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Interfaith Lecture Preview

Former Obama speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz to talk rediscovering Judaism in adulthood for Interfaith Lecture Series

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In the introduction to her book, Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality and a Deeper Connection to Life – In Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There), former White House speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz describes her decision to reexamine Judaism at 36, after largely abandoning the faith since her bat mitzvah.

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“I know I disappoint people when I give them honest answers to their questions about what prompted me to start learning about Judaism as an adult,” she wrote. “I know they’re expecting some kind of major life crisis, or the culmination of a long spiritual journey. But the truth is much less exciting: At the age of thirty-six, I broke up with a guy I had been dating, found myself with a lot of time on my hands that had previously been spent with him, and happened to hear about an Instruction to Judaism class at the Washington D.C., Jewish Community Center.”

What began as a way to pass the time and learn about her heritage became a life-changing experience as Hurwitz learned that Judaism was so much more than the lessons she had begrudgingly learned in Hebrew School.

“What I found in that class just blew me away,” Hurwitz said. “It turns out that Judaism had profound wisdom to offer about how to be a good person, how to live a meaningful life, and how to find deep spiritual connection.”

Hurwitz worked at the White House from 2009 to 2017, first as a senior speechwriter for President Barack Obama and then as the head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama. She will be speaking at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 29, on CHQ Assembly.

Her talk, “God, Politics and Lessons from a Jewish Journey in the White House and Beyond” is part of Week Five’s Interfaith Lecture Series, “The Feminine Spirit.”

After her powerful re-introduction to Judaism, Hurwitz began to learn everything she could about the religion.

“I was so moved by the radical, countercultural approach of this ancient tradition — and amazed by how urgently relevant it felt,” she said. “So I took more classes, read hundreds of books, studied with rabbis, and decided to write an account of what I had found.”

In Here All Along, which came out last year, Hurwitz doesn’t claim religious or academic expertise. Instead, she set out to communicate her faith using the skills of a political speechwriter.

“(I approach Judaism) as a speechwriter trying to find its beating heart for myself and others — the places where we can live and feel Judaism’s wisdom in our lives, the parts of Judaism that feel like its deepest, most important truths,” she wrote. “I’m essentially trying to write the book I wish I’d had five years ago, when I first started learning about Judaism as an adult.”

Exploring her faith while working at the White House was an encouraging experience.

“The Obama White House embraced diversity in every form,” Hurwitz said. “My colleagues were incredibly supportive and very proud of me for engaging more deeply with Judaism.”

She recalls explaining to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough that she was planning to attend a silent Jewish meditation retreat over the holidays.

“I wondered if he would think that was a little weird,” Hurwitz said. “But he was thrilled. ‘Good for you!’ he said. ‘I’m so proud of you for doing that!’”

She hopes her talk can give Chautauquans of all faiths something to think about, particularly in terms of their understanding of the word “God.”

“I think Judaism has a great deal of ethical and spiritual wisdom that’s relevant for people of all faith backgrounds and none at all,” she said. “Jewish tradition has a wonderfully humble and non-dogmatic approach to the Divine; we realize that we’re talking about something far beyond what our tiny human minds can neatly define, so there’s tremendous diversity in Jewish conceptions of God.”

Hurtwitz’s faith has been a source of moral clarity for her in the last three and a half years, and she has continued to let it guide her through the uncertainty and conflict of the past few months.

“While Jewish law is complex and nuanced, it is unambiguous in its abhorrence of cruelty, corruption, malicious lying, and abuse of the vulnerable,” she said.

This program is made possible by the Jack and Elizabeth Gellman and Zaretsky Family Fund.

Mirabai Starr To Discuss Feminine-Centric Wisdom Across Spiritual Traditions and The Masculine and Feminine Qualities In All Genders

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Teenagers were more independent in some ways in the ‘70s, Mirabai Starr said, and this allowed her to move by herself to the Lama Foundation in New Mexico when she was 14. Founded in 1968, the spiritual community, educational facility, and retreat center is a place where all religions and spiritual traditions meet.

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“They call it a meeting of the ways, and there’s not one religion, one guru, one teacher or a tradition,” Starr said. “All are welcome and deeply entered into through practices and study.”

She cannot remember a time when she wasn’t drawn to spirituality.

“Since I was a small child, I was drawn to the mystery,” she said. “And I think that increased as I got older, in proportion to some significant life experiences, mostly in the arena of death.”

Starr said her brother died when she was 7, and her first boyfriend died when she was 14.

“I would say those two events really tilled the soil of my soul’s yearning for something beyond what could be seen and touched directly,” Starr said.

Named on the 2020 Watkins List of the “100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People of the World,” Starr is the author of Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce & Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystic and a certified bereavement counselor, helping mourners harness the transformational power of loss. She will talk at 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday, July 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as the second part of the Interfaith Lecture Series Week Five Theme: “The Feminine Spirit.” Starr will discuss feminine-centric wisdom across multiple religions and teachings.

Starr said she has been a writer since she could pick up a pen, and she wrote her first poem, which was about autumn in New York, at the age of 8. Starr’s parents were supportive of her art and would read it to their friends.

“From an early age the message I got from my parents was, ‘You have an ability to say a lot with a few words,’” Starr said. “And I understood that that was some kind of gift that I could and should develop. I feel like I have both through my poetry and my prose writing.”

She wanted to be a fiction writer because that is what she loved to read. Starr’s first published work, however, was a creative nonfiction essay in the Sun Magazine in 1999. The Sun, she said, was “the perfect intersection for me because those are all my interests, literary, political and spiritual.”

Around her fourth book, Starr began to receive too many speaking and teaching invitations to be able to teach her classes at the University of New Mexico-Taos. She made little money at the university, so she decided to pursue the speaking engagements instead, transitioning from teaching at a public university to traveling and teaching mostly privileged people.

“A lot of the white women that I work with are desperately wanting to wake up, be relevant, be of service and dismantle their unconscious white privilege,” Starr said. “It was just a big shift from actually being with people who are struggling to lift themselves in their lives and educate themselves.”

Before the pandemic, Starr traveled once a week for engagements. 

“I felt like I was on this train that was hurtling through the universe at warp speed and I couldn’t get off, and I knew I wanted to and needed to but I didn’t know how,” Starr said. “The pandemic just brought me to a screeching halt. And sure enough, it was like the tree of my soul was watered by being still, being home.”

For around the past seven years, Starr has been dedicated to dismantling white privilege, which she said is prevalent in spiritual spaces in which she teaches, such as the yoga community and the American Buddhist community. Starr said helping these people understand their own unconscious part in systemic racism requires her to continuously look at herself.

“Just because I’m doing the same anti-racist work doesn’t mean that I do not also perpetuate the various structures that have oppressed people of color, especially Black people, but, yes, people of color,” Starr said. “I always begin by using myself as an example of a work in progress that’s continuously needing to do that rigorous self inquiry.”

Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, she said more white people, including those in the spiritual community, have been talking about racism.

“I have felt really lonely in that work for a long time. I’ve made myself very vulnerable in communities of color, as I step up and constantly mess up and am corrected very publicly. I get to practice not having a fragile, white response to the feedback I get from people of color,” Starr said. “It would be so much easier not to do that work and stay in my comfortable, little, white, spiritual bubble, but I can’t and I won’t.”

In her lecture, Starr will be discussing feminine wisdom across many religions and spiritual traditions. She said much of the teachings of these traditions are written by and for men, and she aims to “reclaim a more feminine-centric way of understanding, and practicing these great, spiritual treasures.”

“When I say masculine and feminine, I’m speaking of the masculine and the feminine in people of all genders,” Starr said. “I’m not just bifurcating the sexes, you know, ‘Women are embodied and relational and men are disembodied and individualistic.’ It’s looking at those qualities in all of us.”

This program is made possible by the Rachel Alice Miller Memorial Fund.

Joan Chittister To Discuss Global Equality, What Equality Would Look Like And Why It Has Not Been Achieved Yet

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Joan Chittister, Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, said communication is the base of everything that humans do.

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“We don’t know one another, but by the time this conversation ends, we’ll know one another relatively well,” Chittister said. “And what’s more, we will have seeded one another’s brain with new ideas, with quick questions that will affect our own lives.”

Half of the human population are women, and Chittister said there has been a lack of women’s voices in society, which is “emblazoned in the mistakes that those societies have made.”

“We are working with half the human mind. The male mind. That’s the half we function on. It’s the mind through which we see life, say life, and create life,” Chittister said. “But as a result of that, we are ignoring half the resources of the human race, and the experiences that they bring to culture…to your family life, to the economy, to government.”

As well as being a Benedictine Sister, Chittister is an international lecturer and award-winning author of 60 books. She will talk at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, July 27, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform to launch the Week Five Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “The Feminine Spirit.” 

When Chittister was a freshman in high school, she became an editor of her school newspaper.

“I discovered, knew and loved the fact that I was writing. And I knew that internally, essentially, I was a writer — that was the only thing I wanted to do in life,” Chittister said. “When I entered the community … frankly, it had occurred to me that nuns don’t write books. I thought I was giving that up because somehow or other, this was a better thing for me to do than writing.”

Chittister said her role in the church was to communicate with 23 Benedictine communities of women across the country. She wrote a lot during this time to communicate with these various groups, and eventually people outside the order asked her to write articles, give speeches and participate in national seminars.

“I woke up one morning and discovered that everything I was doing, and every way I knew to address any of the issues going on, was to treat them as universal questions that were absolutely an essential part of how institutions would move in the future,” Chittister said.

Chittister said that face masks are a great metaphor for the role of individuals in society, and how “the way we breathe on other people affects their life, their children, their fertility, their future.” With the pandemic, she said a person’s effects on others can be seen in loss of revenue for businesses, such as restaurants opening with 25% of their normal occupancy.

“They know what they’re facing. Hospitals know what they’re facing. It’s time we grow up. The time is now,” Chittister said. “We’re at this crossover point where we have to build on values, not on the past.”

Chittister has been a part of the Global Peace Initiative for Women for around 30 years and has worked to bring women “out of the woodwork, to talk about their lives … especially women who found themselves in countries in conflict.” She said the needs of people in other countries are essential because the United States’ economy has not been fully independent since World War II.

“If (any other country’s) economy falls, trust me that our economy will suffer too,” Chittister said.

For her Chautauquan Lecture “A Woman’s Life: A Good Event/Bad Event World,” she will discuss topics such as equality and its impacts on the global community.

“I really am asking myself, ‘What would equality really look like? And then, ‘Why don’t we have what’s missing?’” Chittister said.

This program is made possible by the Presbyterian Association of Chautauqua Religious Lectureship Fund.

Lisa Sharon Harper, founder of Freedom Road, to dispute evangelical narratives, Shalom in Interfaith Friday

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Lisa Sharon Harper’s work didn’t shift during the Black Lives Matter movement — she said this is a moment she was made for.

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“The kind of work I do helped to create this moment,” Harper said. “What the movement did is it called out the truth in the face of a spiritual lie. We’ve been waiting for this.”

Harper, founder and president of Freedom Road, will speak on evangelicalism at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, July 24, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform for Week Four’s Interfaith Friday. 

The way that we imagine how we should live together in the world is deeply impacted by our faith and how we understand it,” she said. “The two go hand-in-hand, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.”

Since the 2016 presidential election, Harper said the nation has been in a state of devastating division. What people are learning from it, she said, is that “faith matters.” Faith shapes one’s worldview, which in turn, shapes their politics. 

“The way that we imagine how we should live together in the world is deeply impacted by our faith and how we understand it,” she said. “The two go hand-in-hand, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.”

Harper’s worldview is shaped by her evangelical understanding of the Gospel, a view she will expand on in her Interfaith Friday presentation. Her journey to finding her faith was a long one. It would challenge her relationships, her past, her sense of belonging; but the challenges would bring her to an “life-altering realization” — the “good news of the Gospel” was handed down to her by white people who bore no actual relationship to the scripture they were sharing. 

Finally, she said, she found her place in the narrative. 

“The text I so deeply believe in actually comes from a social location that is closer to my own than anyone who taught me about it — much closer to that of George Floyd than that of Calvin or Luther,” Harper said. 

Harper’s strengthened relationship with religion following her realization changed her life “permanently and for the better,” but several experiences have since disputed the “white evangelical narrative” — particularly in her understanding of Shalom, which she considers to be God’s vision of the world he created. 

“Shalom is exploring how God envisions we should be relating to one another,” she said. “It’s how we should be relating to the rest of the creation — the Earth, other animals. It’s how God envisions we should relate to money and how God envisions we should relate to God.” 

Shalom, to Harper, is grounded in the book of Genesis, her “founding narrative.” Harper believes Genesis was written by oppressed, enslaved people, and if that’s the context, she doubts the book’s sole purpose was to prove how long it took to make the world. In her eyes, the story is about power, not creation. 

“They are writing about how power should be yielded in this world, how we should be relating with each other, about ethics and about the core of Shalom,” Harper said. “That reoriented everything for me, which will be a key part of my talk.”  

To share her worldview worldwide, Harper founded Freedom Road, a consulting group, in 2017. Through training, coaching, forums and pilgrimages, Harper said Freedom Road’s mission is to “build a more just world.”

“We help people who are doing justice to do it more justly,” she said. “The major way we do that is by emphasizing the power of story and narrative. We really do believe narrative shapes everything. My story is only one example of that.”

Having to reevaluate and shift a worldview is “literally pain-filled,” Harper said, but creating change in the “right direction” is worth the discomfort it carries. 

“There is so much pain in the world because of our divisions, so if the work I have done to understand Shalom helps the church become Shalom-seekers, well, that’s a life well spent,” Harper said.  

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series,” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics and the Thomas and Shirley Musgrave Woolaway Fund.

Noreen Herzfeld to examine the ‘morality of technology’ in Interfaith lecture

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As a theologian, Noreen Herzfeld knows that in the first century, people could see themselves in the image of God. But as a computer scientist, she has come to learn people in the 21st century see themselves in the image of another deity — the computer — a reality she has come to terms with through a growing list of sizable questions.

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“These are big questions, and we have no easy answers, because we are dealing with things that are quite new,” Herzfeld said.  

Herzfeld, the Nicholas and Bernice Reuter Professor of Science and Religion at St. John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict, will deliver her lecture “Tool, Partner, or Surrogate: How Autonomous Should Our Technology Be?” at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, July 23, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform with a lecture on the Week Four Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Ethics in a Technologically Transforming World?”

It seemed to me that computers are at their most useful for us when they do things we can’t do: crank out the numbers,” Herzfeld said. “Why are we trying to replicate our own brains instead of working on something that compliments them?”

Herzfeld initially came to St. John’s University to teach her passion, computer science, but said she quickly became interested in investigating why people are trying to create “human-like artificial intelligence.”

“It seemed to me that computers are at their most useful for us when they do things we can’t do: crank out the numbers,” she said. “Why are we trying to replicate our own brains instead of working on something that compliments them?”

She didn’t have the background to “attack that question” as a computer scientist, she said, because it investigated human motivations rather than the technology itself. So, she began to study theology. 

“I thought, ‘Where have I seen this idea of one being created in the image of another?’” she said. “That’s in Genesis.”

In her lecture, Herzfeld plans to explore the history of technology within the realm of theology, diving into what it means to be a moral agent and if computers can ever accomplish that “level of morality.”

“At what point does technology outstrip morality?” she said. “Is there a problem with the fact that we make technological advancements very quickly and yet we are evolving very slowly? Will it eventually get away from us?” 

Some of the vast technological advancements are positive, according to Herzfeld. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, she said technology is “leading the way.” 

“Scientists, right now, are throwing everything they’ve got at this virus and that includes artificial intelligence and robotics,” she said. “We are using these machines to help us understand the virus, to see if we can repurpose existing drugs and using robots to bring things to people who are quarantined. These are wonderful uses.”

Some of the uses, however, aren’t so wonderful. As a professor, she had to transition her classroom on Zoom in the middle of the spring semester and said it was a challenge to transcend the barriers technology set between her and her students.

“We need to be thinking about what an authentic relationship looks like when we are not meeting physically, when we are not directly face-to-face and when face-to-face is mediated by technology,” she said.

Through her virtual lecture, Herzfeld hopes to shed light on how citizens can be more “deliberate” with their technology usage. Ultimately, she wants people to think about which technologies they are going to use, which technologies they are not going to use and more importantly: why? 

“With those we are going to use, maybe we can be more mindful about how we use them, how they might be having an under-the-radar effect on our relationships with other people, and how we think about ourselves and our place in the world,” Herzfeld said. 

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series,” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics and  the Carnahan-Jackson Religious Lectureship.

Avett Brother bassist Bob Crawford joins Bishop Gene Robinson for a conversation on ‘Faith on Stage’

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The Avett Brothers’ 2012 song “Live and Die” begins with the lyrics, “All it’ll take is just one moment and / you can say goodbye to how we had it planned.”

The band’s upright bass player Bob Crawford is credited as a songwriter on “Live and Die,” off the Avett Brothers’ album The Carpenter, and Gene Robinson has a feeling he knows the exact moment that changed Crawford’s plans forever.

“His faith journey took on a real serious note,” said Robinson, Chautauqua Institution’s Vice President for Religion, when Crawford’s daughter, Hallie, experienced her first seizure. Doctors subsequently found a tumor in the 2-year-old’s brain.

“His whole life changed at that moment,” Robinson said. “(I’m curious about) how it changed his perception of God, his relationship with God, and what it’s like to be in the public eye and go through something like that when many people in the world are watching and listening.”

Robinson and Crawford will interview each other in a live Skype conversation at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 22, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. It’s a departure from the Week Four Interfaith Lecture Series theme, but the program, titled “Faith on Stage,” has been long in the works. With the thrice Grammy-nominated band originally set to perform July 22, 2020, on the Amphitheater stage, Robinson and Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore worked together to bring band members on the 2 p.m. platform as well, to be interviewed about their faith journeys for Crawford’s podcast, “The Road to Now.” With COVID-19 postponing the Avetts’ third Amp performance to Aug. 4, 2021, Robinson and Crawford moved forward with the 2020 program that they could.

“We’re going into it with a wonderful spirit,” Robinson said. “I’ll be interviewing him, he’ll be interviewing me, and even our own audiences will learn something new about each of us.”

“The Road to Now” podcast, co-hosted by Ben Sawyer, brings together “historians, politicians, journalists and artists to the table for conversations that illuminate the map that brought us to where we are today.” An offshoot called “RTN Theology” focuses on faith, art, religion, and theology. But one word sticks out for Robinson in the podcast’s name, a word he thinks relates back to those opening lines of “Live and Die” — “now.”

“The name of the podcast speaks to this, that the only moment you can be sure of is now,” Robinson said. “(Those lyrics are) what happened to him with that experience. You can say that about so many things, that change everything. It struck me as a life lesson that we have these plans and we pretend that they’re all going to happen until they don’t.”

Crawford took time off from the Avett Brothers’ 2011 tour to be with his family while his daughter underwent chemotherapy; while Robinson will ask for an update on Hallie in their conversation, in 2017, the Sun Sentinel reported she had been in remission since 2013.

“It’s my impression that we come closer to God and our relationship with God deepens almost completely when we are at our wits’ end,” Robinson said. “Being in an extreme situation, we are more able to apprehend God. I’m looking forward to asking Bob his perspective on that.”

Crawford has spoken with several media outlets about how his family’s experiences have deepened his faith, and impacted his work. The band’s 2017 album True Sadness is an indication, written as band members were dealing with death, divorce, and illness.

“My daughter lost the right side of her brain. She’s severely disabled. It’s never going to be OK. My wife and I are constantly working through it,” Crawford told the Sun Sentinel. “But she’s such a joy to be around, you know? So I think that true sadness is where we walk through life, feeling the sweetness of joy. We experience that while also suffering a little bit, feeling the pain and fragility of life.”

To put that pain and fragility into a song, Robinson said, while living in the public eye, is admirable.

“My own experience is that there’s the public Gene and the private Gene, and yet my public face is a face related to religion,” said Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the history of Christendom — his appointment to lead the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire was met with controversy and death threats, ultimately resulting in his being put under FBI protection in the days leading up to his consecration in 2003. “I think for any public person, you just have to preserve (yourself), and not lose track of who you actually are. And one of the things I admire about Bob in particular, and the Avett Brothers in general, is that they take that really personal stuff and put it into their music. It’s one thing to have someone in Nashville write a great song and then you record it; it’s another thing to not only write your own, but to have it come out of your own lives.”

In an interview with the Sioux City Journal, Crawford said he was “comfortable where life is, for all the tragedy and upheaval.”

“This life we live, I don’t know how you can handle it without God,” he said. “We’re all kind of over our heads.”

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series,” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics & the Carnahan-Jackson Religious Lectureship. 

Jason Thacker to probe artificial intelligence’s imbalance with human safety and privacy in lecture

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“Should I Stay or Should I Go” is more than just a song by the Clash; it also neatly summarizes the debate about the United States starting and ending stay-at-home directives.

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For Jason Thacker, who writes and speaks on issues including human dignity, ethics, technology and artificial intelligence, the decision to stay home was easy. Dorie, Thacker’s wife, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last fall and had just finished chemotherapy, so their family isolated at home well in advance of the U.S. government’s stay-at-home directives for her safety. But Thacker said that in addition to public health dilemmas, a larger debate due to COVID-19 was the use of tracking technology to protect human life while also giving up privacy.

“When humans try to be all-knowing — without the love and sacrifice God perfectly demonstrates — it leads to trouble,” Thacker wrote for The Gospel Coalition.

Thacker will deliver his lecture, “The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity,” on his book of the same name, at 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 21, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of the Week Four Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Ethics in a Technologically Transforming World?”

Thacker serves as Chair of Research in Technology Ethics at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He holds a Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Ethics and Public Theology at the seminary.

“We are delighted to welcome Jason Thacker to this week’s important conversation on the question of ethics, in this world in which technology is changing almost every aspect of our lives, here and globally,” said Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno. “Jason will address the possibility of how and why technology could eventually call into question our very humanity, and he will do it through a religious-ethical lens and voice that will give depth and relevance to the conversation for so many of our audience participants.”

Thacker’s work has been featured at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Slate and Politico, in addition to his articles on the ERLC site. In the last few months, he has concentrated on how the COVID-19 pandemic is a new factor in his sphere of work.

“Even as COVID-19 brought some national unity, we are beginning to see the fraying of American society once again,” Thacker wrote in April. “Political, social, economic and religious issues have sorted us into tribes and tribes of tribes. It is difficult to keep up to date on the number of differing viewpoints and interest groups. But there is one concern that seems to bring the fraying parties and purported enemies together: the power and influence of technology on our lives.”

The value of personal data grows every year, and has become more valuable than the price of oil in the last few years.

In 2019, Thacker called for the ERLC to create a public statement of principles for artificial intelligence, which he contributed to later that year. Thacker said that overreaches in artificial intelligence technology, for the sake of short-term but serious public health or safety concerns, can create worse privacy and security issues in the future.

“AI is everywhere in our society and is often working behind the scenes,” Thacker wrote. “As Christians, we need to be prepared with a framework to navigate the difficult ethical and moral issues surrounding AI use and development. This framework doesn’t come from corporations or government because they are not the ultimate authority on dignity issues and the church doesn’t take its cues from culture.”

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series,” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics & the Carnahan-Jackson Religious Lectureship.

Duquesne University professor Gerard Magill to speak on imagination’s role in ethics

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When a bride and groom stand at the altar to exchange vows, what justifies their commitment? Is it faith, or reason, or something else? Vernon F. Gallagher Chair for the Integration of Science, Theology, Philosophy, and Law at Duquesne University Gerard Magill argues that their commitment is a result of imagination.

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“Those young couples have the imagination to see themselves living together,” Magill said. “Reason helps explain it, faith helps support it, but the actual discernment of falling in love to the point of marriage is a function of imagination.”

Imagination doesn’t just lend itself to romantic decisions. Magill argues that imagination is a crucial, but often overlooked, aspect of ethics. Magill will explore this in a presentation called “Technology, Ethics, & Imagination” at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, July 20, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. His presentation is part of the Week Four theme for the Interfaith Lecture Series, “Ethics in a Technologically Transforming World?” 

According to Magill, ethicists tend to consider two main pillars — faith and reason — in their ethical thinking. But, without imagination, Magill believes that dilemmas cannot be thoughtfully examined. To illustrate this, Magill pointed to the example of climate change. If people cannot fully picture the effects of climate change, they cannot fully make changes to combat it or find a solution. 

If you look at the pace of civilized societies over the past 500 years, things developed slowly and solidly, and we eventually ended up with the democratic societies that we have today. What took 400 to 500 years to develop, we are now capturing in five to ten years,” Magill said. “Technology is moving at such a pace across everything that we’re doing, that it is crucial to ask the question: ‘Should we do something, simply because we can do it?”

“If we are incapable of our imaginations telling us, ‘There’s a red light flashing here,’ if we don’t have the imagination to see the problem, then we will certainly not have the imagination to solve the problem,” Magill said. 

After establishing imagination’s role in ethics in his presentation, Magill will explore how these elements play a role in technology. 

“If you look at the pace of civilized societies over the past 500 years, things developed slowly and solidly, and we eventually ended up with the democratic societies that we have today. What took 400 to 500 years to develop, we are now capturing in five to ten years,” Magill said. “Technology is moving at such a pace across everything that we’re doing, that it is crucial to ask the question: ‘Should we do something, simply because we can do it?”

Magill’s professional experience is in medical ethics. At Duquesne University, he has researched a multitude of topics from human genomics to research ethics to patient safety. 

“What brought me to ethics in general was a sense of a call to advance value in people’s lives. I decided medical ethics because medicine fascinated me,” Magill said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the science and research of medicine.”

In his career, Magill has contributed to 10 books, either as author, co-author or editor. These books cover issues of medical ethics, and many with the added lens of religious morality. Like his decision to pursue life as an ethicist, Magill narrows down subjects that inspire him, and chooses to only write about the things that matter most to him.

“The most important thing is that you fall in love with the topic. I try to explain to students if you’re going to push your research into writing a book, you’ve got to be driven, you’ve got to fall in love with your topic,” Magill said. “A topic’s got to be not just important in health or something. It’s got to be driven by your inner charisma.”

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics & the Arthur and Helen Reycroft Memorial Religious Lectureship Fund.

Buddhist meditation teachers Wayman and Eryl Kubicka host Interfaith Friday

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Eryl and Wayman Kubicka

Their paths first crossed in the war-torn Vietnam province of Quang Ngai where they volunteered with the American Friends Service Committee at a rehabilitation center for injured civilians, but it was their shared faith that truly brought Eryl and Wayman Kubicka together. 

Wayman and Eryl Kubicka will bring their Buddhist perspective to Week Three’s Interfaith Friday at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, July 17, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch.

Chautauqua Institution Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno is looking forward to the shift in spiritual discussions, as the previous two Interfaith Friday speakers spoke from the perspectives of religious naturalism and Evangelical Christianity.

“Because our Interfaith Friday conversations engage with a different religion or faith or spiritual tradition each week, focusing on the same questions throughout the season, it is important to include traditions that might not traditionally focus on the particular questions of the week — to shine a light on why a particular tradition might take a different perspective relevant to the issue of the week,” Rovegno said. “Stepping into Buddhist philosophy this week will be particularly interesting to our audience.”

Wayman Kubicka began his journey with Buddhism after he departed Vietnam; his years spent volunteering with the AFSC in an active war zone had left him with a severe case of PTSD that he treated with meditation under the guidance of Roshi Philip Kapleau, founder of the Rochester Zen Center. In 2001, Wayman moved to Batavia, New York, to assist in the creation and leadership of Rochester Zen Center’s country retreat location where he currently resides, teaching meditation and acting as the head of training. 

Born in England in 1941 during World War II, Eryl Kubicka looked to the practice of Zen Meditation as a solution to the uncertainty that came with growing up in a country at war. She became a practicing Buddhist and in 1963 graduated as a physical therapist, the role she filled when she joined the AFSC in 1969 in Quang Ngai, where she then married Wayman in 1970. 

For eight years after their marriage, Eryl and Wayman continued their work with the AFSC in efforts to rebuild communities following the end of the war. Upon their return to the United States, they began practicing Zen Meditation with the Rochester Zen Center, where Wayman was ordained as a Buddhist Priest in 2010. 

Since then, both Eryl and Wayman have been teachers of Buddhist meditation at Chautauqua’s Mystic Heart program, which is dedicated to supporting programs and education about spiritual practices outside the Abrahamic traditions.

This program is made possible by The Myra Baker Low and Katharine Low Hembree Family Fund.

Artist Azzah Sultan to showcase the prints and folds of her work beyond others’ misconceptions of her religion in lecture “Navigating Culture and Faith Through Art”

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Azzah Sultan received her MFA a few months ago from Washington State University. But she has already shown her work in exhibitions in Paris and across the United States in the states of New York, Washington, Maryland and Connecticut.

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Sultan

Now, she will showcase her work virtually through the CHQ Assembly Video Platform in her lecture, “Navigating Culture and Faith Through Art.”

To reach outsiders’ misunderstandings of her religion and culture, Sultan’s latest work puts traditional Malay and Islam prints — batik wax print, headscarves and prayer rugs — front and center. It moves her viewers beyond the misconception that Islam’s customs oppress her and other Muslim women, which she will discuss in her lecture at 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, July 16, for Week Three’s Interfaith Lecture Series theme: “Art: A Glimpse into the Divine.” Viewers will be able to ask questions during the lecture and subsequent Q-and-A at questions.chq.org and on Twitter at #CHQ2020.

Sultan received her BFA from Parsons School of Design in 2016. The Malaysian native was born in Abu Dhabi and grew up in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Finland and Bahrain.

She first moved to the United States from Malaysia to study fine arts at The New School’s Parsons School of Design at 16 years old. In true-to-form fashion as a 15-year-old girl, she included the former boy band One Direction in the lower corner of a piece she submitted for her portfolio application to Parsons in 2013. While this specific element was not unexpected for a 15-year-old girl at the time, the piece dealt with thoughtful themes of beauty within society.

At 23, she has spent the last six years in the United States practicing and showcasing her art, which has been featured in 18 exhibitions and two solo shows.

In 2016, she handstitched a U.S. flag out of headscarves donated by women across the country.

“The act of me hand stitching these scarves together brought the different backgrounds and stories of these women into one piece,” Sultan said in an interview for HuffPost. “This is a testimony of coming from various backgrounds but still sharing the common idea of being a Muslim and an American.”

In 2018, she partnered with Adobe Project 1234 to create an ATTN: video titled “I Fear” featuring her work and her voice.

“I fear praying in public by myself because others might think I am up to no good,” Sultan said in the video’s voiceover. “You fear that my culture will integrate into your lifestyle. You fear my foreign tongue because it is too alien. You fear that my abnormal practices will infiltrate how you live your life.”

Since then, she has completed various exhibitions in New York, but the COVID-19 outbreak forced her most recent installation, her MFA thesis titled “Anak Dara,” onto an Instagram Live virtual reception on March 29.

“Anak Dara” in Malay translates to “young, unmarried child,” which Sultan’s mother calls her as a term of endearment. The installation is about Sultan reclaiming her understanding of her culture after leaving home.

The first part of the installation, called “Membalut,” includes three performance videos that Sultan created, played on tube TVs wrapped with Malaysian batik prints. Sultan purchased many of the items included in the installation in Malaysia while visiting home during winter break.

If a viewer were to experience it in person, they would kneel on one of three prayer rugs, one in front of each TV, to watch each performance. But underneath the TVs is a larger single plastic mat “commonly used in the homes of brown families,” she said in a virtual Instagram Live reception of the installation. She found the mat in an Idaho thrift store.

In one performance video, covered in a greenscreen suit, she plays with her mother’s jewelry. In another, she is invisible and blends into a distorted batik print background behind her as she puts on a square headscarf like her mother does (Sultan said she prefers wearing hers in a different way).

For the first performance video, Sultan filmed herself in a greenscreen suit while folding a sarong in a traditional method from a village back home.

“You can’t see me at all, and you only get a sense of what my identity is through the fabric and through the print,” Sultan said during the virtual reception.

This program is made possible by the Mackenzie Fund for Chautauqua.

The beauty in nature, the beauty in music: Friesen to present musical Interfaith lecture using his cello

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There’s the rosewood scroll, the strings, the bridge, the tailpiece and the bow. It all comes together to form a cello, a vehicle through which a person can create music and harmony.

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Friesen

But for renowned cellist Eugene Friesen, the instrument is also a vehicle for expressing love — in his case, love for nature.

“The music that I make is really inspired by the time I spend alone, outside, especially in the woods here in New England and in the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River,” said Friesen, a composer, conductor, teacher and four-time Grammy Award-winner. “I’ve been with the whales in Baja, California, I’ve been to Siberia and Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. These experiences are inspirational and transformational.”

Friesen’s experiences outdoors are “a kind of nature mysticism” that directly informs his music-writing process. 

“At its best, the music really comes from those experiences,” he said. “It’s not stuff that I make or workshop, it’s stuff that just appears, pretty much fully formed.”

At 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 15, Friesen will present his lecture, “The Beauty We Love,” on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of Week Three’s theme for the Interfaith Lecture Series: “Art: A Glimpse into the Divine.”  

The importance of nature in creating art is something Friesen champions as being essential for young musicians today.

“It’s become more difficult — I’m not even talking about the pandemic. I’m talking about being able to get out of the city and into nature that’s really pristine,” he said. “When we think about some of the greatest works of art that we revere the most, many of them are either describing nature, or making metaphors from nature.”

According to Friesen, a whole generation of inner-city kids will not understand the “musical language” that nature provides.

And equally important, Friesen said, is the need for orchestral musicians who are classically trained to nourish their creativity.

“And nourish not only our performance abilities, but also our improving abilities,” he said. “I like to say that it’s not what we play, it’s why we play. Those experiences in nature and the values we have from our spiritual lives as well as our families — these are the things that should shape the sounds we make.”

Friesen said his lecture will consist of a musical program made up of his original compositions.

And though the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted Friesen’s busy schedule of touring and performances with the Paul Winter Consort, he said it’s been “incredible” to be stuck at home for these last months.

“I’ve been able to really go deep into my studies, as well as into my own music,” he said. “I wake up every day really enthused about working on the music, because I never really know what’s going to come out.”

This program is made possible by the Lois Raynow Department of Religion Fund.

David Moss To Discuss His Career as a self-described ‘transformer of Jewish texts, objects, spaces and souls’

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David Moss keeps a stack of pizza boxes as storage containers in his studio in Jerusalem, “and each pizza box (has) a project or idea that I want to do that may be almost finished, or just beginning or in the works.”

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Moss

Moss is a co-founder of Kol HaOt, an organization that uses the arts for Jewish inspiration and education. At 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday, July 14, he will present his lecture, “A Glimpse into the Divine?,” on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of Week Three’s theme for the Interfaith Lecture Series: “Art: A Glimpse into the Divine.” 

The focus of Moss’ work is idea-based, whether that concept is applied through books, prints, architecture or programming.

“So I never really consider myself a painter or graphic artist or a sculptor,” Moss said, “because I don’t have training at all — (it was) kind of on the fly as I learned, so I can try something new and enjoy the challenge of putting my mind to thinking of two different media.”

After Moss finished college, a traditional scribe in Israel wrote the Hebrew alphabet for him, and he “just fell in love.”

“Everything grew out of that, just copying the letters and thinking what I could do with it and exploring different ways of using the lettering,” Moss said.

Moss started his career in the arts making traditional illuminated Jewish marriage contracts for his friends. Moss said these texts originate about 2,200 years ago and protect the woman’s rights in the marriage — in the case of something like a divorce — and is required in every Jewish marriage. These texts were decorated with flowers, and were written in a vernacular particular to the region.

“There was this very rich tradition going on for hundreds of years of making up this simple kind of boring insurance policy (into) a work of art — folk art,” Moss said. “So when I saw these things, I got very excited and asked, ‘Who is doing these?’ and I was told, ‘Oh, this form died out, you know, because of printing.’”

In the late ‘60s, Moss started to revive the art form by making these personalized illuminated marriage contracts for his friends, and the form became more popular. Moss said that hundreds of people do this work now.

While these marriage contracts were one sheet of parchment and took Moss a month to six weeks to complete, he spent three years making an illuminated Haggadah — the text sets forth the order for Passover Seder. On each page, Moss said he aimed to bring “my own fresh insights into that, artistically, scholastically, … bringing the old sources and giving them new life.”

Moss’ dream project is “a garden of Jewish exploration,” where people can experience fundamental Jewish ideas and values through the landscape and sculptures. The idea came to Moss decades ago when he realized Israel had places that teach Jewish history, such as the Museum of the Jewish People and the Yad Vashem, but something key was missing.

“What was missing was something about Judaism — not our history and not our suffering and not our successes, but who we are, what we believe in what we stand for and why we’re here,” Moss said.

Due to certain difficulties, like obtaining the land for the garden, Moss has been working on other projects over the past few years. He runs the Teachers Institute for the Arts, which aims to integrate “the arts with Jewish study and learning into Jewish schools in America and North America.” Each year, the institute leads around 25 teachers through a year-long program where they learn how to bring these teachings to their schools.

Moss will be presenting his lecture “A Glimpse of the Divine?” on Tuesday, July 14.

“But from a Jewish context it’s a bit problematic, because (of) the idea of God being invisible and no images of God being allowed, and the 10 Commandments saying you can’t make anything, any image of anything in heaven our honor,” Moss said. “So I tried to resolve that conflict with the talk by showing how I translate what I do, not so much toward the divine, but very much towards the human. And then my art is very people-oriented.”

This program is made possible by the Dr. William N. Jackson Religious Initiative Fund.

Soltes to virtually return to his grown-up ‘Disneyland’ for his main attraction of the spiritual soul and political body in art

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ILLUSTRATION BY MADELINE DEABLER/DIGITAL EDITOR

Ori Soltes has been a pass holder to his “grown-up Disneyland” of Chautauqua Institution for the past 23 seasons, and the move to the digital platform was no deterrent. Although he is never sure which ride to pick first, the Interfaith Lecture Series is always a highlight.

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Soltes

This season, he returns to that platform to explore “The Spiritual Soul and Political Body in Art.” 

“You really can’t describe how (Chautauqua is) special if you haven’t been there. It’s just a unique environment (with) the kinds of questions that are being raised and asked,” Soltes said. “The interests that these people have in all these different things, it’s a unique kind of hothouse of sorts — it’s very compelling.” 

Soltes is a professor of art history, theology, philosophy, and political history at Georgetown University, as well as the former director of B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum and a seasoned Chautauqua lecturer. He will speak on the Week Three interfaith theme of “Art: A Glimpse into the Divine” at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, July, 13 on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

Soltes is enamored with the subject at hand. In his lecture, he will be speaking on the interwoven nature of art, religion, and politics, as well as how they work together in the context of a democracy. 

There are crisis moments where people, Americans in particular, become much more interested in spirituality and religion than they might otherwise be,” Soltes said. “America has always been a very religious country. We may separate church from state, but I find Americans far more religious than Italians, or French, Spanish or Germans. They all have state religions, but they are much more lowkey about it than we are.”

Soltes said that in the time of ancient Egypt, art was commissioned by those in the ruling class to depict them in a divine light to those beneath them. In the modern day, art is created as a “response,” either positive or negative, to show the artist’s interpretation of political leaders and their actions.

“It’s an angle of an artist who isn’t in the service of whoever is running the state, but rather responding to whoever is running the state to an audience of individuals, some of whom will disagree, some of whom won’t disagree with whatever he or she is depicting in that work of art,” he said. 

In the last few decades, Soltes said he has seen a “reexploration” of religion in America.

“There are crisis moments where people, Americans in particular, become much more interested in spirituality and religion than they might otherwise be,” Soltes said. “America has always been a very religious country. We may separate church from state, but I find Americans far more religious than Italians, or French, Spanish or Germans. They all have state religions, but they are much more lowkey about it than we are.”

Given recent politically charged events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, rising unemployment rates and the Black Lives Matter movement, Soltes believes it is fair to say topics such as race and ethnicity have not been this “front and center” in religion since the 1960s. 

“I would add religion in particular because of the religious aspect of what winds its way around the politics of the moment is particularly acute,” Soltes said. “It couldn’t be more relevant in this moment.”  

As a seasoned lecturer, Soltes said he is excited to be a part of the new virtual experience and Q-and-A session — along with the potential of having a broader Chautauqan audience. 

“The fact that anyone from anywhere can sign in and become a member of the Assembly and listen in to whatever lectures they want, means there’s a possibility of an even broader and more diverse audience than what is ordinarily the case,” Soltes said.

Soltes, like any other Chautauqua lecture speaker, hopes the audience enjoys his lecture, but more than that, he hopes people close the tab with a better understanding of the triangular connection between art, religion, and politics. 

“If they thought about the subject at all, I hope it deepens and broadens the way they think about it,” Soltes said. “If they haven’t thought about it before, I hope it really introduces them to the reality that religion and politics have always been interwoven, that art has always served religion and therefore, by extension, has always served politics.”

Better yet, he is always up for a “challenge.” 

“It really is just a fascinating topic,” Soltes said. “Aside from the challenge of talking to a camera instead of a large audience, there’s always a challenge of, ‘OK what can I squeeze into 40 minutes?’ I like that challenge.” 

This program is made possible by The Myra Baker Low and Katharine Low Hembree Family Fund.

Yale University’s Rev. Willie James Jennings to talk culture, race, religion for Interfaith Friday

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Jennings

The Rev. Willie James Jennings has always been inquisitive.

“I have always been drawn to questions about the way life is. Questions about God. It wasn’t just a question about why people believe, but really questions about God,” Jennings said. “If God exists, now what? And I was raised in a context which said God does exist. Now what?”

These questions led him to his livelihood now. Jennings is a professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale University, as well as an author on the intersections of race and religion. 

One of the great things about the life of faith is that it does offer people a way to see the world, a way to see not only what is, but what ought to be, or what could be,” Jennings said. “Oftentimes when you get people of faith together, you have a lively, creative moment for people to dream about what could be different.”

Jennings will discuss Christianity, culture, and race at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, July 10, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform for Interfaith Friday. He looks forward to sharing this conversation with more than just his Christian peers. 

“One of the great things about the life of faith is that it does offer people a way to see the world, a way to see not only what is, but what ought to be, or what could be,” Jennings said. “Oftentimes when you get people of faith together, you have a lively, creative moment for people to dream about what could be different.”

From his research to his writing, Jennings’ outlook on religion is informed by his religious upbringing.

“I grew up watching two things happen simultaneously. I grew up watching people who were serious about their faith, in our case Christianity, but who were also very comfortable in a very thick racial world,” Jennings said. “I couldn’t understand how one could be deeply serious about one’s faith, but also deeply committed to a racial, and in many cases racist, vision of the world. That’s why (race and religion) have always been together for me.”

This manifested in his career as an author. In 2011, Jennings wrote The Christain Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, which examined how Christianity inadvertently creates racial divides despite being built on neighborly love. 

For his next book, Jennings will shift from the lens of a minister to the lens of an educator. In his upcoming book, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, Jennings will explore harmful expectations of education. 

“What I’m arguing in this book is that Western education, along with theological education, has been plagued by a very detrimental, overarching pedagogical image that is an image for what we’re trying to form when people go to school,” Jennings said. “That overarching image that presses the goal of education is to form everyone to be white, self-sufficient men who embody three, what I call, demonic virtues in their education: master, control and possession.”

Jennings said that in this book he will argue that the “overarching image of what it means to be educated in the West” must change to something less harmful or narrow. 

Through his work, Jennings hopes to encourage those of all faiths to pursue a deeper meaning in life. 

“My goal is twofold,” Jennings said. “One is to help people think a little more deeply inside their faith, with a view toward giving witness to a God that wants the fullness of life for everyone. And (the second goal is) to help people who have no faith, or different faith, envision the possibilities of a better life together.”

This program is made possible by the H. Parker and Emma O. Sharp Lectureship Fund.

The Off-Label Benefits of Religion: Minister and Atheist Gretta Vosper will Speak on Spirituality

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Gretta Vosper is an ordained minister who has served congregations at several Canadian churches. She is also an atheist.

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Vosper

Vosper “came out” as an atheist to her congregation at the West Hill United Church in 2001, after a sermon where she deconstructed the idea of “a god named God.” She then renounced her traditional religious views in support of several Pakastani bloggers who had been imprisoned and faced execution for questioning the existence of God. 

At 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, July 9, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Vosper will present a lecture on the search for contemporary spirituality by those who eschew religious belief, in keeping with the Interfaith Lecture Series theme of Week Two: “Forces that Shape Our Daily Lives: The Contemporary Search for Spirituality.” Her lecture is titled “Falling in Love with Being Together, Because We Can’t Afford to Fall Apart.”

Vosper believes that there are many “off-label benefits” for individuals for whom traditional religious practices and views are no longer meaningful. She refers to these individuals as “nones,” and believes they can experience improved subjective well-being through spiritual participation.

“(Nones) ‘practice’ their spirituality outside of religious boundaries, often cobbling together a series of practices that may be grounded in several distinct traditions,” Vosper said. “The point is not to ‘do it right,’ but to find wholeness, peace, and space enough within one’s own heart for resilience to take root.”

In addition to her extensive ministry, Vosper is also the author of several best-selling books on spirituality and atheism: With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe; Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief; and Time or Too Late: Chasing the Dream of a Progressive Christian Faith.

Vosper also serves on the board of The Oasis Network, an organization supporting the “creation of meaning-making community beyond religious belief.”

Above all, Vosper believes that community is one of the most important elements of any religion or spiritual practice. 

“Through the magic of falling in love with being together, with one another, in the so many different ways religious congregations provide, we strengthen individual subjective well-being which, in turn, strengthens community bonds beyond our synagogues, mosques and churches,” Vosper said. “If we lose the goodwill liberal religion has thus distributed far beyond its own walls, we will lose much more than the religious practices we try to protect by maintaining the exclusive nature of our language, symbols, and rituals. Indeed, I think we will lose everything upon which goodwill depends. And that will be a very grave loss.”

This program is made possible by the Deloras K. and L. Beaty Pemberton Lectureship.

Hartford Seminary’s Joel N. Lohr to talk communication across beliefs for Interfaith Lecture

In preparation for this week’s Interfaith Lecture Series, “Forces that Shape Our Daily Lives: The Contemporary Search for Spirituality,” speakers were asked to contemplate a question: How might the non-religious, or “nones,” unite with the religious mainstream to create a better future?

Joel N. Lohr is more interested in the reverse question.

“Instead of trying to help ‘nones’ see why religion is important,” he said, “why don’t we, as religious people, learn from those who have journeyed away from faith, or have never had a deep connection to faith, or just choose not to identity with organized religion?”

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Lohr

Lohr, the president of Hartford Seminary, a nondenominational theological college, has spent much of his career advocating for dialogue across belief systems. He will be speaking as part of the Interfaith Lecture Series at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 8, on CHQ Assembly.

Lohr’s speech, titled “Finding Myself in the Other: Learning from Those Outside My Faith,” will focus on his personal faith journey.

“In some ways, the journey that I’m on has helped me to know myself more fully, and I’ve only been able to achieve that through my engagement with those who are true outsiders, or through people who don’t necessarily share my faith or my outlook on faith,” he said. “There’s a helpful model there for us, especially as religious people.”

Lohr recognizes that it’s common for people, religious and non-religious alike, to fear and avoid situations outside of their comfort zone. In his experience building relationships with people with vastly different beliefs and perspectives, he’s found that approaching new situations with an “appreciative curiosity” can transform these interactions.

“Find something to appreciate in the ‘other,’” he said. “Express what brings about a certain sense of wonder or appreciation for the ‘other,’ and from there you can ask respectful questions.”

He cautions against generalizations and snap judgements.

“I really think that the key to finding friendships and growing in our relationships with those that are different from us, is to work really hard and intentionally (to) not make assumptions about who we might encounter or what they might think,” Lohr said.

He said that much of his philosophy on interacting across beliefs comes down to entering conversations with a “posture of humility.”

“Go into the conversation assuming that the other person has something that you can learn and that you don’t know,” Lohr said. “Assume you might be blessed by engaging (with) that person.”

But what if the fear isn’t of the unknown, but of judgement from religious peers for keeping the “wrong” company?

According to Lohr, there are worse things to be judged for.

“Jesus spent most of his earthly life engaging with those who were considered outsiders,” he said. “If we’re never being accused of hanging around with the wrong people, we’re probably not doing it right.”

This program is made possible by the Deloras K. and L. Beaty Pemberton Lectureship.

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