Monday, April 28, 2008

CCCJ Annual Spring Breakfast Dialogue - Understanding Redemption

The Canadian Council of Christians and Jews – Alberta Region
Annual Spring Breakfast Dialogue
Understanding Redemption: Jewish and Christian Perspectives

Rabbi Jordan Ofseyer - Beth Tzedec Congregation
Reverend Phil Reinders - River Park Christian Reformed Church

Date: Wednesday, May 21st, 2008 (kindly reserve by May 20, 2008)
Time: 8:30 to 10:15 a.m.
Location: Calgary Jewish Centre (1607 – 90th Avenue S.W., Calgary)
Cost: $10 (Breakfast included

Rabbi Jordan Ofseyer was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1962 and has served as a Rabbi to several congregations in the USA. He has a Bachelor of Sacred Music, a Masters in Hebrew Literature and an Honorary Doctorate from JTS. Rabbi Ofseyer is a lecturer, author and regular panelist on American Religious Town Hall, a nationally televised weekly program on religious and social issues.

Reverend Phil Reinders (B.A., M.Div. Th.M.) is Sr. Pastor at River Park Christian Reformed Church in Calgary, leading it to be actively engaged in serving its community. Phil regularly writes in a variety of publications, including editorials for the Calgary Herald, commenting on the intersection of faith with current news or popular culture

Additional information about the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews - Alberta Region can be found on their website at:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Renfrew Educational Services, Calgary

A few days ago I was invited by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society's Regional Outreach Program to provide an overview of Islam and the Muslim communities in Calgary to the staff of Renfrew Educational Services. The staff wanted to learn more to provide better services to their clients.

The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, Regional Outreach Program has been working with Renfrew Educational Services for the last few years in planning presentations and panel discussions on cultural profiles based on school demographics or on the interests of school staff. These types of programs help the school improve services to culturally diverse students and families.

Renfrew Educational Services is a school for children with special needs. These special needs include physical, developmental and behavioural challenges. The staff at Renfrew include teachers, social workers, occupational therapists, physio therapists, speech therapists, nurses, etc.

I love their motto: Helping Kids Soar.

I was overwhelmed and impressed by the staff. It was fascinating to meet people like them who help these children. After the meeting I offered a prayer thanking God for making them.

These individuals continue to make Calgary truly a city of compassion and me proud to be a Calgarian.

I took the honararium they gave me and purchased mosquitoe nets for the children in Sub-Saharan Africa through Spread the Net.

Faith sidetracked by 'competitive believing'

David Liepert is a Muslim colleague on the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Group of Calgary. This is an excellent initiative and I wish him well.

Faith sidetracked by 'competitive believing'
Marketing has crept into religion: author

Graeme Morton
Calgary Herald

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dr. David Liepert doesn't profess to have all the answers to life's myriad spiritual mysteries.

But the Calgary anesthesiologist and author hopes his latest book, Me and You -- Beyond Belief, Together: A Path to Peace All Our Faiths Can Share, will help readers start to ask some of the right questions.

Liepert, who grew up as a Lutheran and then became a Baptist before converting to Islam in his mid-30s, is challenging people of all faiths to get beyond the rhetoric all too common in religious debate and read the holy books of other faiths for themselves. By this active exercise, Liepert is convinced that we'll collectively discover there's much more in common than in conflict.

"There's an image from the Sufi tradition of Islam that speaks to me," says Liepert, 46. "If you think of all humanity being in a big circle and God above the circle, then the middle is where we're all closest to God."

In Liepert's view, organized religion as an institution has too often clouded the sacred, intimate relationship between each person and their God with self-serving agendas.

In a simpler time, Liepert says, it was rare for people to openly practice different religions within the same community. But in today's intricately connected world, he says the concept of battling for "market share" of followers is now endemic in religion. Faith, he suggests, has become an exercise in "competitive believing" not unlike Olympic diving with its judging points for style, flash and finish.

"It has become more of an idea of belonging to the 'best' religion. That makes religions end up saying what people want to hear, that we're right and the other religions are wrong, instead of what they should be telling us about living well," says Liepert.

"We have to reject the marketing aspect that has crept into religion -- to get away from the 'my team is better than your team' scenario. We have to work on being the best person that God wants us to be, not putting all our energies into choosing the 'best religion.' "

Liepert says both religious and secular leaders have been guilty of manipulating faith to justify repression, aggression and mayhem on a massive scale, all in the name of their God.

"We've been duped into following other people instead of God," says Liepert. "That has led us down false paths. Religions are being twisted to draw us into conflict."

That violent history has not just occurred between Christianity, Islam and Judaism, but within the faith communities themselves.

"The disputes that are happening within the Muslim world, between Sunnis and Shias, are truly disgusting," Liepert says. "We are punishing people for disagreeing with each other. We spend so much of our time defending our positions instead of serving God."

In a fractured, post-9/11 world, are we beyond finding any common spiritual ground? Should we abandon organized religion altogether and become billions of private churches of one?

Liepert says that would equate to a complete capitulation to those who would manipulate their faith for their own purposes.

"I believe in a God who isn't going to let us get to a point of no return," says Liepert.

"But we have to rearrange our thinking -- to realize that organized religion should serve our relationship to God, and not the other way around."

Born in Calgary and raised in Toronto and Saskatoon, Liepert says his relationship with God has never varied although his beliefs may have changed.

"Throughout my life, there has been no religion that perfectly reflects my faith," says Liepert. "But at this point, the Sunni Muslim tradition is certainly the closest for me.

"For all of us, it's a matter of finding that one personal example, be it Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha or whoever, who embodies all that is good."

Liepert remains optimistic that religions can still be a unifying, rather than a divisive force in the world. He's encouraged by the level of interfaith dialogue in Calgary and is convinced the needed shift in religious thinking will come from the grassroots.

"I was part of a recent interfaith event at Robert McClure United where there was so much joy in the room, it was remarkable," says Liepert, who notes more schools are offering courses in world religions.

"All faiths contain the promise that when people gather to talk about God, God is there too," he adds.

Liepert says Me and You, years in the writing process, may be viewed as somewhat subversive to the religious status quo. However, he hopes it generates more light than heat when people talk about getting back to the core messages of their faith.

He says a recent battle with cancer and the daily act of watching his four children grow up spurred him to capture his desire for a more inclusive, peaceful world on paper.

"If this book reaches one person who was going to do someone else harm, it has been worth it," Liepert says.

More information on Me and You is available at Faith of Life Network

Friday, April 11, 2008

So, Are You Elijah?

The prophesied return of the ancient prophet Elijah is perhaps the most intriguing and mystifying aspect of Passover. No one really knows exactly when or where the expectation that Elijah would return on Passover began, but it has nonetheless been a long-standing tradition to set an extra place at the table in anticipation of his return. Jews the world over believe that Elijah will come on the eve of Passover as a forerunner to the Messiah and that he will answer all questions and resolve all debates over the Torah.

At the recent Community Passover Seder event held at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Calgary, I heard one version of Elijah's story that has a unverisal message:

A pious and wealthy Jew asked his rabbi, “For about forty years I have opened the door for Elijah every Seder night waiting for him to come, but he never does. What is the reason?” The rabbi answered, “In your neighborhood there lives a very poor family with many children. Call on the man and propose to him that you and your family celebrate the next Passover in his house, and for this purpose provide him and his whole family with everything necessary for the eight Passover days. Then on the Seder night Elijah will certainly come.” The man did as the rabbi told him, but after Passover he came to the rabbi and claimed that again he had waited in vain to see Elijah. The rabbi answered, “I know very well that Elijah came on the Seder night to the house of your poor neighbor. But of course you could not see him.” And the rabbi held a mirror before the face of the man and said, “Look, this was Elijah’s face that night.”

When I heard the story it reminded me of the Sufi saying: Past the suffering walked he who asks, "Why, oh God, do you not do something for these people?" To which God replied, "I did do something, I made you."

So, are you Elijah or should we expect someone else?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Community Passover Seder - Calgary

Picture (L to R): Almoonir Dewji (Ismaili Muslim Community), Adam Singer (Community Relations Committee - Calgary Jewish Community Council), Bathyah Charikar (Member of Calgary Jewish Community) and Irene Bakker (Hon. Consul - Consulate of The Netherlands)

Today I had the honour of representing the Ismaili Muslim Community at the "Community Passover Seder" held at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue and organized by the Calgary Jewish Community Council. It was a wonderful opportunity for the local Jewish community to share this tradition and its many meanings and messages with Calgarians.

The following is an explanation of this holiday:

Passover is the oldest and one of the most holy of all Jewish festivals. It began when the Jewish people left their bondage in ancient Egypt more than 3000 years ago. There is something truly remarkable about Passover as more than 90% of Jews around the world continue to celebrate this holiday. More Jews celebrate Passover than any other holiday in the Jewish calendar. There are numerous possible explanations:

Passover is both solemn and joyous and this duality makes the holiday so intriguing. The Israelites were slaves to the ancient Pharoah and followed Moses into the unknown, into the desert, up to Mount Sinai, where G-d gave Moses the laws that form the basis of Judaism. The risks were great, the hardship was significant, and the result was stupendous. It is the quintessential holiday of liberation. It reminds us that every year we need to examine our own lives - to consider what enslaves us, to think about our priorities and to celebrate and renew our commitment to personal and societal freedom.

Passover is a holiday for children, not because children receive sweets and presents, rather because it challenges children to ask questions. The seder, which is the ordered ritual of the night, does not simply permit questions, but rather invites questions. We invite the curiosity of the children and engage them from the moment we begin and continue to do so with every ritual than is part of the evening's order.

Passover is celebrated at home, not the synagogue or any other Jewish communal institution. This is part of Jewish living that is passed down from parent to child. No rabbi or cantor is required and one can creatively enhance the seder to suit one's world view.

Some people love Passover because it is a cry against indifference, a cry for compassion.

Also, Passover is the holiday of hope and it is evident that without hope we are lost. Hope sustains us that we can create a more beautiful, caring, loving, world.

Tonight, at this great festival of our freedom, we are, all of us, from the youngest to the oldest, partners in the celebration of freedom, as expressed in the Seder. We might have chosen to celebrate and remember our liberation in other ways, celebrations or festivals, but our tradition and what has been passed on from generation to generation is to celebrate freedom through SEDER - order. One may think that we are celebrating the freedom of the Hebrews -only, but we have to remember that the Hebrews did not leave Egypt alone. "And a mixed multitude went up also with them..;' Exodus 12:38. Many others left with them, also gaining their freedom. This is the most powerful expression of the universality of the message of this holiday.