December 2013

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Baptist Joint Committee Addresses Prayer On November 6, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case ofGreece v. Galloway concerning the constitutionality of government-organized prayers at local public meetings, especially prayers that are sectarian in nature. The Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, a long-time advocate of the separation of church and state, filed a brief with the court outlining the problems that arise when the government/courts have to decide which prayers “establish” religion (which is forbidden by the First Amendment) and which don’t. You can read the rationale of the Baptist Joint Committee–and the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ, who joined in filing the brief. You can also watch samples of the prayers that led to the suit being filed. James Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, wrote a guest columnon the subject for the Orlando Sentinel, suggesting how the golden rule might be applied in such situations.

“Friends Talking Faith” Receives Award

FTF AwardAt its “10th Annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner and Award Ceremony” on November 14, the Nile Foundation gave its 2013 Media and Communication Award to the “Friends Talking Faith with the Three Wise Guys” radio program. Pictured are (from left): Imam Muhammad Musri, Rabbi Steve Engel and the Rev. Bryan Fulwider. Kelly Cohen (far right) managing partner of the Southern Strategy Group, presented the award on behalf of the Nile Foundation Advisory Council. The Nile Foundation seeks “to create opportunities for dialogue between communities and individuals in order to build bridges between cultures” and, more specifically, to build bridges to the Turkish culture “through exposing people of all backgrounds in the Southeastern United States to the language, history, education and social life of Turkiye (Turkey).”

Don’t Miss”Friends Talking Faith” Radio Show
Hear the varied perspectives of the Rev. Bryan Fulwider, Rabbi Steve Engel and Imam Muhammad Musri as each week they discuss how faith impacts both the simple and the complicated aspects of life. “Friends Talking Faith with The Three Wise Guys” airs on Tuesdays at 6:30 pm on 90.7 WMFE FM in Orlando. Tune in on your radio or listen online. You can also listen to any show already aired. December’s shows are:

  • December 3: Faith and Religion–The Efficacy of Prayer
  • December 10: Faith and Theology–“The Will of God”
  • December 17: Faith and Religion–The Messiah
  • December 24: Faith and Culture–St. Nicholas and Christmas
  • December 31: Faith and Culture–New Year’s: History and Resolutions

Doing What We Can About Mistreatment
Be forewarned that if you visit this website––you’ll find it abrasive to your AVAAZ 2senses. Not because the pictures are exceptionally graphic–because they really aren’t any more graphic than many things you see on the news every day. The problem is that whatever your religion, whatever your ethnicity, whatever your political affiliation, whatever your gender, whatever your age, whatever your attitudes toward environmentalism, whatever your . . . it’s guaranteed that you’re going to encounter information about some form of injustice or inequity that will make you shake your head in disbelief, that will sicken you, that will make you angry–even if you disagree with other things that are reported at the site. But the website doesn’t just report tragic facts. It also provides you the opportunity to do something about them. And it can be as uncomplicated as simply writing an email or signing a petition. The satisfaction of having taken some form action, however small, might well be worth the discomfort of visiting the site.

“10 Things You Can Do for Your Mom”
At 4:00 pm on Thursday, December 12, at the Alafaya Branch Library (12000 E. Colonial Dr., Orlando) Dr. Ishaq Zahid will speak about the need for greater appreciation of mothers. “Too often moms do virtually all of the giving and very little of the getting in their families,” says Dr. Zahid. “They may not say it, but most of them like to be appreciated in small ways. You don’t have to buy them a car or a house–although you could do that too!–but it’s the small things that count with Mom.” Dr. Zahid will share some ideas of how you can let your mother know that all of her giving has been, and continues to be, appreciated. The lecture, sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America’s Orlando chapter, is free, but registration is required, as seating is limited. Please RSVP to or phone407-479-8856.

OCPS Seeking Faith-Based Partners
Scan the list of Orange County public schools below and see if you can tell what they have in common:

  • Eagle’s Nest Elementary: 5353 MetroWest Blvd.,Orlando FL 32811
  • Eccleston Elementary: 1500 Aaron Ave., Orlando FL 32811
  • Lake Gem Elementary: 4801 Bloodhound St., Orlando FL 32818
  • Lancaster Elementary: 6700 Sheryl Ann Dr., Orlando FL 32809
  • Meadowbrook Middle: 6000 North Ln., Orlando FL 32808
  • Orlo Vista Elementary: 3 N. Hastings St., Orlando FL 32835
  • Pinar Elementary: 3701 Anthony Lane, Orlando FL 32822
  • Pinewood Elementary: 3005 N. Apopka Vineland Rd., Orlando FL 32818
  • Ridgewood Park Elementary: 3401 Pioneer Road, Orlando FL 32808
  • Sadler Elementary: 4000 W. Oak Ridge Road, Orlando FL 32809

Whatever your answer, it’s probably correct. But there’s something else you may not have guessed: Each of these schools could benefit greatly from a having a faith-based partner. And how does that work? One of the best ways for your faith-based organization to partner is to coordinate non-proselytizing volunteer efforts, utilizing your already-existing infrastructure. School volunteers are extra-special people who offer extra attention and caring that can inspire students to reach for–and realize–their dreams. Every school in the county needs volunteers and community partners. From elementary to high schools to alternative- and exceptional-education centers, educators value the time and talents of volunteers and welcome them into the classroom. Click here for more ideas on Ways to Partner, contained in the new OCPS Faith-based Initiative brochure. When your group is ready to start, contact Sara Au to be matched with a school.

Brief Intro To Sikhism’s Founder, Guru Nanak
Guru-Nanak-310 5In mid November, Sikhs around the world celebrated the birthday of their religion’s founder, Guru Nanak. It was the 544th anniversary of his birth. Guru Nanak not only founded Sikhism but was a major contributor to the collection of writings that comprise the Sikh scriptures, known as Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak was a mystic, a poet, a philosopher, a singer and a saint–to cite but a few of the terms that have been used to describe him. His writings have a lyrical, poetic cadence. Click here for a relatively succinct overview of Guru Nanak’s style and substance. Click here for a brief overview of Sikhism in general.

Jewish Intermarriage Rates Greatly Increasing
Those whose religion entails a culture and lifestyle as well as a set of beliefs will understand only too well the challenge the Jewish community is currently facing: loss of religious/cultural identity through marriage to those not of the faith. According to a recent Pew survey reported in, 58 percent of Jews are now marrying non-Jews, and the percentage has been steadily rising over recent decades. As several articles posted on show, solutions to the problem don’t come easily, and the suggestions are at times contradictory.

Cornell Museum Featuring ExhibitionAuktion392_installationview 2
Through December 8, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College will continue to feature the exhibition “Auktion 392: Reclaiming the Galerie Stern, Dusseldorf.”  The exhibition, “organized by Concordia University in Montreal and travelled internationally by Ben Uri, the London Jewish Museum of Art, was launched at the Cornell to coincide with the seventy-fifth anniversary of Kristallnacht (November 9–10, 1938). Focusing on the case of Max Stern’s Düsseldorf gallery, the exhibition addresses the issues of Nazi-looted art and the on-going restitution efforts through the courts in America and Europe of works forcibly sold at the instruction of the Nazi regime.” Click here for a map to the museum and hours of operation.

Discussion 12/11: “What happens When We Die?”
An Interfaith Discussion Group meets from 7:00 to 8:30 pm on the second Wednesday of each month at Adventist University of Health Sciences on Florida Hospital’s main campus. The discussions are open and candid, and the participants represent a variety of faith traditions as well as those who question the validity of faith altogether. For directions to the meeting place, click here. The springboard question for the December 11 discussion is: “What is your faith tradition’s teaching about what happens when we die? In what ways do you agree or disagree?” Come hear the variety of perspectives and share your own. All are invited.

Calling All Birdwatchers for December 14 Event
cedar_waxwing_georgi_baird_cropped_1Want to be involved in a meaningful scientific survey? Want to exercise your birding skills while enjoying a beautiful natural environment? Want to learn more about birding? Then join the Friends of the Wekiva River and thousands of birdwatchers across the Americas on Saturday, December 14, for the Christmas Bird Count. This annual event–in its 114th year–is believed to be the longest-running Citizen Science Survey in the world. Regardless of where you fall along the spectrum of birding knowledge–from beginner to expert–you can provide support for the Christmas Bird Count. Locally, participants will be grouped with others of varying skill levels and assigned an area of the Wekiva River Basin to patrol and to record bird activity. To join the local count, phone 321-229-5653or email Jay Exum. Information collected will be reported to Audubon and combined with results from groups throughout North and South America, who will participate in similar events from December 14 to January 5. Data collected during the Christmas Bird Count are used to more effectively protect birds and their habitats. Click here to learn more about the Christmas Bird Count and see results from previous years.

Catholics Provide Book on Interfaith Dialogue
At a press conference at the Holy See Press Office on November 12, the third edition of the book Interreligious Dialogue in the Official Teaching of the Catholic Church, (1963-2013) was officially presented to the Catholic Church and the public. According to the official press release, the 2,100-page book chronicles the contribution to interfaith dialogue of the various Popes from John XXIII to Benedict XVI. Vatican spokesman Fr. Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot stated that “the Church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole.” He continued, “There is still a long way to go, but with Pope Francis the dialogue of friendship continues. In just a few months, Pope Francis has already held many meetings with representatives of other religions, and has spoken widely on interreligious dialogue. . . . I would also like to recall that this year the Pope himself signed the annual message to the Muslim community to celebrate the end of Ramadan.” Read the entire press release at the official Vatican website.

Fourth in RELIGION 201 Series Set for 12 – 17
Once again the Holocaust Center and the Interfaith Council are partnering in a nine-part, once-a-month series highlighting the diversity of religious thought and worldviews in Central Florida. The fourth in the series will be on Tuesday night, December 17, featuring the topic: “How Did We All Get Here, Anyway? How does your faith tradition or worldview explain the origin of the world and human life? How do adherents to your faith or those who hold your worldview harmonize spiritual understandings and current scientific understandings? Or do they? What explanations of origins do you believe should and shouldn’t be taught in public schools? Moderator: Jim Coffin. Presenters: David Kay, Judaism; N.V. Raghuram, Hinduism; Mike Mello, Atheism. Although the panelists for the entire series are still being lined up, the dates, topics and participating faith traditions for all nine presentations/panels are available at the Holocaust Center website. All the programs will be at the Holocaust Center (851 North Maitland Avenue, Maitland, FL 32751) and will run from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.
Presenters/panelists in November’s RELIGION 201 series were, from left: Ishaq Zahid, Muslim; David Williamson, Atheist; Rachel Siu, Buddhist

Interfaith Council “Meets” with African Group
When a group of religious leaders in Botswana decided it would be good to form some sort of interfaith council, they weren’t sure where to start. But it seemed reasonable to talk to others who’d already gone through the process. Approaching the U.S. Embassy in Botswana, they asked embassy employee Janet Kennedy if she knew who in the United States might be able to give them some advice and insight. Being from Central Florida, she contacted Dr. Bob Bushong, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Winter Park. He contacted Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, who contacted James Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida. Florida Hospital Winter Park and the U.S. Embassy in Botswana made their respective videoconferencing facilities available and, on October 22, several members of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida spent more than an hour in dialogue with their counterparts in Botswana. Following the link-up, Ms. Kennedy wrote the following in an email: “It was a huge success on our end, and I hope on yours as well. . . . I am really so glad that we could work together with you on this. Our group was quite inspired hearing about the way you all work together, and the Botswana religious leaders were so fired up afterwards that they committed to start an interfaith group among themselves here in Gaborone! . . . If you don’t mind, I’m sure the Botswana 1 2Botswana religious leaders will want to be in touch with you with other questions [and to get ] advice as they move forward in establishing their own interfaith group.”

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Botswana’s participants in the October 22 interfaith videoconference were, (in top photo, from left): Iqbal Ebrahim, vice chairperson, Botswana Muslim Asociation; William Letsholo, superintendent, Methodist Church; U.S. Ambassador Michelle Gavin; Clement Mosaimi Matswagothata, president, Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints; Metlhayotlhe Beleme, bishop-elect, Anglican Church; Meena Rowhani, Baha’i; Bosenakitso Chabale, president, Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Community Collaborating to Address Homelessness

On November 21, a broad spectrum of civic leaders, business executives and faith-based and non-profit representatives met in downtown Orlando to hear reports about the extent of Central Florida’s homelessness and the strategies needed to address the challenge most effectively. The event, sponsored by FAIRWINDS Credit Union and organized by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, featured as keynote speaker Barbara Poppe, from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, who discussed strategies that are being implemented in cities and communities throughout the nation. In his introductory remarks, Andrae Bailey, CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness,  said that leadership, collaboration, new strategies and real advocacy were the prerequisites to sustainable solutions. Bailey cited one exceptional asset in Central Florida’s efforts to address homelessness: the Rethink Homelessness 3Best Practices in America report, a comprehensive study overseen by Glenda Hood, Shelley Lauten and Steve Seibert of triSect. The report highlights strategies of communities across the United States where tremendous progress has been made in the past few years. Click here to download the report.

“Zero” Originates in Hindu Religious Thought
The-invention-of-zero-010Have you ever wondered where the idea for the zero used in mathematics came from? You need wonder no longer, according to a recent post “The idea of zero was born, says journalist Alex Bellos, from ‘the idea of nirvana, the transcendent state of “nothingness,” when you are liberated from suffering and desires.’ And about 1,500 years ago, someone invented a symbol for that idea: 0. The circle we know as ‘zero’ was invented in India, and on the walls of a temple in Gwalior, you can find the oldest known representation of the circular symbol for nothing. Bellos, while working on a documentary about the ancient 0, traveled to Gwalior to see it. At some point, a couple of professors explained, the idea of ‘nothingness’ became a mathematical concept: In fact, the word used in philosophical texts to mean nothing, or the void, is ‘shunya,’ the same word later used to mean zero….’Shunya means a sort of salvation,’ [math professor Renu Jain] said. ‘When all our desires are nullified, then we go to nirvana or shunya or total salvation. . . .’”

Everyone Still Invited to Perform “Witness”Kristallnacht 3
The readers theater “Witness” (based on eye-witness accounts of Kristallnacht, November 9 and 10, 1938) was performed in various venues large and small, private and public, throughout Central Florida, in other parts of Florida, in Alabama, Massachusetts and elsewhere around the nation as a lead-up to the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The anniversary is now past, but school classrooms, houses of worship, Sunday schools, youth groups, retirement communities, families–any group–is still invited to perform this simple but powerful production. It remains timely because 2014 is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War II, which provided cover for the Nazis to do on an unrestrained scale what they had done at Kristallnacht. The script and PowerPoint for “Witness” can be downloaded here. The insights the production shares are lessons that need to be learned and never forgotten.

December is the Big Month for Christians
WPPC Nativity 3Easter is huge in Christian theology, butChristmas evokes the more festive mood and creates more opportunity for celebration–which tends to span much of the month of December. For non-Christians who would like to visit a Christian church to see what it’s like, Christmas is a time of great pageantry, drama, music and grandeur in general. It’s also a time when it’s easy to participate anonymously, because attendance at events is far higher than usual. One great attraction for children is the living nativity scenes that portray the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. One such living nativity–which features the telling of the Christmas story, carols and live animals–will be at Winter Park Presbyterian Church (400 S. Lakemont Ave., Winter Park, FL 32792) at 7:00, 7:30, 8:00 and 8:30 pm on both Thursday and Friday evenings, December 19 and 20. Also featured at Winter Park Presbyterian as part of its Christmas repertoire is its annual “The Longest Night” service, scheduled for Sunday, December 22, at 7:00 pm. The service provides a time of quiet reflection, special music, healing prayer and candlelight for those experiencing loneliness, loss because of the death of a loved one, relationship problems, job insecurities, health concerns or even general weariness (perhaps from all the holiday preparations!). All are welcome. For more detail phone 407-647-1467.

Bhuddist ReflectionBuddha 2
“An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind.”–Buddha





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  James Coffin, Executive Director
PO Box 3310, Winter Park, FL 32790-3310
|T  321-228-4599   | E
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