Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fall Report: Upcoming Events

This has been a very busy Fall for us so far.  We have already received our state and federal nonprofit exemption letters, so we are legally allowed to begin fundraising to support our mission.  Our new website is finished, thanks to our volunteer web design coordinator, Deane Buchannan Stuart.  We are just beginning to resume the process of writing grant proposals, which we had to put on hold last year when we decided to transform into a project independent of Loyola Marymount University (LMU), where we began our journey, and to incorporate as a nonprofit in our own right.  During that time, we had to focus all our energies on the incorporation and tax exemption process, and allow the government officials to do their work in granting us our approvals, prior to approaching any outside foundations.  But now is the time to really begin our work, now that the preliminary groundwork is done. 

So, we’ve just begun to plan our first few events.  The first of these is a Middle Eastern music and dance performance which Melissa Crandall (our inaugural treasurer, and also my wife) will be helping to coordinate.  Melissa is a seasoned belly dancer specializing in Egyptian and Turkish styles, who also performed traditional Persian dance with the Pars National Ballet for many years.  Her background has afforded her some truly wonderful connections in the Middle Eastern music and dance community.  She is the right person to help coordinate and produce this event.  The idea for a show of this nature came to me earlier this year when Melissa’s current dance troupe was producing a number of shows as fundraisers for Japan relief, in the wake of the Tsunami and subsequent nuclear disasters.  This was surely a worthy cause.  But it struck me—what better match could there be than that of Middle Eastern dance and music and the cause of religious tolerance?  Since some of the most persistent difficulties in the world surround issues of religion in the Middle East, we would do well to focus on producing a show that highlights the shared musical commonalities of the Middle East—the elements, the tones, the flavors that are shared throughout the region regardless of religion or ethnicity.  Israeli musician Yuval Ron has embodied this in much of his music, performing to promote peace between peoples of the Mid-East who share common origins and a common palette of music.  Perhaps we may be able to invite him to perform at our show along with many other fine musicians and dancers that we are approaching.  We’ll most likely hold the show at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in the early Spring.  Stay tuned for more news as it unfolds. 

The other major event we’ll be pioneering is actually a series of events that are part of an initiative.  Our secretary, Dolly Bush, had the excellent idea that some folks who might want to visit a particular house of worship in order to educate themselves may not know the proper etiquette of attending such a place.  So we’re planning a new initiative called “What To Know, Before You Go,” which will provide information to people about the particular customs of various faiths and will even culminate in organizing a series of “field trips” to a number of houses of worship in the Southern California area.  Anyone can attend.  I’ll be pioneering this program with some of my college students who are enrolled in my World Religions Class at LMU and who’ll be visiting the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City next week.  Last night, I had a delightful conversation with the mosque’s newly appointed Coordinator of Religious and Educational activities in preparation for my students’ visit.  We are both very excited about this collaboration and he is also very interested in exploring the possibility of having the mosque become a participating destination in our initiative.  He said that in his newly assumed role, he would like to do much more interfaith outreach, helping to educate people about Islam and dispelling negative myths and misconceptions about it. 

All of this is, of course, in addition to resuming our flagship project, the Institute’s ReligionMatters Show, formulated as a frequent video podcast devoted to discussing matters of religion and spirituality.  Eric Halsey (the producer of the show) and I are very eager to resume filming new episodes.  This also was put aside when we began the incorporation process earlier this year.  We were hoping, earlier, to interview a number of Holocaust survivors that I had met, but unfortunately we had to prioritize our task list in favor of getting the basic corporate fundamentals handled first.  But now that we’re trying to get back on track, we also have a number of other guests we’d like to interview, including a Christian man (a close friend of mine) who has written a history of his denomination—the International Churches of Christ—as well as bringing back Susana de Sola Funsten, our earlier guest, to talk about certain key aspects of Roman Catholicism.

I’m delighted that we have successfully passed the initial stages of incorporation and basic tax exemption, but those are comparable to boot camp for new military recruits.  After boot camp, every soldier has additional training to undergo prior to being deployed to his or her first duty station.  (I hope you’ll forgive the martial analogy, but many of the world’s most peaceful religions have used warrior metaphors and symbolism with great success; e.g. Tibetan Buddhism among others.)  So we have a long road ahead of us, but I believe that we have a good organization that is attracting good people and we’re making good connections with groups that want to set an example to others—namely that people of drastically different faiths can indeed get along just fine.  I ask you to consider stepping up to the plate (a baseball analogy this time) and volunteering your time and resources, and maybe even some funds, to help secure a brighter future for those who believe that religion should be a source of peacemaking instead of an occasion for  division, domination and devastation. 

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