The world “realistic” has acquired a negative connotation—many people automatically associate it with the injection of pessimism into a situation considered too naïvely optimistic. Ironically, our culture’s worldview is one of the least realistic. A perfect example of this is what media scholars call “mean world syndrome,” in which people think crime rates are higher than they actually are, because that’s almost all they hear about in American mainstream news.
This month’s meeting was held at Temple Beth Shalom in Oak Park, Michigan; as usual, the first third of the meeting was an explanation of the history of the place and of the community that gathers there. I appreciated learning more about Judaism, especially in the context of Passover, and about the differences among different forms of Judaism. The MPC meetings are amazing cultural experiences—I always learn something new about my home state, which makes me appreciate and value the Detroit area’s history, as well as its present, even more.
As I’ve said before, one of the biggest benefits of attending the MPC meetings is hearing about initiatives and organizations I otherwise may never hear about, because our mainstream media simply does not talk about such things. This meeting put interfaith initiatives in the corporate world on my radar.
A project highlighted at this meeting was the use of photography in helping to achieve interfaith and peacemaking goals. The new House of Worship Photos Project is an effort to develop a photographic record of all the diverse houses of worship in southeastern Michigan—from run-down storefront ministries to mega-churches, from mainstream Christian churches to temples of religions many people don’t realize exist in their area.
Another hot topic discussed at this meeting was the rise in popularity of “minibooks”—the publishing of 40-60-page books, the type of writing that used to be available only or primarily in magazines. The growing popularity of minibooks, particularly by authors who historically public nothing between full-length books, has the potential for making certain topics and ideas far more accessible to more people.
One topic many Americans may be intimidated by a few-hundred-page book about is Muslim customs. Read the Spirit just published the minibook The Beauty of Ramadan: A Guide to the Muslim Month of Prayer and Fasting for Muslims and Non-Muslims, by Najah Bazzy. People fear what they don’t know. It was pointed out this book is the only of its kind, so it’ll serve as another valuable tool for helping to improve interfaith relations by correcting misconceptions about faiths the media is full of little but negative stereotypes about.
The women’s interfaith group WISDOM had three upcoming events to announce at this meeting. One of its initiatives is the House of Worship Visit series, with two upcoming destinations. April 22’s is the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, and June 20’s is the SikhGurdwara Hidden Falls, in Plymouth Township. On May 16 the Birmingham Community House (in Birmingham, Michigan) will host a forum presentation on “Mental Health Issues and Challenges Facing Metro Detroit’s Diverse Faith Traditions.”
It’s important to remember that if these efforts are being carried out at the grass-roots level in southeastern Michigan, they likely are in other localities, too. If you live in another state, I hope what I write here will inspire you to investigate the existence of such organizations and events in your area. They’re hard to find without already knowing someone who’s involved with them, but hopefully my reports will give you some ideas in how to look for them and get involved. Maybe you yourself will be the one to start such activities where you are.