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Artists from Three Different Faiths Promote Respect for All

by Brenda Suderman
from Winnipeg Free Press

For 11-year-old Camryn Kangas, compassion is as simple as being friendly to her classmates, and as involved as caring about people who are completely different from her.

“It’s a really big part of life, and you really need compassion in the world for people to be equal and get along with each other,” explains the Grade 6 student at St. John Brebeuf School.

In addition to that eloquent explanation, Camryn and her classmates at the Roman Catholic elementary school in River Heights are dancing, singing, chanting and even rapping their feelings and thoughts about compassion.

With the help of their teachers, the dozen grade 5 and 6 girls created a five-minute mini-musical about compassion, based on a poem by Winnipeg artist Manju Lodha.

“It reaches the soul of the listener,” Lodha says of the mini-musical, which includes a rap about human rights.

“I only put the words to it, and the students invoked the life in my words through their talents and the directions of their teachers.”

Lodha and fellow Winnipeg artists Isam Aboud and Ray Dirks spent the last two months leading workshops on compassion in eight Winnipeg public and independent schools for a project sponsored by the Manitoba Multifaith Council.

Called the Art of Compassion, the project culminates with a week-long student art exhibit, which opens 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 1 at Canadian Mennonite University, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd., and features the St. John Brebeuf students and Hindu dancers.

Since 2007, the three artists, representing three different faith traditions — Hinduism, Islam and Christianity — have led workshops for schoolchildren and adults on topics such as multiculturalism, respect and more recently, compassion.

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Karen Armstrong: Prejudices Will Be Shaken by This Show

By Karen Armstrong
From the Guardian

Ever since the Crusades, when Christians from western Europe were fighting holy wars against Muslims in the near east, western people have often perceived Islam as a violent and intolerant faith – even though when this prejudice took root Islam had a better record of tolerance than Christianity. Recent terrorist atrocities have seemed to confirm this received idea. But if we want a peaceful world, we urgently need a more balanced view. We cannot hope to win the “battle for hearts and minds” unless we know what is actually in them. Nor can we expect Muslims to be impressed by our liberal values if they see us succumbing unquestioningly to a medieval prejudice born in a time of extreme Christian belligerence.

Like Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and secularists, some Muslims have undoubtedly been violent and intolerant, but the new exhibition at the British Museum – Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam – is a timely reminder that this is not the whole story. The hajj is one of the five essential practices of Islam; when they make the pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslims ritually act out the central principles of their faith. Equating religion with “belief” is a modern western aberration. Like swimming or driving, religious knowledge is practically acquired. You learn only by doing. The ancient rituals of the hajj, which Arabs performed for centuries before Islam, have helped pilgrims to form habits of heart and mind that – pace the western stereotype – are non-violent and inclusive.

In the holy city of Mecca, violence of any kind was forbidden. From the moment they left home, pilgrims were not permitted to carry weapons, to swat an insect or speak an angry word, a discipline that introduced them to a new way of living. At a climactic moment of his prophetic career, Muhammad drew on this tradition. Fleeing persecution in Mecca in 622, he and the Muslim community (the umma) had migrated to Medina, 250 miles to the north. Mecca was determined to destroy the umma and a bitter conflict ensued. But eventually Muhammad broke the deadly cycle of warfare with an audacious non-violent initiative.

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Dalai Lama visit inspires interfaith art project

Roman Catholics decorate star and crescent of Islam for Dalai Lama's visit

Roman Catholics decorate star and crescent of Islam for Dalai Lama's visit

The Dalai Lama’s message of compassion long has transcended Tibetan Buddhism and enchanted people of all faiths — and no faith.

It’s an ethos that blends spirituality with humanism and logic, common ground on which most religious traditions tend to agree.

This weekend, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th dalai lama and spiritual leader of troubled Tibet, will bring tidings to Chicago that address religious tensions head on and prescribe what it takes to ease them.

The anticipation of his arrival inspired a dozen religious communities to undertake an unusual artistic endeavor that will provide the backdrop to the Dalai Lama’s appearance Sunday on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Framing the Dalai Lama on stage will be a dozen towering religious icons created by artists of other traditions. Roman Catholics decorated a star and crescent of Islam. Native Americans created the nine-pointed star of the Baha’i faith. An African-American Protestant congregation on the South Side incorporated the design of the 4,000-year-old symbol of Zoroastrianism, a tradition some didn’t know existed before the project.

“It’s an amazing show of support and unity that different people of different faiths actually came together,” said Nina Norris, a member of St. Matthias Catholic Church in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. “The fact that it’s guided under the Dalai Lama is maybe the only way it could happen.”

Invited by the Theosophical Society in America, the group that hosted the monk’s first visit to the Chicago area in 1981, the Dalai Lama will present a public talk Sunday at the UIC Pavilion.

On Monday morning at downtown’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance, he will join a rabbi, a pastor and a Muslim scholar for a panel discussion titled “Building Bridges: Religious Leaders in Conversation with the Dalai Lama.” The panel will be moderated by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core.

Tim Boyd, president of the Theosophical Society in America, which is based in Wheaton, said the Dalai Lama thought for three seconds before he accepted his invitation during a private audience last year. After all, it was his introduction to the Theosophical Society in India 55 years ago that opened his eyes to the plethora of world religions beyond his own, Boyd said.

“It was the first time he had met people who believed there was value in the religions of the world and there was a certain essence they all shared,” Boyd said. “At that time, he was a 21-year-old monk. To him, Buddhism was all that he knew and all that he thought was appropriate. After that meeting, he left there a changed man.”

Sacred music in Manchester: beyond belief

by Riazat Butt for the Guardian

In the back room of a Manchester church, a woman fishes a stereo and some CDs out of a carrier bag . As the evening sun streams through the frosted windows, choir leader Jacqui Allen calls to order the dozen people exchanging small talk around her. Then something extraordinary happens. The choir sings gospel songs such as Face to Face and Joyous in a way that makes the spine tingle, the heart soar and the tummy flip. The same thing happens at its rehearsals every week, but this one is different. The choir of the New Testament Church of God is preparing for its biggest appearance to date – alongside US gospel singer Candi Staton – for the Sacred Sites arm of the festival, which puts international performers in places of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim worship across the city. “I feel very privileged, motivated and encouraged to know the festival is not an in-house event,” says Diane Plummer, a choir member since its inception five years ago. “It will bring the community into a place they don’t normally go.” Fellow singer and parishioner Cory Bernard says the choir has “never done anything like this before. I don’t know what people expect. There are lots of stereotypes about gospel choirs. I think they will hear passion and something different.” The church noticeboard testifies to the event’s popularity, with three pages’ worth of congregants requesting tickets for friends and family.

Staton says that the difference between playing a concert and singing in a church comes down to the atmosphere. “When people come to church, it’s about praise, worship and reverence,” she says down the phone from Atlanta, where she is rehearsing with her band, which is joining her in Manchester. “When people come to a concert, they come to party. For me, I’ve done the secular and sacred. But I am very excited about being part of this.” Staton began her career in the 50s with the Jewel Gospel Trio. She gained mainstream success in the 70s, then returned to her gospel roots in 1982. While the audience at the New Testament Church of God won’t hear her 1976 hit Young Hearts Run Free, she will perform her other smash, You Got the Love, as she says it’s “an inspirational song.”

For festival director Alex Poots Sacred Sites is a way to explore how God is celebrated through the arts. “We’re interested in experimental theatre and offering the chance to witness performances in the most resonant setting. It shouldn’t be something you could see last week.” Poots was inspired by the US theatre director Peter Sellars, who told him there was a network of faith in every city. “Sellars said you could look at a city and it was a grid of sacred sites. That term stuck in my mind.”

Poots originally planned to do Sacred Sites for the inaugaral festival in 2007, but couldn’t make it work in tiome. “One of the earliest sensitivities was going into a situation and asking a stupid question. I wanted to do it with integrity and respect, I wanted there to be dialogue. It’s not a religious service but there are religious aspects to it.”…

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A Spiritual Reflection on Hiroshima, 65 Years Later

From The Washington Post

By Jane Smith Bernhardt

On August 7th, the Hiroshima International House in Japan will offer an exhibit of my colorful collage portraits of Atomic Bomb survivors as they mark the 65th anniversary of the first atomic blast over a civilian population. For me, the honor is poignant. It might be argued that I owe my life to the bomb. By August of 1945, my father, a Naval Lieutenant Commander, had already survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and a Kamikaze suicide bomber’s nosedive into the smokestack of his destroyer. With the prospect of a US invasion of mainland Japan, what other perils awaited him in the Pacific theatre of war?

When I spoke with my father about my intention to travel to Japan in 2003 to interview and paint portraits of survivors, he was unusually quiet. My artistic callings were ordinarily met with more enthusiasm. Twenty years earlier, my father supported my travel to the Soviet Union to render charcoal portraits of “enemy” faces. Years later – after Glasnost – he confided that he felt we’d had some small part in ending the Cold War. The Second World War was not the same. There he had anxiously scanned the ocean’s horizons for so long, and had seen so much that a man of honor does not tell….

I deeply respect my father’s heroism and his discipline. But today the world is very different. The new superpower that forced the Japanese surrender now possesses an arsenal of over 5,000 nuclear weapons, and children all over the world must grapple with the tragic notion of “mutually assured destruction.” The need for human evolution beyond the barbaric frontier of physical warfare is obvious and vital.

I try to do my small part with the language I’ve been given: Art. As the daughter and grand-daughter of portrait artists I have always been intrigued by the challenge of rendering three-dimensional reality on a flat surface. Beyond that is the magic of the human spirit: How can one hope to convey that with brush or pencil? After debating mega-tonnage of overkill with advocates of nuclear weaponry during the Cold War, I was struck by an inspiring notion: Bring home the human spirit of the “enemy.”. Let people gaze at the face and absorb the soul of this “other” who looks like my sister, my son, my mother. My exhibit “Faces of the Faceless” became the model for three subsequent collections, because it worked. Instead of an intellectual debate, these renderings did what art can do: they moved the hearts of viewers. An internal conversion could take place wherein “the other” became intimate and personal.

In a sense, Hiroshima was the ultimate calling for my combination of portraiture and peacemaking. Here were the victims who had journeyed to the land of the unthinkable and lived to tell their story.

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August 6th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

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Esperanza (Hope) in Guadalajara

The Fundación Carpe Diem, Fundación Ética Mundial de México, Centro de Estudios Filosóficos Tomás de Aquino and Fundación Cultural Hombre y Mundo will be hosting a Pre-Parliament Event titled “Esperanza: Oportunidades del Pluralismo Religioso y Espiritual” (Hope: Opportunities for Religious and Spiritual Pluralism).  The event will take place on October 21st and 22nd and will include conferences, art and film, round table discussions and more. For more information, click here.

Building Bridges in Melbourne

The Building Bridges initiative will host a Pre-Parliament Event titled “Building Bridges through Interfaith Dialogue in Schools” this upcoming Monday, October 12th.  At the event, students involved with the Building Bridges program will share the experience of interfaith engagement through story, song and art.  Rap artist Jason Shulman will also perform.  For more information, click here.