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Interfaith Lecture Previews

Saperstein focuses on Jewish values

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Rabbi David Saperstein

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

Rabbi David Saperstein has been called many things in Washington. A profile of him in The Washington Post called him “the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill.” Newsweek named him the most influential rabbi in the country in 2009, and major news outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Religion News Service identified him as one of the most influential people in shaping religious issues in elections.

But Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said he works for the common good, which is why at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, he will continue the Interfaith Lecture Series with “The Use and Abuse of the Jewish Tradition in Contemporary Political Debates: A Jewish Perspective.”

Saperstein and the Religious Action Center work with other public interest groups to find the common good in the nation and its public policy. Although he will speak from a Jewish perspective, he said the work he does applies to all religions.

“A central challenge facing all religious communities in America is how within the internal value system of our respect of religious faiths, we are taught that we ought to use the lessons (of our personal faiths) and applying them to nonreligious societies, such as the United States,” Saperstein said.

Different faiths take different sides of this debate. Some believe it is their mission to impose their religious law on American policy, Saperstein said. Others believe that their religious laws are binding only for themselves, but their ethical values are universal.

Saperstein said that he will explore how the Jewish tradition sees its laws and values as being applicable to America, and how these values can and should enhance the moral debates in America.

“I’m going to set forth a methodology that I think comes within the Jewish groups and that links together not just all streams of Judaism, but I think is very close to the way that other faith traditions think about the same challenges,” Saperstein said.

Saperstein’s background in both religion and politics gives him a unique perspective. He comes from a long family line of rabbis and Jewish scholars but is also an attorney and a professor of Jewish law and of First Amendment church-state law at Georgetown University’s law school.

“For 3,000 years, the Jewish tradition has held social justice to be central to the religious life and communal life of the Jewish people,” Saperstein said. “We brought forth to the world a vision of relationship, of a God who calls on humanity to be God’s partners in shaping a better world … so that’s woven into the ritual, the liturgy, the sacred text, the historical experience of the Jewish people.”

His career represents the vast applicability of the Jewish tradition in American policy. He has served on the boards of several national organizations, like the NAACP, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the People For the American Way. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him as a member of the first White House Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

In his lecture at Chautauqua, Saperstein will take the same interdisciplinary approach.

“I really just hope the audience walks away with a deeper understanding of how Judaism thinks about how religious values of one faith can be applied in a universal sense to a nation of many faiths,” Saperstein said, adding that he will address topics like economics, gay rights, abortion, the environment and foreign policy.

Auburn Seminary ‘troublemaker’ to discuss social justice

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Rev. Katharine Henderson

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

The Rev. Katharine Henderson is a “troublemaker” in ministry. She is the president of the Auburn Theological Seminary and teaches students to become Christian leaders.

“The idea is that leaders and people of faith are called to help to create a just and more peaceful world, and sometimes that means not maintaining the status quo but stirring things up to create transformation and change,” Henderson said.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Henderson will present her lecture “Trouble the Waters, Heal the World,” for the Interfaith Lecture Series. The title of the lecture, which is also Auburn’s tagline, is a combination of the African-American spiritual “Wade in the Water,” lines from Isaiah 58 and the leadership qualities that Auburn and Henderson share.

“My identity as a religious leader … is entirely aligned with the work of Auburn. We have a vision … that we’re going to need to do that work of bridging the religious divide, building communities, pursuing justice and healing the world,” Henderson said, adding that Auburn leaders are taught to be spiritually grounded, able to pursue justice, entrepreneurial and media savvy. “Because we think that this is what religious leadership for the 21st century looks like.”

Henderson said her desire to be a Christian troublemaker stemmed from her past. Her mother was the first woman elder in her church and her father was a professor of theology. Henderson often participated in civil rights marches with her parents. But one of the most testing times in her life was while she was an atheist.

Because she grew up as a pastor’s daughter and called herself a “cradle Presbyterian,” Henderson said that she experienced the same period of atheism that many preachers’ children do.

“That led me for a period of time to a very important and profound atheist period in late high school and college … and a very important reconnection to God and to the church through the words of the Catholic priest at the monastery in Germany when I was in college, who welcomed me to take Communion even though I was not Catholic,” Henderson said. “He really was the agent of God that brought me back to the church. What I realized was that God had been available and present all along, and
I had been the one putting up obstacles and distance.”

There are also troublemaker roots in Biblical and American history, Henderson said, like the civil rights movement in which she grew up.

“There’s a Biblical history that we can look at all the way back to the prophets and Jesus himself, who called us to do the work of justice, to be repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets to live in,” she said.

In addition to addressing religion and social inequality, Henderson will talk about some of her role models, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor during World War II who participated in the resistance movement against Hitler and was killed for doing so.

“I’m going to be talking about the new great awakening that’s happening, where people of faith are going to be engaged in a multi-generational, multi-faith movement addressing issues of justice to heal and repair the world,” Henderson said. “So I think we’re on the cusp of a new era, and I’m looking forward to engaging the people at Chautauqua in thinking about being a part of this movement with us.”

Carroll to lecture on American perception of Jerusalem

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James Carroll

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

There are two Jerusalems, according to James Carroll’s book Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Carroll will begin the second week of the Interfaith Lecture Series with a lecture called “City on a Hill: Jerusalem in the American Imagination.”

Carroll said one Jerusalem is the historic city, and the other is the conceptual holy city; the two cities are in conflict with each other, and their simultaneous existence highlights the relationship between religion and violence.

The first Jerusalem is the city as described in the Bible, history textbooks and newspaper accounts, Carroll said, and this is the Jerusalem studied from the time of Jesus, through the Crusades and into the current conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“The other is the fantasy city that begins with the idea of heavenly Jerusalem, which becomes a motivating image for western civilization,” Carroll said. “(It is) Jerusalem fulfilling all of human hopes, and that idea grabs hold of the western imagination so that it defines the violence, the Crusades … and in a very large way it defines America’s own sense of itself.”

The tension between religion and violence is created when the violent history of Jerusalem the city clashes with the nonviolent nature of religion. There are aspects of early religion, like sacrifice, that are violent, Carroll said. But violence is not the core of religion.

“If I thought that religion was only about violence, then of course I myself would not be a religious person,” Carroll said. “It’s because I find religion to be a source of resistance to violence that I want to rescue religion from its violent impulses.”

He added that violence is basic to the human condition, and religion inevitably gets caught in it.

Many of the arguments in Carroll’s book are controversial, but Carroll said he is not afraid to question religion. In fact, he said it is necessary that religions and believers be self-critical of their beliefs toward violence.

Before writing another of his books, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, Carroll was a Catholic priest. Constantine’s Sword challenged modern Christianity and the church, citing the history of violence between Christians and Jews, but Carroll said the self-reflection strengthened his faith.

“I understand in a way that I never did before that the entire Christian church is guilty of sin and therefore must always be in search of forgiveness,” he said. “But I understand the good news of Christianity to be that forgiveness is readily available, that God is a giving God.”

Carroll’s honesty made him a great lecturer to open the week’s theme “The Role of Religion in Engaging Citizens for the Common Good,” said Maureen Rovegno, the assistant director of the Department of Religion at Chautauqua.

“Sometimes to engage citizens, you have to hold up a mirror to what is really happening,” Rovegno said.

Carroll traces the theme back to the fundamental principles of Christianity.

“That citizens must be engaged for the common good is another way of saying the greatest of the commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself, to do unto others as has been done to you,” Carroll said. “Those are the basic basic principles of what we would call the common good, and my lecture will track that idea right into a modern era, going from the Biblical principle of the Golden Rule right through the basic principles of liberal democracy.”

Carroll has also been a weekly columnist for The Boston Globe for almost 20 years.

“Its work requires me to pay attention to the world around me and the world that is unfolding in front of me, and the question a columnist always asks is, ‘What do I care most about?” Carroll said. “Being a columnist has really sharpened my work as a writer of books.”

Keehan to examine relationship between money, health care

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Sr. Carol Keehan

This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Wednesday, July 1, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

To close the first week of the Interfaith Lecture Series, Sister Carol Keehan will discuss the economics of maternal health in her lecture, “Will U.S. Health Reform Advance Maternal and Child Wellbeing?”

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Keehan will address the misconceptions that people often have when examining maternal and child health and the relationship between money and health care.

“With maternal and infant mortality, most of what we need to know we already know very well,” Keehan said. “It’s finding ways to make that available to the women. We know what we need to do for mothers. We know how to treat the most common conditions that kill mothers and infants.”

Keehan is the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, and she combined her degrees in nursing and health care finance to gain a unique perspective on health care.

“It grew out of my concern that we need to be able to do programs that take care of the poor, because so often, people are saying, ‘Well, that would be nice to do, but we can’t afford it,” Keehan said. “Well, we can afford to do a lot of things if we spend our money right.”

The standards may not be the same in Haiti, for example, as in America, but improvements can be made. Instead of a physician’s office and a board-certified obstetrician for every mother, Haiti could have nurse midwives. In cultures where male doctors are taboo, the solution can be a midwife, rather than no doctor at all.

“You can look at what’s the best way to spend the money that will get the most from the money we have to spend,” Keehan said.

Keehan’s approach combines morality and economics to tackle the challenge of determining the most successful methods of improving health care and choosing the cheapest methods from those options.

The concept of choice is not a strictly economic theory; people make choices in their beliefs and their faiths, and often these choices seem to lend themselves to hypocrisy.

For example, Keehan said, people taking a pro-life stance should keep in mind the high maternal mortality rates in these countries.

“Particularly a number of the Christian churches that speak so profoundly on the value of human life, well it’s not very pro-life to have this many mothers and babies dying,” Keehan said.

A common belief in countries that suffer from high rates of HIV, AIDS or maternal mortality consider the death to be either punishment from God or God’s will for that person’s life.

“It is so easy, and it ought to frighten us, but it doesn’t seem to — to decide what we think God’s will is, and substituting our judgment for God’s,” Keehan said. “I don’t happen to believe it works that way, and I think it’s too easy to say everything is God’s will. Our failure to respond to get a person decent care is not God’s will.”

Still, some choices should be easier than others, Keehan said. She cited the Bible verse Matthew 25:40 in which Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

“If you believe that everyone is created in the image and likeness of God, you just can’t know these things and not try to respond,” Keehan said. “If you believe in the teachings of the Gospel… who’s more vulnerable than a mother and her baby, about to deliver in a place where there’s not good access to care if you have complications?”

Often, the miscommunications are cleared by a little introspection, open-mindedness and cooperation among people, Keehan said.

“Sometimes, if we think about these things, and we talk about them together, we put our best minds to finding solutions,” Keehan said. “And the truth of the matter is the people that care enough to come are the kind of people that will be active and … can be part of the solution, and it’s going to take a lot of people to make a dent in this problem.”

Forman to discuss Haiti’s gender-based violence

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This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Wednesday, June 30, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

The Hebrew phrase “Tikkun Olem” means “repairing the world.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” in Matthew 5:9.

In Hinduism, the concept of karma guarantees that people who are charitable and kind will benefit in the next life. The teaching of “earthly Buddhism” is an environmental approach to repairing the world.

The interpretations differ, but the concept of kindness transcends religions. Johanna Mendelson Forman, who grew up Jewish, works daily to eliminate gender-based violence with the phrase “Tikkun Olem” whispering in the back of her mind.

“The concept of repairing the world … drives my own belief that we can always leave this place a better world,” Forman said. “So if we can help in this one area and make contributions, it’s certainly a contribution to our life on this planet.”

Forman is the senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and has traveled to Haiti several times since the earthquake in January 2010.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Forman will discuss gender-based violence at the Interfaith Lecture Series with her lecture, “The Slaughter of Eve: Women and Violence in Haiti.”

Although the problem of gender-based violence is complex and widespread, Forman said there are three important steps toward a solution: outreach, protection and education.

In many developing countries, there is no incentive for people to report crimes because there is no punishment for the criminal. Outreach to women and victims is a giant first step toward reducing and eliminating violence.

“Getting women to work with other women’s groups, of which there are strong networks in these (Haitian) camps, is a very important step,” Forman said.

The architectural Defensible Space Theory is a surprisingly effective method of reducing crime and violence against women. In line with this theory, architects are rebuilding housing and space in Haiti so that people can feel protected. The community indicates where crime is concentrated, and the architects redesign the space to make housing safer and residents less vulnerable.

As simple as it seems, the problem can also begin and end with a change of attitude.

“It’s also a broader education program for men and boys, and the population in general, that this is not acceptable behavior to go in and try to rape women,” Forman said.

The solution to a three-part problem is, sensibly enough, a three-part process that Forman will break down for the Chautauqua audience.

“I want to give people a sense of what the problem is, because it’s a global problem… to give them the context of what it’s like in Haiti today and (to tell them) some of the things we’re thinking about to help alleviate the problem,” Forman said, adding that practical solutions involve legal changes, remedies to victims and protection for women before these legal changes are implemented.

Religious and cultural differences can compound the problem and cloud the solution, but the solution can be as simple as “Tikkun Olem.”

“As far as the religiosity aspect of it goes, it’s basic respect for one’s fellow man and woman … no matter how you feel about your religious tendencies, I think it’s a basic tenet of all religions to respect,” Forman said. “(Rape and violence are) perhaps one of the grossest violations of it in that there is the disrespect for people’s space, for people’s movement, for people’s body… and the church can play a role in (solving) it.”

Meleis to speak on empowering women

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Dr. Afaf Meleis

This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Wednesday, June 29, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

At an early age, Dr. Afaf Meleis learned from her mother and grandmother that there are different kinds of power and different types of leadership. Now, she teaches others to rethink their attitudes toward power and gender inequalities around the world.

“It’s important to be able to detect some of the challenges and risks that women are suffering from and to fix the quality of life and health, and if it does that, it also affects families and communities and societies,” Meleis said. “Empowering women is a cause that could lead to, and does lead to, peace in the world.”

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Meleis will continue the Interfaith Lecture Series with “Empowered, Healthy Women: Overcoming Universal Challenges.” Meleis uses her background as the Dean of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, a traveler and an Egyptian to teach that women face similar gender inequalities worldwide.

“Women from developing and developed nations face similar issues,” Meleis said. “The challenges women face are not limited to any cultural, sociocultural or ethnic group. These are the same issues that tend to be a result of marginalization wherever women are.”

These challenges include violence, human trafficking, forced marriages, child marriages, lack of sanitation, lack of access to health care, educational hurdles, nutrition and more, Meleis said.

Meleis also served on the Global Health Council board, where she mentored Joan Brown Campbell, the director of the Department of Religion at Chautauqua.

“She has a gift, a passion, for what she believes in and significant knowledge, particularly of nursing as a career, but also of the special gifts that women bring to the issues of public health,” Campbell said. “She’s going to talk about the whole concept that if we take care of the lives of women, we will result in having healthier children.”

Ultimately, people’s opinions about power and gender equality are a culmination of their experiences, Meleis said. When she was 13 years old, her closest friendship ended when her friend was forced to get married. As she heard the stories from colleagues, students and other women entering the nursing field, she realized that the women had different experiences but faced similar obstacles.

Meleis’ experience with religion and her Muslim faith also guided her opinions about women and health, but in a neutral way.

“I look at religion the same way I look at civil society: to see in what way are women being treated in the religion and in what way are their rights respected and preserved,” Meleis said. “It’s not the religion itself; it’s the way religions are interpreted.”

Religion is not the only factor that influences gender equality, though. The biggest problem facing women, Meleis said, is that there are barriers in religion, culture and community that prevent women from contributing to society to their full capacity.

“The point I want to make is that women comprise half of our human race, and all have the potential of making major contributions to the human race, and when we compromise them, then we compromise economic, political and social advancement,” she said.

Many of the things that people think are advancements, like globalization, might not be fully equal. However, the goal, and even the first step to improving gender inequality, is clear.

“When we put our gender glasses on, we’ll see that they might be compromising women’s ability to function up to their full capacity and to be healthy,” Meleis said.

Mother of 3 stresses attitude change about women

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Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese. Submitted photo.

This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Tuesday, June 28, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese’s kids are global children.

They each know what it feels like to go to an international school, be the only kid in class who speaks English and spend only four months of the year in their hometown of Ontario, Canada.

This is because for the other eight months of the year, their mom teaches Ugandan leaders about maternal mortality and trains them to change the way their neighborhoods treat maternal and child health.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Froese will continue the Interfaith Lecture Series with “Am I My Sister’s Keeper: Addressing Maternal Mortality in the 21st Century.”

The theme remains the same: Cases of maternal deaths are numerous but preventable with the implementation of basic care in developing countries.

But Froese’s approach is different from that of Mark Dybul, co-director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, who presented Monday’s Interfaith Lecture.

Dybul promotes the allocation of resources to these countries, and Froese focuses on the attitudes toward women and families.

“There’s a place for aid, but really there’s very little place until people’s attitudes change,” Froese said. “The idea is to train (Ugandan leaders) who will then go into their own culture and try to bring about change.”

In 2005, Froese founded Save the Mothers International, the public health leadership program through which she and others train Ugandan leaders. She is also the technical expert for Saving Mothers and Newborns, a program through the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics. While living in Canada, Froese works as an obstetrician.

Like Dybul, Froese advocates for basic care. Approximately 15 women die each year from childbirth in Froese’s home country of Canada, but 6,000 women die each year from the same complications in Uganda. This, Froese said, is the attitude chasm between countries.

“We just take it for granted,” Froese said. “In the states, you go in and you decide, ‘Do I want a blue room or a pink room?’ In Uganda, it’s a battle, and some people come home alive from the battle and some people don’t.”

In a guest column for the National Post, Froese calls the situation “unequivocally the most under-reported story of our time.”

Many of the solutions to health problems are a lack of resources, like access to electricity, medicine and sterile surgical equipment.

In her column, Froese said she witnessed the heart of the problem at a funeral she attended in Uganda; pallbearers were cautious about how close to the other women they brought a woman’s casket.

Froese’s job is demanding, but she said the best part is when she sees East African leaders change their perspectives and realize how important mothers are.

“We as citizens of this country have demanded it, versus in East Africa it’s, ‘Well, that was God’s will for that to happen,’ but it isn’t God’s will for that to happen,” Froese said.

Froese said her faith keeps her going, and she has called on her favorite Bible verse, Psalm 46:1, many times: “God is my refuge and strength.”

“It’s not us doing it ourselves,” Froese said. “It’s recognizing God’s protection on your life, and the encouragement that he’s there with you.”

As a child, Froese grew up surrounded by diversity and attended a church that taught that helping others, no matter their religion, was simply what it meant to be a good person and a Christian. Froese’s children are now learning the same lessons in diversity.

“It definitely has its challenges,” Froese said. “We do our best to make sure the kids have fun. That takes a lot of energy, but I don’t ever want my kids to say, ‘I wish my parents hadn’t done that.’”

Dybul opens week of lectures on maternal, child well-being

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Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

Despite their differences, religion and maternal mortality go hand in hand.

“We can’t address health issues without dealing with faith communities, and in many of these communities, the most important leaders are faith leaders,” said Ambassador

Mark Dybul. Submitted photo.

, the co-director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health law at Georgetown University and the Interfaith Lecture Series’ first guest lecturer.

Chautauqua’s Department of Religion collaborated with the Global Health Council to present “Toward a Healthy World: Maternal and Child Wellbeing,” the first week of Interfaith lectures. Dybul will present “Faith and Global Health: Opportunities and Challenges to Create a More Perfect World” today at 2 p.m. in the Hall of Philosophy. Jeff Sturchio, the president and CEO of the Global Health Council, will introduce Dybul.

The Global Health Council works to ensure that programs are in place to improve maternal and child health around the world, an aspect that is key on the global health agenda, Sturchio said.

Approximately 1,000 women die each day in developing countries because of complications during childbirth, and most of these deaths are easily preventable, Sturchio added.

Faith-based organizations, from hospitals to churches, provide the majority of health services to Africans. The benefit is that when faith leaders change their perceptions of maternal health, the members of their communities will often follow.

“I’ll discuss how we got to where we are, but also … how we could do things differently and how engaging the faith community could help,” Dybul said, adding that there are several challenges to addressing this issue from a religious angle.

For example, the most effective ways to avoid maternal death involve voluntary family planning, like access to birth control. HIV is another major cause of maternal and child death, particularly when there is mother-to-child transmission, Dybul said.

Religious beliefs and preconceived notions about HIV pose a cultural challenge. Many polygamous churches in Africa, for example, teach that HIV is a curse from God. But religion itself is not the source of the problem.

“There’s not really a conflict between religion and (maternal) health. It’s really a question of understanding how people in local cultures view these issues,” Sturchio said. “All of these issues are addressed by starting from the point of view of understanding that one needs to work within local cultures and not try to impose other choices on them.”

When Dybul visited Africa, his passion for studying HIV at an international level was born. Instead of pursuing a doctorate in English, he enrolled in medical school and began a career in global health that would lead him to become former President George W. Bush’s U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator in 2006.

Under this administration, Dybul helped implement the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a government initiative to combat HIV and AIDS on a global scale. He also led Bush’s International Prevention of Mother and Child HIV Initiative and was involved in writing guidelines for the Department of Health and Human Services regarding adult and adolescent HIV therapy.

Although his travel fueled his studies, Dybul’s faith also shaped his passion and career goals from an early age.

“I was brought up in the Catholic and Jesuit tradition and from the earliest days, we were taught that we were put on this earth to serve,” Dybul said. “So that’s been a fundamental part of my life and that’s the animating force behind what I
try to do.”

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