Friday, September 2, 2011

Helping Detroit move from diversity to pluralism: The Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues

In my previous post, I introduced you to the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC), a professional networking group that meets once every two months in a place of cultural, historic, and religious significance in the city of Detroit. I had the privilege of attending my second gathering of this group last Friday at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit’s “Piety Hill” district on Woodward.

Before the meeting, we were given a tour of the ETS’s chapel, which was built for Detroit’s First Presbyterian Church in the 1800s. I felt like I had stepped back in time to some Renaissance-era cathedral in Europe, which contrasted interestingly with the ETS’s current progressive and appropriately pluralistic approach to religious education.

Like the DIA, the ETS was well-chosen for this meeting not only because of its inherent cultural and spiritual worth to metro Detroit, but because it too has a groundbreaking event coming up this fall: It will be branching out into interfaith ministry in its fall 2011 semester.

The original context of “ecumenism” in Christianity was openness to any Christian denomination, and the ETS wisely decided it is necessary in today’s world to expand that definition to encompass other religions as well. The ETS plans to begin preparing people in its chaplaincy program to be of service to people of other faiths, particularly Islam.

After the tour of the sanctuary, we went upstairs to our meeting room, where ETS president Dr. Marsha Foster Boyd described in more detail the seminary’s history, current academic programs for ministerial and chaplaincy training for Christians of any denomination, and the upcoming interfaith chaplaincy program.

The rest of the meeting was the discussion “roundtable,” as facilitator David Crumm calls it. This meeting’s events discussion focused primarily on September 11, which is significant this year not only because it’s the tenth anniversary, but also because it falls on a Sunday, America’s default worship day. For people who’d like to do some kind of community service to mark the occasion there’ll probably be at least a few volunteer projects for them to choose from that day.

The Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC) and Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue & Outreach in MetroDetroit (WISDOM) are both promoting a community service day starting at FocusHOPE in Detroit. What makes this event special, WISDOM co-founder Gail Katz pointed out, is people aren’t just going to stuff backpacks or food pantry baskets for three hours and then go home; the simultaneous service projects will be followed by a guided discussion for all the volunteers, who will share their experiences and insights from the day of performing service with people of different faiths or cultures. You can read more about the actual event here. Another organization that was mentioned is Clergy Beyond Borders, which is also another good source for learning about various service opportunities.

This week, began a series of ten-years-later reflections on September 11, 2001. These stories aren’t recaps or narratives about people’s experiences on that day in 2001, but rather reflections on what life is like now for people affected directly or indirectly by that tragedy. Some famous spiritual leaders have written pieces for this series, including Jack Kornfield, one of the most famous Western contemporary Buddhist leaders.

Read the Spirit was co-founded by our MPC facilitator, David Crumm. It is “an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, popular culture,” as described on the Web site. “Read the Spirit recommends the best in books, films, Web sites and other media on spirituality, values and diversity,” and also publishes hardcopy books, including WISDOM’s Friendship & Faith and Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers, both described in my previous post. David Crumm informed us Read the Spirit will soon be publishing a series of books about the spiritual challenges of caregiving, including inspiration for caregivers who are having difficulty getting their religious needs met.

At this meeting I also learned of yet another intriguing interfaith peacemaking group, the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in nearby Berkley, Michigan. Founded by Brother Al Mascia and Maggid Steve Klaper—self-described as “a Franciscan Minstrel and a Jewish Troubadour”— Song and Spirit hosts spiritual retreats, performances by people of different faiths, seminars by local religious leaders, and more.

The fact that I had never heard of any of these groups before, despite them being within 20 to 30 minutes from where I live, prompted me to think about how uninformed we really are, even though we are constantly bombarded with information intended to show us what’s going on in the world. I realized that we are barely even aware of what’s in our own state beyond tourist information, and I’m glad that I’ve finally found people who can correct this situation.

For example, it was only last summer that I was made aware of the amazing culture and history Detroit still has to offer, by receiving insider tours by my dear friend and lifelong Detroit resident, Joe Hunter. When I mention places he’s taken me to or told me about, people look at me in bewilderment, and first seek to confirm I did just say these places are in Detroit, the same Detroit they’ve heard of and disregarded as a cultural and economic lost-cause for years.

You might have a similar feeling of “Really, in Detroit?” when you read this blog about these initiatives in and around the city, but go to the hyperlinks (by clicking on text in a different color throughout this and all my other posts) or to Google and see for yourself!

These organizations all have something important to share. Some are still fairly new, and they have already made an immense difference in the lives of people who do know about and have been helped by them.
So far, attending the MPC meetings is helping give me some direction on how I can make valuable contributions through using my writing and media credentials to make a difference in the Metropolitan Detroit community, by helping its interfaith and cross-cultural leaders achieve their goals for creating true cultural and religious pluralism out of diversity.

“Diversity is a fact,” Gail Katz said at the June meeting, “but pluralism is an accomplishment.”

One of ETS’s representatives pointed out the difference between sympathy and empathy, and said that when we put these two together we get compassion. Sympathy is feeling and reacting to someone else’s pain or need, while empathy is understanding why someone else is feeling pain or need, and compassion is the action stemming from relating in this way with others.

We acknowledge and respond through sympathy, we step into the other’s shoes to understand the situation through empathy, and then we step out of that person’s shoes and back into our own to make rational decisions about helping to solve the problem which caused the pain or need.

So, I’m going to strive to use this sympathy + empathy = compassion formula to guide what I do next, and I hope you will too.

Image: “Transition Tree 2” by Karla Joy Huber, 2013; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

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