The “OMEGA INTERFAITH FORUM” is an Open-hearted Space to Explore the Interplay Dance of Spirituality, Religion, Ethics and Depth Psychology in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Sharing an Experience of Meaningful “Community” offers a Unitive Taste of this Nectar.


The “EAST-WEST FRIENDSHIP CIRCLE”: Embracing the Exploration of both Eastern & Western forms of Spirituality, Religion, Philosophy and Wisdom Traditions; We Journey together to Befriend and Learn from one another.


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PAST INTERFAITH EVENTS

 

  ~PAST OMEGA EVENTS 2017~ 


“STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND”
~ A Call To Strengthen Our Interfaith Unity ~

An Interfaith “Worship Sharing”* at Bethesda Friends Meeting
Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930.
SUNDAY, JAN. 8th, 12:45 - 2:45 PM
5100 Edgemoor Ln, Bethesda, MD 20814.

On Sunday, January 8th, 2017 {in the wake of our recent political changes} over 30 of us, Interfaith participants and members of the Bethesda Friends Meeting, gathered for an Interfaith "Worship Sharing" on the theme of strengthening "Interfaith Unity." In the Quaker tradition a "Worship Sharing" is a safe, reflective, sacred space in which participants can share authentically from their hearts and communally explore their own inner experiences. (Please see the fuller description below.) Our present times offer a real opportunity for an enhanced awareness of the experiences of religious minorities and their vulnerabilities. Some groups in particular are our Muslim, Sikh & Hindu Friends. On the International level some members of the Baha'i, Christian, Jewish & Tibetan Buddhist communities are also struggling for survival. We are so very grateful to the Bethesda Friends Meeting for lovingly welcoming us and helping to create the format for this valuable Interfaith gathering. In attendance were people from Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian denominations, Jewish & Sufi traditions. We also thank the many Bethesda Friends who joined with us for the afternoon and shared in the fellowship following the "Rise of Meeting."

Prominent themes that emerged from the sharing included: the importance of learning from the experiencing the "Religious Other's" sacred spaces, rituals and rites like Shabbat -- that somethings cannot be learned just by studying and comparing scriptures; the importance of listening to our own deeper positive & negative feelings, like when we recoil from an experience; to hopefully recognize that religious traditions can be fluid and do change over time; and that hospitality and welcoming are both powerful faith commonalities as well as "messengers" of peace.  We offer a very special thanks to Stephanie Koenig who helped to organize, warmly welcomed us, and oriented the assembled group to the Quaker "Worship Sharing" experience.  Sharing in a community's sacred space is such a precious gift, like an Oasis in the desert!


Event Endorsed by InterFaith Conference of  Metro. Wash.


* OUR WORSHIP SHARING QUERY: "How can we most effectively foster a caring attitude among all of the Faiths in our community? What helps us to listen deeply to one another, and to understand one another's perspective? How can we best support one another?"         



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~PAST OMEGA EVENTS 2016~ 


AN INTERFAITH PEACE-BUILDING PANEL:


"INNER PEACE - OUTER PEACE-MAKING"
{Exploring the Relationship  between Inner Peace and Social Action}.
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At William Penn House
515 EAST CAPITOL STREET SE WASHINGTON, DC 20003
Sunday, Nov. 6th 6:30 - 9 PM

On Sunday, November 6th, 35 Interfaith participants gathered to take part in an Interfaith Peacemaking panel and potluck dinner at the William Penn House, a Quaker peace and social justice center on Capitol Hill.  We gathered to explore the nexus (relationship) between the quest for “Inner Peace” and the journey toward “Outer Peace” through “social action.” On this evening we hosted three spiritual traditions, Buddhist, Islamic and Quaker, to better learn about their inner spiritual practices, as well as their contributions to (outer) peacemaking. We were seeking to discover a common point to motivate our outer quests & continuing service work together.  

Highlights included a short introduction and period of Mindfulness Meditation through centering and breathing techniques presented by Joann Malone from the Washington Mindfulness Community. Sahar Mohamed Khamis, our Muslim panelist, gave the assembly a basic description of the Five Pillars of Islam which include: A profession of faith (Shahadah), performing ritual prayers five times a day (Salat), giving of alms to the needy (Zakat), fasting during the month of Ramadan (Sawm) and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Haj). Michael Willett Newheart, our Quaker representative from the Adelphi Friends Meeting, described some of  the origins of Quaker prison work: a history where Quakers had often been imprisoned for their religious and nonviolent beliefs over the years. Michael presently facilitates nonviolence trainings in Maryland State prisons, via the “Alternatives to Violence Project” which also trains inmates to become facilitators.

Our “Fourth Panelist” was the collected Interfaith “Community.” One mentioned theme was achieving a balance between healing oneself and being able to do work out in the world. One expression of this was that Peacework could happen in cycles, going out in the world and returning within to heal for periods of time. Another image was that of the entwining paths of “inner” and “outer” Peacework done simultaneously. Another expressed thread was that of trauma, of how spiritual paths often emerged through difficult life passages. Concern was expressed for the “Black Lives Matter” movement, as well as for the present difficult passage the Muslim Community is experiencing.

Our many, many thanks to the William Penn House staff for opening and warming their community, and for welcoming us. WPH provided us a beautiful, safe “garden space” to meet one another, share food, dialogue and cross-pollinate; some good seeds of Peace were planted! One panelist expressed her appreciation for the gathering: “It was really a "breath of fresh air!!"



     Image result for interfaith conference washington  Event Endorsed by the InterFaith Conf. of Metro. Washington


PANELISTS 
IMG_0947(1).jpegJoann Malone {Buddhist) was a Catholic Sister of Loretto for almost twelve years. After hearing the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh speak in 1968 about the war in Vietnam, she joined the DC-9 to protest against Dow Chemical’s production of napalm, nerve gas and defoliants;  for these protests her “claim to fame” is being the first nun in US history to be convicted of federal felonies. She has had a long career teaching language, religion, English & Social Studies.  Joann has been a member of the Washington Mindfulness Community for 25 years and in 2011 was ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh into his Order of Interbeing with the name “True Collective Practice.”She offers Qi Gong classes, Days of Mindfulness and Women’s Retreats regularly. Author of “The Power of Love: How a Nun became a Revolutionary” and  “Loving Mindfully: Finding Happiness in Relationships.”
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Sahar Mohamed Khamis {Muslim} is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland, College Park. An Egyptian by birth, she is an expert on Arab and Muslim media, and the former Head of the Mass Communication and Information Science Department in Qatar University. Dr. Khamis holds a Ph.D. in Mass Media and Cultural Studies from the University of Manchester in England. She is the co-author of the books: “Islam Dot Com: Contemporary Islamic Discourses in Cyberspace” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and “Egyptian Revolution 2.0: Political Blogging, Civic Engagement and Citizen Journalism” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Dr. Khamis is a media commentator and analyst, a public speaker, a human rights commissioner in the Human Rights Commission in Montgomery County, Maryland, and a radio host, who presents a monthly radio show on “U.S. Arab Radio” (the first Arab-American radio station broadcasting in the U.S. and Canada). She is the granddaughter of a Sufi Sheikh.
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dean_pollardMichael Willett Newheart {Quaker} is Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at the Howard University School of Divinity. Doctor Newheart began his career at Howard in 1991 as an Assistant Professor and assumed his current position in 2006. He currently teaches Introduction to New Testament I and II, Historical Jesus, Gospel of John, Romans and Galatians, Pauline Thought, Miracles in the New Testament, and Faith Development and Spiritual Formation.Prior to joining the Divinity faculty, he served as adjunct professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Nazarene Theological Seminary, Saint Paul School of Theology, William Jewell College, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also served as a foreign missionary to Costa Rica. An expert on the psychological interpretation of the New Testament, he has written the books "Wisdom Christology in the Fourth Gospel" (Mellen Research University Press, 1992), "Word and Soul" (Liturgical, 2001), and "My Name Is Legion" (Liturgical, 2004), which won an award from the Catholic Press Association. Member of Adelphi Friends Meeting.  Facilitates non-violence training in MD state prisons, via Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). He has also been on the Board of William Penn House and  served a term as "Clerk."


Zamin Danty ”Omega Forum” (Moderator) - Zamin is a longtime student of Interfaith Spirituality and has shared in community with people of numerous faith traditions. He studied with a Sufi Order for over 20 years, and has also intimately participated in Christian, Quaker, Sikh and Native American communities.  Through the “Omega Forum” Zamin currently facilitates interfaith dialogues and leads sojourns to spiritual, religious and humanitarian communities in the Washington Area. He is a second generation member of a Jewish Holocaust surviving family and has worked as a counselor & therapist with people recovering from addictions and mental illness.  He has also served with community-based programs for mentally handicapped adults.


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"INSIGHT-ON-THE-INSIDE"
INSIGHT MEDITATION COMMUNITY OF WASHINGTON (D.C.)
Evening Group Dialogue: October 19th, 2016

On October 19th 2016 I was privileged to facilitate an evening Dharma Dialogue with a gathering of  16 volunteer Insight Meditation teachers who offer free classes to prison inmates in a wide range of the correctional facilities in our local metropolitan area: in Washington, Maryland and Virginia. “Insight Meditation,” or “Vipassanā,” is the practice of continued close attention to sensation, through which one ultimately sees the true nature of existence. It is believed to be the form of meditation practice taught by the Buddha himself, and although the specific form of the practice may vary, it is the basis of all traditions of Buddhist meditation: Mindfulness of  one’s breathing, thoughts, feelings and actions is used as a vehicle to gain insight and awareness. One woman teacher described the healing potency of the practice as the capacity of developing the ability to pay attention and observe our inner resistances with detachment.   Continued at: COMMUNITY INITIATIVES



~ A SOJOURN TO THE “BETHESDA FRIENDS MEETING” ~
“Sacred Silence ~ Communal Voices”
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On Sunday September 18th (2016) the Bethesda Friends hosted our group of 10 Interfaith visitors to the Quaker Meeting for Worship in Bethesda, Md. We started off our visit with an orientation to Quaker Silent Worship and the Quaker  “Peace Testimony” given by our faith guides Stephanie Koenig, Jane Coe and Liz. Of special note was the process of Silent Worship and the practice of the congregation offering “Spiritual Messages” in meeting. One “message” given in the Silent Meeting that followed was about the Quaker belief in continuing revelation: “Similar to science, we admit we do not know everything. We keep the door open to (spiritual) learning.” Quakerism has an “experiential nature,” trusting that the spirit reveals itself over time when the community listens deeply.

Stirring the Soup: Another “message” spoke to diversity: “All traditions and people have something to offer, like vegetables in a soup. And something enlightening can happen when (we come together and) the soup is stirred.” Among our visitors were two Muslims (Egyptian and Turkish), a Unity practitioner, a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, an African Quaker from Kenya, an Interfaith Outreach representative from the Maryland Governor’s office, a Jewish secular humanist, and an atheist from Cameroon.  One of our visitors felt a message “rise” within her on the deep value of “hospitality.” A prior message had spoken about Abraham’s tent. She remembered her time doing service in Ethiopia.

Following the rise of meeting our Interfaith visitors shared their experience of the Meeting and from their own Interfaith journeys. A very special sacred space for people to discuss both faith and doubt. One Quaker remarked, “What a truly inspiring group of people!” Many thanks to Stephanie Koenig (Adult Worship Committee) and Jane Coe (Peace and Social Concerns) for so warmly welcoming us and for helping to coordinate our visit and sharing. A deep thank you in Peace!


Visit endorsed by InterFaith Conference of  Metro. Wash..


WHAT IS QUAKERISM?: The Quaker form of worship is unique and has much to offer to our present times. In many ways it resembles a worshipful town meeting. The Quaker community gathers in a contemplative silence; but if a member of the congregation is moved to share a "message" from their deepest heart or mind, they may rise and share it with the assembled community -- this is followed by more silence, and perhaps additional messages. The Meeting can be very moving, sometimes empowering, and a wonderful democratic experiment in faith community. George Fox (1624-1691), the founder of Quakerism, erased the distinction between clergy and laity, in that anyone could offer their verbal ministry to the congregation. Friends' emphasis has always been on the role of the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit in their meetings. Friends are also guided by their “Peace Testimony” to be active witnesses to peace through their many social action works.



“Rumi on Ramadan” 
An Iftar* Poetry Reading, Dinner & Dialogue
at the American Turkish Friendship Association
Saturday, June 18th, 8-11 PM



It is so valuable to "break bread in peace," to meet and share with one another, especially in these polarizing times. On Saturday June 18th (2016), 25 Interfaith guests were hosted by ATFA-Rockville to our second annual "Rumi on Ramadan" Iftar dinner & poetry reading.  Sundown came at 8:37 PM this year and we broke fast together with traditional dates, cheese and Turkish soup. The Iftar meal itself was delicious.


Following dinner we were treated to group readings from the 13th Century Persian Sufi Mystic, Rumi.  We started by learning the story of Rumi's meeting with his spiritual guide and muse "Shems of Trabriz."  These two were twin souls, lover and beloved.  Deeply pervading Rumi's poetry is a sense of deep spiritual love, longing and beauty.  How special it was to hear this beautiful poetry read in the original Farsi, as well as in Chinese, Spanish and English. The group rapidly learned to sing/chant the Zikr with a guitar accompaniment. (Zikr is the remembrance of the sacred names which the group chanted as a background for the Rumi poetry.)


Many heartfelt appreciations to Mehmet Cicek and the ATFA Community for hosting us to the dinner; for providing us such a warm,  friendly space to gather and commune in.  We were graced by the "Presence" of our many Interfaith guests.  May many "Seeds of Peace" be spread from our encounter! And thanks, Barbara, for being our gifted photographer!


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                                             Spring 2016 IFC Dinner Dialogue



"Walking In My Shoes: Our Journey Together"
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Related image~  "At a time when cultural and religious division is on the rise, people of goodwill are challenged to increase their efforts at building bridges of understanding and solidarity with those who are different.  One way of doing so is to explore with others what it’s like to walk in their unique shoes.  During this dialogue each of us will have a chance to share our own stories and also to listen as others relate their own life experiences." ~



On Sunday, May 15th nine Interfaith sojourners met at the home of Peter and Penny K. in Bethesda for an IFC-sponsored dialogue on empathy. A number of us were from more “hybrid” spiritual paths, but others from more defined faith traditions. Some others of us identified as Interfaith or peacemaking activists. In our midst were also a  number of people who had international experience or had been diplomats, and one individual who had worked for USAID in Central Asia.  There was also a strong Sufi and contemplative influence present.



A large part of our evening was spent deeply listening to the faith and life journeys of others. One Jewish participant described the choice of her persecuted people as being: staying within your own world and going within, or becoming an activist and joining and identifying with other persecuted peoples. One Catholic peacemaking activist described her own personal transformative experience of living in a Muslim home.  Another participant shared the powerful life-altering experience of meeting his spiritual teacher in India.



There was also a deep realization that our wounds can be a doorway to feeling for one another. We learned again, that one component in trauma was moral wounding, and that suffering can be an invitation to a greater journey toward healing, community and redemption. We also touched into the areas of Israeli-Palestinian relationships, the Syrian tragedy, and closer to home the dichotomy of “The Black Lives Matter” movement and the lives of our police. Our Chinese participant also shared about her inner work of reconciling Chinese traditional cultural with some Christian beliefs.  One wise diplomat and Vietnam-era military veteran concluded our evening with this thought: We walk in one another's shoes, to comprehend the narrative of the other, to listen to these, as St. Benedict would say, “with the ear of the heart. 
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There is  incredible value in “questing” and “questioning” together, learning from one another's journeys in a safe, compassionate and welcoming space.  Thank you Peter and Penny for so warmly hosting us. The potluck food was also sublime! And a special thanks to Barbara for being our community photographer!








CONFERENCE: “HOW CAN WE HELP ?”
~ Interfaith Peacemaking - Our Journey Together ~
(March 20th,  2016)
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~ Cosponsored by: ATFA/Rumi Forum, Md./Omega Forum ~


On Sunday, March 20, 2016 over eighty Interfaith participants met at the Sandy Spring Museum in Maryland for our conference on "Interfaith Peacemaking.” Our purpose was to create an aware and nurturant space for people who were already doing Interfaith service work, or for those who had an interest  in learning more about or helping with peacemaking and other interfaith healing endeavors. For more See: PEACEMAKING CONFERENCE 2016





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A NEW YEAR’S EVE 2016 INTERFAITH
CELEBRATION OF LIGHT  
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Our Welcoming Circle
 at the American Turkish Friendship Association


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The Omega Forum and ATFA hosted a New Year’s Eve Interfaith celebration to peacefully welcome in 2016. After sharing a wonderful communal dinner of Turkish foods, provided graciously by ATFA, we celebrated a warm-hearted sacred “Circle of Peace” honoring the World’s Faith traditions. 


Candles.jpgCandles were offered with the sharing of short prayers for Peace, sacred chants & illuminating stories. Individuals were present from the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian (Protestant, Catholic & Quaker), Hindu, and Islamic traditions. Prayers and lightings were also included from Judaism and Sikhism. These were followed by smaller candles lit for personal remembrances, concerns, needs for healing and the like. People of many nations: Bangladeshi, Turks, Chinese, Egyptian, Thai, Indians and Americans. The gathering was beautifully sacred, and a warm friendliness prevaded.  We stayed together enjoying one another's company until well after Midnight.    

        Image result for interfaith conference washington  Event endorsed by InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Wash.


~PAST OMEGA EVENTS 2015~ 


“CONFRONTING RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM” 
AN OMEGA INTERFAITH DIALOGUE:

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INTERFAITH PEACEBUILDING VS. RELIGIOUSLY-INSPIRED VIOLENCE


Related imageOn Sunday 10/11/15 the American Turkish Friendship Association hosted our dialogue on “Confronting Religious Extremism.” Poignantly, there had been a horrific suicide bombing of  a peace march in Ankara, Turkey, the day before with over 100 people killed and many more wounded. We started our time together in a prayerful moment of silence.


In the midst of the recent refugee crisis, and the sustained sectarian and religiously-fanned violence throughout the Middle East, we had been given an opportunity to share dialogue and to “break bread” with a warm-hearted Turkish Muslim community in Rockville, Md.  People from a number of faith traditions took part.  Our many thanks to the ATFA for their support!


A theme that emerged is that Islamic religious identity is under attack, whether by terrorists or by the media. Terrorism is often a calculated  form of public theater. The terror attacks have been successful in that they polarize peoples, and make us afraid of one another. One remedy is in knowing one another person-to-person, working together to build Community. Education and the use of media are important tools.


       Image result for interfaith conference washington  Event was endorsed by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.


“Rumi on Ramadan”
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An Iftar* Poetry Reading & Dinner Dialogue
at the American Turkish Friendship Association


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On two Summer Saturdays, 6/27 and 7/11/15, we were warmly invited to share in the Blessings of Ramadan* with members of the Turkish-American Muslim Community in Rockville, Md. This was an intimate opportunity to meet, and build friendships and unity, with a group of Turkish Muslims who have interfaith peace-building as part of their mission.
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On both of these evenings we were hosted to an Iftar Dinner (breaking of the day’s Ramadan fast) complete with delicious Turkish foods. We were also celebrating Ramadan with readings of the beautiful Sufi poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Sufi mystic and poet. These readings were accompanied by sacred chants (Zikr) with a guitar background. One poem with its theme of “unity,” “Moses and the Shepherd,” especially lent itself to our interfaith dialogue process, which we also shared in for both evenings.  Our 6/27 dialogue focused on the acceptance of people with different beliefs; as Rumi would say, on the unifying  “Pathway of the Heart.” We were also truly gifted by one Persian visitor, Behzad, who read Rumi’s “Song of the Reed” in it’s original Farsi language for both gatherings. On 7/11 we were also graced  by a lovely pre-teen who shared her beautiful whirling dance with us. That evening’s gathering closed with prayers and reflections for peace from Imam Ali Siddiqui and Rabbi Jim Michaels.
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Our many deep thanks to the AFTA and Rumi Forum Community for offering us their gracious hospitality and preparing such a very lovely communal meal. We are also appreciative of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington for endorsing and publicizing our event.    



 Image result for interfaith conference washington  Ramadan event endorsed by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Wash..


WHAT ARE RAMADAN AND IFTAR?  

RAMADAN is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; Muslims worldwide observe this as a month of fasting (daily from dawn to sunset). This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, which means scorching heat or dryness. Fasting is "obligatory"  for adult Muslims, except those who are suffering from an illness, traveling, or are elderly. IFTAR - (Arabic: إفطار‎ ifṭār 'breakfast') is the evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset.






IFC DINNER DIALOGUE: MAY 3rd 2015

A Journey to “Human Dignity”

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On Sunday May 3rd, 2015 a group of thirteen Interfaith participants met at the home of Laura M. in Chevy Chase, Washington, D.C., to share in a dinner and dialogue on the topic of “Human Dignity.”  A large draw of this annual IFC event is the opportunity to meet and learn from people from other faith traditions. Gathered were individuals from the Coptic Christian, Jewish, Protestant Christian, Roman Catholic, Sufi, Taoist/Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist traditions. Following warm introductions of people and their faith traditions, we broke briefly to serve dinner foods and reassembled in the living room to share in a reading on “Human Dignity,” and to dialogue.
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Some of the reflections included in our evening were profound and deep: A Chinese student of Taoism truly related to the IFC question about experiencing radiance and transcendence, something she finds ‘radiating” both in Nature and in people. She later described dignity as finding and expressing one’s own true “voice.”  A Jewish woman spoke of her pained struggle to maintain her mother’s dignity, and her own balance, as her elderly mother descended into dementia.
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Another theme awakened was the connection of the loss of dignity to violence. One GWU student participant described his own inner conflict of how to remember an Irish Catholic family member who had fought in the ranks of the Irish Republican Army in Belfast; a conflict between his understanding of oppression, but also his sense of religious nonviolence. Another student spoke of his Christian Church’s counter-demonstration to a march of the Klux Klux Klan in Memphis. He wondered out loud, “What in people’s lives had led them to hold the violent values that they did?”

.Personal connections to holocaust survivors entered into our reflections; people who were scarred perpetually by these traumatic experiences and the impossibility for forgiveness for some. A ray of sunlight was the mentioning of “righteous gentiles,” those of Christian faith who had risked themselves or sacrificed to protect the lives and dignity of the persecuted Jewish outsiders.  Our host added a Passover liturgical reference, a note of compassion even for the persecutors: to not be overly joyful with the Hebrew liberation, but to also mourn for the Egyptians who were drowned in pursuing the Jewish people through the Red Sea, as they too were human.
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A Coptic Christian gentleman spoke of his current sense of degradation at being a member of an outcast minority group in Egypt; being a second class citizen with limited economic and social possibilities in his own country of origin. He stated emphatically, “that dignity must equal equality.” This sentiment was also deeply reflected in one student’s remembrance about his meeting with a poor Nepalese man in Nepal who said; “You could have been me, and I could have been you.
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We thank the IFC for continuing to coordinate the wonderful tradition of the home-based interfaith dinner dialogue, which is in its seventh or eighth year. Zamin is grateful to have had shared in these dialogue facilitations starting in 2010.


          IFC WEBSITE: Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington: Home








OMEGA “SACRED SOJOURN” TO A PERSIAN-BIRTHED FAITH

Washington DC Bahai Community

The Washington DC Baha’i Community


On Sunday March 29, 2015 a small group of “Sacred Sojourners” visited the Washington DC Baha’i Community. We started our visit with a worship circle featuring participatory readings from the Baha’i scriptures; we were also welcomed to include readings from other faith traditions as well.  We next participated in an experiential workshop focused on the “Arts in Religion,” which concluded with the collecting of our individual drawings into a group mural. {Every week the Baha’i Community shares in a number of enrichment activities which sometimes include a drumming circle.} Following the workshop we shared in a lovely offering of both food and fellowship.

Next came a more intimate sharing to learn more about the beliefs, practices and history of the Baha’i faith. Highlighted were a sense of the universality of the faith, a cardinal tenet being the  “Unity of God,” the Baha’is  respect for other religious traditions,  the absolute equality of women, and racial equality.  We also discussed some of the history of the persecution of the Faith and a number of similarities to the Sufi tradition.  Our many dear thanks to Neda (the house manager) and Janette who warmly welcomed us, served as our faith guides, and warmly dialogued with us, sharing from their tradition. We look forward to continuing and growing our friendship in future days to come..

WHAT IS THE BAHA’I FAITH?: It is a monotheistic religion which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. In the Bahá'í Faith, religious history is seen to have unfolded through a series of divine messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time and to the capacity of the people. These messengers have included Abrahamic figures—Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, as well as Dharmic ones—Krishna, Buddha, and others. For Bahá'ís, the most recent messengers are the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. The Bahá'í Faith was founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th-century Persia. Bahá'u'lláh was exiled for his teachings from Persia to the Ottoman Empire and died while officially still a prisoner.

     Web:  Welcome to the Baha'i Faith, Washington DC



AN INTERFAITH PEACE-BUILDING DISCUSSION

"MY FRIEND FROM ANOTHER FAITH"

        
 ALETHEIA MINISTRIES
       UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND       
                                                                                                                           
On Monday, February 23rd, 2015 the Aletheia Christian Ministries at the University of Maryland hosted a faith-based discussion on Christian-Muslim relations entitled, "My Friend From Another Faith: Let’s Stop Talking About One Another and Start Talking With One Another."  The expressed purpose of the gathering was for speakers to share and discuss their stories in front of a student audience, with an emphasis on how their faiths traditions informed their relations to other faiths and provided a means to live in peace with one another.

Invited to the panel were Mehmet Cicek from the Turkish-based Rumi Forum and ATFA, Dr. Joel Rainey, from the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, and Zamin Danty, an Interfaith Community advocate.  Pastor Rob Stephens of Aletheia hosted and posed questions to the panel.

While acknowledging faith differences, we found many points of commonality and spaces of friendship as we learned of one another’s spiritual pathways and experiences. Especially highlighted was the wonder of living in America where one has the protection to practice one’s religion. Mehmet, a practicing Muslim, believes that the U.S. provides the best space to practice his faith, because one is free to choose, and is not pressured by the state.  Dr. Rainey shared from his Christian-based faith journey, and also noted how deeply he has valued the friendship with Mehmet over their three years of their friendship. Their families have visited one another and have shared the Thanksgiving Holiday together.

Zamin shared the experiences of his Jewish family in Nazi Germany, and how a Catholic teenager, a farmers daughter, risked her own safety to bring food to Zamin’s family members. {These courageous people were known as “Righteous Gentiles,” honored for the risks they took in protecting their vulnerable Jewish “neighbors” in the face of Nazi aggressions. They displayed the highest level of Spiritual Friendship and truly did shine a light into a terrible darkness.}

We deeply appreciate the invitation and the welcome of Pastor Rob Stephens and the Aletheia Ministries. And thanks for all of the student questions as well!

          See Aletheia Website:    @UMD | Aletheia College Park


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 A VISIT TO THE WASHINGTON MINDFULNESS COMMUNITY     


 
On the evening of Sunday, January 25, 2015 a small group of Sojourners visited the Washington Mindfulness Community on 16th Street in Washington, D.C.  The Vihara itself serves as a home for a number of Sri Lankan Buddhist Monks, and hosts the Mindfulness Community’s Sunday Meditations. “Mindfulness” is a Zen meditation practice of “Presence” based on the teachings of Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The practice was described as a gentle practice of returning one’s attention to following the breath, rather in contrast to more formalistic traditional Zen practices. {The practice of "Mindfulness" is adaptive to all religious traditions and has also been used therapeutically in health settings to promote serenity and enhanced awareness.}

The Mindfulness Community meets every Sunday at 6:30 PM for two meditation sittings, followed by a short group reading from the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. The meeting concluded with a community sharing:  This “Dharma Talk” sharing was very touching, and included Sangha members' struggles with loneliness, the difficult task of reaching inner mental clarity, and the angst of facing a growing awareness of death in one's life.

We are grateful to the Washington Mindfulness Community for their kind welcome and for letting us participate in their spiritual practice and Sangha.

See Website links:

Washington Mindfulness Community     

also see: Newcomers

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PAST EVENTS COORDINATED WITH MCIC 2013-14



THE INTERFAITH SACRED QUEST

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~ An Intimate Interfaith Dinner Dialogue ~


On Saturday November 22, 2014 we met in Gaithersburg for a dialogue on Spiritual Quest. Special appreciations to Gil and Teri for warming their lovely home for us; we are truly grateful for your welcoming hospitality. (Salamat!) We had asked participants  bring an inspiring spiritual or mythological "teaching story," or a short piece of sacred poetry.

We were appreciative for all for the sharings, readings, liberating contemplations, ponderings and wonderings; a transformative journey from the Garden of Eden to Rumi's poem on a boiling chickpea.  We also shared on the transformative process of metamorphoses and viewed a Jesuit Contemplation.  We ended with an M. Scott Peck’s story of the resurrection of a dying monastery through the assistance of a Rabbi. We were grateful for the sense of communion and table community; and the wonderful repast too!   

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MCIC/AFTA RAMADAN DIALOGUE: VIOLENCE & FAITH-INSPIRED PEACE-BUILDING  

We were in the midst of our group introductions when the start of the call to prayer came: “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, as-hadu an-la ilaha illa Allah…” We took a few moments to absorb the melodious chant and to permit our hosts to drink a bit of water and eat a succulent date or two, to break that hot July day’s Ramadan fast.

The MCIC had been invited by the “Turkish American Friendship Association” (AFTA) and the “Rumi Forum,” two Turkish Muslim community groups,  to conduct a dialogue in their Rockville Offices  on the evening of July 12, 2014.  Ramadan is traditionally a time for Islamic communal and individual fasting, purification and spiritual self-reflection.

Over the breaking of the fast meal at sundown (“Iftar”) we gathered to share on the topic of “Religious-inspired Violence and Interfaith Peace-building.”  The events of the past month including both the exploding violence in Iraq and Syria as well as a renewal of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, had troubled a number of us.  In the midst of this good-hearted gathering, these battlefields seemed so far off, but the effects and pain were much in evidence in our midst; but, there was also a deep desire to continue to sow seeds of peace and understanding.

Our hosts were deeply troubled and pained that Islam and Muslims would be defined only by the images of violent Muslims coming across our T.V. screens. They have been working very hard to build positive relationships with other civic and religious groups here in America.  Two of our African MCIC visitors also shared some of their trials and experiences of violence, trauma and discrimination in Kenya, Liberia and here in the U.S.  They also added a hopeful note of persevering in the pursuit of peace, even with violent individuals.

A Jewish-American from the MCIC poignantly remarked that it was easier to create violence--a few committed  extremists could spark it off and set off a firestorm--but that we needed to rededicate ourselves to do the slow, hard, conscientious work of building peace through relationships with people of other faiths and ethnicities.  

We ultimately concluded on a note of hope and an extending sense of friendship. We may not be able to resolve many of the world’s difficult conflicts, but we can make a difference and build small “island of peace” and community amidst the turbulence.

We would like to deeply thank AFTA Organizers Ahmet Kus and Ali Vural for inviting the MCIC to come, for hosting us so warmly and for entrusting us to co-create this Ramadan dialogue.  We are also grateful for the kind interactions with other AFTA community members who graciously met us, and who helped to prepare and serve our Iftar meal.
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      MCIC HOME DIALOGUE ON "SPIRITUAL QUEST"

On Saturday, June 7th (2014) ten of us met in Potomac, Maryland at the home of Farah and Farhad to  share dinner and to dialogue on the theme of “Spiritual Quest.”  As a support and catalyst for group dialogue and personal sharing, participants were invited to bring an expression or inspiration for their own Spiritual Quest, which  might include: a sacred song,  chant, poem, short reading, work of art or other creative medium.

There were so many lovely sharings of the heart, mind  and spirit. To name a few: Survival lessons on the meaning of community in the Utah desert, the sacred depth of a first entrance into the Mormon temple, a woman’s search for meaning in the Morocco of her youth, Rumi poetry (“Moses and the Shepherd”) remembered from a childhood in Iran, the numerous gifts of sacred chants and remembrances, the healing journey after the death of a beloved father, and of course a delightful visitation of the prayer and story of the St. Francis of Assisi. We appreciated the depth and lovingness of these personal sharings.  What a rich sacred table! And of course the vegetarian potluck food was wonderful too. We offer a very special thanks to Farah and Farhad for being such gracious hosts and warming their lovely home to receive us.



FUTURE GATHERINGS: Participants expressed their desire for continuing dialogues, which the MCIC will happily work to coordinate. We're planning to  continue our “Spiritual Quest” as a kind of "Interfaith Table Fellowship.”  Our “moveable feast" would also include the sharing of sacred poetry, story, chants, other art forms as well as the personal narratives from our own journeys.  Of course we could also continue our visitations to other spiritual and religious communities: temples, churches and mosques. 
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A VISIT TO ADELPHI FRIENDS MEETING 

On Sunday, February 23rd 2014 MCIC led a “Sacred Sojourn” to the Adelphi Friends Meeting.  On arriving we had an initial orientation to Quakerism and the Quaker religious communal practice of “Unstructured Silent Worship.” {This is an experiential meditative practice by which the collected community “listens” for the leadings and voice of the Holy Spirit within the community.}
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Each Sunday Quaker meeting for worship is varied and different. On this day the theme of “truth” emerged and a number of faith “messages” were offered on the often difficult spiritual journey of expressing hard truths and “speaking truth to power;” both of these can often require a leap of faith and a possible personal exposure to consequence or harm. Through the quality of these “messages” one could sense some of the deeper ties of Quakerism to the pursuit of social justice and “just peace.”
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An equally intimate and touching part of the meeting was the sharing of “Joys and Concerns,” and opportunity to express personal joys, sorrows or ask for support from within the Friends Community. The Adelphi Community has a wonderful level of trust and care in evidence, and this very much a communal healing space. We also shared in a wonderful potluck lunch with the Adelphi community following the “rise of meeting.”
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A post-meeting period was led by our faith guides for questions, answers and dialogue; and this was also illuminating. One of our MCIC "sojourners"  remarked that the day's experience had led her to want to include more "Silence" in her own spiritual life and practice. A Quaker participant noted that they had come to a deeper understanding of their own tradition through our visit and the questions we asked.  These are representative of some of the best fruits of the interfaith work: a deepening of respect, love and understanding.  
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We truly thank the Adelphi Community for welcoming us; Friends June Confer and Mosi Harrington for being our Quaker Faith Guides, for their gifts of time and energy to this outreach. We are also appreciative of Friends Michael Levi and Chloe Schwenke for aiding in bringing this visit about.
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*AN ADDITIONAL NOTE ON QUAKERISM: The Quaker form of worship is unique and has much to offer to our present times. In many ways it resembles a worshipful town meeting. The Quaker community gathers in a contemplative silence; but if a member of the congregation is moved to share a "message" from their deepest heart or mind, they may rise and share it with the assembled community -- this is followed by more silence, and perhaps additional messages. The Meeting can be very moving, sometimes empowering, and a wonderful democratic experiment in faith community. George Fox (1624-1691), the founder of Quakerism, erased the distinction between clergy and laity, in that anyone could offer their verbal ministry to the congregation. Friends' emphasis has always been on the role of the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit in their meetings. Friends are also guided by their “Peace Testimony” to be active witnesses to peace through their many social action works.
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  "A SACRED JOURNEY TO DC KRISHNA TEMPLE"
On  November 24, 2013 MCIC “Sacred Sojourners” met to visit the Krishna Temple of Potomac, Maryland, a visit both gracious and sublime.  Our “Faith Guide,” Braj, did a fabulous job of introducing and orienting our visitors to Krishna Consciousness, & Bhakti Yoga.  His wife, Ananda {the temple president} so warmly received us  and did countless efforts  to help our guests to feel very welcomed and cared for. We also deeply appreciate the members of your ISKCON community who reached out and dialogued with their MCIC guests.
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The temple worship program was fabulous: sacred Kirtan (chanting) and dancing; and a special guest, Gaura Vani and his family and friends. who did sacred storytelling with chanting & musical accompaniment.  This was followed by a sumptuous vegetarian Lovefeast with additional possibilities for dialogue.  Amongst our numbers were Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarians and members of the Mormon Church. What a gift  when East can embrace West.
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WHAT IS KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS? The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement or Hare Krishnas, is a religious organisation founded in 1966 in New York City by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Its core beliefs are based on traditional Indian scriptures, such as the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā. ISKCON was formed to spread the practice of bhakti yoga, in which aspirant devotees (bhaktas) dedicate their thoughts and actions towards pleasing the Supreme Lord, idealized as “Krishna.”
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.~THE ESSENCE OF BHAKTI YOGA (Devotional Worship: From the Hindu Scripture "The Bhagavad Gita"): "If one offers Me with love and devotion, a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it."
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     AN MCIC "SACRED JOURNEY" TO THE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CHURCH OF SILVER SPRING:
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On Sunday, September 29th, 2013 “Sacred Sojourners” from the MCIC  started our UU visit with a group orientation to learn about Unitarian Universalist beliefs, practices & history.  Ashley Burczak, the UUCSS Membership Coordinator, wonderfully fielded our many questions about Unitarian Universalism and shared very intimately with us from her own twin spiritual paths of Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism.  Jeffrey Noel also aided greatly with his friendliness and directions in orienting us.  Our group then moved on to the Community Worship at 9:30 AM.  The sanctuary is very beautiful and all of the music was really amazing, both the folk duet and and the choir. We also thank Rev. Leon for his welcoming presence.  We  concluded our visit with a period of fellowship, coffee and personal sharing with congregants.  We truly enjoyed meeting and dialoguing with many of the members of the UU community; our spiritual boundaries always seem a bit more expanded in the process of meeting diverse communities and sharing in their perspectives. The world also seems a bit smaller and warmer!
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A NOTE ON UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM: With its historical roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions, Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion — that is, a religion that keeps an open mind to the religious questions with which people have struggled in all times and places. They are a "non-creedal" religion and do not ask anyone to subscribe to a creed, UUs being more focused more on how to live than on what to believe. Unitarians believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book, deity, person, or institution; but rather in their own hearts and minds. Unitarian Universalists draw from all major world religions and many different sources, and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.

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SUPPORTING THE "CHARTER FOR COMPASSION"
On June 2nd, 2013 nearly 50 people representing an array of faith communities including Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim Quaker, Seventh Day Adventist and Unitarian Universalist traditions gathered at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda. The purpose of the gathering was to explore responses to Karen Armstrong's "Charter for Compassion." Following introductions and the viewing of two short video clips depicting a reading of the charter by members of various faith traditions and various responses to the reading, participants broke into small groups to discuss possible ways of improving the charter text, as well as the opportunities and challenges that face individuals and congregations in implementing the charter. A ceremonial signing concluded the 3-1/2 hour gathering. Naturally, the gathering included a sumptuous interfaith pot-luck dinner that "tastefully" represented the diversity of the group.

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       SOJOURNS IN PEACE” -->  A VISITING WORSHIP TO A SIKH GURDWARA
For several years MCIC has been sponsoring interfaith worship visitations as well as interfaith dialogues to help build understanding, friendship and tolerance amongst people of diverse faith and ethical traditions.  On Sunday, March 3rd, 2013 over 30 MCIC visitors were warmly welcomed by the Sikh community of the "Guru Gobind Singh Foundation," a  Gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Rockville, MD.

We started our visitation at Noon with an introduction to the Sikh Faith, led by Mr. Sartaj Singh Dhami, a gifted and insightful speaker.  Sartaj highlighted a number of the remarkable qualities of the Sikhism including: its belief in One God, its history and stance against caste-ism in India, its respect for all religious paths, and the meaning of the various items of Sikh dress such as the turban, steel arm bracelet and uncut hair.  He ably answered our many queries. We then moved into a time of congregational worship in the sanctuary. The temple room was very large, beautiful and pure white in decor. During worship the community was seated on the floor on clean white sheets; separation of the sexes being common, but not mandatory.  In the temple room the "Siri Guru Granth Sahib," a compilation of the writings of the 10 great Sikh gurus, resides on a throne-like platform in a place of prominence;  honored and fanned during the congregational worship.  It is seen as embodying an eleventh guru; a living teaching and a revealed Divine Word and guide for the community.

The Sikh Faith is also noted for its beautiful sacred chanting from the "Granth" which does much to create a vibrant sacred atmosphere during worship. The chanting was musically accompanied by melodic playing on harmoniums (small pump organs) as well as with the spirited rhythms of tabla drums. {To transcend the language gaps these chants were transliterated and translated into English on large overhead video monitors.} The temple worship ended with the distribution of "prasad," a sacred shared communal food made of a sweetened cereal grain.  
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We gratefully thank the temple's priest, Guru Darshan Singh, for the lovely service, for his kind welcoming remarks to our group, and for the time he  generously offered  to dialogue with our group following the worship. We ended our Gurdwara visit with a shared communal meal at the Gurdwara's "lungar" (common kitchen). In the Sikhism there is a sacred tradition where anyone who is hungry or in need may come to the Gurdwara and receive food. The vegetarian Indian food was incredibly delicious and bountiful. It was served to the assembled Sikh community (& visitors) who sat on the floor in long parallel lines facing one another along white paper tablecloths   {Several tables were also available for elders and Westerners.}
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We also express our gratitude for all of the "Aunties" and "Mata-jis" (honored Mothers) who cooked our meal, and for all those members of the Sikh community who lovingly served our meals. They are a community of great service and hospitality. We also express our deep gratitude to Mrs. Amrit Kaur Singh for organizing our visit, and to Mr. Sartaj Singh Dhami for his  insightful orientation of our group to Sikhism.  Every one of the MCIC participants I've spoken with has expressed great enthusiasm for the gathering, and I know that many will carry an deepened and warm-hearted appreciation of the Sikh Faith with them.  It is truly wonderful when the Spiritual East meets the Spiritual West.
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AN ADDITIONAL NOTE ON THE SIKH FAITH: The Sikh faith is a monotheistic religion originating in 16th century India at a time of great inter-religious conflict. Its founding teacher, Guru Nanak Dev, was born in 1469 to a Hindu family. His most famous saying was, "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim, so whose path shall I follow? I shall follow the path of God." The faith historically continued to progress with ten successive Sikh gurus. The last "teacher-ship" was passed on to the sacred Sikh text itself, the "Siri Guru Granth Sahib."  One Sikh ideal is the protection of all spiritual paths. Sikhs are expected to embody the qualities of a "Sant-Sipāhī"—a saint-soldier.  Equality, non-discrimination, true justice, love for all humanity, and worship of only One God, are some of the other core beliefs of Sikhism.

               SEE SIKH WEBSITE: Guru Gobind Singh Foundation

   ~Zamin Danty ~