, in the poem Dover Beach, that the replacements for the Sea of Faith offered “neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain?” In our “Brave New World” of science as supreme, what is gained and what is lost? Diseases are conquered and communication made instantaneous, but is this all that’s necessary for a worthwhile life?

The late Ian Barbour, who taught in Northfield, MN, offered four models of the relationship between science and religion. First is fundamental conflict (suggested by the topic’s question). Second is independence — or, articulated by scientist Stephen Jay Gould in Rocks of Ages, Non-Overlapping Magisterium (NOMA); Science answers its questions and religion answers others. (Or as Galileo claimed, “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”) Third is dialogue between the disciplines, with the assumption each has something to say to the other. The final approach is integration, with each (but perhaps especially science) having an impact on the other. But if God does not exist, why bother with having a relationship with nothing?

How well do Science or Religion address these fundamental problems of life: Why is there such cruelty in nature? What is beauty and why do we seek it? Why are some poor people much happier than the rich? What exactly is love? How should we handle disagreement about fundamental values? By inquisitions, or by dropping atom bombs? If Reason’s the answer, why are we so emotional? If Faith’s the answer, why do we doubt?

On Monday, June 18, from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to resolve the conflict between science and religion or perhaps deny it exists. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will help us remain reasoning or at least reluctant to throw the first stone. Treats will still be provided, even if Religion and Science both agree they’re not good for you!

May-June 2018: Taking Heart Open Houses

Taking Heart Open Houses – 2018

Taking Heart Open Houses is a long-running program coordinated by the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC) and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MAS-MN) to bring Christians and members of other faith communities together with Muslims for food and conversation during Ramadan. Minnesota mosques and Islamic community centers welcome their non-Muslim neighbors for a traditional Iftar, inviting a time of encounter and learning. Growing in popularity, Taking Heart saw more than 1100 non-Muslims attend Open House Iftar dinners in 2017.

Please visit to learn more about Taking Heart. Registration is now open so you can sign up for one or more events. Currently there are twenty Iftars from which to choose; as more mosques sign up to host their gatherings will be added to the registration page.

Bring a friend and learn more about your Muslim neighbors! These events are free and open to the public.

If you have any questions, please contact the Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert at (412) 638-0680 (cell) or

Transitional Steering Group Meeting Notes – June 6, 2018

June 6, 2018


Present: Gail Anderson, Jessi LeClear-Vachta, Curtiss DeYoung, Adam Stock Spilker, Mary Pickard, Ben Connelly, Rob Eller-Isaacs, Randi Roth, Zafar Siddiqui, Prabhat Tekriwal, Tom Duke

  1. Introductions around
  2. Story of organizing the Poor People’s Campaign-MN, Rob Eller-Isaacs

    • Rob was asked by Rev. William Barber who is heading up the national PPC to lead organizing for Minnesota/Twin Cities
    • This process has been a study in decentralized vs. centralized organizing with elements of each
    • Messages from the national PPC are sometimes contradictory: do local organizing in deeply collaborative way; follow these detailed instructions
    • Rob brings his own networks to the work, which are heavily white, older, liberal
    • He sought to find local partners already in similar work (on the focal areas of economic injustice, environmental degradation, military spending, and racism), and found mostly young activists and their groups (e.g., Interfaith Power and Light, MARCH, Fight for 15, Jewish Community Organizing, MIRAC, etc.)
    • The principles suggested by national campaign are good but tend to reflect centralized leadership style. The local younger leaders took it to decentralized approach. This may foster humility for the older, first echelon organizers, who may see such a new effort as another new effort which will compete for the same dollars they are scrambling for. PPC is deeply counter-cultural. It’s agile and not incorporated, but required the sponsorship of solid, established, substantial partner organizations. Unity Church-Unitarian, for one, has supplied that. Still Rob found himself taking a stance of not second guessing tactics of the younger leaders, providing space, and raising money.
    • This effort had a deadline, specific dates when actions were to be taken in concert with the national effort. Thus it didn’t have time to build new and more relationships that could have helped deepen and expand the range of groups involved. The organizers have grieved over the homogeneity of those involved. Some additional people and groups of diverse communities have been invited but not able or willing to be involved at this point.
    • Some organizations don’t have the capacity or assets to be involved as do the more established ones. Others may fear association with more radical groups.
    • At the first meetings/actions one didn’t see the CEO’s,  bishops or current established religious leaders. Some have joined in later actions.
    • It’s all about personal relationships and trust, which enables joint involvement and actions.
    • A question remains: what will happen to the coalition/relationships after the days of action?
    • Some lessons: deep relationship-building can’t be hurried; the differing levels of assets of organizations needs to be remembered and respected; both centralized and decentralized aspects can help but a challenging dance is required; supporting younger, diverse, less established leaders without controlling may be the challenging role of more established leaders/organizations. More lessons may be learned in further reflection and from different voices after the campaign.
  3. Review of draft prospectus

    • Question raised: Where is the general public? Will we seek their participation to volunteer and/or donate? Some people will respond especially if they don’t have a network, and individual donors may be a primary source of funding. Will it be in the scope of the Network to support the public? It may be that there is a public facing aspect of the network’s functioning, but that it primarily sees its stakeholders, constituency, or customers as faith communities and interfaith organizations/groups.
    • Related question: Will the Network have “membership?” Will it be by organization? Would member/participating organizations be willing to contribute funds? It may depend on the size of expected contribution. What would be the criteria for membership? Is it possible to have members and still remain open to and serve others? Underlying these questions are the questions: Who do we want to show up? Who do we want to serve? And, is there a demand or pull for this network to exist and work?
    • Can the Network relate effectively to people who are not part of a faith community (the “nones” or a-religious)? Can we be at least aware of these folks in our language and include language that makes it inclusive, as in “..and those of no faith.” We might need definitions somewhere for “faith leader” and “interfaith leader” –one that’s inclusive of those with “no faith.”
    • Annual event is important. The Network will grow as more people come and more people see others.
    • As a “hub” or network of others groups/organizations it will be a challenge to fund. We shouldn’t try to make the Network more than it is or can be.
    • We need a staged work plan that flows from this prospectus.
    • We need wording/function that helps groups and programs reach to groups that are not being reached at present. For example, the Taking Heart Iftars are attracting mostly white people. Could ways be found to attract others?
    • The tagline needs to be changed. The following suggested: “Connecting and supporting multi-faith work to heal the world.”  (instead of “Connecting and supporting multi-faith organizations healing the world”)
    • The mission statement needs to be changed. The following is suggested: “The Minnesota Multi-faith Network is the statewide network supporting faith and interfaith leaders and organizations who work together for a more just and loving world.” (instead of “The Minnesota Multi-faith Network initiative is the statewide network supporting multi-faith leaders and organizations to work together for the common good.”) Revised prospectus attached.
  4. Name
    The following name was suggested:  Minnesota Multi-faith Network, with acronym: MN-MN, or MNMN.  One other name was suggested, Minnesota Interfaith Coalition with acronym, MIC, pronounced like “mike.”
  5. Fiscal sponsor
    TCIN has suspended functioning and is ready to transmit its funds to the new network entity.  SPIN is in the process of determining what will happen to its current programs; once that’s determined it may have funds to contribute. The total from both could be approximately $15,000. Currently SPIN and TCIN are splitting expenses for the network 50-50. We will need a fiscal sponsor to receive the funds and dispense them. Randi Roth is willing to submit a request to the board of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul for it to serve as fiscal sponsor. By consensus it was agreed to submit that request. A one-page request will be given to Randi.
  6. Interfaith Response Network
    Adam Spilker and Randi Roth also serve on the steering committee for a new initiative entitled Interfaith Response Network. It aims to provide a means for multi-faith religious leaders to make statements and counteract acts of violence directed at faith communities. It is envisioned that this network can coordinate with MN-MN.
  7. Participants in this meeting were asked to commit to speak to one other person before the next meeting about MN-MN, with message based on the prospectus, to let them know about this initiative and to receive any feedback or questions for us.  Every one present named a group or person they will speak with.
  8. The next meeting will be convened in the second week of July. Watch for notices. Participants are asked to fill out a meeting time preference form. (See attached.) Forms received from Jessi, Ben, Zafar, and Erich.


Notes by Tom Duke and Adam Spilker

May 2018: Where Do Our Thoughts and Prayers Go?

Where Do Our Thoughts and Prayers Go?


May 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café
Monday, May 21, 2018
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

When we offer a person in distress our thoughts and prayers, where do we think they go? To heaven for perusal by God or specially assigned angels? To the afflicted person to provide solace and assurance that someone cares? To the empty air helping no one at all? Does the phrase remain meaningful in modern times, as a real recognition of tragedy and a communal blessing that makes a difference? Or in the Facebook era has it now become just a cynical “thumbs up” meme for offering best wishes as a substitute for real assistance?

When confronted by suffering, is there still an instinctive need to say “we care”? Is caring a waste of breath if not followed by deeds? Is Compassion the greatest expression of the divine (or its secular equivalent) within us? Or is Compassion only hypocrisy unless it’s expressed physically, not verbally? Do our thoughts and prayers reveal the kind of compassion described by John Donne, “No man is an island, Entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main…Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind”? When we offer merely “thoughts” or “prayers,” are we really saying, “I said I’m sorry for you; what more do you want?” Do such thoughts and prayers go not straight to Heaven, but to Hell? In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the family and friends of financially troubled George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) pray for divine aid for him. As a result, angel trainee Clarence appears, to prevent George’s suicide and show him his life did matter — to the whole town of Bedford Falls and to many throughout the world. But didn’t the many townspeople rushing to his home with their thanks for his past charity, and with their money to cancel his debt, help George more? Is this just Frank Capra’s fairy tale? If so, why do people keep watching the movie? Do we see many angels these days and would we recognize them? Are true guardian angels celestial beings, or are they more down-to-earth?

Do thoughts and prayers have spiritual weight and power? Does our long-distance concern nevertheless still strengthen our afflicted friends? Prayer circles are sponsored by the religious, with prayers on behalf of assigned strangers. If the stranger gets better, is it coincidence or something more? Does the knowledge that you’re in the thoughts and prayers of thousands bring more strength than the knowledge that you’re in the thoughts and prayers of one?

Do we really want all of our prayers answered? In the words of poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Since in His silence and refusal lies their self-development, so God abides unheeding many prayers.” Country singer Garth Brooks sings, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers,” as he beholds the woman he long-ago prayed to have who is no longer the angel he imagined, and sees anew his life with the family he later found. Should we like Janis Joplin pray that God gives us a Mercedes Benz? Wouldn’t a drug-free existence have done her more good?

Do we even want prayer answered at all, or should prayers go into a celestial “circular file”? Isn’t it better if God (or Nature) just lets us work things out when they happen? Isn’t life our own responsibility, not the charity case of a far off or even close up deity? Aren’t petitionary prayers mistaking God for Santa Claus? Perhaps God and Santa aren’t “out there” — as much as they are “in here”?

But in the end, isn’t there real comfort in thoughts and prayers? Don’t believers only want God to be with them, no matter the outcome? Don’t both believers and non-believers benefit from knowing that others, even strangers, wish them well? When we ask for help for others, don’t we become better somehow? Should we let human hypocrisy spoil angelic sentiments?  Aren’t all charitable acts, whether done by the religious or the atheist, a hope and prayer for a better world?

On Monday, May 21 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will attempt to put a tracking device on thoughts and prayers to ascertain their final destination. Our inter-belief reasoning dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will be our thought and prayer. But whatever you’re thinking and whether or not you’ve been praying, there will be treats!

May 2018: Poor People’s Campaign: An Interfaith Informational Forum

Poor People’s Campaign: An Interfaith Informational Forum


May 2018 Midday Interfaith Dialogue
Thursday, May 3, 2018
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, 519 Oak Grove St, Minneapolis
Parking in the Cathedral parking lot of Oak Grove St. (Map)

The Poor People’s Campaign is back! This spring, from the Monday after Mother’s Day to June 21, the 50th anniversary of the killing of Goodman, Schwerner, and Cheney, there will be a multi-religious, multiracial effort to overcome poverty, racism, the war economy, ecological devastation, and to build unity across lines of division in America. The Campaign is led by the Rev. William Barber II, head of Repairers of the Breach and the leader of the Moral Monday’s movement, now called the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. To learn what will be happening in Minnesota and how you and your community can be involved, we invite you to an informational program at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral on Loring Park across from the Walker Art Gallery on Thursday, May 3, 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. There is parking in the Cathedral parking lot. Lunch will not be served, but coffee, tea, water, and cookies and bars will be available, bag lunches welcome. Please pass this information on to colleagues, your community, and your friends. It’s time to do all we can to overcome poverty and injustice in America. Open to all interested persons. Reservation is not required.

Watch the video

April 2018: Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Anti-Semitism

Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Anti-Semitism


An Open Lecture and Discussion for Clergy and Community by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin

Co-Sponsored by Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, and Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN)

Friday, April 27, 2018
9 – 10:30 am
Mount Zion Temple, 1300 Summit Avenue, St Paul

$10/Person. Please RSVP by April 13 – RSVP here or 651-698-3881. Light breakfast served.

A survey of the oldest ‘ism’ from Paul to the city of St Paul.

  • How does anti-Semitism intersect with the scourges of Islamophobia and racism?
  • How is anti-Semitism unique among the ‘isms’ in church and state?
  • How does anti-Semitism manifest itself on the left and on the right of the political spectrum?
  • How are cultural norms shifting and why should that concern you as an American?

Rabbi Salkin is blessed with a national and international reputation as one of America’s most quoted rabbis and thought leaders. His words have been cited in The New York Times, The New Republic, and USA Today. He has appeared on many television and radio programs, and has spoken in more than a hundred communities, including in Israel, Great Britain, Cuba, and Poland. His colleagues describe him as “intellectually fearless;” “an activist for Jewish ideas;” and “a public intellectual of the pulpit.”

Rabbi Salkin’s books have been published by Jewish Lights Publishing and the Jewish Publication Society. His books have dealt with such subjects as the spirituality of career, masculinity, Israel, righteous gentiles, and Jewish history. Several of his books have won national awards. Rabbi Salkin has been named responsible for the spiritual revival of bar and bat mitzvah in America – largely through his first book, Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim The Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah (Jewish Lights Publishing). His new book, The JPS Bnai Mitzvah Torah Commentary, was published in Spring, 2017.

Rabbi Salkin’s blog, “Martini Judaism – for those who want to be shaken and stirred,” won the 2015 Religion Communicators Council (RCC) Wilbur Award for Faith-based Blogs. His essays have appeared in numerous periodicals, including The Washington Post, Forward, JTA, Tablet, Wall Street Journal, Moment, The Jewish Week and Readers Digest.

Transitional Steering Group Meeting Notes – April 26, 2018

April 26, 2018


Present: Tom Duke, Gail Anderson, Erich Rutten, Naaima Kahn, Jessi LeClear-Vachta, Jeff Sartain, Kevin Schill, Curtiss DeYoung, Rabbi Spilker, Mary Pickard, Ben Connelly, David Cournoyer, Prabhat Tekriwal

Introductions/networking – “What’s happening in your organization or one you are involved with?”

Update on process:

  1. This is third meeting (January, March and now April; the second was really two meetings of different people who couldn’t meet at the same time.) We’re continuing to recruit, especially for more diversity. We see these meetings as preliminary with the task of discerning how we go forward, with formation of a board/steering group as well as with the whole initiative. More below.
  2. Formation of a Transitional Operations Group. The SPIN-TCIN Exploration Group which brought us this far has now discontinued operation as it is handing the baton to these new groups. TCIN and SPIN will soon each decide about their own futures; TCIN is not likely to continue. Healing Minnesota Stories is moving out of SPIN to the Minnesota Council of Churches, so SPIN will at least be much reduced in size. Kevin and Gail will soon convene people interested in operations task areas such as: staff plan, communications, technology, budget, fundraising, network weaving/affinity groups, annual event, etc.

Discussion of Roles and Responsibilities paper distributed earlier:

Reflections on vision of the initiative and this transitional steering group

  1. It is a table where people can meet and change the world.
  2. We are thinking the “Transitional” phase may take a commitment of 2 years – that was a surprise to some. There was conversation that one person thought it might have been six months – and said that we need to ensure the group looks and operates the way we want it to operate early on because habits get formed. As people join the group, we need to remember to provide background information on the history of SPIN/TCIN and why this is a next step. The point was made that the SPIN and TCIN aren’t sustainable as they now exist and the multitude of multi-religious work done in Minnesota could be more impactful.
  3. We’re in the messy part of creating a new effort – it’s fluid and we all need to commit to “the dance,” as one participant said.
  4. We’re creating a nest with some eggs (metaphor for the network) – everyone has an egg that needs to be nurtured in the nest. If Erich has an egg that’s ready to hatch, we help him with that.
  5. How do we relate to the general public? We should be visible to the general public, not just to each other. We need to bring in the unexpected people – those who aren’t currently involved in multi-religious work.
  6. Our goal is to “deepen the impact.”
  7. We’re not necessarily trying to get people involved in OUR new effort – we’re creating a space where people can find other organizations where they can do this work and participate. We’re facilitating others to do – we’re bringing the relationships together. So – deepen the impact through collaboration, networking. We’re an access point, not destination.
  8. Vision statement could be more succinct with less verbiage: “The multi-religious network for social change.” (And we had said we should put something like “alleviate suffering” into vision.)
  9. We’re talking about the nature of the “nest.” What are the values that drive us?
  10. The Steering group is the keeper of the relationships. If the relationships are strong – then we get the magic of a jazz ensemble. It’s essential to be clear about our values – how the nest operates is critical. We should pick some eggs soon – then document how we’re working on this – then tell people about it so we can ask them to join us.
  11. We need to be willing to work a different way – relationships are most important as we deepen our understanding of each other and move toward common action.
  12. Tension – how much time for relationships vs. activities – that will always be a tension. The convening, e.g., Feb 1 Interfaith Harmony event was good.
  13. Question: What does inter-faith have to do with equity? How do our values relate to equity? I trust the people in the nest, but what are we trying to do to move beyond the choir? We have many groups working toward equity – should we tap the groups who are already doing that? How can we help them expand their impact?

Comments on structure:

  1. Should we pay people to do the work? Answer is yes – otherwise we will always only have white people doing the work; and yes because the work needs to get done. Regarding hiring, we need to have:
    (roles/job descriptions):

    • A person who does relationship building – someone of color and from the non-Christian community.
    • Someone who makes everything happen (operations)
    • Administrative support for the nuts and bolts
      This may be similar to how some arts institutions have been organized – artistic director and operations director).
  2. Bremer Foundation is doing some funding of networks.
  3. Perhaps need a temporary fiscal agent, but then a 501c3 would be good.
  4. We need to get to the organizational piece to make this happen – move quickly so we can apply for funding. We need some structure
  5. Do we have some components that are core – 4-5 or a dozen of component organizations as a place to start? Rather than being an umbrella, we are helping from below – in a support role. What are these groups doing for social impact? Is there a way to help them – to leverage their work – to learn from them? OK to get absorbed in the support role.

What kind of commitment is each person able to make? What strong interest?

  • Want to be part of a mini-revolution to make real change, especially re equity.
  • Promotion of diversity within the nest itself—not a separate thing, but the thing itself.
  • Still excited about this process – the network – we need to trust a little more – a leap of action. We need to build it and they will come – we NEED this. It’s good enough. Push on. Do a day-long Feb. event next year.
  • We need to structure, yes, but we need it to be very fluid. Task groups rather than standing committees. Personally, I need to know what is the value from the perspective of those we would support. We need to talk more to those in greater Minnesota. What would they see as value?
  • We’re (MCC) here – we’re not going anywhere. We have to stay in partnerships. Although we are one of the largest Christian organizations, we need to be just one of many. To be the most successful, we need to be many faith groups and ensure that we’re not seen as just one more group; have to demonstrate inclusion This can be in tension limitations of communities who have limited numbers and resources.
  • There are a lot of people who want to plug in somehow – how do they learn about us and get involved in one of the organizations? The web site structure and data base – how can that be done? We need to get more young voices into the process.
  • Equity is important. We have a lot of tribalism right now—our politics is “us against them.” Don’t underestimate the power of encounter and dialogue – of knitting people together. One of the most powerful things I have experienced is bringing religious leaders together for prayer – part of the World Parliament of Religions. Let’s do something in Minnesota like that. The convening is good; it’s subversive power to pray for peace. Maybe piggyback on IRG – do some speakers. Have a whole day of respectful conversations. Heads of local communities – covene them – dialogue and encounter can happen. Maybe connect with what Ibo Patel does – create service opportunities and advertise it – or work with the groups he has formed.
  • Like the “The network…”Diversity – who’s making the nest? We need diverse age, function, and organizational representation. The field has been shallow – we should really push the field so people are really engaging in an interfaith way. Create collective impact – push/challenge the individual organizations to be challenged to do more and more in-depth. Push the value of interfaith to make the state a better place.
  • Like idea of organizing events, doing a Minnesota Parliament, while it’s a messy process, we can do some concrete things. I think he said he’d help recruit people to volunteer.
  • We should pick a day now for a day-long conference in February of next year.
  • Interested in the magic of convening people around common interests and seeing how collaboration can happen.

April 2018: What Weaponizes Beliefs?

What Weaponizes Beliefs?

April 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café
Monday, April 16, 2018
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

What makes men fly airplanes into buildings claiming to be inspired by Islam? What made Crusaders leave Europe to conquer Jerusalem? What motivates West Bank settlers to seek to re-establish David’s kingdom from the Nile to the Euphrates? What makes white supremacists protest the removal of Confederate statues? What makes Communist leaders kill millions to bring about a workers’ paradise? What makes scientists and doctors forcibly sterilize the disabled and or study rural blacks with syphilis while only pretending to treat them? What makes libertarians invest in industries that poison poor populations’ air and water? What makes atheists call religion a “disease” or shoot Muslim neighbors? What makes legislators imprison gays and take children from lesbian mothers? What makes police harass and shoot unarmed blacks more than whites? If we believe something, why not just keep it to ourselves? Does anything justify killing or harming others to spread a belief, no matter how exemplary we believe our view is?

What causes weaponization of a worldview? Is it fear of losing a faith, a tradition, an identity? Does a multicultural world have room for ISIS, the KKK, Hindu nationalism, or Communism? Does it have room for secular organizations that expel reIigious humanists? For Progressive Student Unions that shout down College Republicans? Are weaponized worldviews dreams of past glory and power, when faith, country, or ideology were respected and even feared? Are they the euphoria of emerging beliefs or causes impatient of restraint or delay? Do marchers in the street want instant gratification without regard to tradition or political niceties? Do militants see only a duality of right and wrong, oppressive and progressive, godly and infidel, rational and delusional, us and them?

Are militant “true believers” the best representatives of their cause? If Islam proclaims “there shall be no compulsion in religion,” are those who kill unbelievers good Muslims? Did the Jesus who advised turning the other cheek want armed knights to massacre Muslims and Jews after seizing the Holy Land? Can there be a workers’ paradise if all the workers are in the Gulag? Does Buddhists’ “Middle Path” include raping and murdering the Rohingya people? Doesn’t ethnic pride seem better for folk festivals and food fairs, rather than for ethnic cleansing? How can we communicate what is valuable in a belief system without harming those who disagree?

But don’t people have to stand up for “Truth”? Could Islam have spread so rapidly without armies, including those led by Muhammad himself? Didn’t Jesus say that He brought not peace but a sword, and that families might be torn apart by His teachings? To “Make America Great” again, don’t we need an active military? To ensure secular rights across the world, won’t we have to deprogram theist children in school, and outlaw churches? If beliefs are being ridiculed and persecuted today, aren’t believers allowed to fight back? Didn’t even the “non-violence” of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. require inciting violence, by confronting power systems (even when the goal was to transform them)? Is militant peacefulness not also a weapon?

Picketing abortion clinics may seem threatening to some. Black Lives Matter protests may block traffic. Demonstrations in the wake of the Parkland school shootings target the NRA and seek to end its hold on elected representatives. Is “telling truth to power” — bringing discomfort to the comfortable — a form of weaponization? Where does principled action in support of a cause end, and coercing and silencing opponents begin? Does weaponizing belief require a particular type of belief, or only a particular type of person? Is extremism in defense of liberty not a vice, and moderation in pursuit of justice not a virtue? How is the line to be drawn?

On Monday, April 16 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will discuss what makes belief systems potentially lethal. Our dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality are designed to keep the peace. No actual weapons please, but do bring your weaponized (or otherwise) beliefs with you! And even if you believe in nothing at all, there will still be treats!

April 2018: Mysticism in the Abrahamic Religions

April 2018 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Thursday, April 5, 2018
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, 1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Northwestern Hall (kitty-corner, across the intersection of Hendon and Fulham Avenues, from the Olson Campus Center), Room 100
Parking on street or behind Center

What is Mysticism? What are some historical frameworks and practices of Mysticism in Islam, Judaism and Christianity? How is it reflected in your tradition and practice? What are the fears and challenges? What are the potential gifts that live in this practice for the 21st Century and beyond? Join presenters Drs. Jan Phillips (Judaism) SPIN and Jay Phillips Center, Mary Hess, (Christianity) Professor of Educational Leadership, Luther Seminary and Sadaf Rauf Shier (Islam) SPIN and Mankind Welfare Trust, USA, for a glimpse into the Mystic traditions in the Abrahamic religions. Come with curiosity. Witness a practice. Connect in conversation, share your experiences and questions that concern you.

This conversation is open to all interested persons. Reservation is not required. Though lunch is not served, coffee, tea, ice water and cookies will be available. Brown bag lunches welcome.

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.