Category Archives: Interfaith

National universal health care expresses faith values

By Contributor Sam Fletcher

Sam Fletcher

Parts of the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” could easily end up on the chopping block this week. With it would go the “individual mandate”, or a requirement to either be covered or pay a tax, while expanding Medicare for a portion of the population meeting a certain level of income.

While, in theory, the individual mandate would drive down general insurance costs, this is yet to be tested. It is probable that an individual mandate would simply enrich private insurance companies. Without a competing, public health service available to all, we must take on faith that profit-minded insurance companies would lower their prices for the average American.

A national public health care system, like those found in most Western and Eastern nations, would be a much better solution. An opt-in public system could compete with private companies while providing medical care and support to those in need.

Hospitals and medical care have long been basic tenants of faith praxis. Starting in ancient Greece (the home of today’s modern medicine), temples and priests provided the most advanced medical care available, with clean spaces available and libraries of case studies and medical reports available for research.

Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Muslims have all founded areas where the sick may be cared for, and medical research may be advanced, since the most ancient of times. Pooling resources to care for the sick was seen as the utmost expression of charity, and is universal to all faiths.

Many of our modern hospitals in America were founded by religious denominations, many in an era before health care costs skyrocketed for the private citizen, and medical care could be more widely available.

With Jesus, the gentle healer, as an example for Christians in America, it is thoroughly unChristian and unloving to deny health care to those who simply lack the funds under our pricey and luxurious health care system. People of faith should put their money where their mouth is and demand a public health care system that does not discriminate between the rich and the poor.

BRIEF: Panel at WSU to address gay friendly churches

By Tracy Simmons

Faith leaders from Pullman-area gay friendly churches will participate in a panel discussion from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at Washington State University.

The panel, organized by the Gender/Identity Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center, will address two main questions. First, What is the significance of being able to live openly in one’s place of worship? And second, how does your faith community show that it is welcoming and affirming to LGBT members?

The panel will be in the Campus Union Building lair.

PANEL: How should churches, temples and other faith groups incorporate interfaith dialogue?

By Tracy Simmons

Interfaith dialogue has been on the upswing since Sept. 11, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. In fact, it’s nearly tripled since 2000.

Many faith communities, though, are still trying to figure out how to effectively have this conversation. We asked SpokaneFAVS panelists what they thought.

How should churches, temples, and other faith groups incorporate interfaith dialogue?

Mark Kadel

As with any area of potential misunderstanding or willful ignorance, education about other faith groups is critical before making judgments or engaging in cross-faith dialogues.  Each group must recognize the importance of research and education about the other group before starting any type of dialogue in order to better define the other groups mission, vision and values.  Too often, we jump to negative conclusions based on hearsay or misguided opinions of others.  It is always prudent to allow the other party to speak for themselves before casting judgment.

Mark Kadel

Dr. Rob Snyder

Engaging in interfaith dialogue begins with an open heart. By realizing that all of us, every individual person, is a creation of the divine and a beauty and wonder to experience, dialogue then begins with respect.

Dialogue is not a debate or even a discussion. Dialogue is an open and honest exchange. When two or more people come together to dialogue, it means each person comes with the honesty to say, “I am present at this moment to hear what you have to say.” To suspend any judgments, to temporarily put aside what I think, what I believe, and even to put aside expectations and assumptions is a part of fully listening to the other. Then, being completely present to the other individual I can listen and hopefully hear what they have to say. I listen completely.

When I engage in dialogue, I listen to the other speaking, not forming my response while they are talking, because then I am not fully listening, I am already in a different place in my mind if I am busy forming my response. After the other has spoken and I have respectfully listened to the other, then I pause, touch my heart, feel my own being, and in a state of openness begin to speak. I try to speak from my heart, not my mind. For myself, the purpose of interfaith dialogue is to learn about other human beings, to learn about their journeys in life, to respectfully see how other human beings walking this earth integrate and manifest their spiritual journey.

Dr. Rob Snyder

Bruce Meyer

I once took part in a gathering that had dialogue with very few other faith groups.  We challenged each other to live the Christian life to the best of our abilities.  The problem was we began to see ourselves as the purest of the pure.  Most other groups were worldly or corrupt.  We believed it compromising to have fellowship with any other faction.  It was a young man’s mistake.  I didn’t seek out such a crowd; I kind of fell into it by relationship.  But once there, I told myself I could take part without necessarily sharing all their views.  

Relationship tends to wear off, and I succumbed more than I want to admit.  It was intoxicating to think we were God’s chosen people above everyone else.  But I awoke one morning listening to an excerpt of “To Kill a Mocking Bird” on the radio and realized I was in too deep.  To be part of a community is to share in their guilt.

I didn’t have to leave; they kicked me out.  A little over a year later I heard the group had completely broken down, everyone scattering to many different places.  Sometimes when I hear the talk of one group against another, I hear echoes of that gathering of which I once took part.

Bruce Meyer

Laura Kipp

An interesting word on the power of language: An apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  gave a talk called “Doctrine of Inclusion: If we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will reach out with love and understanding to all of our neighbors at all times.”  One paragraph reads, “… I believe it would be good if we eliminated a couple of phrases from our vocabulary: ‘nonmember’ and ‘non-Mormon.’ Such phrases can be demeaning and even belittling. Personally, I don’t consider myself to be a ‘non-Catholic’ or a ‘non-Jew.’ I am a Christian. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is how I prefer to be identified— for who and what I am, as opposed to being identified for what I am not. Let us extend that same courtesy to those who live among us. If a collective description is needed, then ‘neighbors’ seems to work well in most cases.”

I love this!  I don’t want to be not any religion, I think they are all beautiful.  We know that other churches are full of truth, but hope if someone came to the Mormon church they would see we add to it.

Laura Kipp

Do you have a question for the SpokaneFAVS panelists? Email it to

Meet R. Skyler Oberst, our pluralism writer

R. Skyler Oberst

R. Skyler Oberst, a student at Eastern Washington University, recently returned to Spokane after interning for the Pluralism Project at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., where he worked closely with Diana Eck and other faith leaders.

He wanted nothing to do with religious diversity, until one day he saw attackers assault a group of his Muslim peers.

“Something shifted inside of me after that evening. I realized that the anguish and torment occurring in front of me was happening all over the world, and that in order to create a lasting peaceful world, action started not on the floor of the United Nations or the United States Senate, but in my heart and through my actions,” Oberst wrote in a recent letter to Harvard.

That event, he said, prompted him to start the Compassion Interfaith Society at EWU. He described the student group as a forum for understanding and appreciation. He’s also involved in Friends of Compassion, a group of Spokanites interested in exploring compassionate action.

For SpokaneFAVS he writes about pluralism and interfaith issues.


Changing Spokane through personal narratives

By Tracy Simmons

Joel Williamson sings at Oak Tree story gathering event/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS

Church isn’t the change agent it once was.

It’s not transforming neighborhoods or shaping communities anymore, at least not from where Joel Williamson stands.

So he’s taking it on himself.

In October, with the help of three West Central Neighborhood pastors, Williamson, 29, launched The Oak Tree.

It’s not a church, although the group meets at various church buildings. It’s not necessarily a Christian group either, though many participants are Christians. The Oak Tree is, according to Williamson, an activist group that can better Spokane through personal narratives. Christians, Buddhists and even atheists are supporting The Oak Tree.

“The goal” he said, “is to build a community that is large enough, has enough power and is connected enough to their roots and values to shape the community the way we want it to be shaped.”

The Oak Tree meets at Salem Lutheran Church/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS

Sharing personal stories with one another, Williamson said, is The Oak Tree’s key ingredient.

“The ultimate mission is that by telling our stories we can knit together a true relational community,” he said. “Knowing what shaped you is important.”

Since January The Oak Tree has launched a workshop series and has held two story gatherings. Until now the workshops have focused on how the economy got to where it is today and the next two workshops will be on what individuals can do to fix it. In March the workshops will focus on food justice issues.

The story gatherings are designed so Oak Tree members can understand how each other’s values were shaped, discover common threads and find ways to apply those values and improve the Spokane community.

Taylor Weech, 22, isn’t a churchgoer but considers herself spiritual. She said The Oak Tree is intriguing and plans to become more involved.

Rev. Liv Larson Andrews (center) tells her story at The Oak Tree/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS

“I can’t change anything until I can change myself,” she said. “I can’t have compassion toward other people unless I know their story.”

On Sunday evening the Rev. Liv Larson Andrews was the storyteller. She spoke about the struggles she and family members had with body image issues. She spoke about how strong relationships and even pregnancy helped her overcome those battles and how the journey crafted her into the woman she is today.

Because of her experiences, she explained, she’s outraged by the unrealistic and unhealthy ways women are portrayed in the media.

“I hope we can foster a community that wants to be good to each other in our bodies and promotes the health of our bodies,” she said.

About 18 people attended the story gathering and after Larson Andrews’ presentation, discussed how they could relate to her story.

Each month The Oak Tree will invite a different storyteller to share their narrative. The next one will be March 11 at Salem Lutheran Church, 1428 W Broadway Ave.

“All of our experiences connect in strange ways,” Williamson said. “I’m constantly affected by other people’s stories.”

Salem Lutheran, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Paul’s Methodist Church, all in West Central, have partnered with The Oak Tree.

For information on upcoming gatherings and workshops visit The Oak Tree’s Facebook page.

View more pictures on our Flickr album.

Meet Dr. Rob Snyder, our interfaith spirituality writer

Dr. Rob Snyder

Lots of religions are represented on SpokaneFAVS, so Rob Snyder will fit in perfectly as its new interfaith writer.

He is the interim director of the Interfaith House at Washington State University and an adjunct faculty in the philosophy department. He holds a doctorate in Chinese philosophy from the California Institute of Integral Studies and an M.A. in Christianity and Buddhism, also from CIIS. Snyder teaches courses on world religions, science and religion, Islam, and ethics at WSU. He gives workshops on dream work and spirituality. He offers classes on meditation at the Interfaith House.

Previously a Benedictine monk, he has trained as a spiritual director and practiced many different forms of spiritual disciplines. His passion in life is the spiritual journey and service to others on this journey. Snyder works with students, staff and faculty integrating the intellectual and spiritual life. He is committed to interfaith dialogue and the development of understanding of various religious and spiritual paths.



Church celebrates season through interfaith peace prayer display

By Tracy Simmons

Flickr Photo by RyanBayona

Prayers for peace, goodwill and joy aren’t uncommon during the Christmas season.

Members of Unity Church of Truth, however, want the community to know that Christians aren’t the only ones praying for peace this time of year. On Sunday the church, 2900 S. Bernard, will unveil “Joy to the World,” an art display that features peace poems from 12 of the world’s religions.

Patti Godwin, who helps run the church’s Seva Center said that each scene will “offer unique meditative experience for the viewer.”

Various families and church groups, including the choir, kitchen crew, barristas and Outrageous Wild Women of Unity, were given a poem to create a niche for. The 12 odes are based on prose written by James Twyman, an international author known as “The Peace Troubadour.” The prayers represent the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Native African, Native American, Muslim, Bahai, Sikh and Christian religions, as well as a universal poem for Mother Teresa.

“People can walk through and experience the poem and get a sense of what these religions are,” Godwin said. “This is so that people can come and have a chance to see something a  little different. The scene is joy to the world because there isn’t whole lot of difference between each of the religions; we all want peace on earth. And I think when we boil it down we have a lot more common ground than we realize.”

She added that during the exhibit multiple renditions of the song “Joy to the World” will be playing, so that the experience can be enhanced musically. She said she’s expecting the scenes to be powerful and encourages people to make more than one visit, taking in only a few poems at a time, “so that you don’t get overwhelmed and so that you can relish each one.”

“Joy to the World” viewings will be each Sunday until Christmas from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and during the Christmas Eve services on Dec. 24 at 6, 8 and 10 p.m.