Our letter to members and friends of Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh

On October 30, the Board of Directors of the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council paused in prayer to remember the lives brutally taken at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27. The Board resolved to send a letter to Pittsburg, which is included in full (with the Board’s prayer) below.

November 2, 2018

Dear Members and Friends of Tree of Life Synagogue,

Our Catawba Valley Interfaith Council upholds and supports you in your time of grief and sorrow. We came into being a few years ago to help build trust and understanding among the many faith groups in the community and to foster love that unites and celebrates diversity. The hate-motivated tragedy that you have experienced makes us more determined than ever to speak out and act out in ways that bring people together for the good of all.

Your congregation has experienced much suffering and loss; we suffer with you because when any part of the human family experiences acts of violence and expressions of hate, everyone is less safe. As we dream and plan for a new tomorrow, it is important that we labor together to break down all that separates and work together to construct a climate where everyone feels secure and loved.

Catawba Valley Interfaith Council stands with Tree of Life Synagogue as you deal with everything such a terrible expression of hate has caused. It is our hope that as all of us move through the healing process we may experience a brighter future for our faith communities and for our nation.

You will find enclosed a prayer used to open our October 30th Board meeting at which time plans were announced for a community service of Remembrance and Hope to be held at Temple Beth Shalom, here in Hickory, NC, on Saturday, November 3rd.

Blessings and Love,
CVIC Board of Directors

Rabbi Dennis Jones, Temple Beth Shalom
Rev. Donald P. Flick, United Church of Christ
Julie Cline, Unitarian Universalist
William Keener, Humanist
Mindy Makant, Ph.D., Evangelical Lutheran
Rev. Cliff Moone, Presbyterian
Rev. Nancy Stahl, Disciples of Christ
Michele Francois, Presbyterian
Barbara Laufer, Ph.D., Temple Beth Shalom
Rev. Patrick Campbell, United Church of Christ
Rev. Jill Isola, Presbyterian
Rev. Paul Christy, United Methodist
Robert Nehls, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints
John Esse, Ph.D., Buddhist

Opening Prayer Rev. Donald P. Flick
Catawba Valley Interfaith Council
Board of Director’s Meeting
October 30, 2018

God of all humankind and creator of the universe, you call us to love one another and share the community in which we live peacefully and in harmony with one another. We are to respect differences and rejoice in our diversity.

It is heart breaking and sad when the community climate is such that freedom and security is broken and violated….when others religions and freedom of expression is not respected.

We mourn the loss of life and the act of violence experienced this past week in Squirrel Hill, Pa.. and are saddened that such a climate of hate has invaded our society that such acts have become common occurrences. Our prayers are extended to those suffering from loss and the fear and uncertainty such acts bring about.

May such expressions of hate and misdirected thinking not turn us to despair but cause us to be more determined than ever to work for unity and understanding, trust and peace among all. Give us the wisdom, strength, and motivation to build strong loving relationships and an Interfaith Council that helps create a united community where love abounds and the challenges of the times can be successfully met.

While our prayer life may be different, Loving God, unite us in our effort to create a climate of peace and hope and love in all that we do. Amen.

Interfaith group hosts public discussions on LRU’s 2018-19 ‘Campus Read’

In Morocco, Laila Lalami “never had to look very hard or very far to find the kind of misfortune that drives people to desperate acts.” But through her stories, she “gives name to the unnamed; agency to the sidelined” and “gives voice to the silences of history” according to the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. One such story is told in Lalami’s debut novel, Hope and Other Pursuits, which details the journey of four Moroccan immigrants crossing the Straits of Gibraltar in a lifeboat seeking a better life in Spain. The book “evokes the grit and enduring grace that is modern Morocco and offers an authentic look at the Muslim immigrant experience today.”

LailaLalami21On September 27, 2018 at 7 PM, Lalami will speak at PE Monroe Auditorium as part of LRU’s Visiting Writers Series, in partnership with the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council (CVIC). The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are recommended in advance and may be obtained by calling 828.328.7206 or going to the box office in PE Monroe Auditorium on LR’s campus. As part of their partnership with LRU’s Visiting Writers Series on Lalami’s talk, CVIC will also be hosting free and public book discussions on Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits at various locations across the Catawba Valley in September.

HopeandOtherDanger300dpiAll discussions will be facilitated by members of CVIC, and participants in the discussions are encouraged to read the book beforehand. It can be found at a number of local libraries and book stores, or purchased online in hard cover, paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats. CVIC is a local not-for-profit organization of faith-based and secular communities in the Catawba Valley serving as a catalyst for hope and cooperating for the purpose of dialogue, information sharing, and celebration. Their purpose is to create a more compassionate community and honor the rich diversity of religious, spiritual, and secular traditions in the community. For additional information about CVIC or these events, email CVIC at  catawbavalleyinterfaithcouncil@gmail.com.


Human Rights Day Essay Contest

The Catawba Valley Interfaith Council invites high school students from the Catawba Valley area to submit an original essay responding to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what it means to them. Cash prizes will be given to the top three essays selected ($200 for 1st prize, $100 for 2nd prize and $50 for 3rd prize). Winners will read their essays as part of the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council’s celebration of Human Rights Day which will be held at Lenoir Rhyne University’s Grace Chapel on Monday, December 10th at 7pm.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being — regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.

For this year’s 70th anniversary, the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council is highlighting Article 26 which declares everyone has the right to an education.

o Work must be original and provide citations using a generally recognized format such as MLA
o Word count of 700-1,000 words
o Electronic submission of essay in .pdf format to catawbavalleyinterfaithcouncil@gmail.com with “essay” as the subject
o Deadline for submissions is October 10th, 2018 at midnight
o Student must be available to participate in the December 10th celebration of International Human Rights
o Creativity is encouraged as long as it lends itself to oral presentation
o Submissions must include a cover page with the following details: student’s name, name and email of English teacher, name of school (home schoolers are also welcome to participate), student’s contact information (including phone number), age, and essay word count
o Winners will be notified by Nov 20th

NOTE: Submissions that do not follow the instructions will not be reviewed or considered.
Article 26 of the UDHR
1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

For additional information about CVIC or their HRD essay contest, email us at catawbavalleyinterfaithcouncil@gmail.com.

Knowledge inspires awe, hope and positive action

This week’s meditation for the Faith & Values section of the Hickory Daily Record (July 7, 2018) was written by CVIC Board member and President of the Hickory Humanist Alliance (a CVIC group member), William Keener.

Humanists believe the good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge, but we also find inspiration in knowledge. While always tentative and subject to revision based on new evidence, human knowledge can inspire not only awe and wonder about our universe and our place in it but also hope for our own species’ ability to learn and solve problems. In this way, our knowledge can inspire positive action, guided by knowledge, to improve the human condition. On an individual level, knowledge of the risks associated with bacterial infections inspire us to take action guided by knowledge (antibiotics). And knowledge of the risks associated with preventable diseases inspire us to take action guided by knowledge (vaccinations).

This perspective is not unique to secular humanists or medical interventions. Many people with religious faith are also inspired to take action in other areas based on human knowledge. Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian, the daughter of missionaries, and the wife of the pastor of an evangelical church in Texas. She’s also a climate scientist who writes about “why a changing climate matters to real people, how we’re going to solve it, and what faith has to do with fixing this global challenge.” And Francis Collins is a “Bible-believing Christian” as well as a physician-geneticist who led the Human Genome Project. In an editorial for CNN in 2007, he noted that “evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.”

While some find certain scientific findings heretical and refuse to accept them, too many others accept the findings but see them as cold and impersonal facts about our insignificant lives in a vast universe devoid of ultimate meaning. But for secular humanists, we are the agents who create meaning. And evolution shows us how we are connected to all life on Earth. From the birds and the bees that pollinate the dandelions in our yard to the dolphins at the beach and our beloved pets, we all share a common origin. One of the most awe-inspiring things that I’ve learned from science is how humans, and almost everything else in the universe, is made by stars. Aside from the hydrogen and helium created at the origin of our universe, all other elements – from the calcium in our bones to the iron in our blood – were formed in the nuclear furnaces of stars and blasted out into the universe in massive explosions, which we call supernovae, when stars die. As Carl Sagan once said, we are literally “star stuff, contemplating the stars…We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” What could be more inspiring, and meaningful, than that?

William Keener is the President of the Hickory Humanist Alliance and a member of the Board of Directors of the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council.

Local Imam Presents a Muslim Perspective on Abraham at Large Local Gathering

HICKORY – Imam Tamir Mutakabbir is a native Floridian who served in the U.S. Navy when Jimmy Carter was president, but he now holds a masters in Counselor Education and a masters in Pastoral Counseling Psychology and is currently writing his dissertation in Pastoral Counseling Psychology. Mutakabbir also serves as an Imam for a diverse local community of Muslims in Statesville and Rock Hill. On Sunday, he presented a Muslim perspective on Abraham to about a hundred local residents as part of the four-part study of Abrahamic faiths sponsored by the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council (CVIC).

The crowd was greeted by Reverend Jill V. Isola, Pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Hickory, who hosted the session. The African American Imam opened his talk on Abraham with a prayer and devotional reflection on Billy Graham before noting the deep historical connections between the Presbyterian Church and the Muslim community in this part of North Carolina. Davidson College, founded in 1837 by The Concord Presbytery, is home to the only known surviving American slave narrative written in Arabic.

Omar Ibn Said, born to a wealthy West African family around 1770, was abducted and sold into slavery in 1831. He was transported to Charleston, South Carolina and eventually escaped and was recaptured and jailed near Fayetteville. It was here that he “came to the attention of a prominent North Carolina family after filling ‘the walls of his room with piteous petitions to be released, all written in the Arabic language,’” as documented in ‘A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn Said’ (published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2011). Said became a local celebrity in North Carolina and was asked to write his life story.

According to Smithsonian Magazine (Jan 2018), “Some scholars estimate 20 percent of the enslaved men and women brought to the Americas were Muslims.” In a recent article about Thomas Jefferson’s 1734 edition of the Qur’an the magazine notes that Islam was “[o]ften practiced in secret, reluctantly abandoned, or blended with other traditions,” and that “these first attempts ultimately did not survive slavery. But the mere existence of Islam in the early republic is evidence that religious diversity in this country has a deeper and more complex history than many now know.”

Imam Mutakabbir was introduced by CVIC Vice President Rev. Don Flick, and his talk, and the question and answer session led by CVIC Program Chair Michele Francois, were live streamed (as were prior sessions) and can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council. This was the third presentation in their series, which included a Jewish perspective and a Christian perspectives in the first two gatherings. The final session will be hosted at the Belk Centrum at Lenoir-Rhyne University (LRU) on March 4 where the discussion will be led by Dr. Mindy Makant, Professor of Religion at LRU. The discussion will begin at 2:30 pm and conclude by 4:00 pm, including time for questions and discussion.

The study series is based on the book ‘Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths,’ published by Bruce Feiler in 2002. Feiler tells the powerful story of one man’s search for the shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. CVIC is a local not-for-profit organization of faith-based and secular communities in the Catawba Valley serving as a catalyst for hope and cooperating for the purpose of dialogue, information sharing, and celebration. Rabbi Dennis Jones at Temple Beth Shalom in Hickory is the group’s current president. Julie Cline, CVIC’s Membership Chair, will be available at each event to accept membership applications from individuals or civic groups who are interested in participating in interfaith dialogue and cooperation in the Catawba Valley.



Imam Mutakabbir speaking at Northminster Presbyterian in Hickory.

Full list of speakers (and video):

  • Feb. 11: Temple Beth Shalom, Rabbi Dennis Jones (VIDEO)
  • Feb. 18: Corinth Reformed, UCC, Rev. Dr. Robert Thompson (VIDEO)
  • Feb. 25: Northminster Presbyterian Church, Imam T. A. Mutakabbir (VIDEO)
  • Mar. 4: Belk Centrum LRU, Dr. Mindy Makant (VIDEO)

Media inquiries can be directed to CatawbaValleyInterfaithCouncil@GMail.com.