Friday, December 01, 2006

Can world religions find common ground? - Middleton kicks off Interfaith Awareness Week

[Everyone is invited to the Middleton City Council Meeting (Middleton City
Hall - 12/6, 7:30pm) when the "Interfaith City Council resolution" is
scheduled - Councilman Sonnentag will be presenting the proclamation at
12/10 event; in addition, a collection will be taken for Middleton Outreach
Ministry food pantry at the Middleton event; BTW displays at the capitol now
number 18 - JBP]


Can world religions find common ground?
11/30/2006 11:48:00 AM
Matt Geiger
News Editor

There is an analogy popular among philosophers. In it, four blind men
encounter an elephant. Having never seen one before, each man feels a
different part of the animal and describes it in radically different ways.
One man feels the trunk and thinks it is a snake, another feels the legs and
thinks it is a tree, and so on. They may not know it, but each person is
describing different aspects of the same thing.

For the philosopher, the elephant represents God and the men are the world's
many religions.

Rev. John-Brian Paprock wants to get together with leaders from other faiths
and talk about the elephant.

Paprock, a priest at the Holy Transfiguration Mission Parish in Madison,
founded Wisconsin Interfaith Awareness Week nine years ago. It all began
when Paprock sent a draft proclamation about tolerance to then governor
Tommy Thompson. To Paprock's surprise, Thompson signed it. Since then the
event has continued growing.

On Dec. 10, the weeklong series of interfaith gatherings will kick-off at
the Middleton Public Library before heading back to the capital.

"Interfaith is all about learning how to get along with people who think
differently than you," Paprock, a Middleton resident, explained.

"We hold the gatherings on neutral turf at municipal buildings, so it
doesn't turn into 'come to my church,'" he continued. "It's honoring the
American tradition and what has become a worldwide tradition in many places
- the freedom to believe."

The event draws diverse people (nearly half the participants in past years
were non-Christian), and Paprock said Interfaith Week involves admitting not
all people view the world in the same way.

"We like to think that all Muslims are alike, but they're not. We like to
think all Hindus are alike, but they're not," observed Paprock. "We need to
develop a vocabulary so that we can communicate with other people. That way,
when someone says Dharma or Karma, we understand them - not in just the pop
sense - but the real meaning of the term."

People often ask Paprock why he endorses religions other than his own.

"It always comes up: 'How can you endorse another faith?'" he comments. "But
I say, 'They don't need my endorsement - they already exist. They already
have followers and some of them have been around for even longer than
Christianity if you use the year 33 (A.D.) as a starting point."

The rules are simple: there is no proselytizing; people must be honest about
their faith; and materials about each religion can be made available but not
handed out.

"The idea is that by learning to communicate, we learn that we can work in
the same room together without killing each other," Paprock said. "That's
actually the point we are at and it became all the more evident after 9/11
that it's important."


The entire week runs Dec. 10-16, starting on United Nations Human Rights
Day. Since 1998, the Governor and the Dane County Executive have proclaimed
the week inclusive of Human Rights Day as Interfaith Awareness Week. In
1999, the Mayor of Madison joined the annual proclamation. This year, the
Mayors of Middleton and Monona will be proclaiming this special week as
well. Middleton Mayor Doug Zwank is scheduled to read a proclamation
honoring the week at the Dec. 5 common council meeting.

A multi-faith committee has worked on coordinating a variety of locations
and times for Interfaith Awareness Week events this year. Although details
of presenters at each event are still being worked on, each event already
has more than four different faith traditions represented in the program.

There are commitments for more than 14 displays of different faith
traditions at the state capitol. Some of the displays will be previewed at
the Middleton kick-off event Sunday afternoon.

Some of the faith traditions already involved include: Baha'i, Buddhist,
Christian (several denominations), Eckankar, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi Order
of the West, Unity and Wiccan


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