Interfaith Lecture Previews

PRRI founder Robert P.Jones to close season with discussion of ethics, faith


Robert P. Jones grew up as a Southern Baptist in a white evangelical church in Mississippi. 

Now, as president and founder of Public Religion Research Institute, Jones wants to fulfill his own — and help others to fulfill their — Christian duties with an emphasis on ethics in faith communities.

Jones will give his lecture on “White Supremacy, Christian Nationalism and the Fragile Future of the American Experiment,” at 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26 in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall — not the traditional venue of the Hall of Philosophy — to end Week Nine, its theme of “Faith and the Tapestry of the Future,” and the 2022 Summer Assembly Season’s Interfaith Lecture Series.

“I’m going to be talking about the ways in which white supremacy and American Christianity have had this symbiotic relationship throughout American history,” Jones said. “This is a history that is largely unnoticed, and in some cases deliberately buried, because it’s a fairly unflattering history.”

A leading scholar on religion, culture and politics, Jones, is the author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (winner of the 2021 American Book Award) and The End of White Christian America (winner of the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion). 

He said he wants white Christians in his audience to have a better sense of the truth about their identity, both in the past and the present. 

“I think that’s going to require some serious soul searching … some repentance and hopefully commitment to repairing the damage,” Jones said.

Americans are barely waking up to the realities of white Christian nationalism, Jones said, because they are just now realizing it’s a problem.

“The choice in front of us today is whether we’re going to face it, work for healing and repair or whether we’re going to deny it,” Jones said. “James Baldwin put it so unnervingly, whether we’re going to continue our national racial nightmare.”

Jones founded PRRI in 2009 to use data to examine the intersection of religion, culture and politics.

“There was still a need for solid, independent, nonpartisan public opinion research,” Jones said, “and to get a deeper understanding of what the public thought of, not only about issues, (but) what in their worldview, including their cultural and religious views, led them to those beliefs.”

Jones said religion and politics always overlap, because they’re part of human culture. Intertwined, these two facets of American culture can lead to significant ramifications.

“I’m actually quite alarmed at the current state of things, particularly the most recent Supreme Court decisions that (rely) on a particular view of history and tradition, rather than on legal principles of separation of church and state,” Jones said.

Jones said historically, Christian churches have supported white supremacy, which forces the opposition of the democratic principles America was founded on.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that if we can’t honestly deal with this history and choose a different path, not only is the American experiment in democracy in peril,” Jones said, “the future of the church itself is in peril.”

His life in Mississippi was surrounded by people who thought as long as they weren’t personally racist, they were doing their job. Jones said this is not, and should not be, the case; Christians have a responsibility to combat injustices around them.

“The dilemma for white Christians is to really face the ways that Christianity has justified not just a personal sense of racism, but the setting up of institutions,” Jones said. “That is the habit of systemically perpetuated white supremacy, and limited Black equality.”

Buddhist Lama Rod Owens to map path forward via compassion


As a leader in the Buddhist tradition, Lama Rod Owens helps people come to terms with their trauma and cope with loss, so they can help others work through their own trauma. Through helping people help themselves and then others, his hope is to create a better world built on compassion.

He will give his lecture, titled “Compassion as the Way Forward,” at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25 in the Hall of Philosophy for Week Nine of the Interfaith Lecture Series, themed “Faith and the Tapestry of the Future.”

“I’m hoping that people really get a clear understanding of what Buddhism is,” Owens said. “Once we connect to our suffering and the suffering of others, we start actually generating this deep wish for all of us to be free from the suffering.”

Owens said he became interested in Buddhism and compassion when he left the Christian Church. He started meditating, studying philosophy, and making friends with Buddhists, and attended a three-year silent retreat at the Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery, outside of New York City, from 2008 to 2011.

“I was cloistered with three other men at their home at the monastery,” Owens said. “We spent over three years practicing together, meditating, chanting, studying and so forth.”

He is the author of, with Jasmine Syedullah and the Rev. angel Kyodo williams — herself a previous speaker for the Interfaith Lecture Series — Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation. After becoming an authorized Lama, or Buddhist teacher, in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, Owens also completed his Master of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School.

He wants people to understand they cannot help reduce harm and violence from others without first helping themselves.

“I believe compassion is one of the strongest, if not the most important, thing that we can practice right now,” Owens said. “Compassion helps us to do really deep emotional labor for ourselves that helps us to take care of our despair, grief, anxiety, fear, anger.”

It was during his three-year silent retreat that Owens worked through his own pain and trauma, arriving at a place of forgiveness and compassion. Many people don’t know how to take care of themselves during, and after, traumatic experiences, and Owens said that creates tension in the world.

“I think this is why so many of us are feeling overwhelmed and depleted and shut down, as well,” Owens said. “Compassion essentially keeps our hearts open. It helps us stay connected to how we’re feeling, it helps us to understand how other people are feeling.”

Laura Limonic to examine historical struggles of assimilation


Immigration has been a part of society for centuries, and there’s always a sense of assimilation to navigate. Laura Limonic, author and professor of sociology at SUNY College at Old Westbury, addresses the struggles of Latin American Jewish immigration in the United States.

She will give her lecture, titled “Becoming Latinx Jews: An American Immigration Story,” at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24 in the Hall of Philosophy for Week Nine of the Interfaith Lecture Series, “Faith and the Tapestry of the Future,” which is in partnership with Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Limonic, the author of Kugel and Frijoles: Latino Jews in the United States, which won the 2020 Best Book in Latin American Jewish Studies, is going to focus on Latin American Jewish immigrants and their stories of assimilation through reconstructing ethnic religion. 

“I hope that people take away the idea that religion is in many ways bound,” Limonic said. “While it’s global, it’s very much bound to the location in which the people are found in. It’s influenced by the social and political and economic systems of the countries where religious groups are found.”

Her studies examine what happens to Latin American Jewish immigrants when they come to the United States and how they acclimate via religion.

“New immigrants participate in religious life and are both influenced by existing structures and also contribute to changing the nature of religious identity and religious organizations,” Limonic said. 

Originally from Argentina, Limonic said she also looks at the stories of her own family and thinks about how they navigated their way as Latin American Jews — and the identity struggle that it involved.

“I think that one of the outcomes that we are beginning to see is a return to religiosity, to high levels of religiosity as people become sort of disillusioned with the current state of the social and political system here in the United States — it’s also a way of belonging,” she said.

Historically, religious organizations have given immigrants a way to be a part of a community and retain, or regain, a sense of self.

“One of the reasons we have religious pluralism here in the United States, and so many religious groups have been able to thrive, is in many ways because of the separation of church and state,” Limonic said. “Nonetheless, we continue to be a highly racialized country.”

She said as religion is racialized, certain religions are part of a larger civil religion: the idea of one nation under God, but it isn’t always the same God. 

“I think that our racial history, our current racial system, and racist system, contributes to what is allowed under the separation of church and state and what’s allowed to be part of a larger civil religion,” Limonic said.

Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom founders Olitzky, Aftab to share interfaith work


Most, if not all, religions have some sort of scripture that says to treat others with kindness, or to welcome others with loving arms. This is also the case for people of different religions when engaging in interfaith dialogue.

Aftab and Olitzky

Atiya Aftab and Sheryl Olitzky co-founded the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom in 2010 to build trust, respect and relationships between Muslim and Jewish women.

They will give their joint lecture, titled “Being the Change – A Leap of Faith,” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy to continue Week Eight of the Interfaith Lecture Series, “New Profiles in Courage.”

“There’s total confidence that by sharing my story, and Atiya sharing her story, and the many stories of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, we will be changing the level of ignorance,” Olitzky said. “We will be shedding new light on understanding and through that we will be changing the course.”

Their original mission is reflected in the work Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom currently does: “Having these conversations that are often difficult conversations about how people who seemingly may look or believe differently. … We have much more in common as the cliche goes,” Aftab said. “Despite whatever differences there are, we could work together for good.”

Olitzky, a Jewish woman, started her journey to interfaith discussion and support in what she calls an “a-ha” moment. She led a group of about 40 people to visit Auschwitz in Poland, and she asked the tour guide why everyone there looked the same — no people of color, no one wearing a headcovering and no one looking like they might be of a different race.

As they were about to park the bus, the guide said to her, “You’re right my dear. Poland is for the Poles. And by the way, you talked about a headcovering. If you’re referring to a headscarf, we don’t have a Muslim problem here because they’re not welcome.”

This was her “a-ha” moment, she said. She realized, while sitting at one of the “worst places on Earth,” that she could try to overcome these feelings of hate and ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

Aftab, a Muslim woman, said her moment was different. Olitzky had reached out to her several times, wanting to discuss her desire to join forces through their respective faiths.

“I agreed to meet her and, to me, this shows the power of personality and the power of human relationships, that when we met for the first time, there was an instantaneous connection,” Aftab said.

Olitzky said she knew she had to do something to make sure hate directed at the Jews did not also happen to Muslims. She didn’t know very many Muslims in her community, and the few she did know, she did not have relationships with.

“Imagine what we could do with a small group of Muslim and Jewish women,” Olitzky said, “to really get to know each other and to work at changing that course of hate?”

Neither of them anticipated the size their organization would become. They started with 12 women; in 2022, they’re more than 1,000 strong.

Aftab said she didn’t initially feel the need for interfaith dialogue. She was on the board of her mosque for many years and felt the conversations were only surface-level effective.

“Leaders of the different religions would come in and talk about religion in a very academic, theological or generic fashion,” Aftab said. “I didn’t see the connection to the people who are in the room listening.”

Atfab and Olitzky wanted to regularly create experiences for people to join together, and cultivate a safe place to do so.

“They can have conversations that are meaningful to interfaith, asking difficult and awkward questions,” Aftab said. “Those are not necessarily things that can take place in an institutional setting.”

Olitzky said there are three things that can change the way people view each other. First: Bring people who are different together in order to create a shared objective.

“Everyone has some difference, even if you call yourself within the same religion,” Aftab said. “These are opportunities to have conversations that are challenging, and people can if they want to engage in that.”

Second, Aftab said, is to meet in safe places and meet in each other’s homes. Third, the work must  be consistent. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom chapters have met every month or every six weeks, for almost 13 years.

“If you do all three of those things, those two groups will view each other with trust and respect and (care),” Olitzky said. “The way they view each other is how they will view each other’s groups that they’re a part of.”

When people commit to creating relationships with those of different faiths, it helps create positive change. For Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, Olitzksy said that commitment can affect a Jewish woman’s view of a Muslim woman’s view, and vice versa.

“It’s not hard to be involved in this work,” Olitzky said. “It takes, in our case, one Muslim woman and one Jewish woman to change the entire world.”

Jewish studies scholar Rabbi Shaul Magid to examine tension of separating religion, politics


The relationship between culture, religion and spirituality are the cornerstones in Rabbi Shaul Magid’s belief of manifesting in the fullness of life. Magid, a distinguished fellow in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, works to exemplify the advances and critiques made by the New Age Movement in the 1970s. He will be giving his lecture, titled “Can Religion Survive Spirituality? A View from Jewish Mysticism after the New Age,” at 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 20, in the Hall of Philosophy.

He takes note from Robert Fuller’s book Spiritual, but not Religious as a guideline to how American counterculture was trying to criticize religion. The New Age Movement drove people in the latter part of the 20th century into the idea of being spiritual, but not religious.

“You can see this in unchurched Christians, the challenges of Jewish denominations and synagogue, the way it was moving away from religion, but not toward the secular as it was conventionally understood,” Magid said. 

Next, he wants to speculate how the last 20 to 25 years have been a sort of “return to religion,” in the mixing of politics and religion within Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

“I want to talk about a kind of trajectory of modernity from the kind of disenchantment of the world that’s called the sociologist maximum to kind of reinvent the world through the New Age,” Magid said. 

Magid said that while he doesn’t have any solutions to these trajectories he thinks are chipping away at religions, he hopes people begin to think creatively and carefully about culture, religion and spirituality.

“Hopefully, they come away feeling a sense of context and understanding a little bit about what these chips (in religion) are and where they come from,” Magid said. “Nothing is created from a plot, so the return to religion, the way we see it, in the rise of religious fundamentalism, it doesn’t come from nowhere. It has its own history.”

Religion has never been separate from politics, contrary to what some may think. Magid cited Islam spreading through the Islamic Conquest as an example. 

Magid said the modern world is trying to create more of a separation between church and state, which is breaking down American society.

“The danger’s really when religion starts to dominate the political sphere and curtails different kinds of movements or different kinds of progress within the society, and then begins to discriminate against those people who don’t hold those religious beliefs,” Magid said.

The tension that holds America together is the political sphere not wanting to erase religion, but to dominate it, Magid said, to be able to implement itself into society. He grew up as a secular Jew, but said Judaism really began to speak to him in his early 20s. 

Magid lived in Israel for a while and became a rabbi, then came back to America and decided to focus on an academic career tied to Judaism. His favorite thing is to watch younger students become open to the world and its ideas of humanity and religion, which he also hopes to do in his lecture. 

“The second thing would be really to unsettle the way that people think about these kinds of stories of meaning, because that’s really about the culture and religion,” Magid said. 

He said the job of a scholar is to unsettle some of the conventional notions of how people live their lives and the value systems they adopt.

“Part of what I find rewarding is created from the unsettling of those notions that … it’s very easy to be a pessimist about the world today for a variety of reasons, and there are very good reasons,” Magid said. “It’s those moments of watching people rethink what they thought or watching students become open to a world that they didn’t know existed.”

Mohamed Elsanousi to trace how religious traditions, beliefs aid in global peacemaking


Mohamed Elsanousi, executive director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, uses experiences of working with individual and public rights to promote religious peace around the world.

Elsanousi will speak at 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, in the Hall of Philosophy as part of the Interfaith Lecture Series and the Week One theme, “America’s Global Conscience.” 


His lecture title is “Unlocking our Shared Virtues: Advancing Common Good in an Interconnected World.”

“The main points we are going to look into, basically, are how our American values and virtues and ideals could be promoted in this interconnected world we’re living in,” Elsanousi said.

Elsanousi served as the director of Community Outreach and Interfaith Relations for the Islamic Society of North America. In 2011, he also worked on the task force for the U.S. Department of State’s working group on religion and foreign policy.

“The task force was a great opportunity to provide that platform for engagement between diverse, religious community leadership,” Elsanousi said. “In the United States, different religions come together and say, ‘How can we advance our foreign policy using our own faith and religion?’ ”

Elsanousi said he and his team created a brochure to aid diplomats in protocol.

“Sometimes our diplomats are not clear enough about how to walk that thin line: separation of church and state,” Elsanousi said. “Our task force was able to come up with a brochure for U.S. diplomats on what is allowed and what is not allowed in terms of who you are as a diplomat, (and how to interact with) service personnel in our industries outside, which allows you to do things.”

Faith plays a major role in peacemaking, Elsanousi said, because the elements already exist in terms of people’s own religion. 

He said he attributes the leaders of faith communities with communicating truthfully and effectively.

“(Faith leaders) are the ones that are credible,” Elsanousi said. “When communities have some problems, they come to the faith  leaders, so that’s why they have a critical role to play in peacemaking.”

Elsanousi has over 20 years of experience in building interreligious understanding, and he works to use religious texts, beliefs and spirituality to advance peaceful coexistence and collaboration. 

He said he also plans on bringing a personal element to his lecture.

“We’re also going to talk about my own personal story as an immigrant to the United States,” Elsanousi said. 

He will examine America as a pluralistic society that provides opportunities for advancement. 

He will then speak about the work at the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers “in basically engaging religious actors, providing rooms for religious actors to engage policymakers around the world in terms of advancing the common good.”

Foreign policy tends to follow religion in separating men and women, so Elsanousi said he and his colleagues came up with a way to engage religions across genders, to impart that there is “room here to engage religions, religious leadership. There is a room to do that, and that will reflect politically, reflect positivity, in our policy.”

The task force’s work was accepted in 2011, and a religious and global affairs department was created as a result. Elsanousi said that the team was given the charge to define “how religion actually could play a positive role in our foreign policy.”

This was an opportunity Elsanousi felt grateful for. 

“It was an amazing experience being part of the task force (and working with) religion, and politics, and foreign policy,” Elsanousi said. 

He went on to say that there is no other way to peacefully live together without having mechanisms for navigating deadlock and fostering understanding.

“There were some bumps in the road, but we overcame those challenges,” Elsanousi said. “We have a lot of things in our own traditions and texts that we need to lift up. We need to bring it up.”

‘Get Up and Go On — Together’: Preacher, author Bass returns to Chautauqua to close interfaith season, ‘resilience’ theme




Closing the 2021 Interfaith Lecture Series at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 25 in the Amphitheater is author, speaker and preacher Diana Butler Bass.

Her lecture, titled “Get Up and Go On — Together,” will also close the Interfaith Series’ take on Week Nine’s theme, “Resilience.” 

“Bass is a global thinker from both her head and her heart,” said Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno.

Bass has authored 11 books, her most recent being Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence, published this past March. In it, Bass depicts her evolving perspective of Jesus. 

Freeing Jesus explores the many images of Jesus we encounter and embrace through a lifetime — and how we make theology from the text of our lives in conversation with scripture and tradition,” reads the book’s synopsis. “Freeing Jesus invites us to liberate Jesus and free ourselves when it comes to the ever-compelling and yet often-elusive figure at the center of Christian faith.”

Publishers Weekly has named two of her books, Strength for the Journey (2002) and Christianity for the Rest of Us (2006) among the best books of the respective year. Her book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks (2018) earned the Wilbur Award for best nonfiction book of the year from the Religion Communicators Council, as did Grounded: Finding God in the World (2015). Grounded was also named book of the year by the Religion Newswriters Association.

“(Bass) writes and speaks with great insight, with acuity, with intelligence and with depth of compassion and caring,” Rovegno said. “Hers is the perfect voice to bring this week’s conversation, not to closure, but to a breadth of motivated understanding for the going forward of our days and years.”

Bass has had bylines for several national media outlets including The New York Times and The Washington Post, and she has made appearances on numerous outlets like CBS, CNN, PBS and NPR. 

“Diana’s passion is sharing great ideas to change lives and the world,” says her website, “a passion that ranges from informing the public about spiritual trends, challenging conventional narratives about religious practice, entering the fray of social media with spiritual wisdom and smart theology and writing books to help reader see themselves, their place in history and God differently.”

Bass has visited Chautauqua before for the Interfaith Lecture Series. In 2016, she spoke about cosmopolis amid globalization and a new understanding of God beyond tradition. Two years later, she discussed the intersection of sports and spirituality

As the 2021 Summer Assembly draws to a close, Rovegno reflected on the season “with great gratitude that our work in planning has borne such abundant fruit. The goal is always to present new ideas to our Chautauqua family, with an emphasis on ‘new.’ We never want to present what our intelligent and caring audiences already know.”

Rovegno said this year’s speakers added insightful perspectives every week, each being an “angle of vision” to the Chautauqua Lecture Series. 

“I like to quote the famous Mr. T from ‘The A-Team,’ ” Rovegno said. “I love it when a plan comes together!”

National Book Award winner McCann to discuss courage, storytelling for ILS




Colum McCann is all about bringing people together, no matter what seemingly insurmountable obstacles might exist.

He’s done so most recently in his February 2020 novel Apeirogon, which in mathematics means a polygon with a countably infinite number of sides. In his novel, it’s the story of one Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, and one Israeli, Rami Elhanan — men taught to hate each other who instead form a friendship over grief: Both of their daughters were killed in conflict over the Holy Land.

“When they learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them,” reads a Penguin Random House synopsis. “Together they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace — and with their one small act, start to permeate what has for generations seemed an impermeable conflict.”

McCann will speak at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24 in the Amphitheater for his lecture, titled “Resilience: The Life You Find in Your Stories,” part of Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture Series themed “Resilience.”

While a fictional novel, Aramin and Elhanan are two real people that McCann met through his organization, Narrative 4.

“Narrative 4 is a global nonprofit story exchange organization, fronted by artists and teachers and activists, using storytelling to change the world,” McCann said.

McCann, inspired by the men’s ability to see themselves in each other, wanted to tell their story. 

Apeirogon … uses their real-life stories to begin another — one that crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful,” according to the synopsis. “The result is an ambitious novel created out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material, with these fathers’ moving story at its heart.”

McCann hopes readers listen to the story of the men’s friendship, and how it was formed despite growing up on opposite sides of the conflict that took their daughters’ lives. 

“I hope that people will listen to their message that we don’t have to love one another across differences, or even like one another, but we better learn to understand each other,” McCann said. “Otherwise, as Bassam says, we will all meet each other six feet below ground.”

Narrative 4 has produced other success stories, McCann said. A recent program brought together high school students from the Bronx with ones from rural Appalachia, which he described as mostly Black, urban, left-wing kids with white, rural, right-wing kids. 

“Some of the young people admitted that they were nervous to the point of being unable to talk at first,” he said. “But when they began telling stories to one another — and then telling those stories back to their partners — the fear faded, their imaginations expanded and they began to see the world in an altogether different way.”

He also mentioned a current program in the Joe Slovo township of South Africa, where kids initiated a “Trash to Treasure” program to clean up neighborhoods. 

“All of this came from the courageous act of listening,” he said. 

McCann also wrote Let the Great World Spin, a novel that earned him the 2009 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2011 International Dublin Literary Award, one of the highest paid literary awards in the world. 

His 2013 novel, TransAtlantic, brought comparisons to Michael Ondaatje and Toni Morrison. Apeirogon is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and Carnegie Medal. 

For today’s lecture, McCann wants to talk about courage alongside resilience.

“I also want to talk about the art of storytelling and how important it is for us to understand one another in an increasingly atomized world,” he said.

Telling stories about what happens when people observe the complexity and difficulty of their lives keeps McCann going each day, he said.

He described the men from Apeirogon as courageous and empathetic.

“There is a line from an ancient Arabic poem: ‘Is there any hope that this desolation can bring us solace?’ ” McCann said. “They are the hope.”

Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Rabbi Hazzan Myers, survivor of ‘18 synagogue shooting, to open Interfaith Lecture Series approach to resilience theme




On the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, as Shabbat services took place, a gunman opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people. 

Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers was there. 

“In the aftermath of the massacre … Myers has stood out for his indefatigable moral clarity and inspired spiritual leadership,” wrote Michael Weis, a friend of Myers, in a November 2018 post on Cantors Assembly.

Myers will present his lecture, “A Ticket to Ride: The Roller Coaster of Resilience,” at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23 in the Amphitheater. It is the first of three Interfaith Lectures for Week Nine, the final week of the season, dedicated, as is the Chautauqua Lecture Series, to the theme of “Resilience.”

“Resilience is a characteristic of humanity and all of nature that ensures continuity of life — a virtue among virtues to be prized and practiced to create a future,” said Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno. “It is important to celebrate this essential characteristic this week, as we recognize what we as a community, and indeed as a world people, are living and must continue to value.”

Before moving to Pittsburgh in 2017, Myers spent decades in ministry in New Jersey and Long Island. He also earned a master’s degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. 

“The ability to manage and administrate and act in a politically savvy manner, all the while placing his ego in check and putting the welfare of his community members first is the hallmark of a great clergy person, no matter the title of rabbi or cantor,” Weis wrote. 

Myers’ words following the shooting, the worst attack on the Jewish community in United States history, left an imprint and offered healing, Weis said. 

“They floated through the air with grace and reached our ears with unparalleled perfection in the moment of need,” he wrote for Cantors Assembly. “By his words, the cries for hope were heeded; the need for healing was attended; the prayer for peace was delivered and the promise of a tomorrow void of hate was handed over to the collective whole through his words, both penned and uttered.”

In a November 2018 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tree of Life Rabbi Emeritus Alvin Berkun described Myers as “America’s rabbi,” but Myers, in the same article, said it was never about him.

“It’s about hate,” Myers said in the article. “How tragic it was that people without an ounce of hate had hate inflicted on them.”

He then called for the shooting to be a watershed moment.

“As easily as we spew hate, we also can spew love,” he said. “To me, if that can begin to happen, then the deaths of these 11 people will not be in vain. If there’s no change whatsoever, then it confirms our worst fears about the path we’re heading down, and it’s the wrong path.”

In 2018, Myers received an honorary doctoral degree in Jewish music from the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 2019, he was one of three recipients of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Medal of Valor.

“Medals of Valor were given out to those who exemplify the good deeds of outstanding individuals who honor mankind and whose courage and bravery shine a light in the darkest of places,” said a press release issued by the Center. “Myers’ medal had the inscription, ‘He who saves a single life, it is as if he saved an entire world.’ ”

Looking at this week and today’s lecture, Rovegno said resilience answers the question of what drives people to keep going despite all of life’s challenges. 

“The Jewish people have been resilient for millennia,” she said. “In our time, resilience now uniquely defines the congregation that Myers leads.”

Fuller Seminary’s Murphy to discuss history of soul in Christianity




What is “post” about postliberal theology? Nancey Murphy, with her late husband, wondered that at a conference with several lectures dedicated to the subject. 

“We realized these were philosophers who, in a sense, were redefining the questions that had plagued modern philosophy for 300 years,” she said. 

Modern philosophers believed there needed to be a solid foundation in order to build knowledge, she said. Then, she went on, the American philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine helped question that. 

Postmodern philosophers, like Quine, see knowledge more like a web or net in that it is all interconnected, she said. 

“When we’re dealing with knowledge problems, we’re never starting from nothing and building all the way from the ground up,” she said. 

Murphy, a senior professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, will present her lecture “We Are Our Souls: Multi-Aspect Monism in Christian Thought” at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 in the Amphitheater, the final Week Eight Interfaith Lecture themed “The Human Soul: Our Ineffable Mystery.”

Murphy has given over 200 lectures around the world, including in Iceland, South Africa, China, Australia, Russia and Iran. She has written and edited dozens of books and volumes. In 1992, she won the American Academy of Religion award for excellence for her first book, Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning.

She will use postmodern philosophy to tackle this week’s theme. One way to think of postmodern philosophy, she said, is language. 

The word “dog,” for example, is the familiar four-legged furry pet — this is simple, she said.

“What about when you get to abstract concepts?” she said. “What do they refer to? How do we get their meaning? The answer is not to think of the word over here on one side and language over there on the other.” 

It’s to recognize language itself as a part of our world. They are already interwoven. It’s not ever a problem of starting from scratch. … It’s a problem of finding words.”

For her lecture, Murphy said there will be overlap with Ori Soltes’ Interfaith Lecture from Monday (see Page 5).  

In the first section, she will discuss the soul in Christianity from Biblical times through the rest of the millennium. 

Biblical scholars believed the soul was not separate from the body, but rather a part of a whole person’s being, she said, making it a monistic viewpoint instead of dualistic. She will then discuss how this was later influenced by Greek philosophy, putting a dualistic lens on Christian teaching. 

Catholics were influenced by Aristotle, Murphy said, who believed plants and animals had souls which had similar aspects as a human soul. Plants provide the powers for growth and reproducing, and animals provide desires like thirst and emotions, she said. 

Protestants and Catholics carried on this teaching until the beginning of the 20th century, she said, when Biblical scholars realized the same word could have different interpretations by people who lived centuries apart, she said. They thought life after death meant bodily resurrection. 

Today, people question if humans even have souls.

“Do we actually need to have a soul to explain our abilities?” Murphy said. “Or is it just because we have such an incredibly complex, flexible brain in such complex cultures, with a long history of thinking in various ways?”

Her second section will answer the question of how humans started believing in an inner spirituality rather than bodies acting in the world, she said. 

Murphy will also discuss near-death experiences, like Interfaith Lecturer Bruce Greyson did on Tuesday, and whether that idea supports dualism. 

Postmodern philosophy may help dispel some mystery with the soul, she said. 

“The soul is only a mystery if you don’t know all the history,” Murphy said. “What is really the mystery is: What does it mean to be resurrected?”

University of Virginia scholar of near-death experiences Greyson to share findings from 50 years of research




Nobody knows what happens to us when we die, but Bruce Greyson, through research and observations spanning a half-century, may have a decent guess  at least of what happens right before death. 

Greyson’s March 2021 book, After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond, presents his findings from the last 50 years. It is also the focal point of his Interfaith Lecture at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17 in the Amphitheater, part of Week Eight’s theme, “The Human Soul: Our Ineffable Mystery.”

At first, Greyson was skeptical of any such experience. He had grown up in a scientific household with a materialistic, tangible perspective on the world.

“When I started my psychiatric training, I started meeting psychiatric patients who described to me things like leaving their bodies when they were close to death, and seeing things accurately from that perspective,” Greyson said. “That just made no sense to me at all. I assumed they were hallucinating.”

Then, Greyson’s colleague, Raymond A. Moody Jr., published Life After Life, which coined the term “near-death experiences.”

These stories sounded familiar to Greyson.

“I realized these stories I was hearing from my patients were a part of a huge phenomenon that’s occurring around the world,” he said. “That meant we should try to study them, not ignore them.”

Thus began his own personal exploration of near-death experiences. 

“The more cases I collected, the more unexplainable they seemed to me,” he said. “I started trying to make sense of them all. Fifty years later, I’m still trying to make sense of it.”

He knew one thing for certain: The materialistic mindset he grew up with and took to college was no longer plausible, at least in this endeavor. 

Among his discoveries over the years, a surprising one was the commonality of near-death experiences. About 5% of people have had one, he said, or about one in every 20 people. 

Another interesting discovery for him was these experiences had nothing to do with mental illness.

“They’re normal experiences that happen to normal people under unusual circumstances,” he said. 

Near-death experiences also suggest the mind and brain are two separate entities, he said. 

“We have people thinking more clearly than ever and seeing and forming memories when the brain is not capable of doing those things, when the brain is compromised,” he said. 

He wonders if this is still possible when the brain itself dies.

Now a professor emeritus of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the co-founder of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, Greyson hopes to give a sense of spiritual lessons people can learn from near-death experiences during his lecture.

Near-death experiences should teach people that they are not separate individuals, but rather a part of something greater, he said. 

“Therefore, we have some responsibility to treat each other kindly and to take care of each other, as well as the rest of the natural world,” he said. “That living life according to the golden rule makes our life much more meaningful and fulfilling.”

Georgetown professor, Chautauqua favorite Soltes on being ‘an eternal student,’ to open Interfaith Lecture Series on human soul




Often a speaker at Chautauqua’s Interfaith Lecture Series has one or two primary areas of expertise, or studies of interest. Not Ori Z. Soltes.

Soltes is a professor of theology, art history, philosophy and political history at Georgetown University. 

Over the course of his life, he has been asked by various institutions to teach courses outside of his comfort zone, he said, but he simply couldn’t say no to a physically, intellectually or emotionally challenging endeavor. 

Going back to his freshman year of college, Soltes remembers eagerly and passionately learning as much as he could.

“I felt like a kid let loose in a candy store,” he said. “There were all these things I hadn’t even thought about that I was interested in learning about. I was always taking seven or eight courses when the standard course load was four. … Fortunately, I have a lot of energy, so I could work without a lot of sleep.”

After a couple of years in school, Soltes said he had enough credit hours to graduate, but he stayed all four years. He still wasn’t satisfied.

“I felt like I still didn’t know anything,” he said. “I thought that if I went on to get a Ph.D. and become a professor, I could be an eternal student without the stigma attached to that phrase. The scam is they think they’re paying me to teach — but they’re really paying me to go on learning.”

Theology and philosophy have remained some of his strongest interests. He also teaches at Georgetown University’s Center for Jewish Civilization, is the former director of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum and he was theologian-in-residence at Chautauqua in 2007. 

Soltes returns to Chautauqua at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16 to present his lecture “What Are We? Three Early Visions and Versions of the Soul,” the opening Week Eight Interfaith Lecture Series themed “The Human Soul: An Ineffable Mystery.”

The soul, he said, is a universal idea. 

“There are so many different ways in which humans in different times and places have thought about the soul, and part of that relates to how and why in different times and places there are different forms of religion, different concepts of God, all ultimately rising from the same theories of issues and considerations of what it is we as a specific think and worry about,” he said.

People hold different beliefs based on a seemingly endless range of factors, he said. It can be based on topography and geography, the type of community where one grows up and one’s particular personality. 

“It’s a kaleidoscope of issues and ideas that over time and space we’ve come up with, but they can all be traced back to a singular series of concerns,” he said. 

Judaism and Christianity are good examples, he said, because they have several similarities but also some key differences. Recognizing those similarities, and especially differences, should not make one feel like their belief or knowledge is threatened, he said.

“In the end, what I believe and what you believe, we believe because we believe that,” he said. 

In math, two plus two equalling four is an indisputable subject, but topics like the soul and God goes beyond humans’ concrete understanding of the world, he said. 

“If I understand that, I cannot just be accepting, but be embracing of the fact that your perspective and mine are different without feeling that somehow means I’ve reduced my connection to my sense of those things,” he said. 

Once, Soltes was asked to teach a course on the Middle East, so he became interested in that region. He realized that the Arab-Israeli conflict, as it was billed to him, was an oversimplification, he said. 

The conflict is not just about Arabs and Israelis, he said, but the terminology is interesting, he said. In the 7th or 8th century, when Mohammad was alive, there were pagans, Jews and Christians, some of whom became Muslims, he said. 

Too often, he said, politicians, pundits and academics create this oversimplified narrative. 

“It’s a much more complex reality with a much, much longer history that I found myself framing than most of what I read about the region,” he said. 

Soltes is the type of person who can dig deeply into multiple projects and subjects at once, he said. When he is feeling strained by one, instead of taking a break and having nothing else to do, he refocuses on another project. Eventually, he comes back to the original feeling refreshed.

As a professor, he loves seeing the “a-ha” moments from students and hearing the questions they ask. He can get the same feeling from a public lecture, too, he said. 

Eventually, for some topics, he felt certain things weren’t being said — ideas he wanted to share. So, he began writing books. He has now authored over 280 books, articles, exhibition catalogues and essays. 

Despite his lecture billed at three visions, he said he will actually discuss four. 

Soltes will begin with the ancient Egyptians and describe what went on in that period, then translating that to the first two chapters of Genesis, he said. That will be followed by how people like Socrates and Plato thought about the soul. Lastly, he will look at religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.

Humans have always seen themselves as beings with a soul, not just compared with rocks and plants, but against other animals, too, he said. Ideas of the self may help explain why that is, he said. 

“What I want people to come away with, in essence, is (that) the soul is a large part of what we think we are,” he said. “I want people to come away with a sense of commonality, diversity and, I guess above all, humility.”

‘New York Times’ opinion columnist Ross Douthat hopes to find middle ground in economic discussion




Ross Douthat understands his unique role as a conservative opinion columnist at The New York Times.

“Our readership, as you may have heard, is somewhat liberal,” he said. “I think I have a somewhat distinctive role where I’m, more than a lot of columnists, writing for people who tend to disagree with me somewhat.”

Douthat said he expects a similar situation at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11 in the Amphitheater when he will present his lecture “Secularism and Stagnation: How Our Economy Became Decadent,” because he suspects most of his audience will be politically left-leaning.

But Douthat will still ask everyone from both sides of the political spectrum to find middle ground. 

Giving the last Week Seven Interfaith Lecture themed “Creating an Economy that Works for All,” Douthat said he will explain how decadence, a focal point in his 2020 book, The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success, means economic, cultural and political stagnation. 

Moreover, he will talk about how this stagnation manifests itself in the economy, and how problems like declining birth rates in developed countries or the opioid epidemic are connected between the economy, culture and politics. 

At the Times, Douthat writes two columns each week, typically about politics, religion, moral values and higher education. His recent columns include “How Strong Is Trump’s Grip on the G.O.P?” “The Ungovernable Catholic Church,” and “How to Reach the Unvaccinated.”

“I see part of my job as trying to find a certain amount of common ground in our extremely polarized era,” he said. “Part of my job is to sort of challenge my readers’ preconceptions about the nature of the world.”

In his forthcoming book, The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery, Douthat details his six-year-long battle with a chronic form of lyme disease, an illness caused by certain types of ticks. 

“Most people get better with a couple courses of antibiotics, and some highly debated percentages of people don’t get better,” he said. “There’s a huge debate within American medicine about what this means — whether people who don’t get better are still sick with lyme disease, or whether they have some sort of post-treatment syndrome that isn’t directly connected to an infection.”

Although he focused on lyme disease in the memoir, he hopes it adds to a larger discussion about mysterious long-term symptoms, particularly with those associated with COVID-19.

That book will be released in October.

The pandemic has also caused a strange period in economic policymaking, he said.

“Because of COVID, we’ve done all kinds of things we’ve never done before,” he said, “like shut down the entire economy, and spend enormous sums of money paying people not to work for extended periods of time.”

Douthat thinks there is a narrative among Democrats and left-leaning people that the U.S. has just experienced another Gilded Age, where the rich have gotten richer and others have struggled. 

“Therefore, (they think) a lot of our problems can be simply solved by redistributing wealth from the super-rich to the rest of society,” he said. “I think there is a palace for certain kinds of redistribution, but I’m hoping to convince people that our problems are more about stagnation than they are about wild, out-of-control growth.”

Issues with inequality might be better addressed with a more dynamic economy, he said, while noting he doesn’t have an exact answer on how to achieve that, though he doesn’t think anyone is entirely sure.

Both the right and the left tend to associate issues with either social, cultural or economic trends. Douthat will instead argue that these are all associated with one another.

“There’s a tendency on both the right and the left to only take one side of the story — so if something is wrong in American society, the right blames the culture and the left blames the economy,” he said. “Actually, they’re usually bound together in this way where you have to see the problem in both senses in order to get closer to solutions.”

Fewer Americans marrying or having as many kids is one example of this, he said. The right might argue it’s an issue with individualism and the breakdown of traditional values, while the left might argue people can’t afford to have kids, he said.

“I’d like everyone to consider the possibility that both things could be true,” he said. 

Political economy professor Benjamin Friedman to discuss religion’s understated influence in the economy

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In 1972, Benjamin Friedman walked into Harvard University for his first year of teaching. This upcoming school year, he will walk into Harvard again for his 50th year of teaching, now as the William Joseph Maier Professor of Political Economy. 

He’s spent even more time at Harvard, though — he received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in economics there. 

“I am very aware of what an extraordinary privilege it has been to spend my entire academic career at an institution where I have such amazingly talented and energetic colleagues,” Friedman said, “and also such a splendid group of interesting, energetic and also very talented students.”

In his time, he’s written over a dozen books and more than 150 articles in professional journals. Of his writings, he’s published a few books for the general public, including Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, released this past January. 

Friedman will present his lecture based on and named after this book at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10 in the Amphitheater. It is part of Week Seven’s Interfaith Lecture Series themed “Creating an Economy that Works for All.”

Over the last half-century at Harvard, Friedman said he’s noticed a positive shift in the types of students who come to the university.

“The students are enormously more energetic and talented than they were 50 years ago,” he said, referring especially to undergraduates.

 He is not 100% sure why that is the case, but he has a few theories. One of those is that students are simply better today than they were before.

Another possibility is Harvard’s more diverse pool of students, he said. When he was an undergraduate student, he said most students came from schools in New York or New England, particularly prep schools.

“That percentage is way down, and it’s matched by an increase in the number of people from elsewhere in the United States and elsewhere in the world,” he said. “I think the reach of the college in terms of the kinds of people it attracts is much greater now.”

Moreover, Harvard has a gigantic pool of applicants with little room to swim. He estimated around 50,000 students apply each year, and only around 1,650 are accepted, meaning an average of around 3% of applicants are accepted.  

Friedman’s two other books for a general audience are The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth (2005) and Day of Reckoning: The Consequences of American Economic Policy Under Reagan and After (1988). 

His 2021 book is a history of ideas, he said, whereas his last book was about the interaction of economics with social and political history.

“Importantly, in this (new) book, it turned out that the role of religious thinking was not just powerful, but central in the emergence and subsequent evolution of economic ideas that I was exploring,” he said. 

Although he mentioned religion and religious thinking in his previous books, it did not have as much of a spotlight as it does in this newest one. 

Additionally, he covers a wider range of history in his new book, exploring the timeline from the Bible through the New Testament, to the early church fathers, the Reformation, the evolution of religious history, the 18th century and to the present day, he said. In his last book, his earliest data was from the early 1800s, he said. 

“The book comes right up so the last chapter very frontally addresses the role of religious thinking in our current day debate on economics and economic policy in the political sphere in the United States,” he said. 

Friedman did not get data from the 2020 election when he was finishing the book, but does have data up to the 2016 election, he said. 

For his lecture, he wants to highlight religion’s influence on the economy.

“The unifying theme is that religious thinking has been a very powerful influence on the early development of and subsequent evolution of economic thinking, right from the beginning of modern economics,” he said. 

The common narrative, he said, was modern, Western economics is based on the Enlightenment, and that he agreed. 

“But then people normally go on from there to conclude that because the Enlightenment was not about religion. … If anything the Enlightenment is seen as a movement away from religion, therefore people conclude that the development of economics in our modern sense has nothing to do with religion,” he said. 

Friedman hopes he disproved this idea in his book, and will argue why in today’s lecture.

Looking at modern day, he still sees a significant religious influence on the economy, especially in the United States, and he will also discuss that.

“Religious thinking has been and continues to be very important,” he said, “even in this realm where it’s normally not taken to be important.”

International lecturer, award-winning author Sr. Joan Chittister to open Week Seven Interfaith Series on equitable economy




Sr. Joan Chittister is set to return to Chautauqua at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 9 in the Amphitheater.

“Sr. Joan has been a blessing for Chautauqua for over 35 years, and she is so beloved here,” said Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno. “She is one of only a few who receive a standing ovation just for walking out onto the stage.”

Opening Week Seven’s Interfaith Lecture Series themed “Creating an Economy that Works for All,” Chittister will present her lecture “To Exist, A Society Based on Money Needs a Population Based on Heart.” Chittister is a Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania. Her awards, distinctions and titles are seemingly countless. 

“For 50 years, she has passionately advocated on behalf of peace, human rights, women’s issues and church renewals,” according to her website

“A much sought-after speaker, counselor and clear voice that bridges all religions, she is also a best-selling author of more than 60 books, hundreds of articles and an online column for the National Catholic Reporter,” her bio reads.

She has won numerous awards for her works, including 16 Catholic Press Association awards. Her latest release, 2019’s The Time Is Now: A Call for Uncommon Courage, will soon be followed by The Monastic Heart: 50 Simple Practices for a Contemplative and Fulfilling Life, set to release on Sept. 21.

“The activist, nun, and esteemed spiritual voice who has twice appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday (in 2015 and 2019) sounds the call to create a monastery within ourselves — to cultivate wisdom and resilience so that we may join God in the work of renewal, restoration, and justice right where we are,” reads the book’s synopsis by Penguin Random House.

Chittister is a founding member of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, which is partnered with the United Nations. Last year, Chittister’s Interfaith Lecture, held on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, was during a week on feminism, and her lecture was titled “A Woman’s Life: A Good Event/Bad Event World.”

Her name is etched in Erie’s history, too. The Joan Chittister Lecture Series began in 2014 at Mercyhurst University in Erie, along with the founding of the Helen Boyle Memorial Archive in Honor of Joan D. Chittister, according to her website. She was the prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie for 12 years. She received her master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and her doctorate from Pennsylvania State University for speech communications theory. In 1996, she was an elected fellow at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge University. 

Rovegno said that Chittister is the perfect keynote speaker for this week’s theme. 

“The Benedictine spirituality has shaped her life and work with a deeply compassionate heart that cares for others in all ways — spiritual, physical and material,” Rovegno said. “Sr. Joan is a pragmatist who has never failed to speak truth to power.”

Chittister understands the world’s culture is centered around materiality, Rovegno said.

“Her lecture title,” Rovegno said, “… arises from her lifelong work of proclaiming, in her own inimitable style and power, a preferential option for the poor.”

Homeboy Industries’ Jose Arellano and Steve Avalos to discuss life stories, from gangs to mentors, humanizing people in Interfaith Lecture




Sometimes, the mere presence of Jose Arellano and Steve Avalos is enough to impact someone’s life. 

While in Chautauqua this week, Arellano said a neighbor introduced himself. The man grew up in a predominantly white community as a person of color and had been coming to Chautauqua for around a decade. Just seeing Arellano and Avalos on the grounds impacted the man’s life.

This gives Arellano and Avalos the inspiration to go back to Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation and reentry program in the world, where they are co-directors of case management and navigation.

The Homeboys will take the Amphitheater stage at 1 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5 for their lecture “The Power of Empathy: Live It or Create it.” It is the final Week Six Interfaith Lecture themed “Building a Culture of Empathy.”

Before becoming Homeboy “navigators” — who help “trainees” by assisting with the transition out of the gang lifestyle and culture — Arellano and Avalos were trainees themselves.

Arellano’s family was in gang culture. Despite excelling at school, Arellano got involved with a gang by age 12. Three years later, he was in jail for the first time. 

Arellano said there was always someone to give him hope even in the darkest times, including when he was facing a life sentence in prison.

“I had given up,” Arellano said. “I felt it in my soul, like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ and I remember I couldn’t even get out of bed, I couldn’t eat.”

His cellmate was an older man from Pakistan. 

“I remember he tapped my bunk one day, and he said to me, ‘I can’t sit by and watch you do this to yourself,’ ” Arellano said. “I got up and said, ‘Watch me do what to myself?’ He said, ‘Watch you go through what you’re going through. You know what your problem is? You don’t keep your mind and your body in the same place. Your body is in here, but your mind is out there. If you keep your mind and your body in the same place, you will have perfect peace.’ ”


That changed his life. 

“I said, ‘Damn, how even in this dingy cell do I get blessed with this human being that in one of my most hopeless states, he was able to infuse hope in me?’ ” Arellano said. “That’s been the story of my life.”

Arellano and Avalos met about eight years ago, working through the program in Los Angeles separately. 

“We both had separate roles in the organization early on, and just kind of seeing him and where he was at, he walked it, he talked it, so I always found inspiration from him, but we never really talked much,” Arellano said.

At Homeboy Industries, problem-solving as navigators is a complicated and complex task. 

“It’s complex trauma, so it can’t just be so simple a solution sometimes,” Arellano said. “We really have to assess every situation because we’re dealing with people’s lives. Human beings, we’re complicated, and our population, they come from extreme trauma and poverty and some of the stuff they go through on the daily and some of the stuff they’ve been through is very complicated. There’s a lot of layers to it.”

Avalos said his relationship with Arellano has strengthened from working together with trainees, leadership and sitting in counsel. 

“A lot of times we disagree and then we come to a middle. It’s good,” Avalos said. “Sometimes, I don’t see it his way until the end, and sometimes I do. It’s one of those relationships, but we know our intentions.”

Ultimately, both want an intentional process while working with trainees.

“We don’t want to just make decisions rapidly,” Arellano said. “We want to talk through every process with the individual. We want to be sure they feel seen, that they feel heard and they have a part in their transformation, as well.”

Avalos loves the work he does at Homeboy, and he feels more drained when he isn’t working. He doesn’t even see it as work, he said.

“You see a lot of gang members or people you would maybe avoid, or walk on the other side of the street, and then you realize how kind and compassionate they are — and when they’re not, it’s because they’re broken,” Avalos said. “When you start to see those things, that changes everything.”

Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno compared the Homeboys’ story to that of Tuesday’s speaker, Edgar Rodriguez, the pastor and police chief from Moville, Iowa.

“Their stories are the rest of the story, where we’ve got the chief of police who does this compassionate policing, and Jose and Steve have both been recipients of that compassion,” she said. “Homeboy Industries walks the talk of caring and compassion in the way we wish every organization, every church, every company and every community would live and be and do.”

The two will take turns sharing their stories and wisdom at today’s lecture, she said. 

When someone makes a wrong decision, people tend to dehumanize them, unless it’s their child or someone they are close to, Avalos said. He wants that same perspective applied to everyone, even strangers. 

Experiences shape people, Arellano said, so finding one positive experience or relationship in a sea of negative experiences can change someone’s life. 

“It will reshape the way you see yourself, and it will help reshape the way you see the world,” he said.

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