Polemics to Pluralism

Last semester at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), I took a class called “Introduction to Islamic Theology” with Dr. Ahmed Khater. My final paper for the class was “Polemics to Pluralism.” Our main reading text was Commentary on the Creed of At-Tahawi by Ibn Abi al-Izz. We also read selections from Sharh Al-Aqeedat-il-Wasitiyah: Text on the Fundamental Beliefs of Islam and Rejection of False Concepts of its Opponents by Ibn Taimiyah, Kitaab at-Tawhid by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, The Fundamentals of Tawheed by Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, publications in the “Proofs of Prophethood Series” by the Yaqueen Institute for Islamic Research, parts of The Final Day by Umar Sulaiman Al-Ashqar, as well as videos and other published works. For my book review, I sought a different point of view, choosing Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism by Union Theological Seminary‘s Associate Professor of Islam and Interreligious Engagement, Jerusha Tanner Rhodes. Many of these works were referenced in my final paper, which begins…

Polemics to Pluralism

In this paper, as an extension of our weekly class discussions this semester on similarities and differences in theology between Islam and other faiths, I engage with selected historical and contemporary Muslim scholars with regard to how they communicate, by means of theological polemics at one end of the range, through pluralism and interfaith dialogue at the other. I focus on communication by Islamic scholars in their interactions with two other Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Judaism. I find that some contemporary Muslim scholars value and promote concepts of religious pluralism in the Quran, which may be a sign that Islam is moving away from the polemical rhetoric of its most famous historical scholars.

Please read the remainder of the paper at “Polemics to Pluralism.”

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TechWomen Sierra Leone Project

TechWomen Sierra Leone team, 2 Nov 2020

Following up on my 8 October 2020 post: Despite the challenges of working at home during a pandemic, the inspiring TechWomen team from Sierra Leone is making good progress developing a project to benefit their country. We have worked for months to identify and refine our focus on the challenge of malnutrition in children, and on a statement on the social impact of this difficult problem. The current version of our action plan statement is below. Next week, we begin to make our pitch video.

TechWomen is a competitive and prestigious exchange program of the U.S. State Department – Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Executive Vice President of Knightscope Software Engineering Mercedes Soria, Country Coach Salwa Campbell, and I are mentoring the five Emerging Leaders from Sierra Leone, Dr. Fatmata Munu, Glenna Wilson, Isha Kamara, Joan Koroma, and Josephine Turay (all from Freetown).

Team Sierra Leone Impact Statement

We don’t want to watch our children die. Team Sierra Leone will start with 50 mothers as our pilot. Our campaign will reach the target audience in Freetown and western area by radio, and advertising vans distributing brochures with pictures. We will provide educational materials on best food and good nutritional practices. In addition to mothers, we will contact community leaders, chiefs and community health workers.

Our mission is to reduce the level of malnutrition in Sierra Leone. We will achieve this by educating mothers on how to use local foods to make balanced diets. According to the government of Sierra Leone, 31.3% of children have the chronic form of malnutrition. This is because according to UNICEF, 70% of infants and young children are underfed, surviving on diets consisting mainly of starchy staples. We believe we are the best people to work on the malnutrition project because our skills and background are a perfect match, comprising but not limited to a medical doctor, pharmacist, public health graduate and a data scientist.

This text and photo was published with permission of Team Sierra Leone.

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Inspiring Muslims in America

Notable Technical Women cards 2019
Notable Tech Women Card Deck 2019

This semester at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), I took the class “Islam and its Interreligious Context” taught by Dr. Mahjabeen Dhala. One of our final reflection papers was to answer this question, “Present a key historical or contemporary Muslim personality in America. Explain the reasons for your selection. How does this personality inspire you?”

The American Muslim personality I chose is Lila Ibrahim. She came to my attention after she was made President of Coursera in 2013, after she was Chief of Staff at Kleiner Perkins in 2010. Coursera is an American MOOC (massive open online course) provider, founded by Stanford University in 2012. She is currently the Chief Operating Officer for DeepMind. In 2019, Ibrahim was featured on several UK Business Insider’s lists of influential and impactful leaders. Purdue University is her alma mater and she is on their Board of Advisors. Ibrahim is the Co-founder and Chair of Team4Tech, a technical mentoring non-profit for developing countries. She has created computer labs in the orphanage in Lebanon where her father was raised. Ibrahim has a remarkable depth of experience in education, especially online, and as a mentor. I admit that I do not know about Lila Ibrahim’s personal faith but I am writing about her as an inspiring American of Lebanese descent.

In 2014, my daughter Jessica and I started working on a project with Dr. Susan Roger, Duke University Professor of Computer Science. Susan and I had known each other for many years and each of us had developed lists of remarkable technical women. Jessica had the idea to make playing cards and posters from our research to inspire girls and young women. We wanted to include a very broad range of women, socially, demographically, geographically, and by professional area. Susan and I each sorted through decades of our professional contacts to find the 54 honorees, and then we contacted each woman for a picture and to fill in biographical details, or used what we found on Wikipedia. Because she had won an Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award, Lila Ibrahim was one of the women we selected. Since 2014, Notable Women in Tech has distributed thousands of our card decks and posters around the world. Lila Ibrahim is the five of hearts. You can see the 4th Edition list of honorees on my blog.

Lila Ibrahim inspires me not just because she is a remarkably successful professional woman in the highly-patriarchal technical industry but because she has routinely sought out and succeeded in creating educational projects while acting as a mentor for young entrepreneurs. For many senior executives, it is enough to succeed, but Lila Ibrahim has intentionally and consistently carried others along in the wake of her accomplishments. She always pays it forward.

Inspiring American Muslims about whom other students wrote were:
Mahershala Ali (Academy Award winning actor)
Muhammad Ali (Boxer, activist and philanthropist)
Reza Aslan (Author and scholar of Religious Studies)
Soumaya Khalifa (Executive Director, Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta)
Hind Makki (founder and curator of Side Entrance, an award-winning website)
Ilhan Omar (U.S. Representative for Minnesota)
Malcolm X (Muslim minister and human rights activist)

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Interfaith Work

Jewish and Muslim interfaith studies books, Dec 2020

This semester at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), I took a pair of half-semester classes, “Judaism and its Interreligious Context” (taught by Dr. Yehezkel Landau) and “Islam and its Interreligious Context” (taught by Dr. Mahjabeen Dhala). Both were excellent classes with inspiring professors. Together, these two classes met the GTU Master’s requirement for Interreligious Studies. I combined the term papers to create a final paper called “Getting Closer to God Through Interfaith Work.”

I have finished the major writing for my Master’s thesis, titled “Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners,” and am waiting for my thesis committee’s feedback on the last few chapters. I have to defend my thesis in early February 2021, which means spending two or more hours answering questions by my review committee about the 100+ page document and my research. I officially graduate in May 2021 with my Master of Arts – Christian Theology, with a Certificate in Spirituality and Social Change. I will continue my studies in the GTU Interreligious Chaplaincy Certificate program but I am happy to be done with my Master’s classes.

Getting Closer to God Through Interfaith Work

Introduction

This paper presents reflections on interreligious dialogue from the lived experience of two notable leaders. Based on conversations with Maha Elgenaidi and Rabbi Melanie Aron, and considering related scholarly material, I examine my next steps with regard to interfaith engagement in my work and ministry. The title of this paper comes from Maha Elgenaidi but I find it rings true for me as well. Interfaith work makes me feel closer to God. I am using this paper not only to document the accomplishments and views of two remarkable women but also to emphasize the benefits of interfaith work to the community. 

Please read the remainder of the paper at “Getting Closer to God Through Interfaith Work.”

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Good Year for Cactus

Regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, and terrible air quality, my cactus garden has been happy this year. Several species which usually only flower once a year have bloomed again. The local honeybees are delighted to roll around in the pollen of huge flowers. There was enough prickly pear cactus fruit that my daughter Jessica made syrup from it, and John made pancakes to celebrate!

More on the WP668 railroad caboose.
Updated 21 Oct 2020.

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Jail Ministry News

Stepping Stones ministry, 27 Oct 2019
Stepping Stones ministry first anniversary, 27 Oct 2019

A national Episcopal Church news story on our jail ministry in the Diocese of El Camino Real was published yesterday, “El Camino Real Episcopalians Continue Jail and Reentry Ministries Despite Pandemic,” by Sharon Sheridan. There have been other news stories about Stepping Stones and our jail ministries, but this is the first national news. Congratulations to the Rev. Peggy Bryan and team for a remarkable contribution to a community that is too often ignored! Even my work in jail with Education for Ministry got a mention.

Update: Another news story was published yesterday by the Diocese of El Camino Real in their newsletter: “$25 UTO Grant Awarded to Stepping Stones Reentry Ministry,” RealEpiscopal – News from El Camino Real, 15 October 2020.

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Four Family Clocks

We have four old family clocks, two of which work and one of which chimes. The sound of the two ticks and the chimes fills our downstairs with small comforting noises, even when everyone is silently interacting with their computing devices. The clocks keep time but not with each other. It is somewhat like how Terry Pratchett describes the clocks in his fictional city of Ankh-Morpork on the Discworld,

“Noon in Ankh-Morpork took some time, since twelve o’clock was established by consensus. Generally, the first bell to start was that one in the Teachers’ Guild, in response to the universal prayers of its members. Then the water clock on the Temple of Small Gods would trigger the big bronze gong. The black bell in the Temple of Fate struck once, unexpectedly, but by then the silver pedal-driven carillon in the Fools’ Guild would be tinkling, the gongs, bells and chimes of all the Guilds and temples would be in full swing, and it was impossible to tell them apart, except for the tongueless and magical octiron bell of Old Tom in the Unseen University clock tower, whose twelve measured silences temporarily overruled the din. And finally, several strokes behind all the others, was the bell of the Assassin’s Guild, which was always last.” (Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms, 1993).

The Junghans chiming mantle clock was a wedding present in 2000 from John’s parents. It was purchased by John’s great-grandfather Johannes Plocher in Holzhauzen, Germany. Joannes and his wife Anna gave it to their son (John’s grandfather), Karl on his wedding Adelia, in 1930. I love the art deco design on the clockworks inside the case.

I bought the Gilbert wall clock in 2008 as a birthday present for John. The clock itself is from about 1915. The Western Pacific glass is not original but is one of the reasons we like it, since we own WP668, a Western Pacific caboose. John winds up his Junghans and Gilbert clocks every week.

The two clocks which have stopped working are from my family. One is a gilt metal Rococo style clock that my father’s mother, Gladys Grace Oakes Dickinson, loved. The other is an ornate horseman clock that my mother, Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, had since I was young. Surprisingly, even though they are from different parts of my family, both were made by the New Haven Clock Company, probably over a hundred years ago.

Web search results showing many horse-only New Haven Clocks

Update: I have been looking for more information about the New Haven Clock with the ornate warrior horseman figure. I found that a version of this clock with the exact same horse but no rider is relatively common. All of the versions I have found on the web have a top piece above the clock that is missing on ours. Sometimes the horse is on the right and sometimes on the left of the clock on the pedestal. I still have not found an exact match. My Aunt Louise Creekmore Senatore read my blog and wrote that her father (my grandfather), Robert Elmond Creekmore, was once its owner in Knoxville, Tennessee, “the Ornate Horseman clock was on my Dad’s bureau for years when I was a child. It traveled with us to Windgate (1964), stayed on his bureau, and Eleanor asked Mom for it when Dad passed away (1976).”

I found this tiny, blurry thumbnail photo on the web of a gilded variant of our clock but it is on a dead website. Still hunting for more information!

New Haven Gilt Clock, horseman figure

(None of these clocks is for sale – please do not ask.)

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Updated 20 Oct 2020

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