Thursday, February 5, 2015

Letter To Everyone

Dear Friend of Project Interfaith,

We hope this letter finds you well.  Here at Project Interfaith, we are facing a time of transition. In late January, Project Interfaith’s Board of Directors and staff made the difficult decision to dissolve Project Interfaith as a non-profit organization. They did not come to this decision lightly. Over the past few years there has been a steady decline in interfaith funding provided by granting entities. Project Interfaith has not been immune to this decline. The Board of Directors and staff felt that now was the appropriate time to conclude Project Interfaith’s work and still be able to honor our commitments to the employees and partners whose hard work and dedication has helped to make our work possible.

We cannot express enough our gratitude to you for your steadfast support of our efforts. None of our work over the past nine years would have been possible without you. Because of you we were able to provide more than 100 interfaith programs to more than 28,000 community members. Because of you we were able to provide free, online resources to help community members replace religious ignorance and discrimination with interfaith education and respect. Because of you we were able to grow the critical thinking and conversation skills of our community members; enabling them to pick apart religious misconceptions and stereotypes instead of simply taking them at face value.

At this time we are hopeful that Project Interfaith’s educational resources and products will continue on. We are currently communicating with other non-profit entities whom we feel will be interested in adopting pieces of Project Interfaith’s work. It is our desire to find a home for, our RavelUnravel Curriculum, our RavelUnravel Resources, and our Conversation Kits so that community members can continue to make use of these important resources.

We wish to thank you again for everything you have done over the last nine years to make Project Interfaith available to your community. We hope you will join us in celebrating all that we were able to achieve together in growing understanding, respect, and relationships among people of all faiths, beliefs, and cultures.

In Deepest Gratitude,                    
Thomas R. Laird                                  Sean V. Rose
Interim Co-Executive Director                Interim Co-Executive Director
Director of Development                       Director of Training and Outreach

     and Communications

John Levy              John Vyhlidal                Omer Sagheer        Tina Cherica
Board President     Board Vice President     Board Treasurer     Board Secretary


Thank you so much for your dedicated partnership & support throughout these past nine years,

The Project Interfaith Team

Project Interfaith grows understanding, respect and relationships among people of all faiths, beliefs and cultures. We offer innovative, community-building programs that educate and engage audiences on issues of faith, religion, identity and interfaith relations. For more information:



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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Resurrection: Baha'i and Christianity - Written by Guest Blogger Donald Schellberg

I watched a you-tube video of a debate between some fellow Baha'is and representatives of the triforce ministries. Although, the Baha'is handled themselves well, it was like watching the Iranian national soccer team challenge the Dallas Cowboys to an American football game hosted in Dallas. The debate was solely focused on Christian orthodoxy, the physical resurrection of Jesus and his physical second coming. As the Baha'is explained their view that Baha'ullah was the second coming of the Christ Spirit, the pastor countered with the passage from John:

"The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you."

and from Acts:

"And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."

The pastor had a point, Baha'ullah did not come with the wounds of Christ nor did he come in a cloud. Like all other religious figures in the history of mankind, He came from a physical place (Iran). I went back to my Bible to find other quotes regarding the second coming and I found the following:

1. It shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people... and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name. (Isaiah)

2. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

3. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (Mathew)

4. And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. (Revelation)

5. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. (Revelation)

So even though the Pastor was correct in the passages of John he seemed to be incorrect in the other passages. The Jews have already returned to Israel, which makes sense to Baha'is because Baha'ullah was sent there by the Ottoman Empire in 1868, well before the Zionist movement. The quotes from Mathew seem to indicate that some kind of discernment is needed to discern the true Prophet from the false Prophet. If it were as simple as just waiting for Jesus to descend upon a cloud, no discernment is really necessary. The lightning coming from the west(this is actually the reverse of the weather patterns, in Israel storms follow the jet stream) also seems to contradict the part of descending from above. This, however, is fulfilled by Baha'ullah who was born in Iran, the west, and was exiled by Persia and the Ottoman empire to Palestine, the east. The quotes from Revelation also support Baha'ullah's claim, He came with a new name and he was like unto the Son of God, or in my view, He was Christ like.

So, all in all, both sides were somewhat correct but neither were they perfect because there are contradictions that have to resolved through some sort of interpretation and analysis. As a Baha'i, I come back to Acts and Jesus descending from the cloud. This clearly shuts the door on any future Prophets of God, Mohammad or Baha'ullah, unless there is some other explanation of this pretty straight-forward verse. I really don't have any, other than the author was trying to convey a spiritual reality in the form of a parable. In this case the clouds represent the obstacles of recognizing the divinity of Christ, the fact that he came from a known, inconsequential place, that he did not fulfill Jewish expectations of a political Messiah, that he died, in their eyes, a shameful death reserved for criminals. At the time of Jesus' crucifixion he really didn't seem Godlike. For the first one hundred years after his crucifixion, his followers barely numbered in the thousands, and yet such a small and inconsequential Jewish sect became the largest religion on the face of the earth whose followers number in the billions. Perhaps the idea of the supreme spiritual power of Christ masked in a cloak of physicality is not so far-fetched after all.

Donald Schellberg Bio:I was born in 1951.  When I was 3 I was one of the last people in the US to contract polio.  I was hospitalized for 1 year, for intense physical therapy because I was paralyzed until age 4.  I grew up in an affluent neighborhood of Long Island, my father was not a church going man, but my mother was a fairly religious Irish Catholic.  I became a member of the Baha'i Faith when I was 20 because of my belief of the essential oneness of all faiths.  When I was 25 years old I went to Panama to work on several Baha'i projects, the most notable of which was Radio Baha'i in Chiriqui which was the first organization to broadcast radio programs in the Guaymie language.  I returned to the United States in 1994 where I have worked as a software engineer until the present time.  In 2012 I had open heart surgery to fix a leaky mitral valve (a condition caused by a disease I caught in Panama) but  I have made a complete recovery.  I have three college age children, Melanie, Christopher, and Stephanie.  I tend to be a non literalist when studying religious faiths and am attracted to the mystical side.  I believe the physical world is a dim reflection of the spiritual.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Written By Guest Blogger, Katie Gordon - Conversation and transformation

“Listen not for the sake of information, but of transformation.”

Written by guest blogger, Katie Gordon
These words were spoken by Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, ordained Presbyterian pastor and keynote speaker at the Midwest Regional Gathering for NEXT Church last fall. NEXT Church, a Presbyterian network of leaders who are working toward a future that is more relational, diverse, collaborative, hopeful and agile, met under the theme Embodied Faith, asking what Presbyterian values look like in daily actions.

I was honored to get to present a workshop on “entering faith… into interfaith” where we discussed how to integrate interfaith engagement into individuals’ values and institutions’ missions, but further than that, we modeled interfaith engagement by having a dialogue ourselves.
With a group of 30 Presbyterians – including seminarians, pastors, and community activists – I guided a “Speed Dialogue” – like speed dating, but for new friends instead of romance. Project Interfaith put together this comprehensive facilitation guide for interfaith organizers to use. Similar to the Interfaith Youth Core equivalent of “Talk Better Together” – the premise is simple – using conversation as a way of promoting open, respectful discourse about religion, belief, stereotypes, and identity.

While usually done within more diverse contexts, the opportunity to do this activity within a group of seemingly uniform people allowed for new interfaith lessons to sprout. We saw that interfaith dialogue is a model not only for cross-faith/non-faith conversations, but a way to appreciate the nuances and complexities within one tradition. It was even a perfect gateway into creating intentionally diverse settings in the future, with many church members interested in bringing the model back to their community and getting to know their neighbors through a Speed Faithing Night. Here are just a few lessons from that day:
1.      Commonality between strangers, yet a diversity of pathways
Participants had never crossed paths before, likely will never again, and came to value the commonality they found between their stories. But even in this context within same tradition, there was a varied range of pathways of where people were coming from and where they were going.
2.      Value of one-on-one conversations
Most attendees had participated in large group dialogues – where a delicate balance had to be struck to include all voices equally. With this opportunity for one-on-one conversation, they were able to ask questions, dig deeper, and be more focused with the discussion.
3.      Allows all people to speak and share perspectives.
The conversation is designed to be a give-and-take, with no dominate voice or facilitator, which places value in the voices of all participants – including those often overshadowed or overlooked.
4.      Embraces all aspects of identity.
Faith and beliefs are inseparable from other aspects of identity, like race, sexuality, and gender; Speed-Dialogue allows for an appreciation and respect of the complexity and intersectionality of identity. 

Participants walked away with new friendships, insights, and a program they could implement right away – one that would allow them to fully live out their faiths while engaging with the diversity within their tradition and within the wider community. I walked away with renewed hope in religious life – seeing faith leaders become interfaith leaders. As Kim-Kort said, this brave and courageous engagement creates an expanded vision and experience of God that pushes beyond the walls of the church. By letting differences permeate our experiences, we become more compassionate, pluralist, and ultimately, more human. 

Katie Gordon is the Program Manager of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and works both in the local community and on the university’s campus to promote interfaith dialogue and cooperation. Katie is a graduate of Alma College, where she studied Religious Studies & Political Science, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in Interfaith Action at Claremont Lincoln University. She is also on the Interfaith Youth Core Alumni Speaker’s Bureau, where she speaks about promoting interfaith in higher education, social justice & service, and engaging non-religious communities in interfaith work.