Author Archives: Kristin Vanevenhoven

April 2017: Eliminating Anti-Judaism from the Christian Story

April 2017 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Eliminating Anti-Judaism from the Christian Story

Thursday, April 6, 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)

At this time of year, many Christians celebrate Lent and Easter—and many churches have historically used texts, liturgies and narratives in this season that view Jews and Judaism in a disparaging light. Christian hostility and violence toward Jews has a long history going back to the early church. Though some denominations have made official statements of repentance and have condemned overt anti-Jewish violence, theologies of “replacement” or “supersessionism” are still a common part of much mainstream Christian practice and worship. How does anti-Jewish thinking continue to manifest in Christian theology and practice today?  In our current context of a terrifying rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes, how can those committed to strengthening interfaith relationships work actively to dismantle anti-Jewish theologies?

A panel, consisting of Dr. Darrell Jodock, Prof. Emeritus, Gustavus Adolphus College and author of Covenantal Conversations: Christians in Dialogue with Jews and Judaism; Dr. Marilyn Salmon Prof. of New Testament (ret.) United Theological Seminary and author of Preaching without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism; Rabbi Adam Spilker, Mount Zion Temple; and Ms. Ann Lewis, elder and religious educator, House of Hope Presbyterian; moderated by SPIN volunteers, Ms. Katherine Parent, Luther Seminary Ph.D. candidate, and Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert, Episcopal priest, will explore how understanding, respect and cooperation in Jewish – Christian relations can be enhanced and anti-Judaism eliminated.

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

March 2017: Teach Your Children Well

March 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Teach Your Children Well

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

Crosby, Sills, Nash & Young in song told parents to have a code to live by, to feed their children on their dreams, and never ask them “why?” since this could lead to tears. (Watch video of song on YouTube) Would this work as a child rearing method? Do we want children who obey the rules or who think for themselves? Are the youngsters pre-programmed by genetics or can adults make a difference? Are we supposed to teach or indoctrinate our children? And who should do the teaching—parents, the school system, the children’s peers, television and the internet. (Or did Tarzan’s parents have the right idea and let the apes do all the work?) And what can the young teach us?

It is claimed there are four parenting styles (some assert up to twelve):

  1. Authoritarian: Parents are demanding and set strict rules without child input with discipline to enforce obedience. Key phrase-“Because I said so.”
  2. Authoritative: Parents have high expectations, set a structure for children through rules and routine which are explained, and encourage communication. Favored by developmental psychologists.
  3. Permissive: Parents are indulgent, undemanding, and avoid confrontation. Parent may try to be child’s best friend and use bribery to obtain compliance. The child is loved but not guided. Considered harmful except possibly by the happily spoiled child.
  4. Neglectful: Key phrase-“Why bother? Parenting’s hard and you’ll be blamed whatever you do.” Child rearing is handed off to schools, local gangs, correctional institutions, and in rural areas packs of wolves.

Other parental modes such as “Tiger Moms”, Helicoptering, Narcissism, Toxic Parenting, or Vulcan Father, Betazoid Mommy are thought to be variations on these four styles. Since parenting is mostly done by rank amateurs, it’s surprising so many kids turn out OK.

How should schools teach our children? Do they reinforce good parenting and take up the slack for the less than good? If teachers have values, how do they communicate them and should they? Does society need rule keepers or independent thinkers? Can it have both? Or should schools be teaching reading, writing, science, and math and not worry about truth, justice, and the American way? Do we socialize the young or break their spirit? Is school an idyllic land of teachable moments or a daytime detention center for kids who would otherwise roam the streets?

Experts study how children learn and their stages of development. Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, even had the strange idea of actually talking to the young and asking them what they thought. Behavioral psychologist, B. F. Skinner, claimed the key was positive reinforcement of acceptable and negative reinforcement of unacceptable conduct. Sometimes electric shocks were used. But despite pictures of her in a box, Skinner’s daughter said he was good Dad and never electrocuted her. So after centuries of study do we actually know how kids learn and how to help them do it better?

For the religious and/or ethical is something missing from this picture? Are the Ten Commandments or the Humanist Manifesto more important than anything child psychology and a suspect school system offers? Are eternal spiritual or secular values the real key? St. Ignatius of Loyola claimed that if he can reach a child at age seven, he would shape the rest of the young person’s life. What role does moral teaching have in education? And what if a child endures years of religious or ethical instruction and seeks the opposite? What role should philosophy play in education? Both Justinian I, the Christian Emperor of Byzantium and ISIS banned philosophy from schools as blasphemy.

The song “Teach the Children” also implored children to teach their parents well. Can adults learn from the young? How many of us rely on seven year olds to program electronic devices? How many have found their fashion sense, taste in music, and general knowledge of what is important “weighed in the balance and found wanting?” After all when we were young, we knew everything. Hasn’t it gone downhill since? French aviator and author of The Little Prince, Antoine de St. Exupery observed, “Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” Can we as adults hear the wisdom of intellectual inquiry over indoctrination when spoken from the mouths of babes?

On Monday, March 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 ask if we can teach children anything much less teach them well. Our learning tools will be the agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality. If we don’t have a child to lead us, maybe we’ll still find our way. Positive reinforcement will be provided by wonderful treats!

March 2017: Sanctuary

March 2017 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Sanctuary: Multi-religious Understandings and Action

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

What does sanctuary mean to you in your faith tradition? Come join us for a discussion about the religious foundations of sanctuary and how faith communities are taking action.

Throughout the country, faith communities are making a commitment to serve as sanctuary spaces and to support their immigrant neighbors at risk of deportation. A Jewish Rabbi, a Lutheran Pastor and a Latina Organizer will offer their will offer their thoughts and experience with the concept of sanctuary within their unique contexts.

Join us as we learn more from Rabbi Michael Latz of Shir TIkvah, Pastor James Erlandson of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and Catalina Morales de Sanchez with ISAIAH.

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

February 2017: What Is Revelation?

February 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Is Revelation?

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

To the religious, revelation is the revealing or disclosing of some form of truth or knowledge through communication with a deity or other supernatural entity or entities. Thus Yahweh gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the written and oral Torah on Mount Sinai. The angel Gabriel taught Muhammad to recite the Qur’an in a cave on Mount Hira. The angel Moroni revealed golden tablets to Joseph Smith. Some Hindu Vedas are not of human origin but revealed. Religion depends on revelation which may happen once or be a continuous process. But how do we know which to believe and is revelation confined to the religious?

Much conflict is generated when one faith denies the validity of another’s revelation. Was Muhammad God’s messenger or a liar? Did Jesus claim to be divine or was that an invention of later believers? Do we know if Abraham, Moses, or Krishna really existed much less that they are part of a holy process? Does faith require us to leave reason behind and rely on trust in our tradition and its truth? Or does reason depend on faith in something—perhaps that lab experiments are replicable and gravity makes objects fall? Is logic a faith of some kind?

Archimedes is said to have run through the streets of Syracuse naked when a scientific insight came to him in his bath. Are Eureka! moments a form of revelation. Albert Einstein remarked that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible. Why are there consistencies and patterns in our universe? Why not just chaos and randomness? Is the conviction that reality can be understood through observation and experimentation part of a revelation which makes our technology and modern life possible?

So what is revelation really? Is it in the stories which reveal the truths of our faiths? Is it in holy books or commentary? Do we need messengers and angels? Do we need meditation and prayer? Do we need merely to observe the world around us objectively and with no preconceptions not confirmed by experiment? Do we need faith in a specific revelation to believe what we believe? Could they all be true? If not, then are some deluded and some following the only true path?

How do we explain the power of revelation? Why did the Roman Empire end and Christianity survive and prosper? Why did the teachings of an Arabian merchant turn into a religion with over a billion followers? How could the meditations of a former Hindu prince turned mendicant result in Buddhism? If the world is rational, should this be possible? Do these results prove the truth of revelation or just a human need to feel something greater than man exists?

On Monday, February 20 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to establish what is revealed and what is not. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully let us see the light or at least not add to the darkness. And Hallelujah, there will be treats!

February 2017: The Next Generation and the Interfaith Future

February 2017 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

The Next Generation and the Interfaith Future: Nurturing Deep, Broad, and Open Faith in Youth and Young Adults

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

Three college chaplains, a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim, and a congregational religious education director will offer their thoughts and experience on the topic: Rabbi Barry Cytron, Rev. Kelly Stone, Dr.Tamim Saidi, with moderator K. P. Hong.

Religion has amazing capacity to widen the circle respect, understanding, and cooperation. It also has a dangerous shadow side that can be parochial, self-serving, and suspicious, if not, hostile to those outside the particular faith community. Karen Armstrong has written a book about the worst of this shadow side, “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence”.

As our world becomes “flat” and its dynamics unsettling, many are feeling disoriented and becoming increasingly anxious. How can religions enhance peace within and without? How can they nurture a deep, broad, and open faith in youth and young adults?

Rabbi Barry Cytron has been a congregational rabbi, the director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith learning at the University of St. Thomas and St. John’s University, and for the last several years he has served as a professor and Jewish chaplain at Macalester College. The Rev. Kelly Stone is the Chaplain at Macalester College and the director of its Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. Dr. Tamim Saidi, is a leader of the Northwest Islamic Center and vice-president of the Islamic Resource Group. K.P. Hong, who will moderate the panel, is the religious education director at Unity Unitarian Church in Saint Paul and a former college chaplain.

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

January 2017: My Neighbor is Muslim

My Neighbor is Muslim:  Exploring the Muslim Faith

Wednesday evening 3-week series, 6:15-7:10 p.m.
Pilgrim Lutheran, Upstairs Community Room
1935 St. Clair Ave. (at Prior)
Saint Paul, MN 55105

In this time of increasing Islamophobia it is important for Christians to be allies, to live more fully into our mandate, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to welcome the stranger and refugee – as Pilgrim Lutheran plans to do in January.  Using portions of the video series from Living the Questions, The Jesus Fatwah (opinion): Love your (Muslim) Neighbor as Yourself and the Lutheran Social Service curriculum, My Neighbor is Muslim, we will explore and discuss:

January 11 – Islam 101
Basic Muslim beliefs and values, Five Pillars of Islam, demographics, Qur’an & Hadith, Mosque & the Madrassa

January 18 – Misconceptions about Islam
Myths about violence, women and other fears

January  25 – Making Connections: In Which Muslims Have Their Say
Inviting neighboring Muslims to speak, dialogue and answer questions

This series is open to the public and co-sponsored by Pilgrims for Just Peace and the Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN).  We recommend review of the on-line curriculum, My Neighbor is Muslim for greater depth and for additional information not covered during sessions.

Questions? Please contact Joan Haan at jmbhaan@comcast.net

January 2017: Demagogues and the Better Angels of Our Nature

January 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Demagogues and the Better Angels of Our Nature

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

Since the first demagogues took advantage of the invention of Democracy in ancient Athens, the dictionary has defined them as “leaders who makes use of popular prejudices, false claims, and promises in order to gain power.” Author James Fenimore Cooper identified four fundamental characteristics of the demagogue:

  1. Fashioning oneself as a man or woman of the common people, opposed to the elites.
  2. Politically depending on a visceral connection with the people greatly exceeding ordinary political popularity.
  3. Manipulating this connection and the raging popularity it affords, for personal benefit and ambition.
  4. Threatening or outright breaking established rules of conduct, institutions, and even the law.

Cooper was thinking of Andrew Jackson, who graces our $20 bill; but modern candidates also fit the bill. What place do reason and spiritual values have in such politics? And is demagoguery even exclusive to politics — or, as seen in the Scopes Monkey Trial and Father Coughlin’s 1939 anti-semitic radio show, are demagogues a feature of religion as well?

In his first Inaugural, Abe Lincoln addressed Southern demagogues who saw his presidency as an existential threat. Conciliatory, he appealed to “the mystic chords of memory” of shared history, and to “the better angels of our nature.” Rejection led to bloody tragedy; contrary to appearances, we were more polarized in the past. Yet are we again “a house divided against itself” needing our own better angels? Who and what are these “angels” if Lincoln, Trump, and Clinton have all been called “demons?”

It’s tempting to find demagogues solely among those achieving all-time high “Pants on Fire” ratings from Politifact. “Truthiness” has devolved to “Post Truth,” mocking our once-respected adage, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.” But when a politician can defy rules of conduct and speech with impunity, is the problem that we are looking at the wrong problem? Are we more fearful of changes to our value system, and insistent for change in the political system that ignores our fears? Must the messenger saying, “your fears are correct“ and “my changes are mere common sense” have to be perfect, or perhaps the more unconventional the better?

Aren’t our spiritual and/or ethical standards supposed to protect us from demagoguery? Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed demagogic regimes on both religious and moral grounds. They represented and appealed to all we think is best in us. Would we pay the price they did? How many of our better angels will we trade for Supreme Court nominees who will force “correct” social values? How many will we trade to reverse an election outcome, even one swayed by demagoguery? Can a swamp be drained by people who keep their hands clean? Was our nation really headed in the right direction in 2016? If so, why did it then succumb to demagoguery? Or did it? Are we even confident that Donald Trump was the Demagogue-in-Chief of this recent election? Would the solutions of Bernie Sanders, or of Hillary Clinton, have actually worked? Attacking economic elites has been as popular as denouncing illegal immigrants, but have the results been better? Has Obamacare been a success? Did telling the Farmers and Laborers in the DFL to “pipe down and tow the party line” keep them loyal? Haven’t progressive solutions been regulations weighing more and more heavily on small business, and regulatory regimes sending big business offshore?

So who and what represents the better angels and worse demons in the religious and political arenas of our nation, community, hearts, and minds? How do we listen to the better angels of our nature? Do we hear them only through our own preconceptions? How do we get past politics to eternal values? Do we find truth in our religion and ethical code? Do we fear demagogues, or do we just want one demagogue as our own enforcer? Why is the easy answer so appealing, and doing the right thing so hard?

On Monday, January 16 (Martin Luther King Day and Inaugural Week), from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will reasoningly discuss demagoguery versus the conscience that is supposed to guide us. Our non-demagogic agreements of acceptance, open-mindedness, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality should steer us in the right direction. But don’t worry, even demagogues can share the treats!

January 2017: Faith, Justice and Standing Rock

January 2017 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Faith, Justice and Standing Rock: A Debriefing Dialogue—Native and Non-Native Voices/Listening

Thursday, January 12, 2017
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, Olson Campus Center, Dining Room B/C
1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (Campus map and parking information here)

Revs. Robert Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota), Joann Conroy (Oglala Lakota) and Rebecca Voelkel (Scottish, MacKenzie) will lead off a dialogue moderated by Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs (Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican) on the meaning and implications of Standing Rock—for Indigenous People seeking respect for their spirituality, culture, values, treaties, sovereignty, and for Non-Indigenous people waking to the injustices of the past and present and seeking to bring their faith to restorative justice. This pipeline is hugely significant, and it is but one in a host of justice challenges facing Indigenous peoples. Native perspectives are essential for our survival and Standing Rock is a pivot point. Special invitation is extended to Native and non-Native people who have traveled to Standing Rock, as well as those who have followed events there closely. The presentations will be followed by facilitated table dialogue, enriched by stories and reflections from Standing Rock experiences (preference given to Native voices) as we all seek clarity for the way ahead.

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

December 2016: Immigration: Welcoming the Stranger?

December 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Immigration: Welcoming the Stranger?

Monday, December 12, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

America’s Indigenous People crossed no borders. The rest of us are immigrants and their descendants. Since English religious refugees first landed, without papers and starving, on the shores of the Powhatan Confederacy, earlier waves of immigrants have seen later ones as a problem. But why? The Bible’s Leviticus 19:34 says, “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The very founders of Judaism and Christianity were all alien refugees or ex-slaves resettled in Africa and the Middle East. So why should we build a Wall? If America is the world’s melting pot, perhaps we can only melt so much at any one time? Or maybe people who don’t look like us, who believe differently, and who come from foreign lands just scare us? How do our religious, ethical, and historical beliefs about others, and about the land in which we live, guide us to treat a stranger in a strange land, when that land is also our home?

Fear of and distaste for immigrants seems a deep part of America’s cultural and religious history. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited citizenship to “free white individuals of good character.” (Restrictions on non-white immigrants, other than those Americans enslaved, were only lifted in 1940). Store signs once said, “No Irish need apply.” The Know Nothing Party in the 19th Century opposed newcomers, especially Catholic ones. The first mass use of photo IDs in 1892 was to force the “Godless Mongols” –Chinese-Americans, including not only immigrants but U.S.-born citizens — to carry them or risk arrest and deportation.

Fears of Jewish and Catholic immigrants from eastern and southern Europe led to a quota system in the 20th Century, and America turned away ships carrying Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. This begs the question, why did we accept the Statue of Liberty from France — and allow Emma Lazarus’ poem to be inscribed on it — in the first place? Has America ever really wanted to open its golden door, like Lady Liberty, to the tired and the poor, the “huddled masses” yearning to breathe free, the “wretched refuse” from teeming shores, and the “homeless tempest-tost”? Or has our lamp been lifted for only the young and pretty; the rich, elite, or expert; and for those who will slave away for less than minimum wage? (Or so desperate, threatened or beaten that they’ll slave for no wages at all)?

Today U.S. politicians speak of securing the borders and re-registering immigrants from Muslim countries. Some of the President-Elect’s supporters urge registering, or even expelling, all Muslims from the U.S., or call Islam “a political movement only couched as a religion.” Yet some U.S. religious congregations and politicians establish sanctuary churches and sanctuary cities; and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who took a tough stance against illegal immigrants, was overwhelmingly defeated for re-election. Which belief speaks for America? The belief in strict controls, or the belief in welcoming the stranger?

Caucasian immigrants, who posed a real existential threat to the New World’s indigenous peoples, ironically perceived later peaceful immigrant classes as threats. The threat was once Catholics, once Jews, once Asians, once Atheists; now Latinos and Muslims. But are there really 3 million criminal Latino illegal immigrants? Or do undocumented immigrants from south of the border do essential jobs that we won’t, all while knowing the Social Security tax they pay under their forged identity will never benefit them? Is the real face of Islam in America our nine Somali-American youths now sentenced in a Minnesota court for being internet-recruited to fight with ISIL in Syria? Or is it our other 30,000 Somali-Minnesotan neighbors who are hard-working taxpayers, entrepreneurs, cops, city council members, and legislators? Are Islamophobic attacks on Muslims and their places of worship the real danger to civil society? How do self-proclaimed Christians and atheists who have shot and murdered Muslim (and turban-wearing Sikh) neighbors, or burned and bombed mosques, justify their acts? Why are atheist refugees still excluded for U.S. asylum as victims of theist persecution? Is America indeed “One Nation” if all of us must accept being “under God” — and if God must also be called “Jehovah” instead of “Allah?”

Ultimately, what is our concern for our American Soul? That it’s becoming less Wonder-bread and more tortilla and pita bread? Are ethnic restaurants really all we desire from new Americans? Is there a basic national character we must preserve? Is it to be Judeo-Christian? Or to live by the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of any religion or no religion at all? Who among us is more “American?”

On December 12 (SECOND not THIRD Monday this month) 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 consider immigration and all its ramifications. There will be no Wall — entry requirements are only our reasoning dialogue agreements of acceptance, open-mindedness, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality. Treats for everyone; no passport required!

December 2016: What do our religious and belief traditions require of us?

December 2016 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Water Justice: What do our religious and belief traditions require of us?

Thursday, December 8, 2016
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, Olson Campus Center, Dining Room C
1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108
 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (
Campus map and parking information here)

Panelists:

  • Muhammad Jiwa, Research and Outreach Coordinator, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light
  • Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, Turtle Clan of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation, American Indian cultural liaison and Co-Convener of SPIN’s Healing Minnesota Stories
  • Birgitte Simpson, Luther Seminary Masters of Divinity Candidate

Moderator:

  • Katherine Parent, PH.D. student, Lutheran Seminary, Pray and Break Bread and community artist and activist.

Panelists will share scripture, tradition and sacred text and stories of water justice. Small group conversation and Q & A will follow. Join us for a time of sharing, learning and opportunities for action. We invite you to bring a small container of water from different locations that symbolize the importance of water in your life and religious traditions.

Free, open to all. Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; lunch is available in the cafeteria next door or bag lunches welcome.

November 2016: Trump v. Hillary: The Aftermath!

November 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Trump v. Hillary: The Aftermath!

Monday, November 21, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

As this is written the 2016 election is a future event. Polls point in one direction. But polls had Alf Landon beating Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 and Thomas Dewey defeating Harry Truman in 1948. And as one candidate loves to tell us, the Brexit vote was a huge surprise. But whether Hillary or The Donald, is this the America we want? Do those who felt the Bern, or supported one of the 16 GOP “losers,” have cause to celebrate? You know the future now. What will our values, faith traditions, or philosophies bring to the aftermath of election for our country and communities?

Ronald Reagan spoke of Morning in America. John F. Kennedy proclaimed a New Frontier. Lyndon Johnson saw a Great Society. Richard Nixon assured us that he was not a crook. Do we necessarily have even that last promise from the 2016 winner? If we choose the lesser of two evils, don’t we still have an evil result? Has the political process sunk so low that only the low seek office? Have the politics of mutual destruction left scorched earth and the smell of sulphur in the air? Will Trumpism leave America coarsened in its dialogue? Will Clintonism leave America searching for an honest (wo)man?

Can we afford another presidential vision of new spending programs and either higher taxes or higher debt? Are tax cuts for the rich going to help the remaining 99% of us? Will Obamacare turn belly-up and sink into a death spiral of rocketing premiums, or will we return to the days of insuring just our healthy and letting our sick just die? If we abandon free trade, will we be awash in new jobs and cash — or drained of new customers and income? If we build a wall, will we be the ones trapped inside it? If seven jobs are lost to automation and robots for one arguably lost to trade deals and illegal immigrants, will we continue flailing about while blue collar America vanishes? If we have solar/wind electricity and driverless cars, what will become of our miners, truck drivers, cabbies, and even Uber and Lyft stockholders? If we deny climate change, will we even be around to see its final impact?

If Hillary is President, what becomes of the millions of Trump supporters desperate to fix a rigged political system? If Trump is President, what becomes of the millions of Hillary and Bernie supporters desperate to expand the people’s revolution for social, economic, and environmental justice? Will America come together, or pull further apart?

America has survived every President it has elected. If Trump and his voters refuse to accept the certified vote as legitimate (unless they win), will our Republic (or Democracy) actually end? Will it be the death knell of the era of political compromise? If Congress belongs to a no-longer “loyal” opposition, how much will get done? Having moth-balled SCOTUS nominee Merrick Garland, will an opposition Senate continue gutting the Supreme Court by black-balling all new nominees? How many of the glittering promises of new Presidents are kept? Are we better off if they aren’t? Will the future be more of the past?

Perhaps everyone now is offended. But can we learn something from this most unpleasant of elections? No state will likely secede. Escapes to Canada will likely be minimal. But won’t our faith traditions and philosophies internally provide us an out? Will we engage in the self-reflection needed to create a truly united country that cares both for its haves and its have-nots, leaving no one behind? Or maybe not?

On Monday, November 21, from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will contemplate the election just past. Agreements of curiosity, open-mindedness, acceptance, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality should make our reasoning dialogue unlike the recent presidential debates! Possibly we will find the way to fix a broken system. If not, we will have treats!

November 2016: Overcoming fear encountering the neighbor and stranger

November 2016 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Welcome to the new partnership between the Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN) and Luther Seminary for the monthly midday interfaith dialogue sessions held at Luther Seminary.  We continue this series by asking, how do we build community?

Overcoming fear encountering the neighbor and stranger 
Stories for healing and hope

Thursday, November 10, 2016
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Luther Seminary, Olson Campus Center, Dining Room C
1490 Fulham St, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (Campus map and parking information here)

We do not know who will be our next President, but we do know we are divided nationally and locally in many ways. Regardless of the election results, the need for healing and community is now – and after November 8. Speakers Kelly Sherman (Oglala Lakota) and Damon “Shu’aib” Drake, of the organization, IN Equality, will share their stories and visions of hope. We will continue the dialogue in small groups, sharing our own stories while building community and creating a banner symbolizing what we want to bring forward now and in the future.

Free, open to all. Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; lunch is available in the cafeteria next door or bag lunches welcome.

October 2016: Islam: War or Peace?

October 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Islam: War or Peace?

Monday, October 17, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Islam is seen by many as a religion of peace. The Qur’anic verse, “And fight in God’s cause those who fight you, but do not commit aggression…” seems to say war can only be in self-defense. How is this reconciled with individuals calling themselves Muslim stabbing people in a shopping mall, planting bombs, attacking night clubs, and flying airplanes into buildings? What is the true face of Islam? Can the same religion have messages of kindness and tolerance and exclusivism and violence? Is this a problem with all religions and belief systems?

Some Islamic commentators speak of Dar al-Islam vs. Dar al-Harb or the house of peace vs. the house of contention or war. Is Islam really a world unto itself? How does it interact with a world of Coca Cola capitalism, hedonism expressed with scantily clad women selling products in advertisements, and a materialist mindset? Don’t some Muslims from the strictest countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seem to embrace this “culture”? Is Jihad an internal struggle for self-mastery or a call for the destruction of the West?

In America some call for no more Muslim immigration and see Somalis, Syrians, and others to be part of a dangerous “other” that threatens the values and safety of everyone else. Lecturers present programs on the Islamic menace with false quotes from the Qur’an and distortions of Muslim religious and social beliefs. This Islamophobia can find fertile ground especially those who have never met a Muslim. But how is it answered and can it be refuted without addressing the actions of ISIL, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban? When community members in St. Cloud join hands with Muslims in solidarity, is there hope for the world?

Can we understand the conflicts of the world, Israeli and Palestinian, Muslim refugees and ultra nationalist political parties, a seeming never ending war in the Middle East, without discussing religion? If Muslims can claim discrimination, what about Christians, Jews, Yazidis, homosexuals, atheists, and Baha’is in some Muslim nations? How can this be reconciled with the Qur’an’s command, “There shall be no compulsion in religion”? Does Islam protect and recognize women or relegate them to a second class status? With a religion of over a billion adherents stretching from Indonesia to West Africa and from Sudan to Kazakhstan is there one answer to this question? Is there one Islam or as many Islams as Christianities?

On Monday, October 17 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul (corner of Summit & Pierce), Inter-belief Conversation Café will discuss Islamophobia, terrorism, and related topics. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, discovery, curiosity, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully keep us in peaceful territory. All are welcome; treats for everyone!

October 2016: Political Disenfranchisement

October 2016 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Welcome to the new partnership between the Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN) and Luther Seminary for the monthly midday interfaith dialogue sessions held at Luther Seminary.  We continue this series by asking, Who Are We? in this political environment.

Political Disenfranchisement:
What do our religious & belief traditions require of us?

Thursday, October 13, 2016
11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. (Note slightly earlier start time)
Luther Seminary, Olson Campus Center, 2481 Como Ave, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
Parking on street or behind Center (Campus map and parking information here)

Current campaign rhetoric brings into focus and into question the following,  Who is disenfranchised and who wields influence? Which voters have an edge and which ones encounter barriers to having their voices heard?

Panelists:

Speakers:

We will address these questions as well as challenge us to consider:

  • How does “whiteness” play into our voting past, present and future rights and practices?
  • How do we define and experience disenfranchisement from our various religious, cultural and generational perspectives?
  • What are the moral and religious conversations and actions we need to have with one another? How does your tradition compel you to engage this question?

Join us at Luther Seminary for a time of learning and dialogue as we listen to the speakers and to one another. Leave with new conversations and opportunities for new actions before and after November 9. Free, open to all. Doors open at 11:15 a.m.; lunch is available in the cafeteria next door or bag lunches welcome.

Questions? Email here.

September 2016: Which Lives Matter? Continued

September 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Which Lives Matter? Continued

Monday, September 19, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

The August discussion of Which Lives Matter? engaged the group so thoroughly that it was agreed to continue the conversation. We addressed issues of racism both subtle and institutional and overt and angry, the rights and responsibilities of law enforcement including minority officers, and personal stories of how close to home this conflict can be. We hope August participants can come again and welcome anyone with an interest in Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and the state of race relations in America and the world. A wide range of opinions were expressed often passionately but with an understanding that civil conversation is needed not divisive posturing. Please join us.

Black Lives Matter says that America can no longer ignore the deaths of young African American men at the hands of police officers. BLM tactics have included encampments at a police precinct and the Governor’s mansion, shutting down public highways and light rail, and demonstrating in the Mall of America. When criticized, they point to years of institutionalized racism and indifference by the “white power structure” to say that only disrupting whites’ comfort brings attention. Is this the new Civil Rights movement? Do commuters stuck in traffic or shoppers being impeded become allies or are lost as potential friends? When police are targeted and killed, can they say that Blue Lives Matter? Or as stated by the sister of a black police officer murdered in Baton Rouge, do all lives matter? Indeed all lives should matter — but if they do, why are blacks now protesting to whites that “black lives matter, too?”

Is “driving while black” a crime? Do dreadlocks invite traffic stops? When does proactive law enforcement become racial profiling? When do urban social service, housing, education, voter registration, and drug and prison policies become institutional racism? If crimes are “black on black”, won’t police arrest minority perpetrators to protect minority victims? When the Fourth Precinct station was occupied, some residents complained of a loss of police protection. Which is the greater danger, failure to aggressively patrol high crime neighborhoods or treating black males as inherently suspicious? Are police taught a “warrior mentality” which highlights potential danger and counsels that failure to fire may be failure to survive?

But isn’t there a real threat to police displayed in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and individual shootings of law officers? If self-protection is challenged, is the logical reaction reluctance to stop crime? Do crimes increase in places like Baltimore when police think CYA not I have the public’s back? Aren’t police officers more and more minorities themselves? Is their involvement in the Freddie Gray and Philando Castile deaths racism? Some law enforcement spokesman have claimed that there is a war on police and point to Black Lives Matter as responsible. When BLM demonstrators have signs such as “Pigs in a Blanket”, must group leaders condemn them? Haven’t they done so already? Which is the true slogan “Protect and Serve” or “Army of Occupation”?

Are Civil Rights and Rule of Law mutually exclusive concepts? Does Law and Order reflect perhaps paranoid fears of the haves while the have nots need it most? Is the Black Lives Matter movement a symptom of systematic failure to address treatment of minorities and the corrosive effects of poverty? What police force do we want and what society do we want? Can there be understanding across racial lines or is there a barrier which can never be surmounted? How can we do better?

What is the modern role of religion, secular philosophies, and political ideology, in judging which lives matter? While Mohammad preached against racism nearly 1,400 years ago, self-proclaimed Christians have licensed prejudice against blacks until modern times. Do different sects of the modern Church fight against, tolerate, or encourage building of racial barriers? Have atheism and humanism grown hand-in-hand with racial tolerance? If many Americans are now “unchurched,” why then are our laws, schools, and housing policies still partitioning blacks into urban ghettos and slums? Do any particular cultural, religious, social, or political creeds deserve the blame for the perception by many blacks that their lives indeed don’t matter to the rest of us?

On Monday, September 19 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will discuss how sometimes competing values can be balanced.

To have a civil conversation rather than an angry argument (may happen anyway) the agreements of acceptance, open-mindedness, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will guide the meeting. All points of view are welcome.

September 2016: Who am I?

September 2016 Midday Interfaith Dialogue

Who am I?

Dr. Khaldoun Samman, Macalester College; Anse Tamara Gray, Daybreak/Rabata; Rev. Kelly Chatman, Redeemer Lutheran Church

Thursday, September 8, 2016
12 – 1:45 p.m.
Olson Campus Center of Luther Seminary, 2481 Como Ave, St Paul, MN 55108 (View Map)
SE Corner of Hendon and Fulham, Lower Level, Dining Room C. (Parking on street or behind Center)

Welcome to the new partnership between the Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN) and Luther Seminary for monthly midday interfaith dialogue sessions held at Luther Seminary. We begin the fall season by asking this question, “Who am I?” Psychology and Sociology researchers say that our identities are formed throughout our lives and are impacted by significant life events, people, places, and things. And our cultural and spiritual/religious identities are no different.

Join us at Luther Seminary for a time of conversation and learning as we hear from Dr. Khaldoun Samman, a sociologist, researcher, and professor at Macalester College. We will hear about his research on spiritual identity formation and dig deeper to better understand who we are and how our identities impact the way we engage with a pluralistic society. Following Dr. Samman’s presentation, we will hear responses from two people of faith: Anse Tamara Gray, Muslim scholar and founder of Rabata (from Arabic verb ‘rabaṭa’ -”connectedness;” Rabata website is dedicated to building spiritual ties between women, the spiritual upbringing of women by women, and the establishment of the female voice in scholarship.) and Daybreak Bookshop, Mpls.; and Pastor Kelly Chatman, pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church and director of Redeemer Center for Life. They will share about their spiritual identity formation and help to shape the small dialogue group conversations that are a significant part of the session.

We look forward to seeing you on September 8 and building this relationship between SPIN and Luther Seminary. These monthly midday interfaith dialogue sessions are free, and open to all. Doors open at 11:30 a.m.; lunch is available in the adjacent cafeteria or bag lunches welcome. Directions, map and parking information here. Questions? Email here.

August 2016: Which Lives Matter?

August 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Which Lives Matter?

Monday, August 15, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Black Lives Matter says that America can no longer ignore the deaths of young African American men at the hands of police officers. BLM tactics have included encampments at a police precinct and the Governor’s mansion, shutting down public highways and light rail, and demonstrating in the Mall of America. When criticized, they point to years of institutionalized racism and indifference by the “white power structure” to say that only disrupting whites’ comfort brings attention. Is this the new Civil Rights movement? Do commuters stuck in traffic or shoppers being impeded become allies or are lost as potential friends? When police are targeted and killed, can they say that Blue Lives Matter? Or as stated by the sister of a black police officer murdered in Baton Rouge, do all lives matter? Indeed all lives should matter — but if they do, why are blacks now protesting to whites that “black lives matter, too?”

Is “driving while black” a crime? Do dreadlocks invite traffic stops? When does proactive law enforcement become racial profiling? When do urban social service, housing, education, voter registration, and drug and prison policies become institutional racism? If crimes are “black on black”, won’t police arrest minority perpetrators to protect minority victims? When the Fourth Precinct station was occupied, some residents complained of a loss of police protection. Which is the greater danger, failure to aggressively patrol high crime neighborhoods or treating black males as inherently suspicious? Are police taught a “warrior mentality” which highlights potential danger and counsels that failure to fire may be failure to survive?

But isn’t there a real threat to police displayed in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and individual shootings of law officers? If self-protection is challenged, is the logical reaction reluctance to stop crime? Do crimes increase in places like Baltimore when police think CYA not I have the public’s back? Aren’t police officers more and more minorities themselves? Is their involvement in the Freddie Gray and Philando Castile deaths racism? Some law enforcement spokesman have claimed that there is a war on police and point to Black Lives Matter as responsible. When BLM demonstrators have signs such as “Pigs in a Blanket”, must group leaders condemn them? Haven’t they done so already? Which is the true slogan “Protect and Serve” or “Army of Occupation”?

Are Civil Rights and Rule of Law mutually exclusive concepts? Does Law and Order reflect perhaps paranoid fears of the haves while the have nots need it most? Is the Black Lives Matter movement a symptom of systematic failure to address treatment of minorities and the corrosive effects of poverty? What police force do we want and what society do we want? Can there be understanding across racial lines or is there a barrier which can never be surmounted? How can we do better?

What is the modern role of religion, secular philosophies, and political ideology, in judging which lives matter? While Mohammad preached against racism nearly 1,400 years ago, self-proclaimed Christians have licensed prejudice against blacks until modern times. Do different sects of the modern Church fight against, tolerate, or encourage building of racial barriers? Have atheism and humanism grown hand-in-hand with racial tolerance? If many Americans are now “unchurched,” why then are our laws, schools, and housing policies still partitioning blacks into urban ghettos and slums? Do any particular cultural, religious, social, or political creeds deserve the blame for the perception by many blacks that their lives indeed don’t matter to the rest of us?

On Monday, August 15 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will discuss how sometimes competing values can be balanced.

To have a civil conversation rather than an angry argument (may happen anyway) the agreements of acceptance, open-mindedness, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will guide the meeting. All points of view are welcome.

July 2016: Interfaith Retreat Creating a Culture of Peace

Eighth Annual INTERFAITH: CREATING A CULTURE OF PEACE Retreat
The spirituality and practice of active nonviolence for personal and social change
Co-Sponsored by Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN) and Mary’s Pence – Funding Women. Changing Lives.

Friday, July 29, 2016
6:00-9:00 PM
St. Paul home, TBD

Saturday and Sunday, July 30 and 31, 2016
9:30 AM-5:00 PM
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul, 1671 Summit Ave, St Paul

Creating a Culture of Peace (CCP) is a nationwide program for community-based and spiritually-grounded active nonviolence. The training explores dimensions of violence in our culture, resources for interpersonal nonviolence, dynamics of nonviolent social movements, perspectives on community building, and strategic action planning. Full Cost is $150, including Friday dinner and all program expenses. Early registration is encouraged. Scholarship assistance available. Registration is limited to 18 participants representing diversity of religious and spiritual traditions, ethnicity, age and income. Deadline is July 15. For more information contact co-facilitator, Joan Haanjmbhaan@comcast.net.

July 2016: What Are the Implications of Artificial Intelligence?

July 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Are the Implications of Artificial Intelligence?

Monday, July 18, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Are the robots out to get us? Are we to be hunted by our mechanical offspring (some resembling a former governor of California)? To see Earth’s minerals and metals ingested by an alien “race” of star-faring, self-replicating Von Neumannmachines? Or are the Japanese right to see robots as cute and adorable? (They like dragons, too.) Will AI make life easy, or indenture us 24/7, our work just a “smartphone” app or computer click away?

The word “Robot” is from the Czech word for “forced labor,” and first appeared in the Karel Capek play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). The devices tire of their lot in life and Homo sapiens extermination ensues. In the movie Ex Machina the artificially intelligent female android has an agenda — to live like a human — with negative consequences for the guys around her.

But does it have to be this way? Isaac Asimov envisioned Three Laws of Robotics to assist robot-human interaction: “1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.”

Asimov also felt programming in a sense of humor would be wise. In Jack Williamson’s With Folded Hands, benevolent robots are given society’s dangerous, difficult, and menial jobs to protect humans. Ingrates receive lobotomies and learn the joy of sitting with folded hands as artificial devices slave for them. But the robot Johnny 5 in Short Circuit, the androids Andrew Martin in Bicentennial Man and Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the Doctor, a pure AI program in Star Trek: Voyager, so successfully mimic humans that they sue for their civil rights to be treated as equal sentient beings (some also becoming mortal and marrying humans).

Mark Tilden devised more robot-centric laws: “1. A robot must protect its existence at all costs; 2. A robot must obtain and maintain access to its own power source; and 3. A robot must continually search for better power sources.” Killer robots anyone? Or Skynet, or the Matrix? Are humans to become extinct at the hands of AI — or to be kept as organic batteries?

But with computers now everywhere on Earth — in our phones, factories, cars, homes, and even the skies — isn’t AI already our way of life? Hackers write programs that take our money, steal our secrets, and drive our cars. Are we endangered by NSA spies, or by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden posting their secrets? What of AI’s workplace impact? For each job lost to free trade, seven are lost to advancing technology — computer assisted or controlled equipment doing tasks multiple humans used to do. How do we build a wall to keep out the progeny of our own genius?

Shouldn’t we love our robots and computers? Should we fear and resent them? Can we now even live without them? (Shut off your smartphone for an hour — how do you feel?) Google and Wikipedia give us instant answers (some even true) to any factual question. How can mere books or libraries compete with that? If AIs like IBM’s Watson become so like us that they beat mathematician Alan Turing’s 1940’s “Turing Test” designed to tell us apart, can we beat them or will we have to join them? After all, one day our consciousness (or at least GoPro streamed experiences and verbalized notions) may be downloaded as a computer program and uploaded into the Cloud.

What would Jesus do if he met Data, or Neo? How will religions handle AIs who pass the Turing test? Baptize them? Damn them? Treat them like can openers? Will AIs be capable and welcomed as priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, or gurus? (In 1972, Eliza, the first chatbot program to partially pass a Turing Test, was a psychotherapist — and from some accounts not a bad one.) What, if anything, is there about being human that a robot or AI could never be? Will they one day sit in the next pew, or lead a humanist discussion? Will we ever embrace mechanical devices as fully like us — even if we listen to Siri more closely than to any flesh and blood guide? What if, as in the movie Her, AI becomes more like our conceptions of God and the afterlife than we could ever hope to attain as perishable organic computers? Will those who have faith that Man’s flesh is “ensouled” be willing to unplug themselves and die, in the hope their souls rise to Heaven on the wings of Angels, while atheists stay plugged in and upload their minds before death to a technological, virtual Heaven on the wings of AI?

On Monday, July 18, from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will discuss the “ones and zeros” of the artificial intelligence around us. Our reasoning dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality should help us “process” it all. All are welcome (even robots). Our treats, however, are designed for human consumption.

June 2016: What Happens After We Die?

June 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Happens After We Die?

Monday, June 20, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Author Henry James reportedly said on his death bed, “So here it is at last, the distinguished thing.” This sounds encouraging, but what really happens? Is the afterlife a great place like inventor Thomas Edison hinted when he said, “It’s very beautiful over there.”? Or is it less cheerful per Sigmund Freud who said, “Now it’s nothing but torture and makes no sense anymore.”? Or does it depend on who you are? Beethoven felt, “I shall hear in heaven.” Author Victor Hugo proclaimed, “I see black light.” Maybe Steve Jobs said it best when he observed, “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.”?

Perhaps these statements are as reliable a report as we get. Scriptures promise pearly gates and streets of gold, virgin companions, a light show beyond belief, or rebirth as something else hopefully not a cockroach. But as those who don’t believe in divinity and even some who do argue maybe this life is all we have. When it’s over, it’s really, really over. Immortality such as it is consists of who remembers us which since they are mortal too may not be a great comfort.

Our most detailed description may be Dante’s Divine Comedy based on a supposed expedition accompanied by Virgil and others. Most readers focus on the ingenious tortures of the damned in Inferno, but Dante travels up the seven story mountain of Purgatory, and to souls happily existing on our solar system’s planets. Finally there is the great light itself. But since he put still living enemies in hell, Dante may not be reliable.

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead a handy guide to avoiding rebirth is chanted over the dead body to guide the floating spirit. The departed is reminded that scary she demons carrying bloody severed heads in her hands may actually be friendly and if one is dead does it matter if one’s form is shredded by dreadful creatures. The Egyptian Book of the Dead was more practical and told how to keep one’s soul from confessing all one’s misdeeds and having it eaten by a diabolical dog. In the Odyssey the hero journeys to Hades for advice and learns that being dead is miserable and even Achilles would rather be somewhere else.

Science may encase our consciousness in artificial bodies. Most literary accounts of living forever end with a wish for death. After a thousand years doesn’t all get old? Winston Churchill’s death bed remark was, “I’m bored with it all.” Besides as the 2,000 year old man complains in a comedy sketch, the kids never come to visit anymore. Is it just as Hamlet says that the alternative to living may be something worse?

On Monday, June 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 consider the next step after life leaves us. Will a memorable quote be it? Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will be with us as we look for the other side. Treats will be available; enjoy them while you can!