WISDOM women invited to bring their diversity into America’s historic, evangelical heartland

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0715_WISDOM_women_take_Friendship_and_Faith_to_Bay_View.jpgOne of America’s historic Chautauqua-style summer “camps” invited women behind the Friendship & Faith project to talk about their diverse spiritual journeys. That fueled some anxiety among the women, because the picturesque Bay View Association is nationally famous as a living example of the 19th-century Methodist camp-meeting movement. Many of Bay View’s Victorian homes overlook Little Traverse Bay near Petoskey. This is the Indian homeland behind the book Dancing My Dream, and the area where Ernest Hemingway penned some of his Nick Adams adventure stories. The Bay View setting naturally blossoms with memories of 19th-century Americana.

Bay View has evolved over the past century! For example, the association is known today for its diverse summer schedule of musical performances—but its educational programs continue to emphasize the core faith of its Christian members. Overall, northwestern lower Michigan proudly regards itself as part of America’s evangelical heartland.

Would Bay View welcome outspoken Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i and Muslim visitors?

The one-word answer: Yes.

Here are some of the stories from the women themselves as they returned from their Bay View experience:

Shahina Begg
Muslim and co-founder of WISDOM

I was anxiously awaiting our trip to Bay View, but when we finally reached our northern destination, our host families greeted us with such hospitality. I stayed with Ric and Lisa, who have a beautiful home facing the bay. They gave me the best room in their home with the most spectacular view. Lisa made me feel right at home with delicious food—and even homemade ice cream for dessert.

I was nervous in the beginning, but I was overwhelmed by the welcome. Our hosts did not know much about our faiths, but they greeted us with open arms. If I changed some minds about stereotypes concerning Islam, I also was surprised by their enthusiasm for our visit. At the end of our presentation, 5 Women 5 Journeys, the entire audience joined hands—along with our panelists—and sang Let There Be Peace on  Earth. It touched my heart.

Paula Drewek
Baha’i and WISDOM president

For me, the two days we spent as guests of the Bay View Association were more about people and building relationships across whatever divides we all experience—and less about views of Little Traverse Bay. Don’t get me wrong; it is a beautiful bay. But even that beauty was eclipsed by the warmth and welcome of Bay View’s residents. 

By the time we left, we all felt like newfound family. We all wanted to continue the experience, the dialogue, the learning about and sharing with each other. The experience validated the “unity in diversity” motto that my Baha’i faith espouses, since you can’t have unity without diversity.

Padma Kuppa
Hindu and WISDOM board member

I was the sole representative of the Dharmic-Eastern traditions in this program and I was touched, as well, by what happened in the 5 Journeys presentation, including the final, meaningful rendition of Let There Be Peace on Earth.

But I made other spiritual connections during our visit as well. I was finishing the book, The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals by Laura Hobgood-Oster. This could have been an easy read had I not taken to heart and struggled with what the author put in its pages. The book lays out a long history of theology that connects religion with our environment. Hobgood-Oster writes about the need for compassion, hospitality and friendship for the creatures with whom we share our planet. Her book called on me to raise the bar on my activism for pluralism—to include all of creation in my work towards acceptance.

In Bay View, each of us stayed with a different family. My hosts were vegetarians like me so, it was a comfortable fit. But what I most remember was their son’s wonderful dog Chaucer who reminded me of how our pets humanize us. Chaucer is aging, and yet is more alert to the behavior of Mother Nature than I as a human ever can be. She barked at the onset of a coming summer thunderstorm, and trembled as she sat by us as we shared morning coffee amid the booming and lightening—reminding me of the frailty of our fellow beasts, and the grandeur of God’s creation. My experience with Chaucer vividly brought the book I was reading to life.

When we left Bay View, we exchanged hugs, emails and book titles. I stored a photo of my host family on my Blackberry. The image causes me to smile when I show it to friends and family: Friendship formed; friendship shared.

http://www.readthespirit.com/friendship-and-faith/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/03/wpid-0715_WISDOM_women_Motoko_Paula_Padma_Trish.jpgFrom Left: MOTOKO, PAULA, PADMA, TRISHMotoko Huthwaite
Presbyterian and WISDOM board member

Our other panel members in 5 Journeys represented faiths so different from our hosts. When it was my turn to speak, I wondered how I could tell them anything they did not already know about Christianity.

Then I realized that most people in the audience were lifelong Christians; my journey was different. I had not been born into a Christian family but chose to become a Christian at college. My first introductions to Christianity were through Catholic schooling in Tokyo at the International School of the Sacred Heart Convent.  I learned about Protestant Christianity through my seventh grade public school teacher in Cambridge, Mass., when she started each morning with the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms. But it was in college that I met the Rev. Samuel H. Miller, who later became the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School. I studied Catholic fathers and Quaker authors, novelists like Dostoevsky, theologians like Tillich and the Jewish Martin Buber, and was ultimately baptized in his Baptist church. Many years later, my mother became a Christian, and a radiant one at that, in her fifties.

Like the others, I received the most heavenly hospitality at the home of Bets and Bob, their daughter, son-in-law and two adorable grandsons. All three generations made me feel at home. Then, I discovered that I wasn’t quite so distinct in this community. Bets was not Methodist as I had assumed, but a Presbyterian like me (not that there is much of a difference between the two these days). Furthermore, I discovered she had owned and operated a children’s bookstore; I had taught children’s literature at Wayne State University for more than 10 years. We shared so many interests and passions after all!

Gail Katz
Jewish and WISDOM co-founder

Interfaith chaplain Deb Hansen, who has worked on diversity programs across Michigan, helped to connect us with the Bay View Association through their education director, Toby Jones. The Bay View group very thoughtfully arranged home stays for our WISDOM women who would talk about our religious journeys.

When my husband Bob and I first arrived at Bay View, I was struck by the wonderful publicity! Fliers were plastered on the fronts of buildings. The Bay View newspaper, The Town Crier, had a big article about our program. I was greeted by David and Janet, a delightful couple who opened their home. David is a retired professor of philosophy from Kalamazoo College; he and his wife have been pillars of the Bay View education committee for years. I felt right at home when David went out the next morning to pick up the New York Times. We both are devoted newspaper readers.

Our 5 Journeys program drew more than 200 people. Each panelist talked about growing up, their faith and their connection with interfaith work. We also talked about misconceptions and prejudices about our faiths. I had tears in my eyes as we joined in that final song. You could feel the hope in that room about expanding minds, breaking down stereotypes and reducing fear.

Friday evening, Deb, Bob and I attended Shabbat services at Temple B’nai Israel in Petoskey. The student rabbi, Matt Zerwekh, along with members of the congregation had come to the 5 Journeys program. The president of the synagogue welcomed both Deb and me from the bimah, and the warmth and the spirituality of the evening were a definite highlight of this Bay View/Petoskey experience.

Bob and I ended our stay with a wedding-anniversary dinner at the Bay View Inn.  After eating the very best whitefish that either of us had ever had, a Bay View resident came over to our table to greet us, and told me how much she enjoyed 5 Journeys. I felt like a celebrity in Bay View!

Trish Harris
Catholic and WISDOM co-founder

As the time for our visit got closer, I began to wonder what it would be like. Everyone living in this community was Christian. I felt that I would fit in, since I am Christian and Caucasian, but what about my friends?

The Bay View Association is almost 150 years old. Educational director Toby Jones told us that he is fifth-generation Bay View—and some families go back 8 generations. I found it interesting that he described Bay View in terms of the people, not the buildings.

Our hosts all showed us how welcome we were. My host, Kathy, showed me to her home and, as we were preparing for dinner, I noticed our WISDOM book, Friendship and Faith, on her kitchen table. She was starting to read the book and had looked at my photo to help identify me when we arrived. Kathy is a former teacher and principal and is married to Jim, who loves his work in development at a university in Illinois. She and Jim have a daughter-in-law who is Chaldean—an Iraqi, Eastern-rite, Catholic tradition. So, global diversity already is part of their family. We were turning up surprises the more we talked. As it turns out, Kathy isn’t Methodist; she is Catholic like me—and both of us once had attended the same parish!

The world was connecting in new ways, right there in Bay View.

On the night of the program, I was the staff for our WISDOM display table just outside the 5 Journeys program. I laid out all of the different materials we usually make available at our programs. I brought out our primer on conducting interfaith conversations—and copies of the WISDOM interfaith prayer developed through the “Open my eyes to …” process. I even displayed Daniel Buttry’s new book “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” I was amazed at how many people picked up everything we had to offer.

When 5 Journeys ended on that high note—singing so loudly that I was part of it myself—people began to leave. I heard more “Thank yous” than at any of the other 5 Journeys programs we have presented! The gratitude was sincere. Many asked about hosting a 5 Journeys program in their communities, once the summer is over and they returned home.

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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)

 

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