Sunday, February 16, 2014

Values, Connections, and Cultural Competency: Plenty of Opportunities to Keep Busy and Make a Difference in Detroit’s Interfaith and Intercultural Community

As always, the three-hour Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC) meeting was a great opportunity to learn about the lesser-known cultural and religious heritage of the Metro Detroit area, from both the host venue and the diversity of the meeting attendees.

The religious/cultural landmark chosen for the first meeting of 2014 was St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in West Bloomfield Township. Father Seba, and Joseph Kassab of the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute, described the Chaldeans’ relevance to the interfaith community in terms of its partnerships with Jewish groups, and its adoption of elements from other faith traditions which help enrich its own. We’re seeing an increase in Jewish and Chaldean media and advocacy partnerships, such as a Jewish Chaldean social action coalition, as both faith groups increase their interest in working together to empower their people and break cycles of oppression that both have historically faced.

Incidentally, this very interfaith dynamic led us to hold the meeting at St. Thomas, thanks to arrangements made by Howard Brown, CEO and co-founder of, who is active in both business development and social justice in the Jewish community.

To read more about St. Thomas and Michigan’s Chaldean community, including what distinguishes them from other Middle-Eastern groups, please click here.) 

After an informative introduction and a tour of St. Thomas, we went into the roundtable portion of the meeting. The final two hours of the meeting are for sharing interfaith and intercultural news, accomplishments, and upcoming events. This month’s meeting was full of all of the above, as you’ll read below.

Interfaith worship services and conferences

The Fifteenth Annual World Sabbath of Religious Reconciliation, held January 26 at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, finally made the mainstream news, the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC) proudly announced. A detailed article, including photos, was featured in the Detroit Free Press the following week. This year’s Peace Award honorees were Josh Morof, founder of the teen interfaith initiative Face to Faith, and Rabbi Dorit Edut, founder of Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network (DION). Next year’s World Sabbath will be held on January 25 at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills.

Gail Katz of WISDOM gave us more information regarding the upcoming North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) conference, “Bridging Borders and Boundaries.” The conference, to be held August 10th through 13th this year, aims to “bring together our international interfaith community to connect, network, and learn from one another.” It will take place at Wayne State University Community Arts Auditorium and McGregor Hall, and include site visits to various houses of worship in and around Detroit.

IFLC’s upcoming events include the panel presentation “Birth and Coming of Age Across Faith Traditions: A panel discussion sharing and comparing religious rituals and practices.” The third in the IFLC’s life cycles series, this panel discussion will include presenters from the Jewish, Muslim, Latter-Day Saints, Hindu, and Roman Catholic faiths. The presentation will be held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak on Sunday, March 9, from 3:30 pm to 6pm at. The church is located on the southeast corner of Woodward at 11 Mile. Registration can be done ahead of time on the IFLC’s Web site or at the door.

The IFLC was also pleased to announce that it is continuing to grow. The organization is developing its role as a coordinating arm for the gradually-increasing number of local interfaith groups. Some communities that currently have their own interfaith groups are Farmington Hills, Troy, Hamtramck, Mount Clemens, Bloomfield Hills, Plymouth-Canton, and Warren. As expected, with organizational growth comes employment opportunity—If you’re interested in the part-time social media communication position, check out the the IFLC's Web site.

Another series of IFLC-sponsored events is the 
Religious Diversity Journeys for middle school youth. Upcoming dates are February 12 at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Troy; March 5 at Islamic Center of America in Dearborn; April 16 at Bharatiya Hindu Temple in Troy; and a summation session on May 13 at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Religious Diversity Journeys program aims to promote interfaith friendships, increase education and understanding of the religious diversity in and around Detroit, and build students’ abilities and confidence for navigating and succeeding in a society that continually grows more and more diverse. For more information, email the program administrator.

Interfaith and healthcare alliances

Another important focus of the IFLC is responding to the increasing interest of health care organizations in coordinating with the interfaith community. Local health care organizations—including St. John’s and Henry Ford Health System—began reaching out to the IFLC for two reasons: requirements of the new Affordable Care Act, and the increasing religious diversity of their patients.

Research has shown that people’s faith is one of the most important factors in their healthcare decisions; but ironically, many people don’t even know what their own faith says about such major life and death decisions as hospice care and emergency medical intervention. The IFLC, then, can help foster understanding in two ways: by educating medical practitioners about the various faiths represented by their patients, and by equipping those practitioners to help patients navigate the healthcare-related aspects of their faith that they need to become more familiar with in order to make healthcare decisions. For more details, please read my post here.

Interfaith and intercultural dialogue in the arts

WISDOM announced the play “Mixed” is coming to Marygrove College on February 28, at 8 p.m. With a broad theme of interracial relations, and a storyline involving three generations of one African-American family in the south after the end of slavery, “Mixed” touches on such challenges and conflicts as diversity, racism, mourning, and more. Another thing that makes this play significant is, when much of the media involving race relations includes characters each representing a single race, “Mixed” includes the perspectives of mixed-race individuals.

Tickets to the “Mixed” showing are $10, and can be obtained by emailing Marygrove. Sponsors of the event include WISDOM, the IFLC, Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, and the Marygrove Social Justice Program. There will also be a collection box for new and like-new winter coats, which will go to the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace for distribution to Detroiters in need via Song and Spirit’s “CAREavan.”

Interfaith and cross-cultural reconciliation

In the presentation and roundtable discussion 
“Tectonic Leadership: A Roadmap to Systemic Change,” activists and educators Brenda Naomi Rosenberg and Samia Moustapha Bahsoun will discuss the leadership system they developed based on their work, challenges, and experiences in peacemaking and community-building in response to the conflicts in the Middle East, the Holocaust, and other major challenges to peaceful interfaith relations. They will highlight the conflict-resolution strategies they use to teach people “from opposite sides of conflict to take joint ownership in transforming the conversation to face challenges and find solutions together.” The presentation will take place March 9 at 3 p.m.; admission is free.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Farmington Hills is currently honoring Albanians who saved the lives of Jews during the Shoah. Many Albanians, most of whom were Muslim, did so by drawing on the honor code of “Besa,” a concept of hospitality and asylum to refugees, even when it involved great risk to the hosts. The photographic exhibit “Besa: A Code of Honor,” and the documentary film “Besa: The Promise” explore the efforts and those who saved more than 2,000 Jews.

Interfaith and intercultural dialogue in print

In Read the Spirit news, David Crumm announced the publishing house and online magazine is in the process of expanding its operations. Read the Spirit is planning to launch imprints, which will help “empower communities without a voice to form their own publishing houses and other media for communication they don’t have access to otherwise,” said Crumm. Imprints are branches of a larger publishing company, usually devoted to a particular subject matter that may or may not be within the scope of the parent company’s usual focus. 

The first time I heard of Wayne Baker was at the June 2012 MPC meeting, in which his work was discussed in the context of how Americans have a skewed perception of the values they’re really living, and the sharp contrast between how Americans do hospitality and how much of the rest of the world does hospitality.

Wayne Baker is the writer of the regular column “Our Values” on, teaches at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and frequently gives talks and presentations about his work. The day before this meeting, he was in New York, speaking at an event per the invite of Ariana Huffington of the Huffington Post.

United America is a “secular book written for secular audience,” Baker said, but many congregations have asked for a Bible study guide to the ten core American values discussed in the book to help them explore how those values relate to their faith. The book’s page on includes free downloadable study guides, including the requested one for use in Bible study.

Despite his busy schedule, Dr. Baker enthusiastically encouraged the meeting’s attendees to feel free to invite him to present about his work, and about United America particularly, at schools, conferences, or meetings.

Another recent publishing credit of Read the Spirit is a poster, not a book, by accomplished Read the Spirit author Debra Darvick. We got to see proofs of the poster, “Mom’s 10 Commandments for Health,” which will soon be available for sale on The poster, which is “modeled on the Talmudic interpretation of the Ten Commandments from the original Hebrew Text,” was vetted by multiple people Darvick consulted to assure accuracy and agreement with as many moms as possible.

As part of promotion for the poster, David Crumm encouraged us each to take a photo of it hanging up in our homes, or a selfie while holding it, and either post on Facebook or email the photos to him. If you buy the poster and are interested in doing this, I encourage you to email it to Read the Spirit. I just hung the poster up in my home, and will be emailing my photo to David shortly.

We also heard from veteran journalist Joe Grimm, who filled us in on what’s new with his and the MSU School of Journalism’s cultural competency guide series, which you can read more about by clicking here.

The success of the cultural competency guides series is a great demonstration of the value of the MPC meetings beyond just taking a tour of a cultural and religious landmark and sitting down to talk about community news and upcoming events. Joe Grimm reported a few meetings back that the cultural competency guide project was close to falling through; after the meeting, Dmitri Barvinok, a promising new face at Read the Spirit, approached him to lend his assistance to the project. Their combined efforts helped save the project. I’ve also heard of other projects, both personal and community-scale, resulting from meeting new people and hearing about each other’s work at the meetings.

Jewish community development

Howard Brown of and the American Jewish Community Council reported on some upcoming events in the Jewish community. AJC Detroit will be hosting a Diplomatic Seder at Temple Israel on March 25, at 6:30pm. A presentation titled “A Shared Future: Jews and Muslims in Metro Detroit” will be held at University of Michigan Dearborn on March 30th, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

“Jump Start—Funding Jewish Businesses,” presented by Hebrew Free Loans and hosted at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, will take place April 13th from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Jump Start event features a panel of judges who will accept concept pitches from local Jewish businesses, to determine who will win up to $100,000 in interest-free loans from HFL. Presenters such as Hannan Lis will also discuss why Michigan is a great place to develop and invest in local Jewish business.

Introductions to new members of the circle

In addition to telling about all the great news and events in the interfaith and intercultural community, there are a few semi-regulars and newcomers to MPC meetings I haven’t mentioned yet that I’d like to introduce you to. The first is Lynette Mitan, an accomplished and dedicated workshop facilitator, life coach, content writer, and paralegal, who has experience in interfaith relations from the Catholic perspective. Check out her Web site, the Circles of Mary Care. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn.

Another Read the Spirit contributor present was Bobbie Lewis, who contributes to the online magazine with her blog, Feed the Spirit. Feed the Spirit features “weekly food stories and recipes related to faith, family, friendship, or ethnic culture,” as Lewis describes it.

I was also pleased to see at this meeting that I wasn’t the only blogger present. Carrie Cunningham writes about Detroit religion, politics, and community on

Finding accurate news in and about the Detroit area

Another intriguing and accomplished communicator in attendance was Bill Wylie-Kellerman, an activist, author, and all-around change-instigator. His most recent book is about Civil-Rights-era peace activist and theologian William Stringfellow, published by Orbis Books. Wylie-Kellerman describes the focus for his activism and his writing as striving to “live humanly in an age of empire,” and his recent endeavors have included trying to promote understanding of the truth about the bankruptcy of the city of Detroit, and about the city’s state-appointed emergency manager who operates without the checks and balances of an elected government.

An ominous fact about emergency management in Michigan, he pointed out, is that all but one majority African-American city in Michigan—the sole exception being Saginaw—has had its elected government replaced by a state-appointed emergency manager. Wylie-Kellerman cites the mainstream news as sorely lacking in accurate information about these topics, so encourages people to check out such independent news outlets as 
the Michigan Citizen, and Voice of Detroit, both considered reliable sources for accurate investigative reporting without the kinds of agendas of major media services.

A lot of what we’re seeing locally is true nationally also, David Crumm pointed out, so what we discuss at the MPC meetings has wider relevance than just to the Metro Detroit area interfaith and intercultural community. I look forward to keeping you posted on as many of the events discussed above as I can attend. 

Peace be with you, and as always, thanks for reading.


The Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues is part of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. The group totals about 134 people who tune in to the news and events the group has connections with, and meeting attendance is typically around twenty people.

Image: "Elemental Drum" by Karla Joy Huber, 2010; Sharpie marker on synthetic buffalo-drum head

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