Reflections

DCIC Story Circle, April 22, 2013- St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Poughkeepsie

By: Gail Burger

Attendees: 20 people...6 from Catholic congregations, 6 from Protestant congregations, 6 from Jewish congregations, 1 Hindu, 1 Muslim.

Dan Ward gave a tour of his beautiful sanctuary; Marion Schwartz, me and Muriel’s friend Debbie stayed behind and talked about the Boston bombing suspects.  When the “tourists” returned, Pastor Ward opened the Circle with an interfaith prayer.

Muriel introduced the Circle by asking each to make a 10 word comment about their connection to the earth.

Muriel told a great story about “the people who ate the sky.”  We enjoyed it just as much as the children to whom Muriel tells this story always enjoy it.  The lesson is twofold in stressing the value of preserving the environment while also avoiding the destructive nature of being greedy in our day to day behavior.

Muriel’s story was “not from the Jewish tradition, but from Africa...although, it could be from any one of our religious traditions.”  A visitor from South Africa was part of the Circle that evening.

Gail read a Mary Oliver poem titled: “Life Story.”  She read it in memory of a friend of hers and of Lorraine Hartin-Gelardi’s, Jo Renbeck, whose connection to the earth was exquisite.

Mary Lou Koziol told about her experience doing a “cooking show” at the nursing home where she worked for many years.  It was Earth Day, but the correct answer to the question, “What special day is it today?” was, “It’s Mary’s birthday.”  The 98 year old Mary’s response: “I don’t think so.”  Mary Lou went on to speak about the new Pope Francis and passed around a card a friend had brought back from his installation in Rome.  Then she read St. Francis’ “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” prayer.  It all fit together like a glove on a hand.

Ralph Schwartz told a funny story about a woman in a kayak upon whose lap a sea otter recently plopped itself.   Ralph also made some other great comments from life experiences of his own.

Waheeda Soomro also shared some animal experiences while living out in LaGrange.  She commented that a ground hog presented a special challenge which her IBM husband.  He tends strongly toward perfectionism, but finally had to give in and give up even trying to get rid of the creature.  Gail asked Waheeda whether the Koran contains any verses about ecology and the beauty of the earth.  Waheeda was able to mention several.  One was particularly striking: “No hunting for pleasure...only hunting for food when it was absolutely necessary.”

Muriel asked Kusum Gupta to speak to Hinduism's deep pronouncements about the natural world.  Kusum spoke eloquently.


Lucy Jones, a United Methodist minister, resident now at The Grail in Cornwall, told her gardening story.  The deer were devastating the garden day after day.  One day when approaching the garden she found a fawn curled up in a ball on the ground. Apparently Lucy had frightened the mother away.  The baby deer stood up shakily on its wobbly legs and leaned against Lucy.  “I forgive you” was all she could say.  Lucy’s connection to all of nature had been instantly refreshed.

Jill Auerbach, with the conservation commission, works trying to solve the problems related to tick borne diseases, stressed the importance of biological diversity.  All species of animals are related in such a way as to deal with such diseases, but when, for example, the red foxes are decimated by coyotes, the balance is disrupted and disease can become rampant.

Several other participants shared reflections on nature’s beauty, on memories of early Earth Days and on our very basic responsibility as earth stewards.  One of the most popular Christian hymns is “How Great Thou Art”, a song about the awesome beauty of God’s Creation.  We sang the first two verses.

The refreshments were really good.


DCIC Story Circle, March 6, 2012 - Kagyu Tubten Choling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

By Rev. Gail Burger

What a pleasant and peaceful evening of stories in the Shrine Room at K.T.C. Monastery. Ani Depa was a most gracious host as usual. The atmosphere was very relaxed and for the first time during a visit to the monastery, I actually had time to carefully look around and dwell on the beauty of the room’s intricate decorations - including the ceiling. Ani Depa explained a lot of the symbolism therein and thereon. Muriel directed the sharing and began by asking each of us to share the name of a woman in our life who was generously kind (March is Women's History Month).
There were lots of good stories too. The topic was “Random Acts of Kindness.” Ani preferred “Spontaneous Acts of Kindness” and she told a Zen Buddhist story about a wise monk’s encounter with a thief who was trying to rob his home. The monk owned only his clothing, his staff and his begging bowl. Confronting the thief when he returned home after having received his food for the day through the charity of the community, he offered his clothing to the thief, who left in confusion at the graciousness of his victim. Gazing out his window at the rising full moon, the monk prayed: “The thief left it behind - the moon at the window.”
Muriel told a story about the prisoners in a concentration camp who spent time together preparing for the celebration they would have when liberation came. They concentrated on making little toys for the children among them out of scraps of material they collected from among their meager belongings.

We were all delighted to learn about the confluence and similarities of important Spring holidays in the Buddhist (the month of the miracle moon), Hindu (Holi) and Jewish (Purim) faith traditions.

Several touching personal stories were shared about experiences of acts of kindness: Ed Koziol’s brother was kindly helped threefold through a traumatic accident experience; Ani Depa remembered the kindness and wisdom of her first grade teacher leading a class of sixty children on Long Island decades ago. One little boy suffered bouts of crying during class. The teacher posed his problem to the sixty. The solution came form a thoughtful little girl - "Eddie, when you feel like you are going to have to cry, reach up, take hold of your ear and turn off the tears;" Tamara Gruszko’s father, one of 11 children, shared equally in all that he had for the rest of his life with the last of his brothers to leave Poland for Argentina where the rest of the family had already settled. This man, the oldest of the brothers, came, not expecting to stay, but was caught in the actual beginning of the war and needed to stay although he had arrived without any wherewithal; Valerie described the joy that a former employee of her 98 year old father brought to his former boss recently by writing a birthday greeting which detailed his appreciation for all the older man had done for him decades ago; Mary Lou Koziol told about her daughter Karen, whose multiple handicaps included deafness, poor eyesight and autism. Karen lived in a world focused on her own needs, but one day, broke out of her shell to help a fellow resident of Greystone who was ill. She slipped into his room one of her precious stuffed animals. A kindness breakthrough.
The refreshment time was lively and we enjoyed many special treats including homemade Hamentashen by Muriel and chutney made from coriander seeds by Kusum, to say nothing of the fresh pineapple and strawberries.
It was exciting to see the shell of the new Temple rising before our eyes. The stunning view of the Hudson River from the new facility will include the graceful stupa prayer tower. The new building has been long in the planning and prayers of that community.


DCIC in the Poughkeepsie Journal


Mosque's open house is a start


Editorial by John Penny, November 18, 2010

They came together Sunday afternoon — Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Hindus and people of other faiths — ready to confront an enormous challenge, but one this country can, and must, overcome.

They sought a better understanding about their respective religions, yes, but also to speak out about the pervasive anti-Muslim sentiment that has swept the country.

And they did that, and much more, at the Mid-Hudson Islamic Association's open house, at a mosque in the Town of Wappinger.

For those who have never been in a mosque, it had to be educational. For anyone hoping to see the level of civility and public discourse raised in this country, it had to be uplifting.

There they were, this panel of mostly religious leaders and a crowd of approximately 200, searching for ways to go forward. Members of the Islamic Association were clearly appreciative: They had to unfold dozens more chairs at the last minute, overwhelmed by the large turnout.

Those in attendance heard from representatives of the Dutchess Interfaith Council and religious leaders of various faiths. Their messages carried universal themes of tolerance — and of the undeniable belief that people of different faiths must learn to coexist.

They debunked myths and misconceptions. Yes, tensions have risen over the question of whether a mosque should be built near Ground Zero, and all sides should be heard. But, surely, stereotypes shouldn't be perpetuated in the process.

In the war on terrorism, the battle isn't between Muslims and non-Muslims. It's between radical forces of Islam that have corrupted aspects of their religion, as other religions have witnessed their religions corrupted from time to time over the centuries.

The media, too, took their share of criticism for giving too much exposure to extremists, such as the Rev. Terry Jones, who was threatening to burn copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, on the anniversary of 9/11.

Yet it also is true that, in a free society, all groups have a right to be heard, and moderate Muslims must speak up as well.

It's imperative they find a receptive audience when they do. It has been said that if radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution.

Reprehensibly, though, segments of our society don't recognize the difference, don't see the distinction and, thus, are making it harder for Muslims to say anything that would call attention to themselves. Many are new, legal immigrants from a variety of countries still trying to establish roots here, amid the backdrop of the war on terrorism and in the aftermath of 9/11. Yet, ironically, Muslims have been in the United States for more than 200 years — millions live here today, thousands serve loyally in the U.S. armed forces.

Members of the Mid-Hudson Islamic Association include people we know and see every day: health-care practitioners and administrators, educators, financial planners, laborers, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

On Sunday, at their mosque, they welcomed and embraced a community wishing to show their support — and to learn more about the Muslim faith.

It was a poignant way forward, for certain.


Interfaith gatherings allow us to see our similarities

By Dugan Radwin • November 20, 2010

It's rare that an imam, a rabbi and Christian priests of various denominations are in the same room together. But last Sunday, they and other religious leaders gathered at Masjid Al-Noor mosque in Wappingers Falls for an open house and interfaith meeting. Attending the event made me realize that however these groups differ, they also have a lot in common — and how critical the dialogue between them is.

I had never been to a mosque before and wasn't sure what to expect. I knew I would have to take off my shoes before entering — so it was no surprise to see they had shelves for the shoes outside the main entrance. Though it felt a little strange walking around in stocking feet, it seemed to bring the diverse group together in some way.

After a question-and-answer session for the nearly 200 visitors with the imam in the mosque's main prayer room, the women left the men and went upstairs for a prayer — inviting female visitors to come with them. I followed them to an area situated like a balcony above the main prayer room where the men remained below. Standing with the other visitors, I watched as the women stood side-by-side and knelt in response to words called out by the imam.

Then the panel of speakers and visitors gathered in the mosque's basement. Crayon-colored pictures of religious lessons taped on some of the walls made it clear it was an area used to educate children. In that respect, it reminded me of the basement in the church where I had attended Sunday school.

The speakers included a young Muslim woman who described growing up in the Midwest, where there were very few people of her background, but she had nevertheless felt accepted by the community — as she also had at the Catholic high school and college she attended. Yet since Sept. 11, she said the shift in sentiments made her concerned about the future of Muslim integration in America.

Speakers from the Christian and Jewish religions said they could relate to the difficulties faced by the Muslim community because their people had faced similar opposition at various points, whether it was prejudice against Catholic immigrants or anti-Semitism.

Eventually, the visitors were invited to partake of an impressive spread of Middle Eastern snacks. One thing that quickly bridges the gap between diverse groups is sharing good food, and it was inspiring to watch everyone mingling.

Aside from open-house events like this one, which will be repeated at other houses of worship in the months ahead, the Dutchess County Interfaith Council also holds story circles to bring people together. Hopefully, more activities like these will continue helping to overcome prejudice and misunderstanding in our nation and community.


Reflection on a Busy Weekend-News & Events September 2010

DCIC Executive Director Ed Koziol offers his reflection on an event filled weekend in September.
EdThursday evening my wife, MaryLou and I were privileged to attend the 17th Annual Evening by the Hudson to benefit Hudson River Housing. This event is always an enjoyable way to spend an evening with good food, drink, friends and fellowship.  And this year was no exception.  During the evening we were treated to several beautiful music selections performed by the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Youth Choir, directed by Mrs Nina Ricci. The featured speaker was Francis Adams, a young man who came to America from his home in Africa when he was a boy. Francis lived with his adopted father in Hyde Park and attended Roosevelt High School until his father tragically passed away. Francis was left homeless with no one to turn to until he found River Haven shelter. They provided him with a new home and encouraged him to further his education. He attended Dutchess Community College and went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in biology.  At present, Francis is preparing to enter premed school. He is truly a testimony to the fine work of everyone at Hudson River Housing

Friday evening, Vassar College was the setting for a wonderful night of music sponsored by the Vassar Haiti Project and presented by Les Petits Chanteurs, a 30 voice boy’s choir from the Holy Trinity Music School in Port au Prince, Haiti. The school, which provides music training to over 1000 Haitian children, was totally destroyed by the earthquake. We were uplifted by the outstanding music performed by these young men and inspired by the courage and human spirit to rise above the tragedy in their homeland. Thank you to Andrew and Lila Meade the co founders of the VHP for arranging this beautiful event.

Saturday morning, up bright and early and on my way to the World Peace Sanctuary in Wassaic, NY for the   annual Peace Prayer Day dedicated to offering prayers for peace among all peoples.  The event begins with prayers for the tribes of Native Americans, followed by the 50 states and ending with all the other nations of the world.  Our own Board President, Theresa Giovanniello carried the flag of Pakistan during the Flag ceremony. In addition we were treated to music from many countries as well as traditional Japanese, Nepalese and Hawaiian dancers. The finale of the afternoon, which truly touched everyone, was the release of hundreds of Monarch butterflies; American Indians believe if you make a wish and then release a butterfly it will take your wish to God. Many thanks to Theresa for joining me at the DCIC table from 11 AM until 4 PM.

In reflecting back over these days, I give thanks to God for the many blessings he has provided and for allowing me the opportunities to be at this place in my life. It is only through His goodness that I am able to enjoy these wonderful experiences.

On "A Potpourri of Stories"-June 2010

Our former Executive Director, Rev. Gail Burger has given us her reflection on the June 2010 Story Circle held at Linwood Spiritual Center.

Linwood Spiritual Center Potluck Story Circle 
June 8, 2010
Rev. Gail A. Burger

Lorraine made the connection - we’ve always called this last Interfaith Story Circle of the Season, “A Potpourri of Stories,” but I’ve never connected the “Pot Luck” supper which precedes it with the “Pot Luck” collection of stories.  Last evening both the Supper and the Stories were various and delicious.

Two of the twenty-five attendees who made their way to the beautiful Linwood Spiritual Center on Mill Road in Rhinebeck were Great-Grandmothers - that is, another two decades older and wiser than this Grandmother happens to be.  One was Mabel, an Indian woman who is a member of the Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church in Rhinebeck and the other was Marguerite, a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie. The other twenty-three of us were: two Baha’i’s, two Lutherans, two Episcopalians, two Presbyterians, one Conservative Jew, three Hindus, one Unitarian Universalist, seven Roman Catholics and three guests from the Albany Area Story Circle.  What a great group. The tri-folds the women from Albany brought are excellent - one is about their Story Circles and the other is about their Youth Program, “Children at the Well.”  Paula, the woman who started the youth program will talk with Gwen Higgins, our current Board Member who is interested in and well equipped to organize a Youth Event.

Neerjah declared that it was love that had gathered us together.  That was the by-line of the Interfaith Council in past years - “Love Has Gathered Us Together.”  She told a story about an Indian Guru, his student and a scorpion.  The teacher, seeing the scorpion in the river, reached down and scooped him out onto dry land.  In the process, the scorpion stung him. This scene was repeated at least two more times before the student, overcome with frustration, tried to slam a rock onto the scorpion to kill it.   The teacher rebuked him saying that it was the scorpion’s work to sting as it was the student’s work to remain peaceful.  Once again, the teacher reached into the water to rescue the insect.  This time, the insect allowed him to scoop it out onto the land; the example of the consistent behavior of the teacher was not lost on the beast. 

There were so many other wonderful stories: Lorraine’s about the king’s choice of his youngest daughter to succeed him in power because of her compassion for all of the people; Muriel’s tale about King Solomon’s learning a lesson in humility from an ant; Mary’s wedding story about the two very different trees who managed a long time fast friendship; a guest’s Rabbi Hillel story about telling the whole of the Torah while standing on one foot; Teresa’s personal account of an encounter with a little bird in the Holy Land recently; Gert, the founder of the Albany Area Story Circle’s  recounting of her favorite story- the one about life’s delivering to us blessings which sometimes have misfortune as their unintended consequence and misfortunes which sometimes have blessings as their unintended consequence.  All these and more were topped off by a musical story performance by Muriel and Ed - the one they did at the Interfaith Music Festival this past Sunday at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. 

A warm experience was had by all on a lovely, though chilly, June evening looking out over the Hudson.

DCIC President Back From Israel - News & Events May 2010


DCIC President of the Board Theresa Giovanniello shares her reflections on her trip to Israel:
Theresa Giovanniello       Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with my mother.  While there I often meditated on the words of our Spiritual Director, Fr. Peter Gillen who shared these thoughts with us prior to our journey:

       "The people of the Holy Land, all of them, are the 'living stones' through which we come in contact with the Gospel today.  People of different origins, languages, religions, all are used by God in His self revelation.  Through them, we come to know our history and origins and also experience the struggles of living according to the 'Word' today."

       For the group which was predominantly Christian it opened our eyes to the diversity we would have before us in the beautiful country that is Israel. From having a meal at a Druze family restaurant, to visiting Masada, The Church of All Nations, Bethlehem, the Sea of Galilee, The Western Wall, the beautiful Baha'i Gardens, the Dome of the Rock and the many minarets which rose up before us, we were in constant awe of the wondrous ways God reveals himself through his people.

       Throughout the experience I was reminded of how blessed I am to be a part of the work of Dutchess County Interfaith Council and to continuously have the opportunity to meet all of you who take part in our faith-filled events. Your involvement and dedication to DCIC efforts help to reveal God in our lives. Together we share blessings and bring blessings to others.

       As we begin planning our Fall CROP Walk to fight hunger locally and around the world I hope you will consider volunteering.  For now, I look forward to seeing you at our Interfaith Music Festival. 

Thank you for being a valuable part of DCIC.