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Interfaith Lecture Previews

Satpal Singh to speak on interfaith peace and unity in final Interfaith Friday perspective of the 2020 season

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Satpal Singh Associate Professor in Biochemistry Pharmacology and Toxicology in Cary Hall on the South Campus
Photographer: Douglas Levere

What do molecular biology, interfaith relations and social justice have in common?

The answer is Satpal Singh. 

Singh received his Ph.D from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India, in molecular biology and went on to train in Germany and the United States. He is currently a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he researches neurodegenerative diseases. 

Before all this, however, Singh narrowly escaped an anti-Sikh pogrom in India. His experience with and survival of religious intolerance led him to become a founding trustee of the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations, as well as to seek to bring peace and harmony to a world torn by hate and violence in the name of religion. 

Singh will conclude Chautauqua Institution’s 2020 Interfaith Friday series exploring creation and humanity during his lecture at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform

A frequent participant in interfaith dialogue on diversity, religion and peace, Singh has represented the Sikh faith in many forums, including delivering a prayer on peace and harmony along with Pope Francis at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, and organizing Sikh participation in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City in 2015 and in Toronto in 2018. 

He has organized many retreats between Sikhs and Catholics, and served as a member of the Executive Council of Religions for Peace, USA. 

Singh is also an active participant in discussions around social justice, particularly in gender equality. He has authored many opinion pieces for various publications such as The Washington Post and The Huffington Post

His writings are frequently a call-to-action for unity and peace, something he will discuss in his lecute. In a 2015 article for The Huffington Post, Singh wrote about violence in the name of religion and the forces that drive people apart. 

“Our religion, race, caste or gender does not matter to God or to the laws of nature,” Singh wrote. “A tsunami does not target an atheist preferentially over a Buddhist. An earthquake does not level a Sikh house and leave a Muslim house intact. A wildfire does not come with a list of our affiliations to determine which houses to turn into rubble and which ones to spare.”

Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno is looking forward to Singh’s lecture, and thinks it will be a strong finale for the 2020 Interfaith Lecture Series.

“A native of India, he has brought his Sikh heritage into interfaith dialogues across America and around the world for the causes of diversity, interfaith harmony, social justice, equality and peace,” Rovegno said. “We are so very pleased that he will share his Sikh heritage and wisdom during his lecture.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment.

Psychologist Dr. Robert J. Wicks to lecture on self care and balance for Interfaith Lecture Series

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Wicks

At one point during his time at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Dr. Robert J. Wicks was approached by a doctor who asked for his help. “He said he was going down the tubes,” Wicks said, “and I told him he couldn’t go straight home from work every day. He said, ‘Why not?’”

Wicks reminded the doctor of the signs in restaurant bathrooms requiring employees to wash their hands before leaving. 

“He was leaving Walter Reed (emotionally) contaminated; bringing it home to his family,” Wicks said. “I told him he needed to debrief before leaving, or even simply sit quietly, letting the dust settle.”

At 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 27, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Wicks will help Chautauquans understand the meaning of self-care in his lecture, “Night Call: Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World,” as part of the Week Nine Interfaith Lecture Series. Author of a book of the same name, he is a clinical psychologist, prolific author and recipient of the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the highest lay honor of the Catholic Church. Following his lecture, there will be a live Q-and-A session. Viewers are invited to submit questions for Wicks via the submission portal at www.questions.chq.org from any mobile or desktop browser, or on Twitter, using #CHQ2020.

“We have invited Dr. Robert Wicks to conclude our week on the theme, ‘The Future We Want, the World We Need,’” said Maureen Rovegno, Chautauqua’s director of religion, “because for decades he has spoken calm into chaos for individuals and groups experiencing great stress, anxiety and confusion — all of which have been expressed and discussed in our online conversations this Assembly Season.”   

“I practice what might best be called ‘resiliency psychology,’” Wicks said. He assists health care professionals and caregivers in preventing secondary stress, creating balance and distance between themselves and their work. “I teach how to better maintain, and regain, a healthy perspective — (in other words), how to reach out without being pulled down.”

Wicks is a professor emeritus at Loyola University Maryland, and has over 35 years’ experience  in secondary stress prevention. He has spoken to both professionals and laypeople, from the Mayo Clinic to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. He has spoken to and treated caregivers in “20 countries at last count,” including China, Vietnam, India, Thailand, Haiti, Northern Ireland, Hungary, Guatemala, Malta, New Zealand and South Africa. Notably, in 1994, Wicks debriefed relief workers evacuated from Rwanda, assisting them in processing horrific and painful experiences of the genocide. Wicks listened to their stories and provided guidance for post-traumatic stress. 

“They needed to understand,” he said, “that they were not crazy; their situation was.” 

Essentially, he said, “I do darkness for a living. If I’m not careful, I’ll be pulled in.” 

He often debriefs with colleagues, and turns to his own faith for reassurance and balance. He said that the three most important elements to his practice are “presence to self, presence to others, and presence to something greater — in my case, my faith.”

Rovegno thinks there is no better time to hear from Wicks. 

“The cumulative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the undeniable awareness of racial injustices, the deprivations of social and economic inequalities, and the terror of climate degradation and examples of suffering humanity across the globe,” she said, have necessitated a deeper look at how people practice self-care and remain resilient.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wicks said, “as doctors and nurses, we must recognize the guilt” borne of the inability to save everyone, as well as “the fear of bringing infection home” to families. 

“Guilt and vulnerability are natural,” he said. For people in general, a common stressor is the over-consumption of news media. 

“We only need five minutes to get the news,” he said. Anything longer, he said, is detrimental to a person’s health. 

Wicks also cautioned against dreaming of a new normal. 

“It’s nice to have a fantasy,” he said. “But instead, think of the advantages (to the current situation). Be intrigued by new opportunities, new talents. Help yourself to access silence and solitude (even during lockdown). Create a schedule. … Instead of drifting or dripping through the day, flow through it.” 

Rovegno is excited to hear Wicks’ perspective and suggestions for a healthier way forward. 

“Dr. Wicks will point us to the future we want and the world that we need,” she said, “not just to survive, but to thrive.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment.

Jeremy Ben-Ami from J Street to describe two-state solution as path forward for future peace between Israel and Palestine

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Jeremy Ben-Ami’s lecture, “Israel-Palestine 2020: One State Remains the Problem & Two States the Solution” follows the Rev. Mitri Raheb’s talk on the same subject from a Palestinian Christian perspective. Raheb said in his lecture a day prior that a growing U.S. Jewish movement for a two-state solution makes him hopeful for Palestine’s future. Ben-Ami is a leader in that movement in Washington D.C., as a founder of the advocacy organization J Street.

Ben-Ami

“J Street said we have to work for a two-state solution. We have to find a compromise,” Raheb said during his lecture. “Not because they love the Palestinians so much, but because Israel cannot be a democratic country and a Jewish country at the same time.”

Ben-Ami’s lecture will be released at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 26, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The lecture aligns with the Week Nine Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “The Future We Want, the World We Need.” Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno said that Ben-Ami represents the same progressive Judaism that Rabbi Sid Schwarz presented during Week Eight’s Interfaith Friday

“(Ben-Ami’s) organization J Street would be very much in the vanguard of seeking justice in all kinds of capacities,” Rovegno said.

In 2008, Ben-Ami founded J Street to influence the U.S. government to pressure Israel to move toward a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. What is now the country of Israel has occupied Palestine since the late 19th century. Under Israel’s president, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel is still edging Palestinians out of their homes and is attempting to annex the West Bank

Ben-Ami’s connection to Israel traces back to his great-grandparents who left present-day Russia, which persecuted Jews for practicing their religion and culture. They were some of the first settlers of the present-day city of Petah Tikvah, the first modern agricultural settlement in what would become Israel. His father, Yitshaq, was part of the Irgun militia which smuggled Jews into Palestine.

“He was a terrorist,” Ben-Ami said for the Princeton Alumni Weekly in 2009. “He raised money for the cause, but also fought. (The Irgun) blew up buildings, used violence for political purposes, and believed they had legitimate reasons.”

Ben-Ami said in the same interview with his alma mater that the key to Israel continuing to exist as a legitimate state rests on its treatment of Palestinians.

“I believe that the single greatest threat to the future of Israel as a democratic home for the Jewish people is the failure to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians,” Ben-Ami said. “If it is not resolved, Israel’s existence as a Jewish democracy is at stake.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño to start last week of Interfaith Lectures with talk on the need for ‘beloved community’

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When contemplating this week’s Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “The Future We Want, the World We Need,” Bishop Minerva Carcaño had to ask herself, “What is the world we need?”

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“I believe the world we need is one where we belong in beloved community, all of us,” Carcaño said. “I believe that’s a basic human yearning, and it’s part of our creation, … (but) we’re not living that way.”

Her talk, “The World We Need — Belonging in Beloved Community” will air at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 24, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

Carcaño is the bishop of the United Methodist Church’s California-Nevada Conference. In 2004, she became the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the episcopacy of the UMC. Carcaño has spent her career advocating for immigration reform, racial justice, LGBTQ rights and full LGBTQ inclusion within the church.

“Christians are called to love,” she said. “To love everyone, to love the world, to love others as we love ourselves; (it’s) the Second Commandment, second only to loving God. I think that we need to focus on that.”

Her passion for working with immigrants, refugees, farm workers and those in poverty was inspired by her experiences growing up in Edinburg, Texas.

“I come from an immigrant background,” Carcaño said. “I come from the Southern border region of the country. I come from deep poverty. I’m a Hispanic woman, (and) I’m one of the few woman bishops in the mainline denomination.”

For her lecture, Carcaño will speak about what Christians are called to do to create a more loving community, and the consequences of failing to do so.

“The immigration situation is one sign of our brokenness as a human community,” she said, “also certainly racism, and racial inequity.”

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, in May, Carcaño started re-reading the writings of Martin Luther King Jr., and found them to be a source of comfort and inspiration in the last few months.

“His word is so relevant,” she said. “The truth that he spoke is true for us today, as well. We should not forget the words of such a prophet.”

Carcaño is also an advocate for interfaith relations. She emphasizes that the love Christians are called to exhibit is sacrificial, and directed toward all people.

“We believe God created everyone in the whole world; we’re all stewards together,” she said. “We do not as Christians know the totality of God — no one does — otherwise God would not be God. … We will only really truly be people who are Christian or Jewish or Buddist or Hindu by sitting at a table together and hearing one experience of God (and) affirming love of one another, and together assuming care for one another around the globe and for creation itself.”

The topic of “The Future We Want” hits particularly close to home for Methodists at the moment. In May, due to the global pandemic, the UMC was forced to pospone its annual conference, a conference that would have included a vote on splitting the church over disagreements regarding same-sex marriage and LGBTQ inclusion. 

Carcaño sends her “blessing along their way” to the Methodist traditionalists who advocate for strengthening bans on LBGTQ-inclusive practices, but hopes for a future without exclusion.

“My hope is that the United Methodist Church would live out what it says when we proclaim that we are all of sacred worth, when we proclaim that we are all created by God,” she said. “We have no place to stand in terms of exclusion of (an) LGBTQ person. … Jesus went to the margins, where people had been ostracized, to demonstrate that we are not to forget anyone, and we are not to exclude anyone. That’s my hope for our United Methodist Church, that we would remember this scriptural truth and the witness of Jesus to our lives.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine Program Sponsor Erie Insurance and the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment.

Rabbi Sid Schwarz still relies on old history to describe creation within progressive Judaism on Interfaith Friday

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When Rabbi Sid Schwarz relays progressive Judaism for Week Eight’s Interfaith Friday, he said that he will also be balancing a millennia of Rabbinic commentary.

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Schwarz

“I stand on the shoulders of many,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz will deliver his lecture “The Creation Story and Humanity’s Homework: A Jewish Take” at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 21, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. This Week Eight Interfaith Friday lecture will describe the creation story from the perspective of progressive Judaism.

Schwarz is a senior fellow at Hazon, a Jewish organization based in New York. He also founded PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, and led the institute for its first 21 years.

Schwarz has attended the last five seasons of Chautauqua’s summers. He previously spoke at Chautauqua in a 2017 conversation with broadcast journalist Bill Moyers on Jewish megatrends during the week on “A Crisis of Faith?”

Schwarz said he sees the Bible as a Rorschach test. There are core traditions that embrace the Hebrew Bible, but an individual reading these stories does so through the context of their own religious journey.

Schwarz jump-started his own religious journey in 1970, the summer before his senior year of high school. He traveled around Eastern Europe with other Jewish teens in the United Synagogue Youth to hear from Soviet Jews who were not permitted to practice their religion, speak their language or engage in Jewish culture. The students learned about the treatment of these people, who in turned gained hope hearing from students who could freely practice their Jewish religion.

At the time, Refuseniks — Jewish people in the Soviet Union who had applied to leave the Soviet Union for Israel — were losing their jobs or were even arrested for wanting to leave. Jewish people worldwide were protesting the treatment of these Jews.

“It made me realize how much privilege I had to freely practice my religion,” Schwarz said.

When Schwarz returned to the United States, he began traveling to synagogues and other institutions across the country to educate people on the treatment of Jewish people in the Soviet Union. This was the start of his human rights work, not just for Jewish people but for other persecuted groups worldwide.

By 1987, Schwarz had become a rabbi and joined the Jewish Communication Relations Council. They were gearing up for December of that year, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was scheduled to meet withPresident Ronald Reagan in Washington D.C. That same year, the Jewish Soviet prisoner Natan Sharansky had just been released and was traveling around the country calling for people to go to D.C. to protest the treatment of Jews and pressure Gorbachev to allow Jewish people to freely leave the Soviet Union.

Schwarz was the one who organized the protest. They had planned for 25,000 to participate. When he filed the form that legitimized the march, Schwarz said they expected 50,000 people, in order to get the attention of the media in advance of the protest. Instead, a quarter of a million people arrived at the protest and broke down public transportation.

It was covered on the front page of every major news publication. After this protest, every time Reagan met with Gorbachev, Reagan would pull out a list of names of Soviet Jews who had been persecuted. The protest was the catalyst for what Schwarz calls the “second exodus” of Jewish people who migrated to Israel.

Schwarz’s Interfaith Friday lecture represents a history with a heavy weight alongside Judaism’s creation story. He plans to detail two different images of God presented in Jewish texts.

“The version of God I like is not the one that is the master of the universe, but rather is unfolding the creation of the world, which continues to this day,” Schwarz said.

This program is sponsored by the Eileen and Warren Martin Lectureship for Emerging Studies in Bible and Theology.

In keynote lecture, Fr. Richard Rohr to explore capacity for evil in humans

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Father Richard Rohr, Says “A Vast Amount Of The Human Race Has To Hit The Bottom Before It Goes Up,” During His Series “Falling Upward” On Tuesday, July 16, 2019 In The Hall Of Philosophy. MHARI SHAW/DAILY FILE PHOTO

In 2019, people flooded the Hall of Philosophy to see Fr. Richard Rohr in person during his week as chaplain and speaker for the Interfaith Lecture Series. Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno remembers Chautauquans’ fervor for religious programming that week, which centered around Rohr’s book Falling Upward.

“We ran out of worship books in the morning for worship, and we needed more people for the Service of Blessing and Healing, and they just came to experience Chautauqua to the fullest,” Rovegno said.

Rohr will deliver his first lecture for the week at 2 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 17. While tackling the concept of evil throughout Week Eight for the Interfaith Lecture Series, Rohr will discuss how to deal with the capacity for evil in humans in his keynote lecture, “What Do We Do With Evil?”

“The Biblical stories, especially of creation, talk about the fall of humans — that we fell from grace, so to speak, and we saw whatever reality was in a new way,” Rovegno said.

Rohr is a Franciscan mystic of the New Mexico province, a theologian and an author of several books, including his most recent work The Universal Christ, and the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. He has been featured several times on Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday segments (they are also good friends). He also spoke on an episode of Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast called “Growing Up Men,” has been mentioned in opinion articles for The New York Times, and has been profiled in The New Yorker.

“(Rohr is) really very good at getting us to look that deeply into ourselves, recognize our own goodness and discern when we fall short of that goodness by the things we choose to say or do — the ways in which we act, especially toward one another or to the Earth,” Rovegno said.

Rovegno said that Rohr’s work commonly makes the connection between humanity and the divine, while also exploring themes of suffering within the human experience.

“He’s very much in tune with human suffering, and he talks about it a lot — … the recognition of suffering, the walking through suffering, the being in suffering,” Rovegno said, “which is what is happening with the world. Our whole way of life has been disrupted, and it’s given us time to think about what it means to be human and what all of humanity is.”

Rovegno said that after reaching out invitations for four years to Rohr, who had a conflict due to an annual conference, he was able to come to Chautauqua for the first time last year. Rohr drew people from all over the world for his week at Chautauqua in 2019. Rovegno recalls meeting a pair who had met online and were fans of Rohr.  One traveled from Mexico, and the other came all the way from Australia. They met in-person for the first time when they came to Chautauqua to see Rohr speak.

“He was loved (at Chautauqua) before he ever set foot here,” Rovegno said.

This program is made possible by the Eileen and Warren Martin Lectureship for Emerging Studies in Bible and Theology & The Strnad Family Fund.

The divine on Earth: Kainat Felicia Norton and Muinuddin Charles Smith describe Sufi perspective on creation

Muinuddin Charles Smith

For 20 years, Kainat Felicia Norton and Muinuddin Charles Smith have led Sufi meditations in Chautauqua’s Mystic Heart Program. But Aug. 14 marks their first time discussing Sufism on an Interfaith Friday with Vice President and Senior Pastor Gene Robinson. They’ll join him at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 14, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

Sufism is a form of Islam that grounds the divine in the living world, rather than a separate dimension. Norton and Smith lead the Inayati Sufi Order as senior Sufi teachers, retreat guides and interfaith ministers.

After studying under Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan until his death in the 1970s, Norton and Smith founded the Light of Guidance Center for Sufi Studies in New York City and continue to run it today.

Hazrat Inayat Khan, who brought the Inayati Order to the West in 1910 and was the father of Pir, led with a universal perspective. As a result of “undogmatic Sufism,” Norton and Smith learned Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist and other religious practices, as well through studying with the Inayat Order.

“It honors all the world’s traditions at one altar,” Norton said.

She said the interfaith focus that Sufism instilled in the couple kept them coming to Chautauqua Institution after they were first invited to help lead meditations in 2001.

Norton and Smith also continue Hazrat’s founding of the Ziraat Concentration of North America. Norton and Smith’s book, An Emerald Earth: Cultivating a Natural Spirituality and Serving Creative Beauty in Our World, is written through this Ziraat perspective, which looks at the inner life through lessons in agriculture.

“It’s written in the language of cultivation, which is a language that’s understood across all cultures and religions,” Norton said.

Their lecture was pre-recorded on Thursday, Aug. 6, in their New York home. Norton said that in terms of the story of creation in Sufism, the Qur’an describes God saying that he created humans because he was alone.

“In Sufism, the relationship between God and humans is out of love,” Norton said.

Since God granted responsibilities to humans on Earth, it puts humans hierarchically above angels, Norton said, because humans have more potential on Earth to fulfill God’s divine call. However, everything created by God is sacred, from rocks and plants to rivers. The Qur’an describes Earth as sacred, as a green, spreading prayer carpet given by God before humans were created.

“We were loved before we were even created,” Norton said.

This program is made possible by the Eugene Ross McCarthy Memorial Fund.

Islamic Society of North America president Ingrid Mattson to bridge differences in religions, communities in interfaith lecture

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Ingrid Mattson is many things — among them an author, advocate, professor and president — but Chautauqua Institution’s Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno has an overarching title that embodies them all: “bridge-builder.”

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“We can’t judge the depth of someone’s belief, or even our own, in many cases, but we can try to improve our encounters and our actions to the point that there is less of a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we are in the world,” Mattson told Krista Tippett in an episode of her podcast “On Being.”

Mattson, the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at Western University in Canada, will present her lecture “Be in this World as if You are a Traveler” at 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 13, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The lecture is in keeping with the Interfaith Lecture Series Week Seven theme, “The Spirituality of Us.”

It struck me, really, like a thunderbolt,” she told Tippett. “I mean, this awakening of, I would say, an almost childlike wonderment at the beauty and glory of creation, and the sense of majesty, the sense of the universe being pervaded with meaning and purpose. That’s really what the Qur’an brought to me before anything — it was this awareness of God before it gave me any specific guidelines for how I should live my life as a Muslim.”

Mattson grew up in a large Catholic family in Ontario, Canada. According to Rovegno, Catholicism has a “mystical component to it,” so the religion served as an “early foundation that opened her up.”

“I’m able to appreciate what Catholic schools gave me in terms of an education and a vision of social justice that certainly the nuns in my community had,” Mattson said in “On Being.” “So that, you know, people talk about my ability to bridge different communities.”

At the age of 23, Mattson converted to Islam. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Islamic studies at the University of Chicago, and become a professor of Islamic studies and director of Islamic chaplaincy at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, as well as director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations.

“Once she moved into the teachings of the Qur’an, it lifted her up to God in a way like never before,” Rovegno said. 

Her writings, both academic and public, focus primarily Qur’an interpretation, Islamic theological ethics and interfaith relations. Her 2007 book, The Story of the Qur’an, is an academic bestseller and was chosen by the United States National Endowment for the Humanities to be included in its “Bridging Cultures” program. 

To have a sense of the scripture, Mattson said she began studying the Qur’an and Arabic even before she converted, and was astounded by how the “beauty of the message came through.”

“It struck me, really, like a thunderbolt,” she told Tippett. “I mean, this awakening of, I would say, an almost childlike wonderment at the beauty and glory of creation, and the sense of majesty, the sense of the universe being pervaded with meaning and purpose. That’s really what the Qur’an brought to me before anything — it was this awareness of God before it gave me any specific guidelines for how I should live my life as a Muslim.”

In 2001, Mattson was elected vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim organization in the nation. In 2006, she became the first woman, the first non-immigrant, and the first convert to serve as president of the Islamic Society, a role she said nothing could have prepared her for. 

Spending her academic career teaching Islamic Studies and interfaith relations in historically Christian institutions, Dr. Mattson draws deeply from her well of personal spirituality, of which she was aware at a very early age,” Rovegno said. “I can think of no one who can better complete our week’s conversation on spirituality.”

“I mean, how did it come to this?” she said in “On Being.” “That’s why we have to say that God has his plan and we have our plan. And that is how I look at it.”

Rovegno said she is personally indebted to Mattson for her execution of a different role: Mattson founded the first accredited graduate program for Muslim chaplains in America at Hartford Seminary, which Rovegno said “continues to bless Chautauqua.” 

“It is from that excellent program that I annually invite the male Muslim Coordinators for the Abrahamic Program for Young Adults,” which Rovegno founded and has directed since 2006.

In a week focusing on the theme “The Spirituality of Us,” Rovegno said Mattson, a “bridge-builder in interfaith relations,” is the “perfect Muslim voice.”

“Spending her academic career teaching Islamic Studies and interfaith relations in historically Christian institutions, Dr. Mattson draws deeply from her well of personal spirituality, of which she was aware at a very early age,” Rovegno said. “I can think of no one who can better complete our week’s conversation on spirituality.”

This program is made possible by the Eugene Ross McCarthy Memorial Fund.

Author Kent Nerburn to share wisdom gained from years of working with Native Americans for Interfaith Lecture

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In 1988, when Kent Nerburn started working on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, home to the Ojibwe people, he saw the job as a way to support his career as an artist.

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“It was a chance to work, (and) I needed work,” Nerburn said. “Sculpture is not a particularly lucrative profession.”

For two years, Nerburn worked with high school students from the reservation on an oral history project, interviewing Red Lake Ojibwe elders about their memories, traditions and values. Nerburn was amazed by what he learned.

“In the course of that time, I really had a look at the deep spiritual values of the Native people,” he said. “Giving voice to what I was finding out about the Native people to the general, non-Native population felt essential. I found something that felt like a calling.”

Nerburn traded sculpture for writing and spent the next 30 years listening to and working with Native Americans from the Ojibwe, Lakota and Nez Perce tribes. He has written 17 books on spirituality and Native American history and culture. His 1994 creative nonfiction work, Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, was made into a film in 2016.

Nerburn will be speaking for Week Seven’s Interfaith Lecture Series, “The Spirituality of Us.” His lecture, “Quiet Voices, Important Truths: Life Lessons from the Native Way,” will air at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 12, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

In his long career, Nerburn said he has become one of the rare non-Native writers who is largely respected by Native Americans. He credits this to his willingness to listen without judgment or debate, something he learned from his work in oral history.

I look upon creation as a symphony, and each tradition has the capacity to play a different part of the music of creation; each cultural tradition, each religious tradition can play a certain type of music uniquely and in its own fashion,” Nerburn said. “And I think that the Native American way of seeing a larger family, spirit in everything, a humility in the face of the created universe, respect for their elders and a desire not to dominate, but to understand — it may be time for that music to be played a little more loudly than some of the other instruments in the symphony of creation.”

“In oral history, your job is to listen; your job is to just absorb what is given to you and give it back in an articulate, cogent fashion,” he said. “I never had a need to impose myself or my value systems onto the task.”

A necessary part of this work is confronting and understanding how his own biases as a white man influence his worldview.

“I think that really becomes the task of anyone wanting to learn about another way of looking at the world,” he said. “We’re all caught inside our own frame of reference, and it’s become more and more essential to be aware of this over the years — and in the last few years, it’s become absolutely essential.”

The most transformative aspect of Native American spirituality for Nerburn has been the idea that humans do not exist to rule over or control the environment, but are just another moving part within nature.

“The value system for me, the key element among the Native people, is always (that) everything that lives has spirit, and everything out there is a teacher for you,” he said.

This de-centering of humanity is something Nerburn thinks non-Native Americans, particularly Christians, can learn from.

“We are not at the top of creation for the Native people,” he said. “We are the highpoint of creation in the Christian world, made in the image and the likeness of God, whereas for the Native people, we are part of nature — we are not at the top of nature. We were the last of creation to be made, … so everything else is there to teach us.”

He hopes that, if anything good is to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be that more people begin to understand that they not only move through nature, but are moved by it.

“I think this is a wake-up call,” Nerburn said. “We thought that we were the masters of the environment. I hope this makes us all humbler, and more introspective.”

He is deeply concerned by current politics and the individual-first worldview he has seen grow more and more prominent in the last 30 years. He hopes that now more than ever,  his words can introduce more people to Native American spirituality. 

“I look upon creation as a symphony, and each tradition has the capacity to play a different part of the music of creation; each cultural tradition, each religious tradition can play a certain type of music uniquely and in its own fashion,” Nerburn said. “And I think that the Native American way of seeing a larger family, spirit in everything, a humility in the face of the created universe, respect for their elders and a desire not to dominate, but to understand — it may be time for that music to be played a little more loudly than some of the other instruments in the symphony of creation.”

This program is made possible by The Robert S. and Sara M. Lucas Religious Lectureship.

‘Holy Envy’ author Barbara Brown Taylor to speak on spirituality

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Chautauqua Institution Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno described the community’s chance to welcome back the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor simply: as a gift.

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At 2 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 10, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, the Interfaith Lecture Series will once again host Taylor for a presentation titled “Remember That You Are Stardust, and to Stardust You Shall Return.”

“Barbara has become beloved by the Chautauqua community over the many years that she has blessed us with her wisdom and inspiring spiritual voice,” Rovegno said. “Here at Chautauqua, Barbara is a spiritual treasure for us in every way, and we value her friendship as precious.”

Rovgeno’s description has some teeth. Taylor — an Episcopal priest, religions professor, and New York Times bestselling author — has been a staple in the Interfaith Lecture Series for years and has served as Chautauqua’s chaplain of the week five times. In 2016, the Institution awarded Taylor the President’s Medal — the highest recognition for what Rovegno describes as “exceptional service and inspiration to our community.” 

Taylor is a self-described “spiritual contrarian,” who boasts about saying “things you’re not supposed to say.” In her writing and upcoming lecture, Taylor said she will acknowledge and welcome the exploration of many religions. 

“My goal is to explore how a single religion may be too small all by itself to nourish spirituality that truly includes all of us — not just humans but all created beings — but in combination with other meaningful narratives, including the scientific creation narrative, we have a chance of glimpsing how deeply and truly related we really are,” Taylor said. 

Taylor is familiar with keeping an open mind in religion. In March 2019, Taylor released her latest book Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. The book began as a “classroom memoir” about her time instructing a world religions course at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia. As she wrote, the book began to explore how teaching challenged her own faith. 

Although keeping her own religion in mind while writing, Taylor believes the work can be enjoyed by someone of any religion, or no religion. Taylor explored this sentiment on her website. 

“I hope it is a book that readers of any or no religious identity can enjoy, but I had Christians in mind when I wrote it — because holy envy is a difficult concept for people who have been taught there is only one way to God,” Taylor wrote. “Writing with that teaching — and others like it — is what this book is about.”

Since 1993, Taylor has written 14 books, garnering two New York Times bestselling titles and the Georgia Writers Association 2006 award for Author of the Year. Taylor was named one of TIME’s Most Influential People in 2014, and Georgia Woman of the Year in 2015. 

Taylor has taught at Piedmont College, Columbia Theological Seminary, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, McAfee School of Theology at Emory University, and the Certificate in Theological Studies program at Arrendale State Prison for Women in Alto, Georgia. She holds a bachelor’s in religion from Emory University, a Master’s of Divinity from Yale, and nine honorary doctor of divinity degrees. 

This program is made possible by the Nilsen Family Fund for Religious Programming.

From the news section to obituaries, Columbia University’s Ari Goldman calls for religious literacy and empathetic objectivity

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Columbia University’s Ari Goldman thinks that without religious literacy, a journalist runs the risk of misinforming the public.

“When done right, journalism can educate and inform the public,” Goldman said. “When done wrong, it can spread falsehoods and reinforce stereotypes.”

Goldman recorded his lecture, “From Church Stories to Obituaries, Journalists Need Religious Literacy,” on the lawn of his bungalow in the Catskill Mountains on July 26. 

The lecture was released at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 6, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of the Week Six Interfaith Lecture Series theme “Lessons in the School House.” Audience members submitted questions through the www.questions.chq.org portal or on Twitter with #CHQ2020.

Religion news isn’t for the religion pages anymore,” Goldman said. “A sophisticated reporter knows that religion has a role in many of the great debates in our society, from abortion, to gay marriage, to healthcare, to housing, to education.”

Goldman had a consistent byline in The New York Times before he began teaching his Covering Religions course at Columbia University. He said that journalists often struggle with understanding the diversity within religions, much less the difference between them.

“People know about their own religion — well, sometimes — but people rarely know about others,” Goldman said.

In 2010, British TV host Kay Burley confused Joe Biden’s Ash Wednesday ashes for a bruise on his forehead.

“I’m a bad Catholic,” Burley said after producers informed her while she was still on air.

It’s just one example of why journalists need to understand religions to do full reporting. Goldman’s students have gone on to report on religion for the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and other publications. For 12 years, his student Maria-Paz López covered the Vatican for La Vanguardia in Spain and is now the publication’s Berlin correspondent.

Goldman’s students have also gone on to cover other topics, including economics, health care, foreign policy, the White House and education, but he said they do so knowing the importance of religion in all parts of life.

“Religion news isn’t for the religion pages anymore,” Goldman said. “A sophisticated reporter knows that religion has a role in many of the great debates in our society, from abortion, to gay marriage, to healthcare, to housing, to education.”

Goldman referred to Harvard University’s Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, who he studied with at Harvard Divinity School. She repeats this phrase often: “If you know one religion, you don’t know any.”

“She is telling us not to make assumptions about one religion based on our own,” Goldman said. 

Catholic Confirmation is not the same as a Jewish Bar Mitzvah. While some religions consider hands joined together as prayerful, Buddhists consider them to represent the meeting of the finite and infinite.

The former cornerstone of journalism, Goldman said, was objectivity — but he teaches empathetic objectivity in his courses. Communion reported objectively is people eating wafers. With empathetic objectivity reporting, the journalist communicates that for the believer, this is a sacred act of taking the body of Christ.

The Scripps Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio, has funded his class trips to Israel, Palestine, Russia, and Ukraine, where his students cover beat topics that center on different religious groups. His students have covered the last three Popes.

His spring 2020 class had planned to visit Louisiana and Mississippi to cover the diversity of religion in the U.S. South. But Columbia University shut everything down a few days before they were slated to leave on March 13.

The class pivoted to instead cover religious groups coping with the pandemic. His favorite story that came out of the course was a story on virtual water baptisms.

“The news changes, and we have to change, too,” Goldman said.

Goldman noted the increase of obituaries written worldwide with the onset of COVID-19. When deaths in the United States hit 100,000, The New York Times published 1,000 names of those who had died by coronavirus in the United States on the front page and started a new section, “Those We’ve Lost to the Coronavirus,” which is similar to the “Portraits of Grief” obituary section they published after 9/11.

And in China, independent blogs and news sites covered the deaths of workers on the front lines of the virus. Italy published between 10 and 12 pages of obituaries per day, and papers in Brazil and South Africa followed suit.

Along with empathetic objectivity, there was one last lesson Goldman said he imparts on his students.

“Every life is a story worth telling,” Goldman said.

With more deaths come more religious reporting responsibilities, says Columbia University’s Ari L. Goldman in upcoming interfaith lecture

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Reporters on any beat are going to write about death in a COVID-19 world, Columbia Journalism School’s Ari Goldman said, and he teaches his students how to do just that. Goldman said in a Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma webinar that understanding how to handle the subject matter of dying, and religious practices tied to it, is more important than ever.

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“Today, everyone is an obituary writer,” Goldman told his students. “Whether you cover fashion or business or the arts, you’re going to have to write an obituary.”

Goldman’s lecture, “From Church Stories to Obituaries, Journalists Need Religious Literacy,” will air at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 6, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of the Week Six Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Lessons in the School House.” Audience members can submit questions through the www.questions.chq.org portal or on Twitter with #CHQ2020.

After 20 years of bylines in The New York Times, where he covered religious topics and obituaries along with New York City news beats, Goldman is the director of Religion, Journalism, and the Spiritual Life for Columbia University’s Scripps Howard Program. But he still writes for major news outlets including The New York Times, Salon, The New York Jewish Week, and the Forward.

He most recently wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post calling for everyone, self-described writers and non-writers alike, to keep a journal. He keeps a pen and a blue notebook by his bed.

“Sometimes, it is just ‘I took a shower’ or ‘S and I played Scrabble’ or ‘Tuna, again,’” Goldman wrote. “Other times, I note the markers of this strange journey. ‘Stopped walking in Riverside Park’ or ‘Trump says we’ll be out by Easter’ or ‘started wearing a mask outside’ or ‘played duets with J’ or ‘Fauci says November’ or simply ‘prayed.’”

Before COVID-19, he led study abroad trips where Columbia students have covered religion in India, Russia, Ukraine, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, the West Bank and most recently Israel in spring 2019. But last semester, his students covered religious responses to COVID-19 across Christianity, Sikhism, Islam, Judaism, Native American faith practices, and Vodou.

In the Dart seminar, which took place in April, Goldman said there is a distinction between obituaries and news stories steeped in COVID-19 deaths. Obituaries, while still requiring reporting, handle details with a layer of sensitivity.

“Obituaries are not about death,” he said in the seminar. “You’re writing about life. One little fact in it is that this person passed away. If it’s about death, then this is a news story.”

This program is made possible by the Elizabeth Elser Doolittle Endowment Fund for Adult Programming.

Linda K. Wertheimer to point to signs of hope in U.S. religious education

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In 2016, instances of racial and religious bigotry were on the rise across the United States.

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Fast-forward to 2020, and though our country is still polarized by hate, Linda K. Wertheimer said, she believes there are reasons for hope.

“There’s so much more discussion now about the need to deal with racism in the U.S.,” said Wertheimer, a veteran journalist, essayist and award-winning education writer. “But it’s important to remember that we’re still a country that has a lot of problems with racism, and that we’re also a country that has a lot of issues of religious bigotry — whether that’s prejudice against Jews, Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs.”

On the other hand, Wertheimer insists that we still “don’t have to lose hope.”

“We can fight religious bigotry through the power of education,” she said. “We have a chance in making a dent in it if we can teach the next generation not only about world religions and the basics of religious literacy, but also about stereotypes.”

Wertheimer mixes investigative reporting and personal experience in Faith Ed: Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance, a book that takes a hard look at how U.S. public schools teach religion in class.

At 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 5, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Wertheimer will deliver a lecture titled “From Fear to Hope: Childhood Experiences with Anti-Semitism/How to Teach Respect,” as part of Week Six’s Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Lessons in the School House.”

As part of her research for Faith Ed, Wertheimer, who is Jewish, decided to return to the K-12 school system she attended decades ago.

“I still clearly remember kids calling me slurs, and dealing with a lot of anti-Semitism throughout my childhood,” she said. “At the same time, when I went back, the same people weren’t going to be sitting in the school. And I was also going as a journalist, and it was a little strange to be reporting on my own history.”

One of Wertheimer’s old classmates had become a history teacher at the middle school, and in talking to them, she learned the class recently took a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I was blown away — that kind of thing didn’t happen at all when I was there,” she said. “We learned about the Holocaust in a few paragraphs in my textbook. It ended up overall being a good experience, because what I found was that everyone was much more worldly than when I was there, because of the Internet.”

Though she didn’t see evidence of any blatant bigotry while she was there, Wertheimer said that she did observe potential causes for concern during her trip back to the school system.

One such concern was the school’s Bible club, which Wertheimer said hadn’t existed when she went to school there.

“They were skirting that line between church and state, because the principal was reading scripture to that club,” she said. “He didn’t see a problem with that.”

This program is made possible by the Elizabeth Elser Doolittle Endowment Fund for Adult Programming.

Benjamin Marcus to speak on religious literacy education in public schools for Interfaith Lecture series

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The United States of America is often described as the great melting pot, home to many ethnicities, cultures and religions, the practices of which are a protected freedom within the U.S. Constitution.

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Though the coexistence of many different religions is a foundation of American society, religious prejudices and stereotypes often cause conflict, which many scholars attribute to a simple lack of understanding. 

Benjamin Marcus, a former Presidential Scholar at the Harvard Divinity School and a graduate of the University of Cambridge and Brown University is a firm believer in comprehensive religious literacy education. 

Marcus will present his lecture “Religious Literacy in Public Schools: Embracing Complexity and Tension” at 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 4, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The lecture is in keeping with the Interfaith Lecture Series Week Six theme “Lessons in the School House.”

In the last few years, the religious landscape of the United States has become increasingly complex,” Marcus said. “Unfortunately, that complexity has been accompanied by destructive tension between people of various religions and none, evidenced by an increase in religion-related hate crimes and an increase in active hate groups that target religious minorities.”

Religious literacy is the knowledge of and ability to understand religion, including religions with which one may be unfamiliar. 

A specialist with the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Group, Marcus has helped to develop religious literacy programs for public schools, universities, businesses, U.S. government organizations and private foundations.

“In the last few years, the religious landscape of the United States has become increasingly complex,” Marcus said. “Unfortunately, that complexity has been accompanied by destructive tension between people of various religions and none, evidenced by an increase in religion-related hate crimes and an increase in active hate groups that target religious minorities.”

Marcus believes that increased religious literacy education in schools will create a better understanding of all religions and have a positive effect on the interactions between people of varying faiths. 

“The complexity of the landscape can lead to productive tension,” Marcus said. “By educating people about religion in academic and Constitutional ways in American public schools, such as nurturing religious literacy, we can equip young people with the knowledge, skills and civic dispositions to navigate complexity in productive ways.” 

Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno is looking forward to Marcus’ lecture, voicing her support for increased religious literacy education in public schools. 

“Religious literacy is a social and civic good that seeks a deeper understanding of religion’s role in private and public life to improve personal conduct, ethical leadership, and professional effectiveness,” Rovegno said. “Benjamin brings very special insights to our conversation this week, and we could not be more grateful.”

This program is made possible by the Elizabeth Elser Doolittle Endowment Fund for Adult Programming.

Judy Beals will kick off week 6 of the Interfaith Lecture Series with a discussion on religious literacy and education

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The enhancement of public understanding of religion and the roles it can play in society has long been a goal of the Harvard Divinity School.

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In an effort to further this mission, the Harvard Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project was created, and Judy Beals appointed the associate director. 

An experienced human and civil rights attorney, former legislative aid in the United States Senate, a former state Assistant Attorney General and a nonprofit CEO, Beals has a wealth of experience and knowledge regarding both education and religion. She will share her thoughts in her lecture “Teaching Religion Through New Eyes” at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 3, kicking off Week Six of the Interfaith Lecture Series on “Lessons in the School House.” Chautauquans can tune into the lecture via the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

“I am very pleased that Judy Beals is keynoting our interfaith lecture conversation on the theme ‘Lessons in the School House,’ in our week focused on education,” said Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno. “As associate director of Harvard Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project, which was created to continue its legacy of enhancing public understanding of religion in its worldwide expressions through education, Judy works to bring a more complex understanding of the roles all religions play in both history and contemporary affairs.”

Prior to her involvement with the RLP, Beals worked for over a decade with the Oxfam Organization, a non-profit group dedicated to ending the injustice of poverty. Serving first as Oxfam America’s campaign director, Beals transitioned to the private sector team, which involved collaboration with large corporations to further the Oxfam mission. 

In 2017, Beals took a sabbatical year to serve as a resident fellow at the Harvard Divinity School, where she audited Harvard courses while also working to create an approach for advancing religious literacy in secular organizations, particularly those that focus on international development such as Oxfam. 

It was during her fellowship at HDS that Beals was drawn to the idea of enhancing the public understanding of religion. She partnered with HDS’s Diane Moore to create the RLP, which seeks to intertwine the study and understanding of religion with the process of education, both in adolescence and adulthood. 

“The goal is to help to create an educated society of active participants in building a more just and peaceful world through understanding and appreciation of the multiplicity of the world’s religions, and the roles that they play in world affairs,” Rovegno said. 

Beals will discuss the goals of the RLP during her lecture, joining the themes of religious literacy with enhancement of education. 

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

Michael Martin to stress importance of gratitude in Haudenosaunee traditions, creation during fifth Interfaith Friday presentation

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From the minute he wakes up, to the second he falls asleep, Michael Martin exists in a state of inexhaustible gratitude.

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“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Martin said in his 2013 TED Talk. “When we ground ourselves in that perspective, we can do amazing things. When you take the time to give those unexpected ‘Thank yous,’ that’s how you get remembered.”

Martin, an Onondaga of the Haudenosaunee people, or “people of the longhouse,” is practicing his native “Ganohę:nyoh,” or “Thanksgiving address.” The name “Haudenosaunee” refers to a confederation or alliance among six Native American nations more commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy.

The word “Chautauqua” is an Iroquois word, one of the “last of the spoken language,” according to Maureen Rovegno, director of the Department of Religion. Rovegno said the connection proves Martin’s viewpoint is “extremely important to both the Chautauqua region,” and the Interfaith Friday series as a whole. 

“As we realize more and more the debt we owe to our Native people, we want to know more and more about what they value, because what they value, we want to value,” Rovegno said.

Martin, executive director of the Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties, will speak on Haudenosaunee traditions at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, July 31, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform for Week Five’s Interfaith Friday. 

They became the United States of America by learning that concept: We’re stronger together than we are separately,” Martin said. “(It’s) a very simple idea of being in a perspective of giving thanks. There’s an interconnectedness amongst us that we often don’t recognize.”

The main focus of the 2020 Interfaith Friday series, Rovegno said, is “uncovering stories of creation.” Most people, she said, already know the Christian creation narrative found within Genesis, so it was a “priority” to learn a Native American story, among others this season.

“We wanted to know what the Native people’s creation story is because creation stories tell us what we think life is all about, our purpose in life and it tells us something about our relationship to all of the created world — especially our relationship to nature,” Rovegno said. 

Martin, during his TED Talk, said his creation story is rooted in the teachings of a concept known as “seven generations.” 

“We’re taught that every action we take we have to be mindful seven generations up,” Martin said in the TED Talk. “Every action and decision we make has to ensure their well being. Just as we look back seven generations, we give thanks for those that came before us.”

Traditional leaders, such as the Haudenosaunee’s founder, the Peacemaker, won’t call this ideology a religion; they talk about it as a way of life, a way of thinking and a “perspective that’s supposed to guide us each and every day,” Martin said.

“It allows us to be in this perspective of gratitude, which humbles us and grounds us and puts us in that good frame of mind,” he said during his TED Talk.  

According to Martin, when the Peacemaker gave the Haudenosaunee people that “simple teaching,” it showed them “we’re stronger together when bonded with good minds than we could be separately,” an idea Martin said played a role in the founding of the United States. 

“They became the United States of America by learning that concept: We’re stronger together than we are separately,” he said. “(It’s) a very simple idea of being in a perspective of giving thanks. There’s an interconnectedness amongst us that we often don’t recognize.”

The bottom line: It is better to have expressed an excess of appreciation than to live with the regret of a “thanks” unsaid. 

“In everyday life, we don’t always take those opportunities to let people know their lives here on Earth have purpose and meaning,” Martin said in his TED Talk. “If nothing else to ourselves, for what they’ve given us.”

This program is made possible by The Ralph W. Loew Religious Lectureship Fund.

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