Baha'i News -- Interfaith summer school teaches values

Interfaith summer school teaches values

Maria Lockwood
The Daily Telegram

Last Updated: Wednesday, August 07th, 2002 10:52:16 AM

Maria Lockwood
Meg Blyler, left, of Tacoma, Wash., her sister Susan and Lani Dalbacka of Duluth pet a bear pelt during their first Interfaith Summer School lesson Monday at the Twin Ports Baha’i Center in Superior. Teacher Jeff Ballou helped the children tune into nature with an animal game, music and the story of a conceited raindrop to illustrate the values of unity and assertiveness. The five-day course, taught by members of different religious communities in the area, focuses on virtues that are common to all faiths. It also offers children a chance to see members of all religious communities working together.

Lani is a gymnast. Meg loves to dance. Katie plays piano and Libby is a basketball player. Susan came hoping to make crafts and play games. Jacob came because his mom made him.

These six children embarked on a journey Monday. They are pioneers in the first Interfaith Summer School, which takes place in the Twin Ports Baha’i Center in Superior this week.

By Friday, students will have spent time with teachers from many faiths — including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

“You are going to meet people from all religions,”Marj Johnson of the Baha’i community told the children. “You’ll find we’re all alike.”

The summer school is not based on religion, however. It’s based on virtues.

“What we’re going to be talking about is values,” said Joanne Blyler, a member of the Christian community. “No matter what religion you are, there are values which are common to all faiths.”

“That’s what the program is,” said Peggy Guello of Superior, who signed her children up for the program. “That’s what is so neat about it.”

Monday included introductions, lemonade and the story of a conceited raindrop. Jeff Ballou of the Baha’i community talked about the virtues of unity and assertiveness, incorporating nature into the theme.

The groundwork for the course was laid. Unity, said Libby, “means we all can work together.”

“It means we can be together but still be different,” said Susan.

Tuesday the children each put together a collage of dreams and listened to stories from former University of Minnesota Duluth professor Robert Powless, known in the Native American community as “Dr. Bob.” He told Chippewa stories of Winibozho — “the flood story” and one entitled “Winibozho sets fire to his rear.” Then he told a story from his own Oneida tribe, that of the husk-face doll. The story dealt with the virtue of humility and gave listeners a glimpse into the Oneida culture.

“I imagine they are stories that are not often told to children in Superior,” said Powless. “I think it’s important, since every culture has its stories, that these get shared more often then they do.” Stories, he said, light up the imagination and make things memorable.

“It’s important for us to understand that all cultures passed down values through their stories,” said Powless.

Which is why Koresh Lakhan of the Hindu community plans to illustrate his lesson on loyalty with the story of an Indian hero who would not enter heaven without his dog. Don Pearce of the Buddhist community will use stories to illustrate compassion, the virtue of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Parents were excited about the possibilities offered by the summer school.

Tom Reierson of Duluth looked at the five-day course as a chance for his youngest daughter to learn more about the stories and mythologies of many religions.

“I guess it will give her a base from which to ask more questions,” he said.

“We need to get to know each other better, understand our similarities and celebrate our differences,” said Blyler, whose granddaughters are in the class.

“I think it’s a real unique opportunity, a wonderful opportunity,” said Guello. “It’s a really neat group of people putting this forward.”

The concept of holding an interfaith summer school started with one of the common virtues — friendliness.

“The Baha’i center wanted to find a way to be of service to the neighborhood,” said Johnson. They wanted to offer something for children, but with a twist.

“We wanted to model people of all faiths working together,” Johnson said.

Already, plans are in the works to hold interfaith summer school in both Superior and Duluth next year.

“There’s a lot of interest,” said Johnson.

Powless said he was happy to be part of the inaugural course.

“On my reservation in Wisconsin we’ve had every denomination, every religious group in the continental U.S. come to save the Oneida,” he said. “Because of that it’s easy to have to pick up their stories. But I’m hoping some of them picked up our stories as well.”

The success of the Interfaith Summer School, he said, will be where the stories go from here. That rests in the hands of six pioneers — a dancer, a gymnast, a pianist, a basketball player, an artist and an honest son.

“If even one or two of them will pass one of these stories along to a brother, sister, friend,” said Powless, “then maybe to some degree it has served its purpose.”

©Copyright 2002, The Daily Telegram (Superior, WI)

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