Author Archives: Kristin Vanevenhoven

March 2018: Do We Get the Leaders We Deserve?

March 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Do We Get the Leaders We Deserve?

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

The Rolling Stones tell us that, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.” Do we get leaders we need and do we deserve them? Did we need and deserve Barack Obama? Do we need and deserve Donald Trump? Are all of us so deserving or just their fervent supporters? In a divided electorate is the consequence polarizing figures whose tweets or polished eloquence are relished by one half of the people and deplored by the other? Are we constantly choosing between the lesser of two evils rather than the better of two respected candidates? How did things get this way and how can we change them?

Are we envious of the leaders that other countries have? Do we gaze wistfully at Justin Trudeau of Canada, Emile Macron of France, and Angela Merkel of Germany? Don’t they have detractors in their own nations? Do they reflect a more homogenous, more responsible, and even saner body politic? In the slogan, “Vox populi, vox dei” the voice of the people is the voice of God. What is God looking like in modern America? Are we selfishly seeking benefits from government rather than making sacrifices for the common good? Is unity only possible for the Greatest Generation during time of economic hardship and war or during that moment of togetherness after 9/11? What is broken and can it be fixed?

Are we looking for leadership in the wrong places? Don’t Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama show us that good leaders are out there? Wasn’t Martin Luther King, Jr. a more serious leader than John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson? Is politics a dead end and ethical or spiritual leadership what gives us purpose and meaning? Do our moral leaders sometimes fail us? Martin Luther King had affairs; Pope Francis is accused of turning a blind eye to pedophile priests. Do we want perfect individuals as leaders or is it better to have flawed ones who might have compassion for imperfect followers?

Are leaders superfluous? Should we concentrate on cultivating our own gardens and not focus on the mansions of power? To be better parents, children, siblings, neighbors, and dwellers on the planet should we lead or be led? Are leaders the scapegoats when families, neighborhoods, and communities fail in the duty of creating a loving, moral, and responsible society? Do we get the leaders we deserve because we are not the leaders that we should be?

On Monday, March 19 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue (corner of Summit & Pierce), St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will attempt to find the path to governance or maybe a little less chaos. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully be our guiding light. But even those to be found among the deplorables or losers will get treats!

March 2018: Challenges of the 21st Century

March 2018 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

How Are/Could Religious Institutions Respond Effectively to the Challenges of the 21st Century?

Thursday, March 8, 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 (Campus map and parking information here)

As we enter the 21st century the religions are facing serious challenges. Within the religions there are growing tensions. Within western Christianity there are the challenges of aging societies, aging infrastructure, increasing ethnic diversity, and declining numbers, especially among the young. In the wider world the religions confront the challenges of religious pluralism, secularism, science, technology, climate change, ethnic animosity, poverty, and human migration. How are the religions responding to these and other challenges? How could they make a better response?

To answer this question a group of individuals will give their thoughts before opening the conversation to all in attendance. We have a high school chaplain, a rabbi, a former university professor, a university student, a seminary student, and a seminary faculty member who will offer their concise reflections to stimulate what we hope will be a very engaging conversation. Panelists include: Prof. Matthew Skinner, Luther Seminary; Rev. John Bellaimy, Chaplain, The Breck School; Rabbi Alan Shavit-Lonstein, Director, By the Rivers; Rev. Scott Simmons, Pastor, Lydia’s Place; Phifer Nicholson, University of Minnesota student and interfaith activist; Mehar Mahmood, Muslim youth leader; and Muhammad Mualim, University of St. Thomas student and founder of Dream Refugee.

Free, open to all. (Free will offering) Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; Coffee, tea, and cookies are available, lunch is available in the cafeteria in the Olson Center; bag lunches welcome.

February 2018: What Is Love?

February 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Is Love?

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

In the Eagles’ song Take It Easy the protagonist is standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona with seven women on his mind: Three that want to own him, three that want to stone him, and “one says she’s a friend of mine.” Bursting in on his reverie is “such a fine sight to see — a girl (my Lord!) in a flatbed Ford, slowin down to take a look at me.” He begs her “don’t say maybe” because “I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.” Carnal pleasures possibly ensue.

Is this how love works? Some seek domination, some have hostile intent, some falsely offer friendship, and some just want to hook up? Or is there the hope of salvation through true love? Or do we overthink the process of love? (The song’s refrain is, after all, “take it easy” and “don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.”)

C.S. Lewis in Four Loves divided love into storge (empathy), philia (friendship), eros (erotic & carnal), and agape (unconditional & God-like). Yet none of these aspects of love imply owning — or stoning — your loved one, so how does that happen? The first verse of Amanda McBroom & Bette Midler’s song, The Rose, notes that some say love is a river that drowns the tender reed, a razor that leaves the soul to bleed, or a hunger — an endless, aching need. But the verse ends by saying love is a flower and we its only seed — and to not to fear love, or assume it’s only for the lucky and the strong.

Raymond Carver in his story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, described the bloom of love’s beginnings — but also a dark, obsessive passion ending in suicide when love was denied. Dragging a woman across the floor by her hair while demanding affection seems the opposite of what most mean by love, but doesn’t this happen? The story, performed as a play within Michael Keaton’s Oscar winning movie, Birdman, ends with a gunshot — from which Keaton’s character literally (or figuratively?) flies away from his troubles. But don’t loved ones really just want to sing Silly Love Songs as advised by Paul McCartney’s band, Wings? Or don’t we all just think, I Want to Hold Your Hand, as recommended by The Beatles? Or offer advice to our young sons to “Let her into your heart” as in Hey Jude? Are we both drawn to Elvis Presley’s plea to Love Me Tender, and persuaded by his desire to be “a hunk, a hunk of burning love”? Do Eminem’s apparent homicidal urges towards his wife also reflect love’s reality?

Who DID write the “Book of Love?” Is love’s instruction manual the Bible, or the Qur’an? The sex techniques manual of the Kama Sutra? The tale of first (and last) romance in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or of the green-eyed monster, jealousy, in Othello? The Hallmark movie channel on cable? Is it in neuroscience research articles of the effect of the neurohormone, oxytocin, to engender trust between strangers and love within parents of new infants? Is it the Jesus’, Gandhi’s, and MLK’s philosophy of loving one’s enemy? Or should we stop searching for an instruction leaflet on love, and instead web-surf puppies and kittens?

Dictionary definitions of “love” speak of “an intense feeling of deep affection,” “benevolent feelings,” and “deep romantic attachment.” So why do we read about murder-suicide pacts in the news? Can we speak reasonably — or feel rationally — about love? Can love be “chaste”? Is love a state into which “fools rush in” while “wise men” never seem to fall? How do we distinguish love from the porn-star payoffs, aggression and sexual harassment scandals of current headlines? Do our different beliefs give us diverse views on what love is? (What happened to the “Saint” in “Saint Valentine’s Day”?) And does anyone fully understand love?

On Monday, February 19 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will be searching for love (one hopes not in all the wrong places)! Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality are designed to avoid breaking hearts. And being only 5 days after Valentine’s Day, of course we will have treats!

February 2018: Displaying Religious Identity

February 2018 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Being Actively/Overtly Religious in a Country Uncomfortable with Displaying Religious Identity

Thursday, February 8, 2018
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, 1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (Campus map and parking information here)

At this forum several individuals will talk about their experience and feelings about being actively and perhaps also being overtly religious. Many in the United States are uncomfortable with displays of religious identity whether its a Jewish Kippah, a Christian cross or clergy shirt, a Hijab worn by Muslim women, turban worn by Sikhs, or other identifying markers, such as, attending religious services regularly, reading sacred texts or religious literature in public, or praying in public. Why is this? How do you feel about this? What has been your experience? Are you okay with religious displays from your own religious group, but somewhat uncomfortable when done by members of other religious groups? What happens when people highjack a faith community’s deeply held religious identity markers/ symbols to use them for negative purposes? Following the talks there will be time for small group dialogue among all in attendance and for final comments in the whole group.

Free, open to all. (Free will offering) Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; Coffee, tea, and cookies are available, lunch is available in the cafeteria in the Olson Center; bag lunches welcome.

Go to the information desk at the Olson Center at the southeast corner of the Hendon Avenue and Fulham Avenue intersection and you will be directed to the room for the forum.

January 2018: What If Science Proved the Supernatural?

January 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What If Science Proved the Supernatural?

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

Can science prove that orcs and elves exist? What if we could locate the soul and even dissect one? Is this the stuff of fantasy novels or is the apparent supernatural just a case of looking in the wrong places at the wrong things? Is this a good idea? Should we be content with the proposition that science can neither prove nor disprove the metaphysical? What if science properly understood already has the proof we need and only what we call science is fallacious?

Can we look forward to herds of unicorns? Based on all the absurd concepts that are now cornerstones of science, why have any doubts? They used to photograph fairies. It is only crass skeptics who cried trick photography. Didn’t Puff the Magic Dragon disappear only because Jackie Paper disbelieved? When Peter Pan asked us to clap if we believed in fairies, how many of us didn’t? A hard-boiled newspaper editor assured young Virginia that there was a Santa Claus and in the movie Miracle on 34th Street even the post office delivered letters to him. At a quantum level couldn’t all of this be true?

Is the problem in believing that only scientific proof is sufficient to call something real? Does the soul have to be located at a specific point in the anatomy to exist? Is it any easier to pinpoint things like personality, consciousness, or character? Do heaven or hell have to be on a map to be visited? Are scientists literalists just like fundamentalists? Are they blind to miracles around them and expect reality to conform to their own “sacred texts”? Some say there is no real conflict between science and faith but how do they live together? Does faith live only in the gaps in scientific knowledge or is science only for tinkerers not addressing what is genuinely important?

Are the Bible and Qur’an science texts? Creation science does experiments and claims results disproving scientific consensus. Are there human footprints to be found in dinosaur tracks? Is the Discovery Institute correct to assert an irreducible complexity not explicable by evolution but only by the intervention of a designer? Are some Muslims correct to say that all modern scientific breakthroughs were first mentioned in the Qur’an? Is the question not if the supernatural exists but why science is so willfully denying the evidence?

On Monday, January 15 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will confront ghoulies, ghosties, and things that go bump in the night and see if they can fit into a test tube. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will reconcile the spooky and the skeptical (hopefully). Even goblins and trolls will get treats!

January 2018: Tools for Communicating Across Lines of Belief

January 2018 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Tools for Communicating Across Lines of Belief: An Experience of Connecting Communication

Thursday, January 11, 2018
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, Olson Campus Center, Room 10
1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (Campus map and parking information here)

Connecting Communication, also known as Nonviolent Communication or NVC, is a very practical model for moving from judgment to connection in everyday relationships. It gives you tools for understanding your own and others’ motivations and can help you come to empathy and express yourself one-to-one, in groups, and even on social media in ways that help people to really hear you.

According to this model, human needs are universal; strategies to meet these needs vary. One could look at religions as differing strategies to meet universal needs for meaning, understanding, salvation, and connection.

The founder of Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. (1934 – 2015) was a Jew who used his model to mediate between groups of people in conflict, often people of different religions, including between Israeli Jews and Palestinians and between Bosnians and Serbs. In this Midday Dialogue we will learn a little about Rosenberg’s spirituality and how it related to his work with people of different faiths, and we will learn enough about his model to get an experience of moving from judgment to empathy in situations from our own lives.

About the Speaker: Pam Winthrop Lauer is a spiritual director and teacher of Nonviolent Communication/Connecting Communication who also offers “spiritual direction-infused NVC coaching” in St. Paul, MN. Pam’s ongoing NVC training included a workshop with Marshall Rosenberg, the late founder of NVC. Pam received certification from the Lev Shomea Jewish Spiritual Direction Training program where she was a member of the first cohort in 2001.

Free, open to all. (Free will offering) Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; lunch is available in the cafeteria; bag lunches welcome.

December 2017: Sexual Harassment

December 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Sexual Harassment: Where Are the Boundaries?

Monday, December 18, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Wikipedia tells us that sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature or the unwelcome or unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. It is not a general civility code so simple teasing, offhand comments or minor isolated incidents are apparently just part of life. One boundary is the conduct bad or continuous enough? Another is it unwelcome rather than consented to or even encouraged? And is it so far in the past that it should be forgiven or possibly just forgotten? Does religion or secular ethics hold us to a higher standard? When is the line crossed?

Conservative politicians who advocate religious family values are accused, but so are liberal ones who claim to be feminists. Is there an across the political spectrum hypocrisy to be seen? Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer, whose films sometimes have strong and even older female performers may have engaged in sexual assaults. America’s Dad, Bill Cosby, is accused of using drugs to sexually molest women. Oscar winner, Kevin Spacey, is said to have targeted young men. Are all past achievements and good works such as supporting Negro colleges negated by credible charges of misconduct? If female staffers praise Senator Al Franken, do other women who saw a different person go away?

In romantic comedies women seem to eventually fall in love with persistent and aggressive guys. Should we view these movies with different eyes? Are the icy ladies in love songs really trying to escape predatory stalkers? Do the lyrics “Once you have found her, never let her go” in South Pacific have sinister overtones? Does “NO!!” ever not mean no? On some campuses written agreements are required before a relationship can go to the next level. Is this the end of spontaneity between the sexes? Is it the stuff of silly love songs? Would someone given a date rape drug sign the paper and not remember it later?

President Trump’s “hot mike” descriptions of grabbing women occurred a decade ago. Many of the later accusations which emerged date from that same time period. Is there a point where it is all forgotten if not forgiven? Is there a statute of limitations on the damage sexual harassment does to the victim? Time limitations on claims of sexual abuse of minors were eliminated at least for a period of time in response to accusations made against Catholic clergy. Was bankrupting an Archdiocese the only way to end a culture of denial and cover-up? Does time heal old wounds or does the pain continue?

On Monday, December 18 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to find the boundaries of sexual harassment, punishment, and whether forgiveness is possible. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance (possibly not of everything), curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may keep us from exceeding the limits ourselves. No matter what your thoughts; you may have treats!

December 2017: Given What Is Happening to the Rohingya

December 2017 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Given What Is Happening to the Rohingya:
What Is the Role of the Religions Where There Is Ethnic Cleansing and Ethnic Genocide?

Thursday, December 14, 2017
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, Olson Campus Center, Room 10
1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (Campus map and parking information here)

How and why has the Rohingya crisis arisen in Myanmar? What are the conditions for the Rohingya in the refugee camps in Myanmar? How do the religions contribute to hostility toward those whom they consider “other”? What can be done to overcome religious “othering, marginalization of the “other”, and violence against “them”?

Prof. Tun Myint of Carleton College will give historical context of the current crisis in Myanmar and Sufi Muslim volunteers will report from the refugee camps as we address these questions, along with a video talk, “The Windows” by Fr. Raimon Pannikar on why we need one another despite our difference to see the world whole and the danger of demanding that everyone see the world through one’s own window. Small group dialogue as well.

Free, open to all. (Free will offering) Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; lunch is available in the cafeteria; bag lunches welcome.

November 2017: Is Greed Good?

November 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Is Greed Good?

Monday, November 20, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

In Wall Street, Gordon Gecko portrayed by Michael Douglas, tells shareholders, “Greed, for want of a better word, is good.” To Gecko greed captured the evolutionary spirit and included greed for life, love, money, and knowledge. To economist Adam Smith the competing greed of capitalists would like an invisible hand provide the wealth of nations. Ayn Rand wrote of The Virtue of Selfishness or the concern with one’s own interests not self-sacrifice or altruism. But didn’t Jesus advise the rich to give their wealth to the poor, the Qur’an mandate distributing alms to the needy, Buddha teach the vanity and emptiness of worldly possessions, and Baha’u’llah write to Pope Pius IX suggesting an abandonment of the Church’s riches. Are the rich right and the religious wrong?

When Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and other billionaires pledge to donate half their wealth to charity, are they letting the side down? Does it matter that not all the billionaires believe in God? Didn’t Gecko’s greed lead to a prison sentence and estrangement from his daughter. Is charity an effort to salve one’s conscience? Andrew Carnegie donated libraries and dinosaur skeletons to the public but what of the Homestead strikers and those killed by exploding machinery in his steel plants? Will Bill Gates give up aggressive patent litigation as he funds his foundation? Is Sinclair Lewis’ character, Elmer Gantry, right to condemn the businessman for praying on Sunday and cheating the public on Monday? Was the unscrupulous Gantry the proper messenger?

Is there a public good transcending love of gold? Adam Smith agreed government must build the lighthouses because no capitalist would. He wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments as well as The Wealth of Nations. How does the invisible hand help millions thrown out of work as factories close? Who will find them jobs allowing a middle class life style? Or was financier Ebenezer Scrooge correct to urge them to die out and decrease the surplus population? Is there a way to smooth the rough edges of capitalism?

A capitalist in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged states, “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Rand’s philosophy of objectivism taught that pursuit of individual happiness or rational self-interest is the proper moral purpose of a person’s life. Perhaps, greed is good? But did Rand’s disciples like former Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Alan Greenspan, practice what she preached? Don’t rugged individualists like the Koch brothers keep asking the government’s help? How consistent is corporate welfare with objectivism?

When leaders of religion denounce wealth and pride do they mean it? Should the poor build and endow cathedrals? What would Muhammad say about oil sheikhs? Did Buddha really expect gold and jade statues? Even when they gave up wealth or warned the wealthy, could they not foresee how much money religion receives? What of the Gospel of Wealth that says God will reward the faithful here on earth? Would Jesus have driven its proponents out of the temple along with the money changers? And what balance is to be struck by secular non-profits which seek to do good but must spend so much time seeking donations? Is virtue really its own reward?

On Monday, November 20 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue (corner of Summit & Pierce), St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to decide if money will buy happiness or at least serve as a down payment. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may like an invisible hand lead to the right path. The rich and the poor will have treats!

November 2017: Offering Effective Public Leadership as a Religious Leader

November 2017 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Offering Effective Public Leadership as a Religious Leader

Thursday, November 9, 2017
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, 1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (Campus map and parking information here)

In this time with many critical public issues how can religious leaders offer effective leadership? This forum is an opportunity to hear from four religious leaders who have demonstrated effective public leadership. There will also be time for those in attendance from several different religious traditions to talk among themselves.

Panelists for this session are:

  • Rev. Peter Rogness, Retired Bishop, Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA
  • Rev. Angela Shannon, Dean of Students, Luther Seminary
  • Rabbi Morris Allen, Beth Jacob Congregation, Mendota Heights
  • Fardosa Hassan, Muslim Chaplain, Augsburg College, Director, Interfaith Youth Connection.

Moderator: David Scherer, Director, Public Leadership Program, Luther Seminary.

Free, open to all. (Free will offering) Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; lunch is available in the cafeteria; bag lunches welcome.

This session is available on video here

October 2017: When Was America Great?

October 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

When Was America Great?

Monday, October 16, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

When running for president, Donald Trump promised to make America great again. So when did we stop being great? We speak of the Greatest Generation which overcame the Great Depression and fought World War II? Is overcoming adversity greatness? Is it in our ideals but which ones? A Christian nation with a touch of secularism? A shining city on the hill beckoning with the torch of the Statue of Liberty? A land of plenty with jobs and consumer products for all? Is one person’s greatness another person’s nightmare?

Is overcoming adversity or major challenges greatness? Looking back on our history the trials and struggles of the past seem most remembered. The Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock and give Thanksgiving after a harsh winter, Washington survives Valley Forge, Lincoln guides the country through Civil War, FDR beset by polio tackles depression and war, and Martin Luther King, Jr. has a dream and overcomes (in part). Are there no more mountains to climb and dragons to slay? To make America great again must the country face adversity never before imagined?

Of modern nations, America is one of the most religious with Christianity the dominant faith. When we sing “God Bless America” do we really mean it (and what DO we mean)? But few of the Founding Fathers seem like candidates for the Moral Majority. They wrote what has been called a Godless Constitution with religious language limited to a ban on religious tests and a First Amendment excluding a state supported national church. With non-Christians elected to almost all offices except maybe President, do we have a Christian government? Or was the vision of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, etc. a pluralistic one with “In Diversity United (E Pluribus Unum)” the guiding principle?

Some see America as an example for the world. Is it Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill of virtue, prosperity, and freedom? Are we the melting pot welcoming all nations? Should all countries desire to be just like us? Would we be happy if they all attained our levels of material wealth? Do we welcome the stranger anymore? Do we see a world full of terrorists, the impoverished seeking a handout, foreign powers economically exploiting us, smug Europeans mocking us, and messed up countries expecting us to bail them out? Wouldn’t the “tempest-tost” prefer to go to Canada or Norway?

What happened to the dream of a two parent family with two cars in every suburban garage? Did the Beaver Cleaver, Father Knows Best, or even Archie Bunker household really exist? Was the concept of work hard, follow the rules, and have a happy retirement surrounded by grateful children a pipe dream? Why do foreigners make our cars and computers? Can America ever be a blue collar paradise again? Did our leaders and the rich betray us, did we lose our faith in our country and ourselves, or was prosperity only possible until other countries caught up to us?

Are we in a malaise? Is the answer a reaffirmation of religious values? Is it going back to the non-religious secular ideals of some Founding Fathers? Do we need to look to humanistic concepts or become global citizens? Or do we just need a new economic model or to defeat one or more of our outside enemies?

On Monday, October 16 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation will try to make America great again or maybe figure out what greatness really is. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may let us achieve more than we thought possible. Succeed or fail; we will have treats!

October 2017: Addressing Gun Violence from Religious Perspectives

October 2017 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Addressing Gun Violence from Religious, Not Just Political, Perspectives

Thursday, October 26, 2017
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, Olson Campus Center, Room 10
1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (Campus map and parking information here)

This month’s forum panel will feature Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, executive director, Protect Minnesota and its Interfaith Alliance for Gun Safety caucus, Imam Asad Zaman, executive director, Muslim-American Society, and Carin Mrotz, executive director, Jewish Community Action. Besides being able to hear from and engage with these leaders, there will be time for table dialogue among those in attendance.

Free, open to all. (Free will offering) Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; lunch is available in the cafeteria; bag lunches welcome.

This session is available on video here

September 2017: Racism and the Religions

September 2017 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Racism and the Religions

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, Olson Campus Center, Room 10
1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (Campus map and parking information here)

Charlottesville has made the conversation about racism in America even more urgent. In response, SPIN is pleased to announce the featured speaker: The Rev. Dr. Curtiss DeYoung, the new CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches. Curtiss has spent his entire ministry confronting racism in practice and in his writing. He will tell his interesting personal story and address where he sees the churches are in the battle to overcome racism and what more needs to be done not only by churches, but by all the religions.

Following his talk there will be two respondents. The first responder is Rachel Babbet Missioner for Community Engagement of is from the Episcopal Church in Minnesota on its decision to move its office to Broadway Avenue in north Minneapolis. The second is Don Samuels. Don has served on the Minneapolis City Council and is a member of the Minneapolis School Board. He is a graduate of Luther Seminary and the husband of Sondra Samuels, the executive director of the Northside Achievement Zone. Don and Sondra live in north Minneapolis.

Free, open to all. (Free will offering) Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; lunch is available in the cafeteria; bag lunches welcome.

Please share this notice with anyone whom you think would be interested in attending the forum.

September 2017: Is Racism Worse Than Ever?

September 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Is Racism Worse Than Ever?

Monday, September 18, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

With White Nationalists marching and the internet fueling division has “post-racial” America turned into an abyss of hatred? Why do terms like Black Lives Matter and Islamophobia dominate the news? Do national leaders feed the fire and speak in coded and perhaps not so coded statements meaning if you’re not white, you’re not right. Or are we seeing pushback against wrongs once tolerated? Confederate generals are seen as defenders of a racist order and the shooting of black males is called out as a problem to be finally addressed. How far are we from the promise of all men created equal of the Declaration of Independence and Martin Luther King’s wish that his children be judged on the content of their characters not the color of their skin?

After the Civil Rights struggles of the Sixties and the election of an African-American President, why are neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and other white supremacists still marching? Don’t they know that they are bigger losers than the Confederates whose monuments are coming down? With 75% of terrorist acts in the United States being committed by supporters of White Power, why are people afraid of Muslims? Do white nationalists really include nice people or are they a dark underside of the American psyche? Are they dangerous or just a small extreme fringe? Are confrontational antifa (anti-fascist) groups just as problematical?

Is racism behind the resistance to immigrants/refugees? What about the welcoming words on the Statue of Liberty of tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of a teaming shore? Aren’t homeless and tempest-tost people allowed in the golden door? Are bans of immigrants from Asian and African mostly Muslim countries what the Lady in the Harbor meant? Why build walls to keep southern Hispanic neighbors out? If we are a melting pot, don’t we wish the greatest diversity possible? Isn’t Islam with a presence in U.S territory since the 17th Century as American as apple pie? Haven’t Hispanics been in the South and West longer than the Anglos? Is immigrant bashing and Islamophobia our vision of the Land of the Free?

Are we actually more sensitive to racial issues with ethnic humor and stereotypes seen in their true light? Black lives were taken well before Jamar Clark and Philandro Castile, but perhaps they didn’t matter as much to us? But why was the death of an Australian woman the reason for Chief Harteau’s resignation? Confederate statues used to be part of the heritage of the Lost Cause, but do we understand the cause better and are we happier that it lost? Do we have more sensitive ears and eyes or have we become hyper-sensitive, looking for offense when none is offered? Do we seek micro-aggressions and live in a culture of political correctness?

But isn’t it the time for long-deferred action? Should a major lake in Minneapolis be named for John Calhoun, a notorious defender of slavery, instead of being called Bde Maka Ska, honoring the first peoples of the land? Shouldn’t we question a justice/prison system incarcerating a disproportionate number of minorities? If a New Jim Crow exists shouldn’t it be denounced? Is such overdue change now threatened by those who long for Good Old Days where being “free, white, and 21” meant something? Are we climbing up a steep hill with the end in view or are we tumbling down to a dark past?

What do people of different faith, belief, and value systems react to these questions and issues? Have people of different religious traditions or of alternative value systems been contributors or opponents of racism?

On Monday, September 18 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if we live in the worst of times or in the best but just don’t realize it. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully help us listen to better angels of our nature. But whether enlightened or not, treats are available for all!

August 2017: Is Health Care a Human Right?

August 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Is Health Care a Human Right?

Monday, August 21, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

In Matthew 25:36 those granted salvation were told (among other things), “When I was sick you looked after me.” Do we need to go further? Is health care a divine mandate? Or is it more complicated? Sitting around a hospital room is one thing; providing effective medical care is another. Must we help those who by smoking, taking illegal drugs, eating too much, or exercising too little may have aided their own destruction? Do we have to take their cigarettes, drugs, and unhealthy food and then put them on a treadmill for their own good? Do we have to treat health care as a limited resource and only provide it when a cure is likely and affordable? Who decides?

As the battle over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare to some) continues, are we happy with our health care system? Would it meet the requirements of Matthew 25:36? Is it as good as secular nations such as Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Australia provide? Does it cost more and deliver less than socialized medicine? Or do other people’s health care systems only look better from the outside? Does a two part private and public health system as found in Britain, Canada, and Australia still ration the best health care to those who pay more? Does a highly regulated insurance system like Germany’s work better than ours? Since we all die anyway, aren’t we at best delaying the inevitable?

Who decides if we need health care? Anti-vaccination movements may arguably assert a human right, but what happens when the unvaccinated get others sick? Is marijuana an illegal substance or a medical treatment? Should the government regulate what we smoke, drink, and eat to keep us healthier? We now reject body shaming, but what if physical appearance is a sign of poor health? Does reforming school lunches just mean more veggies in the garbage and more McDonald’s takeout bags in the lunch boxes? What is caring for people likely to become sick and what is a “nanny state” nagging them for a good they reject?

Since health care costs are highest in the first and last years of our lives, how do we pay for it and who says enough is enough? Do treatments that prolong life sometimes promote human misery not the pursuit of happiness? But who will pull the plug on a beloved relative even one with a living will? If there is a right to health care is there also a right to die? Are there rights to control potential life like contraception and abortion? Does the state or the individual decide?

Does the right to health care include research and medicine which raises ethical issues? Is stem cell research a right? Is cloning? Is animal testing with fatal results to the animal? Should children be conceived to provide bone marrow transplants for siblings? Is the donation of organs personal preference or something the government should require? What of surgery to improve appearance or allow one to play sports? Is that what health care is all about?

On Monday, August 21 from 7-9 PM, Inter-belief Conversation Café will discuss if health care is a right and who decides what is provided. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully keep this a healthy conversation. Treats which may lengthen or shorten your life will be provided!

May 2017: Complex Spiritual Identities in Individuals, Families, and Religious Communities

May 2017 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Complex Spiritual Identities in Individuals, Families, and Religious Communities

Thursday, May 4, 2017 (first Thursday this month)
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Masjid Attaqwa – Muslim American Society (NOTE location change!!)
1608 Como Ave (SW corner at Snelling Ave.), St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)

Many individuals today are seeking support for their lives from several different spiritual traditions. Many families include partners who come from different spiritual traditions. Many religious communities—synagogues, mosques, sanghas, churches and temples—have members through marriage or relationships who are of spiritual traditions different from those of the community.

How do religious communities support individuals and families with complex spiritual identities? How do families manage their own spiritual diversity? How do individuals integrate their different spiritual traditions and practices into their own unique spiritual path?

Saint Paul Interfaith Network’s (SPIN’s) next forum will be a space for conversation and storytelling around these questions. The panelists for the forum are the Rabbi Norman Cohen, Rabbi Emeritus, of Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka, and long-time leader in Christian-Jewish dialogue. The Rev. Jin Kim, Co-Pastor of Church of All Nations Presbyterian Church, and Kelly Sherman Conroy, a Luther Seminary student whose research focuses upon the intersections of Lakota spirituality and Christian Faith.

This forum will meet at the Muslim American Society, 1608 Como Ave, Saint Paul, Minnesota, MN 55108, from 11:45 am to 1:30 pm. Lunch is not served, but coffee, tea, water, and cookies are provided.

This session is available on video here

July 2017: Does Right and Wrong Exist?

July 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Does Right and Wrong Exist?

Monday, July 17, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Is there an absolute morality for all times and cultures? Or does “right and wrong” evolve as humans see the truth more clearly? Does everyone have the same definition or do different peoples have widely different codes of conduct? Are there universals like the Golden Rule serving as signposts to living the virtuous life? If we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, what need do we have for multi-volume criminal codes? Should we look to an ideal standard or be satisfied with what works in the moment?

Immanuel Kant proposed that the test of an action was whether it could be followed as a maxim of universal law. Do traffic lights make the grade? We may turn to rules like the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, the Humanist Manifesto, and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But don’t all require interpretation to fit with how we live our lives now? Do they work together? Isn’t making a graven image just an expression of the First Amendment? Are there different rules for spiritual life and living in a civil society? Which is more important?

Some things once wrong are now human rights and some which were accepted are now serious wrongs. Same sex marriage was once universally prohibited and homosexuality seen as one of the greatest sins. Some will say that’s still true. But states and finally the U.S. Supreme Court now define freedom of marriage as a fundamental right. Did morality change, or did we? Slavery is acknowledged and perhaps supported in most scripture. Once it was a fact of life. Now it is condemned as an abomination. Are we more virtuous than our ancestors? Are our values better than those of Jesus, St. Paul, Muhammad, and Buddha? What changed?

For many Christians suicide is a mortal sin such that a person should not be buried in consecrated ground. In Japan and other cultures it is an honorable alternative to a disastrous failing. Who is right? In India to kill a cow is unpardonable; in the U.S. it is McDonald’s. Are we callous, while the Hindus are reverent of life? Or do they have values, such as a caste system, that we are right to deplore? Is there a different morality in each country? Or are we slowly but surely building a common “Right and Wrong”?

What standard of judgment is reliable? Is it the Golden Rule? Is it a utilitarian principle like the greatest good for the greatest number? Would that rule allow us to eliminate the unfit or deny health care to the incurable? Is individual autonomy the fundamental value if no direct harm is done to others? Should people be allowed to follow courses of self-destruction? What of John Donne’s argument that each death diminishes each of us and every death knell tolls for us all? Where are the lines drawn, and who draws them?

On Monday, July 17 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will look for a rule to guide us either universally or for the present moment. Principles like open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may keep us from going too far astray. But even if we do, the right and the wrong will get to share the treats!

June 2017: Free Will: True or False?

June 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Free Will: True or False?

Monday, June 19, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Did you really decide when to get up this morning? Wasn’t the alarm clock set to get you to a needed appointment? Could you have canceled the appointment and slept in? How much control do we have over our lives? Do we make independent choices or are they determined for us by past actions, someone else’s agenda, forces of nature, and even a being greater than ourselves? Is it all determinism, all free will, or some combination of both? Is it as Jawaharlal Nehru claimed that life is like a card game; determinism is the cards we are dealt and free will how we play them?

Both theists and atheists can find themselves perhaps uncomfortably in the same camp. Some theists believe in predestination where God may have already decided what happens to us in our lives and whether we are saved or damned. Some atheists claim natural determinism where genes, evolution, and scientific principles mean no real choices. But some atheists are libertarians who say we are what we choose to be. Some believers say God even if all powerful vacated a space in which humans can determine their own destiny—even to reject God and live in Hell.

Does our common sense help us? Are there moments where it seems other people ruled our lives? Being born into wealth or poverty makes a major difference in the choices (if any) we have. Do we have any say in our race, our ethnic background, the country in which we are born and live, our strength, our intelligence, our good or bad looks, our proneness to addiction, or other factors that will impact the most important events of existence? Or do we see the roads taken and not taken, the moments of decision where we said yes or no to destiny, or just whether to have a burger, chicken, or go vegetarian for a meal? If it’s all predetermined, why thank someone for passing the mustard? They were going to do it anyway.

Is science a matter of rigid laws or a bit of chaos? Schrodinger’s cat was apparently both dead and alive. Only when a box was opened did it meow or smell bad. (Be reassured no felines were harmed in the thought experiment). Do Libet’s experiments show we make decisions without thinking or just that some tasks are routine and don’t require any cognitive action? Quantum physics says light and solids are both wave and particle. Chaos theory discourages weather prediction because even a fractional rounding off changes the whole result. What can we rely on?

Fearing death from tuberculosis, poet William Ernest Henley wrote “Invictus” as a statement of his right to decide:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The lines were used by Winston Churchill during World War II, Nelson Mandela while imprisoned on Robben Island, and as an inspiration by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar-Burma in defying oppression. They were also the last words of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. After all if we have free will, we are the only ones deserving praise or blame for our choices.

On Monday, June 19 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to decide (or has it been decided already) if free will is real or illusion and hope or menace. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will constrain us or liberate us. It has been determined that there will be treats!

May 2017: Ethnic Diversity

May 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Ethnic Diversity: Out of Many, One?

Monday, May 15, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Is America the great melting pot of peoples? The Statue of Liberty welcomes the wretched refuse of the world. After entering the golden door by the shining lamp, do they all become the same? Do only ethnic restaurants remain to remind us how many different groups have contributed to a dream of unity? But how does it really work? Haven’t barriers been erected against some of the wretched, starting perhaps with, “No Irish need apply”? And what of Native- and African-Americans who have sometimes been deemed unmeltable? Are we ready to embrace ethnic diversity or are we further away than ever?

Has religion been a pathway or a wall to uniting Americans? At one time Minnesota divided Lutheran Churches by language with English, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish congregations. Minneapolis was considered the most anti-Semitic city in the country. Before the so-called “Muslim menace,” there was the “Popish plot” with Catholics undermining public education and answering to a foreign despot, not the Constitution. Have we moved beyond White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americanism to something more inclusive? How inclusive?

Would we want our loved ones to marry someone from another ethnic or racial group? In Fiddler on the Roof the hero Tevye accepts that one daughter rejects an arranged marriage and another asks only for his blessing rather than permission. But when the third wishes to marry a gentile, he says that if he “bends too far he will break.” Do we too have a breaking point, or does love conquer all, with modern multi-colored Romeos & Juliets proving prejudice must bow to romance? Or are these couples branches who will be pruned from the family tree and spoken of only in whispers?

In his World War II propaganda film, War Comes to America, Frank Capra celebrated 22 immigrant nations including fellow Italians who made up America. All seem to be working and playing together. Was this true in the 1940s? Is it true now? Do outside enemies unite us, or provoke us to build internment camps for the descendants of our foes? Would even 3rd generation Japanese-American citizens (so many of whom fought bravely in combat units and helped as translators at Fort Snelling) have been sent to California’s Manzanar concentration camp if they weren’t Asian? In modern times, why are immigration bans really targeting certain Muslim-majority countries labeled as sources of terrorists? Are some ethnicities too diverse?

In a global community must ethnic diversity be embraced? Or can it legitimately be seen as a threat? Why do we talk of a wall or of banning refugees and visitors from Muslim countries? Why is there still a quota for new immigrants based on their country of origin? Don’t our newcomers want to be part of America? When Somalis of Europe and Canada were asked their identity they said “Somali,” but in the U.S. they said “American.” With all of the U.S.’s limitations, why did they say that? Does America create Americans despite itself?

Has our melting pot clogged? Is America suffering indigestion from its diversity? Do we want to deal with the genuinely different? In certain cities it remains perilous to cross the street from one ethnic enclave to another. How does this square with inclusiveness? Is ethnic diversity the dream or is it the threat? If we’re already a multi-ethnic family, do promised “walls” frighten us more than the “other”?

On Monday, May 15, from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask, does the many really become one, or does the melting pot brew chaos and confusion? We hope our reasoning agreements of open-mindedness, curiosity, acceptance, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will promote civility even if we’re divided. Wherever you came from, there will be treats.

April 2017: America—A Shining City on a Hill?

April 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

America—A Shining City on a Hill?

Monday, April 17, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

In 1630 Puritan leader John Winthrop on the ship, Arbella, told fellow immigrants to Massachusetts their expedition was a “city on a hill” to prove their sanctity or be a glaring example of failure. His inspiration came from Matthew 5:14 proclaiming Jesus’ followers as the light of the world all would see because “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Ronald Reagan turned Winthrop’s words into America as a “shining city on a hill”. Are we that exceptional? If Norway or Denmark are happier, aren’t they better “cities”? If all countries are exceptional in their own way, are we the most exceptional? And if we are an example, what are we an example of—a Christian nation, the blessings of liberty, the refuge of the oppressed, or lifestyles of the rich and famous? What kind of city are we building?

What about those who may not see much of this light? The Doctrine of Discovery displaced and exterminated Native Americans. Malcolm X remarked that for African Americans: “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us.” In A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, Ron Takaki stated that his Japanese ancestry led him to examine the minority groups who built America but received scant credit. Are minorities and disfavored immigrants not part of putting America first? Is the city on the hill shining only on holders of white privilege? Or is there a better America speaking through Emma Lazarus’ words on the Statue of Liberty giving hope to the world’s tired, poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free and lifting a lamp over a golden door not building a wall?

What is America anyway? Some say it is a nation defined by a creed not nationality or ethnicity. If an individual subscribes to certain values then that person is an American. This is what the “melting pot” is all about. The creed or American civic religion is in founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the Statue of Liberty inscription, and speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. It may involve a Judeo-Christian God or may be secular and humanist. Concepts such as Manifest Destiny, “rags to riches”, Pledge of Allegiance with “under God” added, equal rights for all, social safety net, and others may be permanent or temporary parts. Real America may be in the eye of the beholder.

Do all the promises come true? “America the Beautiful” sings of purple mountain majesties, amber waves of grain, and fruited plains (perhaps genetically engineered). A later verse speaks of a patriot dream that sees beyond the years and alabaster cities undimmed by human tears. (Sound like North Minneapolis?). Is this the land we see today or instead the “dream deferred” of Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem which may shrivel up like a raisin in the sun or maybe explode?

Is the American dream a nightmare to others? Are we the world’s policeman telling others how to live? Are we an empire waging undeclared wars in Southeast Asia and the Middle East and training Latin American enforcers in the School of the Americas? Are we the solution to the world’s problems or the problem itself? But why do other countries imitate us? Why do even the worst dictators and strongmen pretend to be democratic? Why do other people wear our jeans, drink our Coca Cola and Starbucks, and eat at KFC and McDonalds? Can’t live with us; can’t live without us?

On Monday, April 17 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to shed some light on the city on a hill. Agreements of acceptance, open-mindedness, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will be as American as apple pie or maybe baklava. And an all-American selection of treats will be available!