In search of peace through religious diversity

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Some religious voices in the world claim superiority for themselves and vilify all others. “But we know that we are better together,” Rev. Gary Saunders said this morning at the fourth annual Community Interfaith Breakfast in Bowling Green. “Faith traditions are not a battleground to see who wins,” Saunders said, addressing the theme of “Peace Through Religious Diversity.” “We need to stand up for what we know to be true,” he said. “Let us make a commitment to stand strong.” A sponsor of the annual breakfast was Not In Our Town, an organization which stands in support of diversity and against injustice. The keynote speaker for the event, Michael S. Brown, suggested that the community also adopt some “Absolutely In Our Town” beliefs. Brown, president of the Campus Multi-Faith Alliance at BGSU, suggested: Look closely. “You might actually see something you’ve never seen before,” he said. Listen carefully, instead of thinking what you will say next. “We’re a culture of distraction,” but we can change that, he said. Learn deliberately. Don’t fall for the theory that we all share the same beliefs. “We don’t all basically believe the same thing,” so let’s learn from each other. Live wisely, which is the ability to live life well. Lead heroically. “Friends, we should not be bystanders” when racism or other injustices occur, he said. “Everyone can lead.” Leverage strategically, using your time, treasure and talents. “We only have so much time.” Love extravagantly, with an “over the top kind of love,” he said. Brown said many people have a “disconnect between what we believe and how we behave.” People often take the more comfortable route of surrounding themselves with similar-thinking people. “Man, do we love our huddles,” he said. And conversations are often one-sided. “Most of our conversations sound like presentations,” Brown said. Others who spoke at the interfaith breakfast included Rev. Lynn Kerr, Christina Lunceford of NIOT, BGSU President Rodney Rogers, BG Mayor Dick Edwards and BG City Schools Superintendent Francis Scruci. Joe Jacoby represented the Jewish community and Imam Talal Eid spoke for the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. “This event truly shows how we can come together as people and learn from each other,” Lunceford said. Scruci talked about the recent stances taken by Bowling Green students in the face of school violence across the nation. They are targeting far more than guns and mental health issues, he said. “They speak about the kindness and acceptance that has been lost,” Scruci said. Music and artwork was provided by Bowling Green High School students. Food was donated by South Side 6, Nichols and Biggby Coffee.  

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St Paul Lutheran Hymn and Organ Festival

SUBMITTED BY ST PAUL LUTHERAN CHURCH On August 27 at 4:00 pm, St. Paul Lutheran Church in New Rochester, Ohio, will present a hymn festival to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther wrote to Albert of Mainz and presented his 95 Theses on the power and efficacy of indulgences. This hymn festival also acknowledges the 50 year journey the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church have taken in moving from conflict to closer communion. Special guest at the festival is organist Tom Gerke, who was baptized and confirmed at St. Paul and became an organist during high school at Christ Lutheran Church, Dowling. While attending Capital University in Columbus, he continued studying organ for two years with Professor David Britton and two years with Dr. William Haller. In May 1970, while a junior in college, Gerke won a competition for organists under age 25 in greater central Ohio sponsored by the Columbus Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Having earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Math Education from Capital and Ohio University, Gerke taught math in the Columbus area for 35 years and recently retired. He has continued as organist of All Saints Lutheran Church in Worthington, where he has played for 41 years. Gerke is a member of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians and serves as treasurer of the Columbus Chapter. He is also Dean of the Columbus Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and President of the Ohio Chapter of the Palatines to American German Genealogy Society. With Mayor Gustava Oberhouse, he established the Pemberville/Roedinghausen Friendship Communities Agreement of 1995. St. Paul invites area churches to our Reformation Celebration and all are invited to stay and enjoy a German supper following the program.  

Creation Care Celebration to be held on Sunday

The Black Swamp Green Team’s second Creation Care Celebration will take place Sunday, April 23 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm at Peace Lutheran Church, 1201 Martindale Rd at W. Wooster in Bowling Green. The event celebrates local efforts, organizations and leaders practicing good stewardship by increasing awareness and practices for sustainable renewable energy use and healthy living. Lunch will be included, as will music by the Peace Band. Keynote presentation and panel will be on the topic of sustainable and regenerative agriculture by Don Schooner of Schooner Farms, Alan Sundermeier from the Ohio State University Extension Office, and Paul Herringshaw of Bowling Green. There will be recognitions, displays, and electric car test drives. A tour of Schooner Farms will immediately follow the event at 3:30 pm. The Black Swamp Green Team is a collaboration of faith communities, advocacy groups, non-profit entities, and individuals engaged in promoting and practicing good creation care among itself and its constituents so as to: implement energy efficiency; the use of renewable energy; the production and delivery of local renewable energy; and, thereby, improve its overall stewardship of creation.

St. John Passion in its element as Good Friday offering

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Liturgy and drama are one in Bach’s St. John Passion. The theatrical elements – a narrator, dialogue, and the evocative underscoring for small orchestra—are undeniable. Yet the message and the story almost demand the setting of a church. Yes, it is presented in a concert hall, but that’s akin to a staged reading of a play as opposed to a fully staged production. The St. John Passion was fully in its element on Palm Sunday afternoon in Hope Lutheran Church in Toledo. The Passion, one of two that have come down to us from Bach, the other being the monumental St. Matthew, was presented by musicians from Bowling Green State University. The performance brought together the Early Music Ensemble, directed by Arne Spohr, the University Choral Society directed by Mark Munson, who also conducted the work, organist Michael Gartz, and voice faculty taking on the principal roles and solos. Munson said he’s been waiting for Easter to fall late enough in the semester to be able to prepare the Passion for presentation during Holy Week. So on Good Friday, April 14, the St. John Passion will be presented at 7 p.m. in First United Methodist Church in Bowling Green as the community commemoration of the day. The Passion was first performed in 1724, revised over time, though the final version reverted to much the same as it was originally performed. As presented in Bach’s time, a sermon would be preached between parts one and two. Those in attendance Sunday were advised not to applaud between the two movements. Spohr read several verses of the gospel in Martin Luther’s German translation between the sections. The Passion develops on several fronts. The Evangelist, sung by Christopher Scholl, tells the story, with the direct quotations sung by other vocalists, including Lance Ashmore as Jesus. Interposed in the narration are reflections – chorales sung by the 40-voice choir and arias sung by four soloists alto Ellen Scholl, soprano Chelsea Cloeter, tenor Christopher Scholl, tenor, and bass/baritone Ashmore. Underneath the orchestra provides musical commentary and sets the scene. The opening passage with woodwinds and restless strings, musical establishes the theme that contrasts the degradation and horror of the passion with the glory of the redemption. The belief that Jesus is brought so low to bring humanity so high runs through the chorales and arias. The narration is all sung in English while the arias and chorales remain in the original German. The program provides a full translation. Christopher Scholl as Evangelist is at the center of the piece, guiding the listener through the story of the Passion. He sings the part with clarity and emotional shading. He adds a note of anger, for example, when he sings that those who came to arrest Jesus carried “weapons.” When Peter realizes…

People of different faiths bust barriers to peace

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   People of many faiths busted some myths that stand in the way of peace, during the third annual Interfaith Breakfast in Bowling Green Wednesday morning. More than 250 people gathered for food, fellowship and to break down walls that have been built between faiths over centuries. “If ever there were a time for a candle in the darkness, this would be it,” said Rev. Lynn Kerr, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. “The more we learn from one another,” she said, “peace is possible.” Speakers from Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Native American, Buddhism and Christianity tried to bust myths surrounding their faiths. Rehana Ahmed, a member of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, was born and raised in Pakistan where she attended a Catholic school. That glimpse of another faith gave her an understanding of others. “That has made me a better human being. At the core, we are all the same. What hurts me, hurts other people.” In her job at Sky Bank, Ahmed told of a customer asking her to do something she was not legally able to do. She remained quiet as he spewed several four-letter words at her. But when he told her to go back where she came from, Ahmed asked him if he was a Native American. “You and I can go back on the same boat,” she said to him. “These are trying times for all of us,” Ahmed said. “Let’s ask questions before we make a judgment.” Srinivas Melkote, who is a Hindu originally from India, addressed the immigrant stereotype first. “I’m not a drug dealer,” he said. “I don’t murder people.” After living in Bowling Green for decades, Melkote still gets questions about how often he gets to go home. Every day after work, he responds. Though the oldest continuous religion, Hinduism is misunderstood by many. “It’s extremely tolerant,” and is based on reaching higher knowledge, he explained. Cows are considered sacred, since they give milk like mothers. But other common myths are false, such as Hinduism requiring vegetarianism, subservient women, and the caste system. Joseph Jacoby, a member of the Temple Shomer Emunim, busted myths about Judaism in rhyme. Not all Jews are doctors, control government, rule Hollywood, or have big noses, he said. Jews make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population and 1 percent of Ohio’s population. Many came to the U.S. seeking a safe place to live, Jacoby said. Lynda Dixon, a descendent of those on the Trail of Tears “death march,” spoke on behalf of Native Americans. “I’m very proud to say I am a member of the Cherokee Nation,” from the Deer Clan, she said. Her people were early Christians in the nation, with many of their beliefs aligning with those who brought Christianity from Europe. Her Cherokee…

Muslim students build bridges with BG community

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Some bridges were strengthened Sunday between local Muslims, Christians and Jews. The ravine between Muslims and other faiths in America has grown during the past year – emphasizing the differences rather than the similarities between people of varying faiths. So on Sunday, Muslim students from Bowling Green State University, asked the community to join them for a “Meet the Muslims” gathering at the Wood County District Public Library. “This is how it starts,” a Muslim student said, pointing out that both Islam and Christianity  promote love for others. “We are all brothers and sisters in humanity. It’s on us to get to know one another.” Adnan Shareef, president of the Muslim student group, said that stereotypes are allowed to fester and grow if nothing is done to stop them. “All of us are affected by stereotyping,” Shareef said. “Unless we communicate and interact with people. Through interaction, stereotypes can change.” In the current political climate in the U.S., the community gathering was a serious undertaking for students of the Muslim faith. “It takes a lot of courage,” said Marcia Salazar Valentine, executive director of the BGSU International Programs and Partnership. But the students were not alone, reminded Bowling Green City Councilman Daniel Gordon. “Events like this today are needed now more than ever,” Gordon said, speaking of the “venom of Islamaphobia” being spread since the presidential campaign and election. He spoke of the growing number of hate crimes targeting Muslims, and the travel ban executive order signed by President Donald Trump. “This is not our America,” Gordon said. This has become a nation where hateful campaign rhetoric is turning into national policy. This isn’t the first time refugees have been turned away at America’s borders, he said. In 1939, many Jewish refugees coming into America were refused entrance. So Trump’s signing of his travel ban on Holocaust Remembrance Day was particularly hurtful, Gordon said. “America, after all, was built by immigrants and refugees,” he said. “We need to stand together.” Bowling Green City Council has taken action to stand up for Muslims, with the passage of a resolution condemning hatred toward Muslims and proclaiming that silence in the face of intolerance is not acceptable. “This is the heart of who we are,” said Gordon, who presented members of the BGSU Muslim Student Association with a framed copy of the city resolution. Fatima Al-Hayashi said she is troubled by the recent political climate in the U.S., but she has not lost faith. “I have faith in the American public,” Al-Hayashi said, noting the millions of people protesting the travel ban. “I don’t have faith in the government. I do have faith in the Constitution.” Al-Hayashi, who teaches at the University of Toledo, came to America from Lebanon. “Once I studied the Constitution, I…

Scholar helps guide BGSU musicians toward Holy Week presentations of St. John Passion

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Mark Munson has been waiting for the academic and liturgical calendars to align. The director of choral studies at Bowling Green State University wanted a year when Good Friday fell late enough in the semester to allow time to prepare and present J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion on Good Friday. This is the year, and this past week the singers and musicians started the final phase of preparation. The passion oratorio, originally presented on Good Friday, 1724, is a large undertaking that involves soloists, the University Choral Ensemble, and the Early Music Ensemble, directed by Arne Spohr. To help this large contingent of students, faculty and community members prepare, a leading scholar and tenor Christopher Cock, of the Bach Institute at Valparaiso University in Indiana, visited campus. In the passion, Bach relates the story of Jesus’ trial and execution using the text from the Gospel of John, with reflections by soloists and the choir. Cock has sung the role of the evangelist in the St. John Passion 50 times as well as conducted it on several other occasions. His choir has been in residence at St. Thomas in Leipzig where the piece was first presented, a rare honor for an American choir. He was at BGSU as the Helen McMaster Endowed Professor in Vocal and Choral Studies. For many of the students involved this will their first time playing it. “I’m getting chills just thinking about you’re experiencing this work for the first time,” he told them. Cock spoke about how Bach brought the theology to life in the music. “The debasement of being nailed to the cross,” he said, “was the only way Jesus could realize his full divinity.” That comes through in the instrumental introduction. The winds play a series of notes that overlap to create a dissonance “like a nail piercing a skin.” Cock said. The strings are restless, rustling, unsettled. The lower strings relentlessly lead the way to the choir’s entrance. This music may indeed have gotten Bach into trouble, Cock noted both at the rehearsal and at a talk the next day. Bach wrote the Passion in 1724, the first year of his employment at St. Thomas. He presented it again the next year, the scholar said, an unusual move. This time that distinctive opening had given way to a more soothing introduction. Cock said no one knows why, but he speculated that church authorities were bothered by that dark music. “The congregation had to be shocked and may have been disturbed” by the music. Bach continued to refine and present the St. John Passion through the remainder of his life. He last presenting it in 1749. That opening passage was returned to its place. The only instance Cock can imagine performing the piece without those measures would be…