Monday, 29 February 2016

Religious literacy needed at your place? That marvellous education institution, HARVARD, is giving a free online class!

Retweeted HuffPost Religion (@HuffPostRelig):.@Harvard is launching a free online class to promote religious literacy
Posted by Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable on Saturday, 27 February 2016

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Harmony Week 2016 Events

So much is happening on the Interfaith Calendar
as readers will see set out below.  
Perhaps because this week is Harmony Week and Passover and Easter 
are coming up ... so here is a list for you:

One Day Tantra Conference: MELA Interfaith Group

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The MELA Interfaith Group in association with Janssen Spirituality Centre invite you to:
One Day Tantra Conference | Themes:
'Well-being of the woman, well-being of the cosmos.'
'Ageing, spirituality and sexuality – an oxymoron?'

Date: Saturday 16 April 2016       Time: 8:30am to 5pm
Location: Janssen Spirituality Centre, 22 Woodvale Road Boronia Vic, 3155

The aim of Tantra is to reach the freedom that arises from the union of opposites, light and darkness, male and female, beauty and horror, strength and weakness. This paradoxical path leads most effectively to the highest state.
Due to many requests after a very successful Tantra Conference last November 2015, we are conducting a couple of one-day conferences leading up to a full Conference on 3-4 December 2016.
Guest Speakers:
Merav Carmeli was born is Israel. She has a BA and MA in Bible and Jewish Studies from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She is now working on her Phd which focuses on the Zohar (the most important work of the classical Kabbalah from the 13th century) and specifically on the centrality of the Divine Feminine in this composition. She has taught Jewish Studies and Jewish Mysticism at the adult education program of Monash University through the ACJC, at universities in Israel and at other institutions. For the last 12 years she has analysed the available Zohar manuscripts (from the 14th-16th centuries) as part of the Pritzker Zohar Project (a critical translation into English of the Zohar, Stanford University Press). She is now an Adjunct Research Associate at Monash University. Merav has published a few academic articles and she is the co-editor of two volumes on the Zohar. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and three children.

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. He has a doctorate in Sanskrit, specialising in Kashmir Shaivism and is particularly interested in its interface with Christianity. He is Honorary Fellow in the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University with special involvement in interfaith relations, and senior-lecturer and co-ordinator of the Graduate Certificate in Guiding Meditation at MCD University of Divinity. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese, and member of the executive of the School of Prayer within the Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation. He travels to India each year, and lives in an interfaith ashram. His book: Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka was published in 2003; Jesus, the Mantra of God, in 2005; and Vers un Tantra Chrétien in 2009 (translated as Towards a Christian Tantra). He has written many articles in these fields.

Cost: $45   Enrolments: by 31 March 2016 

More information: 
Email: | Mobile: 0417 560 0870

8.30am registration
09.00am presentation by Merav Carmeli:
'I will explore the idea that attending to the sexual and emotional wellbeing of the human woman and the Goddess is the key to personal and cosmic salvation. We will read texts from the Kabbalah of the Zohar and compare them to texts from Kashmir Shaivism and Hildegard from Bingen.'

10.00am morning tea.
10.30am workshop on material provided by Merav.
11.30am general discussion on outcome of workshop and further investigation of the topic.
12.15pm pause
12.30pm lunch (vegetarian)
1.30pm presentation by John Dupuche on:
Tantra in the third age of life: The paradoxical topic of ageing, spirituality and sexuality will be broached from a tantric perspective, drawing on themes from Christianity and Kashmir Shaivism.

2.30pm elaboration on the tantric dimension of the Mass.
3.15pm afternoon tea
3.45pm workshop on material supplied by John
4.30pm general discussion and resumé
5.00pm close

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Art of Peace Dinner: Kingston Interfaith Network

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The Kingston Interfaith Network invites you to:
Interfaith Art of Peace Dinner | Harmony Week 2016
Date: Wednesday 23 March 2016     Time: 7pm to 9pm
Location: Southern Community Church of Christ, 2/12 Chesterville Rd, Cheltenham
Guest Speaker William Kelly OAM, artist and peace activist will feature at this night of multicultural food and entertainment and lead a discussion on Art of Peace.
More about the speaker: William Kelly was born in New York City. William is a writer, painter, printmaker and peace activist. William is a recipient of the prestigious "Courage of Conscience Award" from the Peace Abby in America and the only visual artist to receive an Australian Violence Prevention Award from the Prime Minister and heads of Australian Government.

All welcome.
Bookings essential: | 03 9581 4734

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Inspiration in Diversity - The Shifting Sands of Spiritual Care: Spiritual Care Australia

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Spiritual Care Australia invites you to a national conference on:
Inspiration in Diversity - The Shifting Sands of Spiritual Care
Date: Sunday 1 May to Wednesday 4 May 2016
Location: Bayview on the Park, 52 Queens Road, Melbourne
The Spiritual Care Australia Conference Committee looks forward to welcoming you to the SCA Conference 2016! Around the theme of “Inspiration in Diversity”, we are planning a conference that we hope will stretch all of us in our understanding of “the other” and deepen our understanding of “the self”. There will be stories from people of other faiths – people of other racial background – people whose life’s journey has taken them places different and similar to your own.  With the sub-theme of “The shifting sands of spiritual care”, we will explore those things that are changing – and those things that stay the same.  There will be workshops on practical subjects and seminars and papers sessions to stretch us.  We will have ways for you to engage your heart and soul in ritual, and ways to engage with your colleagues over meals. Whatever your religious tradition, your field of chaplaincy, your age or your level of experience, we believe there will be something for you at Melbourne 2016.
For more information on the Conference program please see attached flyer
Cost:  Early Bird Rate   |  Member $550  |  Non Member $650  |  Single Day $250 (Early Bird Rate closes 29 February)
Online registration, click here.
For all queries, please contact the Spiritual Care Australia Office:
Phone: 03 9895 4447  |  Email:

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Faith Community Inclusion Forum: Inclusion Designlab

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Inclusion Designlab invites you to:
Faith Community Inclusion Forum
Encouraging greater participation of people with disability in their chosen faith
Date: Wednesday 23 March 2016      Time: 2pm to 4pm
Location: 67 Sutherland Rd, Armadale 3143
You are invited to an innovative dialogue between faith communities, disability support organisations, families and advocates.
Inclusion Designlab is conducting a short community forum that aims to demystify the roles of disability support organisations and faith communities in encouraging greater participation of people with intellectual disability in their chosen faith. This forum is being conducted as part of a faith participation and community inclusion project conducted by Inclusion Melbourne. A 12 month trial has been conducted, with the intention of connecting and including people with an intellectual disability with their chosen faith community.
The topics that will be discussed include:
  • Staff as facilitators of Faith Inclusion
  • Risk perception
  • Faith vs Spirituality vs Meaning vs Faith community
  • Is there a model to support people with disability in faith communities?
  • Navigating cultural traditions
  • Buy-in from family, friends and advocates
  • Genuine welcome in the community
  • What are good outcomes? What is good support?
Why do we want your input?
  • Your expertise and opinion in supporting people with intellectual disability to access places of worship.
  • You are the expert. Through collaborating with you we hope to create a valuable resource that will assist all faith communities and disability service providers to navigate the process of supporting a person to be included in a faith community.
RSVP: 18 March 2016
Contact: Alice Nicholas or Nathan Despott | 03 9509 4266 | |

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 Places of Worship Bus Tour: Brimbank and Maribyrnong Interfaith Network

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The Brimbank and Maribyrnong Interfaith Network invites you to:
Places of Worship Bus Tour  (Western Region of Melbourne) | Cultural Diversity Week 2016
Date: Friday, 4 March 2016       Time: 9am to 4pm
Location: 9am – Meet at Maribyrnong City Council located at 67 Hyde St, Footscray.
9:20am – Meet at Brimbank City Council located at 6-18 Alexandra Avenue, Sunshine
Finish at approximately 4pm – Drop off at pick up point.
As part of Cultural Diversity Week 2016, the Brimbank Maribyrnong Interfaith Network invites you to join us on the following tour. This is an opportunity to witness the religious and cultural diversity in the western region of Melbourne.

The tour will visit:
  • Sunshine Mosque, Sunshine
  • Sikh Temple, Hoppers Crossing
  • Quang Minh Buddhist Temple, Braybrook
Please wear comfortable shoes and modest clothing covering thighs and shoulders. Please Note: You may be asked to remove your shoes or cover your head to enter some areas of worship.
Light lunch and refreshments will be provided. This is a no cost community event but registration is essential. Limited spaces. All welcome to attend.
Register online or call 03 9688 0342. For more information about the Brimbank & Maribyrnong Interfaith Network and other events visit

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Harmony Day: Frankston Interfaith Network

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The Frankston Interfaith Network would like to invite you to:
Harmony Day | Understanding the range of beliefs, practices and traditions within faiths
Date: Sunday 20 March 2016       Time: 2 to 4pm 
Location: Cube 37, 37 Davey Street Frankston

Across Christianity, Islam and Judaism, groups range in practice and beliefs. Come along to find out more about the variety within these religions from approachable and learned speakers.

We offer this afternoon as a chance to listen, learn and deepen our understanding of the range of beliefs, practices and traditions within faiths.

This is a free event.
RSVP essential: 17 March 2017  
Contact: 03 9784 1851 |

Proudly Supported by Frankston City Council and State Government Victoria.

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World Interfaith Harmony Week 2016: The Interfaith Centre of Melbourne

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The Interfaith Centre of Melbourne together with 17 interfaith and other organisations invite you to:
#I'll Dine With You | World Interfaith Harmony Week 2016
Date: Monday 29 February 2016   Time: 6:00pm (registration), 6:30pm-9pm (dinner)
Location: City Square, corner of Swanston Street & Collins Street

Be a part of the #IllDineWithYou interfaith and intercultural open-air dining experience and actively support our vibrant diverse communities. Enjoy an inspirational evening along our spectacular eighty metre dining table in the heart of Melbourne. Do what Melbournians do best and connect with people through great conversation with food!

Three course vegetarian meal. Includes entertainment and special guests. No alcohol.

Registration starts at 6pm | Dinner 6:30pm to 9pm

Tickets: $25 - $20 Students/Concession

Bookings: Click here 
More information: | (03) 9650 7163 | Mobile: 0400 228 146

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Multi-Faith Service: Hume Interfaith Network

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Hume Interfaith Network invites you to:
Multi-Faith Service
Date: Tuesday 8 March 2016     Time: 5:30pm to 7pm
Location: Broadmeadows Town Hall, 1079 Pascoe Vale Road, Broadmeadows
This event will give you an insight into the different faiths that represent Hume City and celebrate our strength in diversity.
This event is supported by Hume City Council.

Women's Interfaith Model Passover Seder: National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (Vic)

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The National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (Victoria) would like to invite you to:
Women's Interfaith Model Passover Seder (Women Only Event)
Date: Monday 4 April 2016      Time: 6pm to 9pm
Location: The Eva Besen Centre, 131-133 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield North
Speakers: Rabbi Allison RH Conyer
This year's theme - Bring a relative or friend!
Learn about the traditions and customs of this eight-day festival which commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Includes a specially prepared ‘Seder’ type meal, take home booklet and packet of matzah We are encouraging participants to bring a friend or relative from the same or different faith with whom to share this experience.
About the speaker: Rabbi Allison Conyer of the Etz Chayim Progressive Synagogue in Bentleigh will be facilitating the seder. She brings with her a passion for the Jewish faith and a wealth of experience in interfaith dialogue both here and in the US.
Please Note: This is a Women only event.
Cost: $25 Kosher Vegetarian meal served
Click here for Registration.

More information: Phone: (03) 9044 5401
The event is partnered with United Jewish Education Board and supported by the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

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The rights of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim majority communities : The Marrakesh Declaration

Recently, in order to examine more deeply what entails the rights of religious minorities in Muslim lands, both in theory and practice, His Highness, King Muhammad VI of Morocco, called a conference in Marrakesh in the Kingdom of Morocco.  The result of this conference is the Marrakesh Declaration.  It is a two page document which is embedded in this post and can be read here on line (there is a side-bar to scroll down) and/or it can be downloaded.  Could you please distribute this post widely among your networks.  There is so much going on in the world of a negative nature under the controversial heading "Islam" that sensible and peaceful actions can go unremarked and unnoticed. 

Readers may find this linked Wikipedia article of use in its discussion of historic attitudes and relationships between Islam and other religions.  For those not used to the ways of Wikipedia, please note that it is something of a democracy insofar as articles can be edited and re-edited by many contributors.

The Call to Action references the Charter of Medina. Ton find out more about the Charter or, as it is sometimes referred to,the Constitution of Medina, please go here.

Conference Aims

In order to examine more deeply what entails the rights of religious minorities in Muslim lands, both in theory and practice, His Highness, King Muhammad VI of Morocco, will host a conference in Marrakesh in the Kingdom of Morocco. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, based in the U.A.E. will jointly organize the conference, scheduled to be held from 25th – 27th January, 2016 (15th – 17th Rabi al-Thani, 1437). A large number of ministers, muftis, religious scholars, and academics from various backgrounds and schools of thought will, God willing, participate in this conference. Representatives from various religions, including those pertinent to the discussion, from the Muslim world and beyond, as well as representatives from various international Islamic associations and organizations will be in attendance.

The conference’s discussions and research will focus on the following areas:
  1. Grounding the discussion surrounding religious minorities in Muslim lands in Sacred Law utilizing its general principles, objectives, and adjudicative methodology;
  2. exploring the historical dimensions and contexts related to the issue;
  3. and examining the impact of domestic and international rights.

This conference, with God’s help and providence, aims to begin the historic revival of the objectives and aims of the Charter of Medina, taking into account global and international treaties and utilizing enlightening, innovative case studies that are good examples of working towards pluralism. The conference also aims to contribute to the broader legal discourse surrounding contractual citizenship and the protection of minorities, to awaken the dynamism of Muslim societies and encourage the creation a broad-based movement of protecting religious minorities in Muslim lands

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Parabola interviews the great interfaith voice - Karen Armstrong

ne bright spring day, Parabola met with Karen Armstrong  in her suite at the Parker Meridian hotel in Manhattan.  The petite, friendly 62-year-old British ex-nun, arguably the most influential commentator on religion in the English-speaking world, was on tour to promote her latest bestselling book.  Lauded by critics as “magisterial” and “magnificent,” The Great Transformation chronicles the vast movements of history that comprise what philosopher Karl Jaspers termed the Axial Age, the period between 900 to 200 B.C.E. when most of the great religions in humanity either came into being or grew their roots.  Armstrong traces the arising of Confucianism and Taoism in China; Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism in India; Monotheism in Israel, and the flowering of Philosophical Rationalism in Greece.  She tracks this huge swath of history with verve and lucidity, noting that each of these very different traditions arose during periods of political disruption, religious intolerance, and violence.
Armstrong came to international prominence in 1993 with the publication of The History of God, a searching and profound history of the rise of the three major monotheistic faiths.  The one-time Roman Catholic nun wrote of the evolution of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in a way the earned her a reputation as a practitioner of “negative capability”—she is at once an iconoclast and a bridge builder between traditions.  Her latest book expands and illuminates her message about the dangers of emphasizing an adherence to religious doctrine over the practice of compassion—which she presents as the most profound discovery of the Axial Age sages and the fundamental teaching of all true religions. Armstrong is an inspiring example of one who uses study—and bracingly independent critical thinking–as a way to draw closer to God.
—Tracy Cochran
Parabola: Can you describe the Axial Age and the light it might shed on the difference between thinking and knowing? I realize I’m asking you to traffic in huge generalities here, but it seems to be a pivotal distinction.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: You were supposed to get underneath thinking. In India in particular, the concern was that thinking as well as feeling were not what constituted the deepest self of the human being, that it was something other. This didn’t mean that they weren’t interested in being intelligent and rigorous and analytical, but the goal was to go beyond thought. People in the Axial Age were reaching out for an ultimate reality—and it could be called Brahman or God or Nirvana or the Tao—that couldn’t be encapsulated in human thought and language.
P: Why can’t it be encapsulated?
KA: Because human beings experience transcendence. We have ideas and experiences that go beyond our conceptual grasp.
P: Does rational thought blind people to the elusive aspects of our experience?
KA: No. We need rational thought. Plato described the two different ways of approaching truth as mythos and logos. Mythos is a more silent, intuitive way of looking at reality and logos is more of a scientific, discursive, logical way, and we need both. We’ve always needed logistic thought, if only to sharpen an arrow correctly.
P: But we need mythos as well.
KA: Yes. When a child dies, we want a scientific explanation but that’s not all we need. We need some kind of different kind of thinking that helps us deal with the turbulence of our inner world at such a time. Myth is an early form of psychology. There are all these stories about gods going down into the underworld to slaughter demons. We all have to learn how to negotiate our unconscious worlds. We have to go into the labyrinth of our own selves and fight our own monsters. We’ve always been aware that there are two ways of approaching truth, one through reason and science and the other through an intuitive knowing. The word mythos comes from the Greek word which means to close the mouth or close the eyes. Mystery and mysticism come from the same root. So they are associated with a sense of darkness, with going into a realm where you don’t see very clearly, where things are more obscure and will remain obscure. It is also a realm of silence rather than wordy thought. We approach this kind of knowing in art. At the end of a great symphony or when you’ve listened to a great poem there’s often nothing to say. You’re being pushed beyond rational thoughts and distinctions into a silent intuitive space.
P: What is the proper role of thought in religious search?
KA: Well, thinking can only take you so far. Action, behavior, especially compassionate behavior, is more important than thinking. By constantly exercising compassion, the golden rule, you enter a different state of consciousness. This rather than thinking will get you to enlightenment.
P: It’s amazing that all the religious movements came to that same conclusion. But can it be that simple?
KA: Yes. The Buddha said compassion can bring you the release of the mind. This is a synonym in the early Buddhist scriptures for the ultimate enlightenment of nirvana. The New Testament is full of the same wisdom. Charity and loving kindness bring you into the presence of God, not thinking things. In the Western Christian world we’ve come to place too much emphasis on thinking certain beliefs. What the sages in the Axial Age were discovering was second order thinking, where you watch the mind thinking. Socrates for example could make you realize that what you don’t know what you think you know. He demonstrated that thought can do a whole lot of things but that it always finishes with unknowing. Socrates could take a person through a series of questions until he realizes that he hasn’t a clue what, say, courage is, even though he’s been on the battlefield. Often the people who came to Socrates–as far as we can tell from Plato’s accounts–thought they knew their minds. After ten minutes with Socrates they realized they didn’t know anything. In the Axial Age people were testing the limits of what thought can do. It can take us a long way but we keep bumping up against an unknowing. Socrates said that is where you really begin your quest, when you realize you know nothing.
P: You’re talking about a very fertile kind of not knowing, not just obliviousness, not just stone ignorance.
KA: Yes, and it’s a humbling thing. Instead of being full of ourselves, we begin to realize that the world is deeply mysterious and elusive. We realize that we haven’t got the tight grasp on reality that we think.
P: In this book and in all your writing you make a distinction between belief and this more fertile state.
KA: We’ve made a fetish of belief in the Western Christian world, so that we call religious people “believers,” as though accepting certain doctrines is the main thing they do. But this is very eccentric.
P: And dangerous, as you’ve pointed out in your writings, about the way fundamentalism leads to violence.
KA: And dangerous. As the Taoists said way back in the Axial Age, to expect certainty from religion is immature and unrealistic. It was a sign of an undeveloped spirituality, a childish viewpoint. There is no certainty.  The Taoists found a great freedom in not being certain about things. They didn’t have to pompously declaim facts and doctrines and truths. Keats spoke of “negative capability,” when the mind is capable of resting in doubts and uncertainty without any irritable straining after facts and reason.  It’s quite a trick of the mind to allow yourself to be in that fertile state of unknowing, to just let yourself stay in the darkness.
P: We’re in a frightening place in world history. Your predictions about religious war have come true, and our whole environment is in a perilous shape. From your study of the origin of the great religious traditions, what really matters?
KA: The exercise of compassion is what matters in our world. The Dalai Lama says “my religion is kindness.” Confucious said “religion is altruism” – dethroning yourself from the center of your world and putting another there. Now this requires intelligent thought. You really have to think and practice the golden rule about what the other person really wants rather than what you think he ought to want. When we speak to people we should behave as Buddha or Socrates did. Address them where they really are and not where we think they should be.  We have to put ourselves in the place of another, and we have to be able to do this globally.
P: This state of compassion, of engagement, does take thinking.
KA: It does. It takes constant, flexible intelligence.  Each case will be different so principles are really not the point.  You have to be flexible to respond to each situation that arises especially in a time where everything is changing so fast. We have to investigate.  We have to find out more about the world. I’ve had some extraordinary conversations with highly educated Americans who have asked me where the Palestinians have come from, as if they marauded in off the desert.  I’ve had to explain Palestine. There is so much ignorance. All the great sages have said that we must see things as they really are. Don’t bury your head in the sand and say that environmental catastrophe isn’t going to happen, for example. In the Axial Age, the prophets of Israel called those positive thinkers who thought that Jerusalem was not going to fall because God was with them “false prophets.” You cannot achieve enlightenment that way. It takes information gathering and that does not mean being content what the little scraps of sound bytes that are handed out by politicians or Fox News.
P: Often, in our culture, people treat yoga and meditation like a kind of spa treatment. Our practice of the precepts doesn’t keep pace with our practice of various techniques.
KA: Absolutely. I saw a place in Toronto called the yoga lounge, next to a nail parlor. You could do a little yoga or meditation and hop in to have your nails done. This is not what yoga is. In the Axial Age, it was based on a five-point moral program. At the top of the list was ahimsa or nonviolence. This did not only mean that you couldn’t kill or maim somebody but that you weren’t to say a cross word or make an impatient gesture or swat an insect. Until your guru was satisfied that this was second nature to you, you couldn’t begin to sit in the yogic position. What religious knowledge was about was not just thinking but behaving. Living a self-effacing, nonviolent life style was just as important as your mastery of sacred texts.

P: In your book you describe an evolution from external blood sacrifice to internal sacrifice–and in the case of Buddhism, to sacrifice of the concept of self. Yet when I think of living this way, completely open, defenseless, radically honest, it’s as if certain primal emotions come alive. The ego doesn’t want to be sacrificed, to be killed.

KA: Yes, but when you’ve mastered this way of life you start to experience incredible joy because you’re training yourself to go beyond the frightened ego, who often needs to destroy other people and bolster itself up. If you let that go, a lot of your fear goes down. We are programmed to defend ourselves, but if we take ourselves out of that mind state, if we start divesting ourselves of ego, we enter a different state of consciousness.
P: What came through your book is the emergence of another way of thinking—with conscience. You cover huge swaths of history in detail. Yet, there’s a beautiful base note of compassion. It comes through as the last word, the ultimate religious act.
KA: The point is that there was no collusion. This is the conclusion reached by these spiritual geniuses who worked as hard at finding a cure for the spiritual ills of society as we are working to find a cure for cancer. This is the conclusion they came to. Not because it sounded nice but because they found it worked. The Buddha always said, “Test my teaching against your experience.”  They found that if you did live in this way you experience an enhancement of being. The Chinese Confucians spoke of human heartedness, of becoming more humane.

P: Axial sages thought the heart and mind should work as one.

KA: Yes.
P: So what happened?  How did these wonderful insights of the Axial Age harden into rigid principles and hierarchy?
KA: Well of course not many people actually want to be transformed. They don’t want to lose themselves. Most people expect from religion a little moral uplift once a week.
P: We live in the place and the age when religion has become another consumer item or service.
KA: Yes, it is a commodity. People say wouldn’t it be great if there was another Buddha. But I’m not sure such a great sage could manage today. The media and the exposure could easily destroy them, encouraging narcissism, for example.
P: How do we find our way out of this trap of spiritual materialism?  Can we think our way out?
KA: Basically, I don’t think we need any great figure to come along. We know what to do.  The golden rule, that’s all it is.  All the traditions teach the same. Instead of waiting for some lead,  just go on, just start practicing. And perhaps start demanding it from our politicians and religious leaders, too.

P: That is a radical suggestion.

KA: But everybody knows about the golden rule or compassion. “I may have faith that moves mountains,” says St. Paul. “But if I lack charity it’s worth nothing at all.” And then there’s imagination, which is the ability to think yourself into the position of another.

P: We tend to minimize imagination, as if it has to do with fantasy, distraction.

KA: I think it is the religious faculty. The religious imagination is endlessly trying to envisage the eternally absent God, that which always eludes us. I think it’s the moral faculty too, because you have to use it to think yourself into the position of the other.
P: What you’re saying is extraordinary because there is such a strong tendency to go on facts, to stick to life as it is, and yet we really can’t.
KA: We can’t because this is part of the way our minds go. We keep bumping up against mystery. There’s great enlightenment to be had by accepting that, and if everybody did it the world would be a much better place.♦
From Parabola, Vol. 31, No. 3, Fall 2006: Thinking. This issue is available to purchase here. If you have enjoyed this piece, consider subscribing.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Migration and Aggression in Europe - a focus for the World Communion of Reformed Churches



The remains of the Great Church of Emden, a splendid Gothic style construction that was destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II, were transformed in the 1990s into a specialized library for the history of the Reformed church and theology. Over the years the Johannes a Lasco Library has become a well-known Reformed conference center and a forum for art and culture. From 17-19 February 2016, it was the venue for an international conference on “Migration and Aggression in Europe” jointly hosted by the Reformed Alliance in Germany and WCRC Europe.
The 60 participants from various parts of Europe felt very strongly that the town of Emden which had been a safe haven for thousands of persecuted Reformed Christians during the 1500s and 1600s was a highly symbolic place to reflect on and discuss the current issues of migration. Until this day, the Great Church proudly wears the honorary title of “Moederkerk” (mother church) because it rescued the Reformed communities in the Netherlands from annihilation in the 1600s.
The conference began with an analysis of the political situation that triggered the unprecedented mass migration from the Middle East to Western Europe. In his introductory presentation, the German journalist Andreas Zumach predicted a continuous flow of refugees from Syria and the region for the next two or three years. The lack of political stability in the Middle East and North Africa would lead to even more migration in the long term. He stressed that the world community had completely failed to support the United Nations’ Refugee Agency that is facing the greatest humanitarian challenge since its creation in the aftermath of World War II.
Several speakers revealed the fact that John Calvin was particularly sensitive to the situation of refugees, as he himself and thousands of other French Protestants had fled persecution and lived in exile. This had great influence on Reformed theology that, according to Herman Selderhuis from the Netherlands, created “a church model suitable for migration that can be transported and exported.”
Achim Detmers, general secretary of the German Reformed Alliance, based his paper on “Calvin’s Theology of Migration” on John Calvin’s Commentary on Exodus (1563), showing how the Reformer compared the plight of the Israelites in Egypt with the suffering of his fellow-believers in France and adopted clear political positions regarding topics such as care for the needy, resistance to tyranny and civil disobedience.
Drawing on John Calvin’s sermon on Galatians 6:9-11, the South African theologian Robert Vosloo explained the concept of “recognition” whereby “we will recognize our own humanity in the other, in the person who is poor and despised, in the stranger.”
Biblical studies offered another access to the topic of migration. Thus, in a study on Job 1:15 (“I am the only one who has escaped to tell you”), Rev. Sabine Dressler highlighted the importance of listening to the stories of survivors and of providing them the space and the audience to tell us about their experiences and traumata. Gusztav Bölcskei, from Debrecen (Hungary), reminded the participants of the importance of the Psalms in Reformed spirituality and worship, pointing out that they are the source of comfort par excellence for all those who experience persecution and oppression.
In his paper Herman Selderhuis expanded on the importance of protecting the stranger and of taking care of the “foreigner within your gates” according to the Old Testament. “The high esteem of the Old Testament in Reformed Theology helps cope theologically with migration issues,” said Professor Selderhuis, pointing out that in Deuteronomy and the Psalms the “stranger” or “alien” is often named together with the orphan and the widow as standing under God’s special protection. Beyond these observations, he drew attention to the eschatological dimension of the topic that lies in the Christian conviction that “this world is not our home and we are a travelling company following Jesus.”
A historical approach was undertaken in Professor Susanne Lachenicht’s paper on “French-Reformed Theology and Huguenot Identity in Exile,” showing how Protestant refugees from France experienced rejection and xenophobia as well as hospitality in the various places of refuge.
Professor Paolo Naso, from the University of Rome, spoke about the “old and new dynamics of Immigration and Integration.” He described the various models of Integration such as the American “melting pot” model, the French assimilation model, the British model of multiculturalism and the Italian model of labour-centered integration, which in his view had all failed. Speaking on behalf of the Italian Federation of Protestant Churches he advocated a new paradigm of integration based on mutuality and taking into consideration the increased importance of the religious factor.
Martina Wasserloos-Strunk presented a paper on the significance of “strangeness” and “otherness” in modern thinking based on sociological research and empirical studies, and the conference closed with a panel focusing on the role of the Protestant churches in Europe. Participating in the panel were Martin Dutzmann, the German Protestant Churches’ representative (EKD); Doris Peschke, of the Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe; Günter Krings, member of the German Federal Parliament; Paolo Naso, Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy and Robert Vosloo, Faculty of Theology in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

A highlight of the meeting was the traditional tea-reception in the town hall of Emden hosted by Mayor Andrea Risius. In her words of greeting, she explained how the port of Emden owed its wealth and influence in the 1600s to the migration of thousands of Reformed refugees and had a fleet larger than that of Great Britain. Ships brought goods from all over the world to the region of East Frisia including tea from overseas. “In the past few months Emden has welcomed many hundreds of refugees,” she said. “In this, we remain true to our tradition but also in offering all visitors a cup of strong East Frisian tea with rich cream and sugar candy (Kluntje).”
Please note:  Hyperlinks in the article above have been placed by The Editor of Beside The Creek.

A Joint Journey to Jerusalem - organised by JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) - limited numbers. Details below.

JCMA 'Joint Journey to Jerusalem' May 2016  “Understanding Each Other”- Expressions of Interest
In May 2016, twelve people from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim faiths in Melbourne will embark on an incredible journey of discovery to Jerusalem. The group will consist of twelve people, four from each of the three Abrahamic faiths comprising spiritual leaders and lay people, men and women.  They will visit each other's historical sacred places to study and share texts, to listen to each other's story and to truly 'meet' in the City of Jerusalem which is so sacred to all three traditions.   
We have the three faith leaders in place and are now seeking expressions of interest for nine other participants to join the group, 3 from each faith for the 2016 Joint Journey to Jerusalem from Sunday 22nd May to Tuesday 31st May.  

You will find flyer and application form on the website – see under How to apply on next line

How to apply: Complete the registration form by downloading the  it from the jcma website JCMA Joint Journey to Jerusale2016 flyer and send to Ian Smith at Level 4, 306 Lt Collins Street, Melbourne 3000 or

Expression of interest due: Sunday 6th March 2016.  Successful applicants will be notified within two weeks of that date.

For more information and details:  Please see attached flyer for program cost, selection criteria and registration form or go to the JCMA website or Facebook page.  For further information or enquiries contact Rev Ian Smith by email: or by mobile 0408 313 610 or Ginette Everest at JCMA on 03 9287 5590. 

Kind regards,

Ginette Everest
Executive Officer
Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia (JCMA)

JCMA relies on the goodwill of volunteers and the generosity of our donors.
Donations are tax deductible. Please go to JCMA Donation to make a donation.

Usual Working days: Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays
Address: 383 Albert St., East Melbourne Vic 3002     
( (03) 9287 5590 / Mobile: 0400 211 221

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Harmony Fest is on its way and, among all the marvellous events, it is bringing to #Ballarat the exquisite Kavisha Mazzella

Go to the link above for ALL the details
of the wonderful 2016 program.

And the wonderful Kavisha Mazzella will be there.

And just in case you were not aware,
Kavisha is among that wonderful group of songstresses
who came up with the Billy Lids song 

" Kavisha has a fantastic dynamic range with great colour and sweetness and she is not afraid to use it . I particularly love the vocalising she does throughout the singing of her songs . It brings a wild earthiness to the music which roots it firmly in the tradition . And tradition she has in plenty . She is obviously proud of her australian immigrant heritage and uses the italian and irish of this to great effect in her powerful songwriting... Her haunting unique version of " she moves through the fair ", is enough to make your hair stand on the back of your head..." Tony Caniffe , presenter of "The Raw Bar " R.T.E. Cork Radio.Ireland

"Kavisha's new album of centuries-old Italian folk songs is a beautiful thing to hear - 

a great vehicle for these songs of the heart that have stood the test of time. 

She plays guitar, mandolin and accordion

and the spare production lets her voice naturally shine." 

Lucky Oceans ,ABC  Radio National Weekly Planet.

“Riturnella is a beautiful collection of Italian folk songs from the 1400s onwards. These songs of love and loss from all over Italy are rendered starkly and exquisitely with Kavisha accompanying herself with some very fine guitar and mandolin work.” Paul Barr, Readings Books and Music Magazine
"Con Riturnella, Kavisha ha realizzato un omaggio alle sue tradizionali radici con un’opera sensuale e risolutiva,  sulle cui fondamenta ha sviluppato la sua personalità di cantante, scrittrice e musicista."Pino Lamberti , Il Globo.

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Pope and The Patriarch - Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church meet and speak as brothers

Crux: Covering all things Catholic

Covering All Things Catholic

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Pope Francis met at the 

Jose Marti airport in Havana Feb. 12, 2016 – 

the first-ever papal meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, 

a historic development in the 1,000-year schism within Christianity. (Max Rossi / AP)

Pope, Russian patriarch embrace in historic meeting

By John L. Allen Jr. and Inés San Martín

We spoke as brothers, Pope Francis said simply. We have the same baptism, we are both bishops. Patriarch Kirill responded in kind, pledging to work with Catholics to defend Christianity around the world.
Read more →