Monday, February 27, 2017

Finding my Buddhist Middle Way in emotionally responding to my accomplishments...

My experience last week on my “big day”—the day the second 365 Series book I am a contributing author to was published—was paradoxical to what most people anticipate.

Regardless of the fact I had to work as though nothing special was happening, people who knew what was happening probably expected me to be walking on air, perhaps sporting an extra-cheerful demeanor that would mildly confuse my coworkers if I didn’t tell them what was going on.

Instead, I Googled “feeling sad after an accomplishment,” just to see what came up. I read a few articles which provide rational explanations for feeling empty, sad, angry, or insecure following a big accomplishment that we had expected would make us feel triumphant for days.

While such articles are helpful to some extent, primarily by providing validation that there’s nothing “wrong” with feeling low when we expected to feel high, one drawback is that such articles seek to explain our feelings rather than encourage us to feel them. Having to justify, assign value-judgments to, or convince ourselves of the validity of our feelings often takes us out of our feelings—and thus out of our inner wisdom—by locking us in our heads just when we most need to connect with our hearts.

That being said, there are some good points in the above-mentioned articles. In her article “When success leaves you feeling empty,” Adele Scheele says “Succeeding requires one set of skills. Managing success [requires] another set.” Many of us are simply unaccustomed to feeling accomplished and being praised for big accomplishments, and thus feel uncomfortable if the spotlight is turned on us even if it’s for good reasons. We simply don’t know how to handle it, so our initial reaction is to feel low instead of on top of the world.

In “Feeling depressed after reaching a big goal? Here’s why,” Sarah Anderson makes the point that as we build on our accomplishments, we gradually get used to the “high” of our experience of moving forward, and finally achieving a big goal we’ve been striving for can feel rather anticlimactic and “less satisfying than expected.”

Anderson then goes on to provide some good tips for helping ourselves get the most out of our accomplishments—without, as she puts it, relying on other people’s positive feedback regarding our accomplishments to make or break our feelings about them.

This latter point ties in perfectly with the Buddhist concept of relative happiness versus absolute happiness—Relative happiness being dependent and conditioned on our circumstances and absolute happiness being unconditional happiness we cultivate from within. The latter is a core component of enlightenment.

Two questions that Anderson proposes we ask ourselves when mixed feelings about our accomplishments cloud our sense of personal mission“What would I be doing if money wasn’t a problem?” and “When do I feel most alive?”—are worth asking ourselves frequently, regardless of if we’re in the midst of accomplishment, failure, or anything in between.

In addition to following Anderson’s advice to generate our own inner praise rather than rely on other people’s, reward ourselves with something tangible (I chose to finally upgrade my tiny Buddhist altar bell to a 5” singing-bowl tuned to the throat chakra), and her reminder that “it’s the journey that matters, not the destination,” reflecting on what comes up when we ask ourselves the two questions above can help us strike some much-needed balance between the emotional surges of success and feeling like underachievers in between our accomplishments.

As the above ideas occurred to me, I gradually came to feel some of that “go me!” warm-fuzzy, which is my preferred kind of accomplishment-feeling rather than big, splashy cheering, shouting from the rooftops, telling everyone everywhere what I just did, and so on.

While there’s nothing wrong with big splashy cheering and shouting from the rooftops, they simply aren’t my style. Instead of being invigorated, I have historically found such expressions exhausting, so I thought I’d write these reflections in a new mini-series for people I know who may have mixed feelings about their own accomplishmentsand guilt about their emotional subtlety when well-meaning people tell them how they "should" feel or act on their big days.

"Clip Art Me" by Karla Joy Huber, 2005; Microsoft Paint

Friday, February 24, 2017

Learning what there is to see when we stop letting our fears block our view...

In my previous two posts, I talked about my contribution to the book 365 Life Shifts. The maximum character length in the book is 350 words, so I had to edit out about half of my story’s original narrative to make it fit. Below is the unedited version I would have submitted if the word-maximum was 700 words—my usual blog-post length.

~ ~ ~ ~

While the saying goes that “God works in mysterious ways,” sometimes Mystical assistance is quite obvious.

The idea of protective forces is not unique to Christianity. While they aren’t exactly the same thing as guardian angels, in Buddhism we have the concept of shoten zenjin. The protective forces of the Universe aren’t always invisible and bridging the spirit world to help us. These forces manifest in various ways—including in the love and behavior of living flesh-and-blood people in our lives. Their desire to help us—to rescue us if need be—is shoten zenjin.

Long before I became Buddhist and understood this concept, my dearest friends, Cristina and Housein, became my shoten zenjin. This was in 2008 when, after being jobless for several months during the recession, I ran out of money and had to move out of my apartment within the month.

“I’ve started over again so many times I’ve lost count,” Housein told me. Thinking about all of his and Cristina’s ups and downs—including growing up in South America, traversing countries and continents as students and Baha’i pioneers, and moving almost every year while in Michigan—how they handled these situations was always an inspiration to me. In contrast, I tended to get bent out of shape and complain when the unexpected or inconvenient happened.

I realize now that this tendency of mine is exactly why my karma attracted Cristina and Housein to help teach me how to let go enough to overcome my fears about not being able to take care of myself.

They reminded me that this was a great opportunity to get rid of unnecessary extras and re-align my priorities. And then I realized that this process wouldn’t even have to be nearly as difficult as I’d thought when Cristina said to me, “You can always stay with us.”

She and Housein were planning to relocate to New York within a few months, and they offered me their spare bedroom until they moved. As I was once again awed by the selfless support and caring of my two dear friends, I wondered: Could this be the sign I was praying for? The sign that I wouldn’t have to go all the way to rock bottom before I could recover my sense of security? It had to be, because Cristina had just addressed my biggest fear: being homeless.

I pondered what an important but undervalued trait detachment is. It’s one of the most valuable concepts I had internalized from my spiritual practice, in which materialism is seen as a vice instead of a measure of personal success. I decided to value my emotional and physical well-being over the things I had acquired to “show for” that well-being.

That realization gave me the strength I needed to decide it wasn’t worth it to hold onto what I’d been clinging so desperately to: living on my own, my media collection, my lackluster neighborhood, my stagnant comfort zone. I accepted Cristina’s and Housein's offer, and began sorting my things into what I'd keep and what I wouldn't. It was refreshing to discover I could get rid of two-thirds of what I owned and not miss it later. Getting rid of those unnecessaries was symbolic of the cleansing I was doing to my psyche and my soul at the same time.

One night after filling my car with a load of things to take to the second-hand store for donation, I stood in the parking lot of my apartment complex and gazed up at the clear star-studded mid-March sky. I felt a calm wash over me as I stood there in the cold pondering those points of light, and I had an epiphany. Nothing earth-shaking, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t failed—my situation had failed me. And the Universe, through the help of my friends and a reaffirmation of the practical everyday aspects of our faith, was giving me a new one. Simple as that, really.

Image: "Swan Harbor Window" by Karla Joy Huber, 2008; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, highlighter

Monday, February 20, 2017

"You can always stay with us"

In my previous post, I described my journey to finally becoming a published contributor to inspirational non-fiction books, which I’ve been wanting to get into for some time. Early last year I didn’t know how or when I would make that breakthrough, and, thanks to Jodi Chapman’s openness to previously-unknown writers, my work is now featured in two of her and Dan Teck’s 365 Series books.

365 Life Shifts, which comes out today, features a story I wrote about two of my dearest friends coming to my aid during the recession of 2008 by not only giving me a much-needed new perspective on life, but a much-needed place to live when the threat of homelessness had me feeling like a complete failure in life.

What I hope readers will get from my story is inspiration to view their own difficult circumstances and fears of failure differently. Rather than holding up my experience as a model for others to follow, I share it with the hopes that something in it will give you some insight you can use to develop more compassion for yourself and learn what there is to see when you stop letting your fears block your view.

My friends’ love and frank advice was my introduction to the compassionate reality-check. Instead of judging me for the situation I was in, telling me how I “should” fix my problems, or trying to be heroes and fix them for me, they simply offered their thoughts on my situation, and then offered me their spare bedroom. This is the kind of friend I want to be if I'm ever in a position to help a loved one see past their fears and past the conditioning they’ve grown up with that tells them they’re a failure if they find themselves unemployed and worried about being unable to take care of themselves when they've been told they “should” be able to do better.

Below is my Life Shifts story, exactly as it appears in the book.

Thank you for reading!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You Can Always Stay with Us

What most people call guardian angels, Buddhists call shoten zenjin. The protective forces of the Universe aren’t always otherworldly; they can manifest in the love and generosity of living, flesh-and-blood people in our lives.

Long before I became Buddhist and understood this concept, my dearest friends, Cristina and Housein, became my shoten zenjin. This was in 2008 when, after being jobless for several months during the recession, I ran out of money and had to move out of my apartment within the month.

“I’ve started over again so many times I’ve lost count,” Housein told me. Thinking about all of his and Cristina’s ups and downs – including growing up in South America, traversing countries and continents as students and Baha’i pioneers, and moving almost every year while in Michigan – how they handled these situations was always an inspiration to me. In contrast, I tended to get bent out of shape and complain when the unexpected or inconvenient happened.

I realize now that this tendency of mine is exactly why my karma attracted Cristina and Housein to help me overcome my fears about not being able to take care of myself. They reminded me that this was a great opportunity to get rid of unnecessary extras and re-align my priorities. And then I realized that it wouldn’t even have to be nearly as difficult as I’d thought when Cristina said to me, “You can always stay with us.” A few days later, I took them up on their offer.

One night, after filling my car with a load of things to donate, I stood in the parking lot of my complex and gazed up at the cloudless, star-studded sky. I felt a calm wash over me as I stood there in the cold pondering those points of light, and I had an epiphany: nothing earth-shaking, but it finally occurred to me that I wasn’t a failure – my circumstances had failed me. And the Universe, through the help of my best friends and their demonstration of the virtues of our faith’s teachings, had given me new circumstances. Simple as that, really.

Friday, February 17, 2017

One of 365 Life Shifts...

 I wrote here a lot last year about the Buddhist idea of the debt of gratitude we owe to the people who support us on our journeyIn this context, “debt” doesn’t have its usual negative connotation: This debt is an honor, meaning we’ve received the amazing gift of someone else’s time, love, advice, financial support, food, shelter, career-mentorship, spiritual teaching, or whatever as not just a gift, but as their investment in us as valuable contributors to society. I also took this writing beyond my blog and into print, for my first contribution to a mass-marketed daily inspiration book, Jodi Chapman’s and Dan Teck’s 365 Moments of Grace.

I had the opportunity to do this again late last year, when Jodi emailed me to say some unexpected space had opened up in the book’s sequel, 365 Life Shifts, which I had missed the initial deadline for because more difficult stuff happened in my life that derailed me from being able to focus on writing anything other than my blog posts about what I was learning from using my Buddhist practice to create value through overcoming my challenges.

Back when I was a Baha’i, long before I ever thought I’d become Buddhist, I found myself in some serious life-challenges, and needed all the help I could get because I didn’t know then what I know now. The most frightening was the threat of homelessness during the recession in 2008. Most people I know don’t realize it got that bad for me, but it did. For two months, I was, by the legal definition, homeless.

Thankfully, it was by legal definition only. I was assisted out of that hole by two of my most beloved friends, Cristina and Housein Cornell. These two, in addition to being two of my closest friends, were also my role models as Baha’is and as a married couple, so any time I spent with them was as inspiring as it was delightful. They are both kind, funny, deeply spiritual people who are sincere and dedicated in their faith, and I appreciate them just as much now from my Buddhist perspective as I did from my previous Baha’i perspective. While it’s been over eight years since they moved out of Michigan, the impression they left on my life and in my heart is as strong today as it was almost a decade ago when I lived with them for the last two months they were in Michigan.

After they moved to New York and I moved into a rented room (I had since finally gotten a job as a student employee at Madonna University), I had the idea of thanking them in writing by getting a piece published in their honor, that described my experience about not just how they helped me, but what I learned from them in the process—particularly about realigning my life-priorities and not equating my loss of my apartment with failure as an adult.

I wrote my experience and submitted it to Guideposts Magazine, and received a rejection letter. I had the feeling that Guideposts wouldn’t accept my non-Christian story regardless of any edits I could make for re-submission, so I tabled the idea of getting it published in print, until eight years later when I sifted my memory of inspirational experiences from my life that I could submit for the book 365 Life Shifts.

Here’s my chance, finally!, I thought. And what a marvelous opportunity to have it published in a spiritually-inclusive book which potentially has a far wider readership pool than a primarily-Christian magazine! So, I copied the original story into a new Word document, and brought it into the present by revising it from my Buddhist perspective thinking back on one of my best experiences as a Baha’i.

While its predecessor 365 Moments of Grace is a collection of stories from over 200 contributors from various spiritual backgrounds expressing what grace means to them, 365 Life Shifts is a collection of stories by many of the same people—and some newcomers—about experiences that not only changed our lives but changed who we are or how we see the world.

365 Life Shifts comes out on February 21, so please stay tuned for my next two posts about it! On February 21, I’ll post the actual story as it appears in the book, and on February 25, I’ll post the unabridged version (which includes the full narrative I wanted to convey that I didn’t have the space for in the 350-word allotment in the book).

Thank you for reading! <3

Image: "November Clouds" by Karla Joy Huber, 2011; oil pastel

Monday, February 13, 2017

Introducing a very unconventional, almost satirical collection of poetry about love and marriage...

I’m diverging today from my usual blog material, after taking a brief reading-detour into the gothic. A lot of people immediately assume anything “gothic”—such as poetry involving death, and any portrayal of darkness in relationships—is morbid or morally questionable, and this assumption does us a great disservice. We can’t always be in the light all the time, and seeking to avoid and banish darkness as soon as possible is more likely to suppress it into something destructive than allow it to show us anything we can use to deepen or improve our human experience in any meaningful way.

While gothic literature isn’t my usual cup of tea, I enjoyed Janice and James Frederick Leach’s poetry about making room for the darkness in their marriage and in their family relationships, acknowledging its validity and its difficult but instructive lessons in unusual and courageous ways. It takes a lot of courage to resist the insistence that marriage be 100% functional, 100% loving, and 100% in the light, and that if any part of it isn’t so “wholesome” or high-functioning, that means there are problems that must be fixed.

I’ve never been much of a “romantic” in the stereotypical sense, so I liked the idea of presenting a very unconventional, almost satirical collection of poetry about love and marriage—complete with cover art that looks like a scene from of an animated Tim Burton movie, with tombstones and a couple that looks like a husband-and-wife Grim Reaper team.

The poems in ‘Til Death: Marriage Poems appear to be written by Janice and James individually; some are obvious who wrote them, and others I can’t tell. What this says to me is not that their marriage is successful because they act and think as a single unit, that in over a quarter century they have become two halves of the same being; what it says to me is that they are successful because they are two complete people on the same wavelength. Their mostly stream-of-consciousness writing styles blend just enough that their creative muse flows almost seamlessly between them.

That being said, one point the author of “me, you, here” demonstrates is that even in a long-term marriage, there are some areas that are off-limits to each other, and perhaps should remain that way. We don’t have to walk through every door in each other’s souls. Some things about us resist any of our attempts to bring them into the light, so, as the poet points out, encountering such waters in each other’s souls or psyches is not necessarily an invitation to swim in them. Not every part of us is loveable, and we may not even love each other with every part of ourselves—I like how this poem courageously admits that, without judgment or implying that it is wrong.

The authors are not hedonistic or amoral in their presentation of the interesting twists that their mutual fascination with the occult put on their Christian faith; they present both their light and their dark musings and fantasies all within the realm of their marriage, which is presented as encompassing only the two of them. They simply display their moral compass in unconventional ways, without being self-righteous or comparing themselves with anyone else.

They don't mention much of the world around them—such as the media or their communities—or make comparisons between themselves and other couples or their beliefs and anyone else’s; they also do not take jabs at more romantic conventions or at anyone’s mores or norms. Their poetry is all about their experience—raw, unedited, often seeming to be written as last thoughts at the end of a mundane or a challenging day, or as spontaneous mental wanderings while taking their kids on a family outing or preparing dinner or just after sex.

In addition to being a gothic writer, Janice is also very active in gardening, home crafts, and social-justice work. James is multi-talented as well, and maintains the Web site I met Janice at the most recent meeting of the MPC interfaith group, where she generously gifted me with a review copy of 'Til Death. The timing was perfect for my post that would coincide with Valentine’s Day.

Image: "Angel & Rose still life" by Karla Joy Huber, 2007; colored pencil

Friday, February 10, 2017

Answering the call to "meet resistance with resiliency" as we "build the Beloved Community each day"

After over fifteen years of interfaith participation, I’ve found that the best uses of interfaith dialogue are not comparative-religion discussions or reinforcement of what we have in common as human beings with a spiritual nature. While our similarities as members of the same species are important, placing the emphasis on relying on our spiritual commonalities to validate our connection lacks imagination and doesn’t develop any listening or adaptation skills we need to survive and thrive in an ever-changing world.

If everyone is busy thinking or saying, “Oh, me too!” when hearing people describe their religion, that tends to stunt our ability to really listen to what they are saying or respect their unique perspective and what they have to offer to help broaden our horizons.

The truth behind the idea that “opposites attract” is not that the opposite parties eventually find out what they actually have in common and that’s why they work well together; it’s because each contributes something that the others don’t have, and they build and strengthen their bond through pooling their different perspectives, talents, and energies.

The best and most productive interfaith experiences I’ve had, as I said last week, are those which transcend religion rather than focus on finding the ideological overlaps, or the opposite extreme of disregarding religious differences as irrelevant.

This transcendence of religion takes us a lot closer to true humanism, which breaks us out of the model of over-reliance on God as our unifying force, and also out of the risk of using God as a reason, crutch, excuse, or weapon. That being said, transcending religion or God does not have to mean the invalidation of religion or God; people can strike a middle way between being humanistic and still being God-centered.

One of the most marvelous examples of this middle way is the newest initiative of Michigan’s interfaith community called the “Commitment to be Resilient.” Presented by Interfaith Leadership Council (IFLC) Chairman Bob Bruttell at the January 27th Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues meeting, this initiative represents a collaboration of the IFLC, Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, Jewish Community Relations Council, Michigan Muslim Community Council, Interfaith Center for Racial Justice (ICRJ), and many other faith organizations in the Metro Detroit Area.

The Commitment to be Resilient is both an affirmation and a prayer, and it is the first interfaith prayer statement that I’ve seen that is truly 100% all-inclusive—because it doesn’t actually mention God.

“I believe 
that we are called to lift each other up,
that we are stronger standing together,
that our differences are a blessing,
that empathy and love reveal the path to peace,
and that justice will prevail,
because each of us is Beloved.

Therefore, I commit to
answer intolerance with goodwill,
live by faith and hope, not fear,
seek understanding and friendship whenever I can,
stand with those facing prejudice and injustice,
meet resistance with resiliency as I build the Beloved Community each day.”

Bruttell, who is Christian, said that someone did ask him, “Where is God in this?” His response was, “everywhere!” and in all of it. Coming from a Buddhist perspective, that was music to my ears, because it shows an acknowledgment by God-centered people that what they call “God” is not limited to anyone’s creator-deity personification or creation theology, and truly is everything and everywhere.

I placed the beautiful prayer-card Bruttell handed out on my altar, so that I see it and say it in my heart while I chant to the Gohonzon during morning and evening gongyo.

To read about the “Commitment to be Resilient” on the IFLC Web site, click here. To sign the Resiliency Commitment online, click here. For a downloadable copy of the Resiliency Commitment that you can print copies of to share with friends, family, co-workers, and fellow members of your faith community, please click here.

Bruttell also made the point that the Commitment to be Resilient is not the intellectual property of any of the participating organizations, nor has it been branded by any of them individually. The point was not to “create another acronym,” as Bruttell put it, and found a new coalition around it. He encouraged everyone to take ownership of it, share it, and live by it to the best of our ability.

I’m blessed to be surrounded every day by people who do already, both inside and outside the interfaith community and my SGI Nichiren Buddhist community; I look forward to us continuing to attract more and more like-minded souls to work together with us to “build the Beloved Community each day.”

(This concludes my five-post series of highlights and insights from the January 27th MPC meeting. To read the other posts, please click here, here, here, and here.)

Image: "Dove Ascending" by Karla Joy Huber, 2007; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

Monday, February 6, 2017

Some great resources to increase our cultural and interfaith literacy: Upcoming events, newly-published books, and other opportunities for dialogue

In my past three posts I’ve shared with you highlights from the most recent meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC), including about the interfaith community's response to the dark turn our nation's current religious dialogue has takeninsights about finding reliable sources of information in an era where the news media has been branded by some as the "opposition party,and transcending not only religious differences but religion itself to help foster unity in diversity.

The MPC meetings are also an excellent forum for attendees to share about their own or their organizations’ faith- and culture-related work, including newly-launched outreach initiatives, upcoming community-education events, and recently-published books. I’ll share a few of them with you now, including one taking place tomorrow, February 7.

The first event is Luke Schaefer’s presentation regarding topics covered in his and Kathryn J. Edin’s book $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. The presentation, which is part of the 2017 Washtenaw Reads Book Event, takes place tomorrow from 7 pm – 9 pm in the social hall of the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor. (For address and directions, please click here.)

While this book’s focus is secular, the topic of poverty and marginalization in America is becoming more and more relevant to religious discussion, apropos of the current increases in prejudice and resource-restrictions against people of particular religious affiliations. Books and presentations about poverty from secular civic and academic perspectives can be good supplements to interfaith dialogue on the topic, especially if used to aid in brainstorming ways to help bridge the gaps between communities that would be stronger if they formed more alliances among themselves.

One such alliance is between the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Michigan Muslim Community Council. Alan Gale stated that the JRC identified a need to connect more with Middle-Eastern—particularly Muslim—communities, and partnered with the MMCC on the Shared Future initiative to help reduce tensions between the Jewish and Muslim communities by working together to address their “shared concerns.”

MPC facilitator David Crumm also made a great point that, while he is “a big supporter of the separation of church and state, there does need to be some re-connection between our groups.” While he was specifically referencing alliances between faith communities and public broadcasting, I take it to mean also forming faith alliances with civic, educational, and other secular institutions that directly impact the lives of people of all faiths.

The second event discussed at the MPC meeting is Diane Butler Bass’s presentation “Relocating Faith: Finding God in the Horizons of Nature and Neighbor,” on Saturday March 25 from 9 am – 2:30 pm, also at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor. Diana Butler Bass is a Christian minister and scholar of American religion and culture, who is has published books about changes religions undergo—or need to undergo—to adapt positively to the times. Her most recent book, Grounded: Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution, is available on

Another book introduced at this MPC meeting was Miles Barnett’s God Explained, which Barnett explained is the culmination of his interviews with leaders from thirty different religions. What is noteworthy about this book is that, instead being of a collection of clergy members’ presentations about their religions’ views on God, Barnett asked them for their individual interpretations of God, regardless of how that view accords or doesn’t with their faith traditions. The book is available for purchase on and on

Read the Spirit contributor Chris Stepien was also in attendance, and briefly described his book Dying to be Happy: Discovering the Truth about Life, in which he discusses the universal theme of spiritual questions that arise from death. While Stepien writes from a Christian perspective, his book may still include inspiration and thoughtful take-aways for readers of other faiths, since we will all die regardless of how we live our lives or what religious traditions we practice.

Last but not least, a wild card presented at the meeting was Janice Leach’s and James Frederick Leach’s ‘Til Death: Marriage Poems, which takes a colorful departure from the typical “romantic” approach to poetry about the union of husband and wife. Janice Leach generously provided me with a reviewer-copy, so, just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’ll read it and write about it here before February 14. In the meantime, you can look it up on

Image: "From Diversity to Pluralism" by Karla Joy Huber, 2004; mixed media

Friday, February 3, 2017

Creating the Beloved Community by transcending not only religious differences, but by transcending religion itself

One of the strong points of southeastern Michigan’s interfaith social-action dialogues is their transcendence of not only religious difference, but of religion itself. A key theme I’ve noticed in our discussions is an emphasis on our shared humanity, rather than on the idea that we are all children of God.

This isn’t to say that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others put religious beliefs or God aside to find some common denominator with people who believe differently. What it says is that, while we do bring our different spiritual perspectives to the discussion, we realize that connecting with people’s human experience beyond the framework of our beliefs is more important to our unification efforts than connecting over God or emphasizing commonalities in our spiritual beliefs.

The religious frames of reference represented at the first 2017 meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC) were Catholic and Protestant Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Nichiren Buddhist, and pagan. The latter in particular struck a chord with me, because it was the first time I know of that a practicing pagan has participated in our circle.

Jane Pierce, a tarot and astrology specialist and member of Pagan Pathways Temple in Madison Heights (who also maintains spiritual ties to her Catholic roots), addressed the subject of paganism’s historical lack of representation in interfaith dialogue. She expressed that she has hesitated to join interfaith initiatives because of potential backlash stemming from people’s misconceptions about paganism.

“It’s hard enough to get the Abrahamic religions to work together,” she pointed out; throw in people who have a concept of the divine that contrasts sharply with the Judeo-Christian father-God—such as seeing creation as the work of Goddess or a collaborative team of deities—and dialogue often stalls.

Pierce made these points without any indication of animosity or resentment, acknowledging them instead only as an unfortunate reality. She made an important first step toward changing this reality by showing up at last Friday’s meeting, and an even bigger step by agreeing to talk with Peggy Dahlberg (president of Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro-Detroit) about being or nominating a pagan presenter for WISDOM’s next “Five Women, Five Journeys” interfaith panel discussion. I overheard Dahlberg, who is Christian, say that WISDOM has yet to feature a pagan perspective in its community-education programming, so I was very pleased that she took the initiative to invite Pierce to participate and finally get this long-overdue dialogue started.

I wrote a few months ago about turning one of our main sources of division inside out, by acknowledging difference in a good way instead of automatically equating such acknowledgment with prejudice. The point I made in that post against “color-blindness” as a solution to racism can also be applied to seeking to homogenize away religious difference by emphasizing only what we think we spiritually have in common—the “children of God” idea I mentioned earlier. In addition, steering clear of over-emphasis on seeing us all as children of God is especially important when we consider that such emphasis alienates practitioners of religions that don’t envision God the way Abrahamic monotheists do, and those who don’t envision a central deity in their spiritual practice at all.

I think the success of the professional, religious, and social partnerships that have come out of networking with the MPC indicates that this non-incorporated alliance of diverse professionals does in fact see that our differences deepen the pool of resources and value-adding perspectives way more than we would if we treated our religious differences as incidental.

While religious and cultural differences are acknowledged and respected, they are not used to type-cast people of certain groups only into certain roles. For example, a Muslim woman wouldn’t only be referred to work in Islamic community outreach—One such woman was commended by a Jewish colleague to be the coordinator of an inner-city program for at-risk youth, few if any of whom are Muslim.

I’ll share more of the great points made in last Friday’s dialogue in my next post. To read my other posts about it, please click herehere, and here.

Image: "Welcome of the Trees" by Karla Joy Huber, 2001; colored pencil