Panelists discuss 'Future of Interfaith' at Spokane FAVS gathering
Four panelists discussed "The Future of Interfaith" at a Spokane FAVs (Faith and Values) Coffee Talk for the first time in the Origin Church building, which in May will be turned over to Spokane FAVs as an interfaith center
Tracy Simmons, editor and executive director of Spokane FAVS, recognized atheists, Buddhists, mainline and evangelical Christians, Bahá'is, Muslims and Jews among the 80 who gathered.
Panelists were Scott Kinder-Pyle, a columnist with Spokane FAVs and a Presbyterian pastor serving Origin, a Disciples of Christ Church; Gen Heywood, pastor of Veradale United Church of Christ and organizer of Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience (FLLC); Liz Schindler a FAVs intern in an interfaith marriage, and Naghmana Sherazi, a FAVs columnist.
Scott said that in Philadelphia, where he grew up, people were blunt, but "in Spokane, we tiptoe around interfaith discussion and race."
Many in interfaith efforts think that different faiths say the same things.
"We have the notion that we know how people feel or know people by their ethnicity, but we do not know each other," he said. "We need dialogue in face-to-face encounters.
"For me, I believe Jesus is the most important figure in history. Christians often dominate discussions, but in opportunities for face-to-face encounters we acknowledge our agnosticism, our 'I don't know.' Whether we are religious, many who are disoriented by doubt dread being unsure," he said.
Scott calls for "radical openness" to the stranger, to Christians, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others.
"A sense of bewilderment lays a foundation for encounter," he said.
In discussion, after panel members each presented, he said that "interfaith dialogue does not mean surrendering or watering down our truth claims. We are in dialogue together, and have different understandings of ultimate truth.
"Interfaith dialogue is fascinating," Scott said.
Liz is Christian and her husband, Neal, is Jewish. They are raising their son with an understanding of both. She observes that often in interfaith relations, despite the human tendency to hate and judge, understanding neighbors and extending compassion are expressed.
"It's not enough to be nice," said Liz, who grew up as an Evangelical Christian in Spokane and had no understanding that there was a synagogue or other faiths. "We need to be aware of the community, our divisions and our shared humanity.
"Neal, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and I are raising our son, but even if Oliver passes as a Christian middle class white boy, he should claim being an interfaith child with a survivor identity.
"We need to be allies. We need to form relationships. We need to break institutional barriers. We need to listen," she said.
"Breaking bread is the best way to know someone. Hospitality means inviting people to our homes and places of worship, and accepting hospitality.
"Interfaith work is crucial if there is to be hope for a future without hostility and hate," said Liz, who attended Whitworth University, where she learned about differences in Christian faith understandings."
Liz said she tells her son, "I believe this and Dada believes this." They will offer him options, but not decide what he will believe.
When Liv Larson Andrews, pastor of Salem Lutheran Church, co-officiated their wedding and prepared them for marriage, Liz said Liv told them that "every marriage is interfaith" because she had not met any two people who had the same views. She pointed out that "it comes down to mutual respect."
Liz added that their interfaith marriage calls for having mutual respect, being non-judgmental and sharing their gifts.
As an intern with FAVs, she plans to start programs and workshops for children to meet neighbors and learn about different understandings of faith. She also plans a story time to read stories of different faiths.
Gen who convenes Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience (FLLC) and Families Against Bigotry (FAB), is also a professional photographer who studies faith and non-faith traditions. Her website includes a gallery of spiritual moments of reflection and action.
FLLC, FAB, Muslims, Sisters of St Francis and Temple Beth Shalom recently screened "The Sultan and the Saint," a documentary on listening, at Temple Beth Shalom.
The faith leaders group developed out of the Poor People's Campaign.
Last spring, Gen sent emails from The Fig Tree Resource Directory to draw people from faiths and non-faiths from A to Z to support the Poor People's Campaign: National Call for Moral Revival, so people of different faiths could work together in support of the principles of the Poor People's Campaign related to racism, poverty, militarism and environment.
FLLC is about doing, so leaders have written statements that have been read at Families Belong Together, at Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' office, had letters to the editor published and have connection with 350 Spokane, Riverkeepers and others to plan a Vigil for the Healing of the Earth on Monday, April 22.
"The future of interfaith is to live the golden rule of loving our neighbor, listening and being open to change and action—painting a building with Habitat, joining a Martin Luther King march or eating together," Gen said. "We learn about people in doing things together. We need to move to full interfaith relations so MLK's vision of the beloved community is made real."
Naghmana, who moved to Spokane seven years ago when she was recruited from Houston to work at Cytogenetic Science, told of coming with her 11-year-old son, knowing no one and finding limited diversity.
She became a columnist with FAVs, and is involved with the Spokane Islamic Center, FLLC, Spokane Women Together, Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom and the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane Steering Committee.
Concerned that people often "judge a book by the cover," she encourages people not to judge who others might be.
"I'm a Muslim single mother, brown and old. Until I was just laid off, I worked as a scientist, educator and researcher at a local university. I am a different color, faith and background from most faculty who are white. I plan to converse with administration about commitment to diversity," she said.
Naghmana knows that in Karachi, Pakistan, where she grew up, she experienced "brown privilege," living among people of her background.
"Part of the future of interfaith is about intercultural relationships," said Naghmana, who for 14 years was a flight attendant out of Pakistan, serving predominantly Pakistani Muslim passengers. "Moving to Spokane, I met Bosnian Muslims and Muslims from other cultures for the first time.
"Unless I stepped out of my own 'pond' here in Spokane, I would not get to know people of other cultures and faiths. I also connect with people of different cultural groups through Spokane Women Together, started by Hilary Hart. We get together for potlucks, bringing food from our cultures and talking about our food, our heritages, our children, our hopes and our dreams."
Naghmana is also among women whose stories and portraits are featured in an exhibit, "Spokane Women Together: Portraits and Stories," created by Hilary and her photographer husband Rick Singer. The exhibit of Spokane women from nine countries and 11 religious faiths who speak 14 languages, was displayed during February for Women's History Month at the Spokane Valley Library.
"It features Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Christian and more. Some cover their hair and some do not, based on faith or personal choice," she said.
In Spokane Women Together gatherings, "we learn from each other and rub off on each other," Naghmana said.
Each panelist wrote columns on the theme on Spokane FAVS.
The presentations and conversations that followed can be accessed at https://www.facebook.com/SpokaneFAVS/videos/2364468327169507/.
For information, call 240-1830 or visit spokanefavs.com.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2019