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Different religious and cultural views come together at Salish Kootenai College

By Lailani Upham

Seven members from the Flathead Reservation and Missoula area spoke on building peaceful communities from diverse faith perspectives last Thursday evening at the SKC Arlee/Charlo Theatre. (Lailani Upham photo) Seven members from the Flathead Reservation and Missoula area spoke on building peaceful communities from diverse faith perspectives last Thursday evening at the SKC Arlee/Charlo Theatre. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. week celebration at Salish Kootenai College represented intellectual insight from many scholars and professionals surrounding the ideology of Dr. King.

For the first time an inter-faith panel shared their own topics on “Building Peaceful Communities.”

The goal came straight from a Dr. King quote, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

Dr. Jeffery Bendremer, SKC Tribal Historic professor represented the Jewish perspective; Dr. Charlotte Kasl shared on childrearing from a Quaker standpoint; Dr. Dr. Gary Hawk shared from a Christian perspective; Salish elder and culture committee member Tony Incashola shared from a Salish/Pend O’Reille perspective; Mr. Samir Bitar from a Muslim understanding; Dr. David Moore from a Bahai view; and Mr. Jerry Smyers form a Zen Buddhist belief.

Bendremer said when he was asked to speak on “beloved community” he remembered Dr. King’s belief in interrelatedness of human beings.

Dr. King believed all humans were tied together in a single garment of destiny and “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” Bendremer shared.

“This idea of mutuality, interrelatedness, inescapably leads to other important ideas Dr. King pursued: social justice, economic equality and of course non-violence,” Bendremer explained.

Bendremer likened the Dr. King’s birthday and his famous vision of his family reaching the “promised land” with this time of year when Jews read Exodus from the Bible – a story of the Israelites journey form captivity to freedom, from slavery to a promised land.

“The symbolism of the exodus story is inspirational on many levels. Egypt is called Mitzrayim in the Torah, which translates as ‘The Narrow Place.’ If you think about it, we all too often find ourselves in Mitzrayim, a place of narrowness. When we are intolerance, prejudice, unjust, aren’t we are simply being narrow. We all need to make an effort to move toward more openness and understanding of our fellow human beings. The ‘Beloved Community,’ as a celebration of our interconnectedness, is the ‘Promised Land.’ A place where our communities can coexist in harmony and where we can make Dr. Kings vision a reality,” Bendremer stated.

Kasl took the view from the beginning of life of raising children from a Quaker idea that children be raised with non-violence and understand peace within themselves through asking questions “What does my experience teach me?”

“This teaches them to think clear and be one with spirit,” she stated.

According to Kasl, this allows children to have the power to ask within what is true to them and brings a sense of feeling safe in the world.

Kasl also said children are taught to honor one another, to understand and love. She said this brings a connected and belongingness early in life to one another.

Dr. Hawk from the University of Montana said by asking the question ‘What unites us?’ brings an assumption something divides. One main characteristic that can unite people said Hawk is, “generosity.”

Incashola expressed that Dr. King’s dream of equality is “for all of us.”

“I grew up in a society where everyone and everything was equal. The plants, people, animals, all living creatures, you treated as equal,” he said.

Years later society began to change Incashola explained, “We have destroyed many things in our environment, our society, and our families. We don’t use equality as we should.”

Dr. Kings’ idea of a “beloved community” was based out of equality, and all human races as equal, Incashola said. Understanding one another helps build unity, he added.

Mr. Bitar, a Palestinian American, and Professor at UM said he raised two children with his Montana catholic wife of 30 years in a multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic home.

Bitar shared that the Muslim belief holds a strong trust toward the earth for future generations.

“Faith should serve as an inspiration to us today, and for the future, thus our obligation to the future is set in place by Allah’s trusteeship of his creation to humanity, man, us, we the people who inhabit this earth. I also believe that it is a moral obligation of all educated society members to be active in contributing to the education process in order to preserve a healthy, pluralistic, multicultural, democratic society for today and the future.”

Moore spoke on the reality that unites people of all walks of faith. During time of grief, a community will give to one another, which in turn promotes peace, Moore explained.

Moore said the oneness of humanity of all faiths, whether it is Allah, God, Jesus, it’s all about love and the plan of humanity on earth. Moore added that the idea surrounded the dream of Dr. King to be a united world.

Smyers shared the foundation of Zen Buddhist was the practice of mindfulness, the awareness of self and understanding of self. “When you understand yourself you can understand others,” Smyers explained.

Doug Ruhman, SKC faculty and MLK Jr. events organizer closed with a quote from Dr. King to wrap up the entire panel conversation and point our one principle to build a “beloved community.”

“Correct everything that stands against love.”

Bitar encouraged unity by getting informed and exercising critical thinking, “Find the courage to dream, think outside the box and imagine global peace and harmony. Know that you can make a difference.”

According to Bitar, individuals that posses the abilities essential in healthy critical thinking and an environment where interfaith and sincere dialogue allows all sides, achieves a better understanding of each other’s perspectives. To do so - leads to strengthening the response from all faiths in a society, he said.

“Multicultural education is the process by which we can conceptualize and affirm an understanding of our diversity as peoples that inhabit this earth. Multicultural education for freedom is an overall approach for the freedom of the whole. You can do and achieve anything you want; however, you can’t do it alone, you need the help of others, for which you need to field the request.”

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