Tag Archives: Sharing

Tri-Faith Open Letter

SEABROOK SAYS: Mark Epstein is brilliant – and a superb writer.  He has been a very active member of the Interfaith Trialogue (a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Gaston County) for many years.  Read with interest his thought-provoking words.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A Tri-Faith Open Letter to Our Fellow Citizens of Gaston County

Whereas recently and all too often we are witness to senseless tragedies in the name of religious faith, we the undersigned and many others issue this statement to calm, to ease fear, and bring us closer to a world filled with love and peace, where swords have been bent into plowshares, and the lion has laid down with the lamb. To this end we proclaim, and hope all will likewise proclaim, that WE:

    • Believe that faith in God gives purpose and meaning to human life, and is a force for good in the world; that all people are created in God’s image and thus equally deserving of human dignity.
    • Hold that God’s greatest desire is for his creation to live in joy and peace, with forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
    • Understand that evil exists in the world, but believe God extended to humankind grace and the ability to discern right and wrong, to be used in the pursuit of righteousness, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
    • Acknowledge that although fear may at times draw close, it should not and need not govern us, and we will not be bound by it. It is within our human capacity to transcend and overcome fear, from which too often anger, discord, and spiritual weakness inevitably flow. It is together, resolute in cooperation and not divided in fear, that we will prevail over those who wish us harm.
    • Hold that Truth of Holy Scripture does not mean its most difficult, even violent, language and passages are a prescription for violence today, nor arrogance of faith, nor demagoguery, nor disdain of other faith traditions.  
  • Reject and disavow violence in the name of God or select scripture, or to advance one’s faith and precepts. WE JOIN OUR MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN RENOUNCING ALL SUCH VIOLENCE.

 

  • Yet recognize the unfortunate fact that any faith tradition will have its misguided fringe, unrepresentative of and rejected by nearly all of its worldwide adherents.
  • Affirm and embrace timeless American values: Liberty, Life, Inclusiveness, Religious Freedom, the democratically-established Rule of Law, and urge all to stand by them no matter how difficult our challenges.
  • Embrace and rededicate our lives to the universal ethics of our traditions: Justice, Kindness, Good Conduct, Charity to care for the least amongst us. Conversely, our traditions commonly hold that God forbids injustice, immorality and oppression.
  • Affirm that our traditions each embrace God’s most important directives: to love Him, to love our neighbor, and also to love the stranger. We thus oppose any effort at discrimination – socially, religiously, or politically – directed towards any faith tradition.
  • Are grateful to the men and women of all races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds who work tirelessly and often at risk to their own lives, to protect our freedoms and liberties.
  • Issue a call for Interfaith dialogue, understanding, and acceptance – for when people of good will gather together in the study of scripture, God is present among them.   And as it enriches each other and our community, it is the same as enriching the whole world.

With these avowals, we and many more are proud to call Gaston County home, and a beacon and stronghold of interfaith diversity and strength.   We join hands to put aside fear, to engage and make our corner of the world better, and to continue our daily work of bringing peace on earth and good will toward all men and women.

 

SIGNED,

Members and Friends of the Gaston County Interfaith Trialogue

(Meeting for 14 years with the purpose of fostering understanding and harmony among the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam)

  • Dr. Mark Epstein, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Charles Gray, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia
  • Sam Shoukry, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. Sydnor Thompson, Myers Memorial Methodist Church Gastonia
  • Charles Brown, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rafat Hamam, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. David Christy, First United Methodist Church
  • Hassan Ebrahim, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Bill Gross, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rev. T. Steven Bolton, ret.
  • Mark Hanna, Trinity United Methodist Church
  • Linda Gibbons, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Richard Boyce, Union Presbyterian Seminary
  • Jason Shiflet, First Presbyterian Church Gastonia
  • Cindy Buckley, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Joan Martin, Gastonia
  • Cam Tracy, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Chuck Duncan, First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Rev. Vic Wilfong, Covenant & Trinity United Methodist Churches
  • Dr. Bob Blake, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Sally Williams, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Andi Brymer, The Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Gastonia
  • Geof & Judy Planer, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Steve Knight, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ
  • Jeremy Whitener, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ

 

 

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The Power of One

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County now has about 300 mentors for students.  The need is far greater.  Have you ever given serious thought to mentoring a kid for one hour per week? Elizabeth and I did.  The benefits to the Seabrooks and Phillip, the student, were huge.  Step forward – give mentoring a try.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

He’s a high school student. Good grades and social interactions haven’t come easily for him.  His home life is economically challenged; he has not grown up with a father figure or the advantages that others might take for granted. Is he another statistic destined for failure?  Perhaps. Except this student experienced the “Power of One,” the power of one caring adult … his mentor.

Our most recent success story for Gaston County Schools’ Mentor Program is a young man who recently landed his first part-time job at a local restaurant. Making the difference in this outcome was his mentor, a caring gentleman who built a relationship with the boy going back to elementary school. While most mentor relationships in our schools involve shorter time periods, this particular one has navigated many ups and downs, challenges and disappointments, and the routine of regular visits that sent a simple message: “I’m not giving up on you.” It was the mentor who coached his mentee on interview skills, handshakes, eye contact and what it would take to keep his first experience in the workplace positive. That’s mentoring at its best!

Gaston County Schools’ Mentor Program is in its 24th year of matching caring community individuals with deserving young people. Regular weekly meetings and activities at the child’s school help provide encouragement and valuable life skills that build confidence and self-worth.  This year, 257 mentors answered the call to volunteer in over 35 schools. That number sounds large, but immediately shrinks when you compare it to the 32,000 students attending Gaston County Schools. Wouldn’t every child benefit from a visit by a wise friend with experience?

The question I always ask at the start of every mentor training session is, “Who mentored you?” Think back — you may not have been part of a formal mentor program, but was there someone in your life who nudged you to try something out of your comfort zone? Was there a person who always seemed happy to hear your good news or just made you smile? Was there someone who was a comfort or just listened to you when life’s disappointments seemed to make it impossible to get back up? That’s mentoring!

“Young people with mentors, especially at-risk youth, have more positive visions of themselves and their futures, and they achieve more positive outcomes in school, the workplace and their communities,” writes David Shapiro, president and CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “As a society, too often we leave these powerful human connections to chance. We must close the mentoring gap for the good of young people and our country.”

January is National Mentoring Month. It was launched by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership in 2002 to focus attention on the need for mentors. It is an invitation to individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, nonprofits and faith communities to come together to increase the numbers of mentors for our young people. I am proud to say that each of those six community sectors are represented by the 261 current mentors in Gaston County Schools.  As wonderful as that number sounds, more mentors are needed. There are children waiting.

Becoming a mentor for Gaston County Schools requires a short approval process and training session that equips new volunteers with some starting strategies. The mentor program is school site based, meaning all your interaction occurs on school grounds during the school day. You can choose a time that works with your schedule. Weekly visits with mentees averages about 40 to 50 minutes. Time is spent doing fun activities that the student and mentor choose, but usually revolve around meaningful conversations. You may request to work with an elementary, middle or high school student.

Gaston mentors come from all walks of life and possess the single best characteristic, the ability to listen. A one-year commitment to the mentor program is requested. Many mentors, after building strong relationships, have remained with their mentees for several years and in some cases to graduation. Numerous proud moments and “Power of One” stories have emerged from Gaston County Schools’ Mentor Program. Will you consider sharing your powers with a deserving child? That’s mentoring!

Valerie Yatko
Director, Business and Community Partnerships
Gaston County Schools

For more information contact Valerie at 704-866-6329 or vayatko@gaston.k12.nc.us

GO OUTSIDE!

SEABROOKS SAYS: Our churches have been in decline for decades.  Do we really want this?  Dwayne Burks draws an interesting conclusion of churches and the “Go Outside” campaign in Gaston. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Recently our community rolled out a new branding slogan that encourages us to GO OUTSIDE. It seems to be having an impact. In fact, last week I found myself referencing the slogan when I shared our county’s many outdoor attractions with an out-of-town customer service operator who took my refrigerator repair call. Before we hung up, he was convinced to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center and Crowder’s Mountain State Park. GO OUTSIDE is catching on!

I thought about this new slogan in relation to the plethora of churches scattered across our county. The local Economic Development Commission reports that we have over 700 houses of worship right here in Gaston County.  If my math is correct this means we have a church positioned every half mile for every 297 individuals.

The reasons for so many churches is perhaps another story for another day. But the question for today is what is it that causes certain churches to thrive while others seem to falter or barely get by? Why do some churches pack the pews, while others have more pews than people?  Could it be that some of our churches starting grasping the GO OUTSIDE message long before it was enlisted as community catchphrase?

Christ charged the church to GO OUTSIDE over 2000 years ago by challenging us to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”  In fact, Christian churches routinely refer to Christ’s instruction to GO OUTSIDE as the church’s Great Commission.  Furthermore, we couple the Great Commission to GO OUTSIDE with the Great Command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This sounds an awful lot like the philosophy of First United Methodist’s Rev. David Christy who sums it up using all the sophistication of his Duke Divinity degree when he says, “It ain’t rocket science. We are here to love God and love people.”

Growing, thriving churches seem to GO OUTSIDE, motivated by their love God and their love for others.   Healthy churches do not wait for people to come to them. Instead they GO OUTSIDE their doors and engage their communities.  It may be as simple as greeting neighbors on the street or getting to know homeless in the street. But times are different and traditions die hard.  A generation ago we could open the doors and people would show up.   Churches were the centerpieces of community communication, activities, and recreation.  But times have changed. Communication channels are not limited to a weekly meeting down at the church.  Today we communicate instantaneously.  What once required hours, days, or sometimes weeks to filter down is literally in the palms of our hands.  Likewise, people are more mobile than ever before. Church has become just one of the many options on our map of weekly things to do and places to visit.  But that does not mean the church needs to fade into obscurity. It means we have the greatest opportunity ever to open our doors the other way and GO OUTSIDE.  The world is abuzz with activity where we can do what Jesus told us to do a long time ago – GO OUTSIDE!

While programs coordinate and support this going outside; programs do not dictate it. Healthy churches GO OUTSIDE not with out of a sense of obligation or forced outreach.  Rather, both pastors and parishioners GO OUTSIDE fueled by the genuine desire to love their neighbors as themselves. So the challenge for churches is clear.  How will we move from merely coming to church to actually being the church?  How will we love our neighbors as ourselves if they are not coming to us?  What if we take our lead from Christ and from the growing churches around us and GO OUTSIDE?

Dwayne Burks serves as the Chaplain and Director of Social Responsibility for the Gaston County Family YMCA.
Phone or text: 704.860.2957.
Email: dburks@gastonymca.org

Preserving a Passion for Life

Early in my adult life I was frequently described using less than flattering terms like driven, aggressive, and relentless. While my drive to achieve generated professional success, I simply was not a pleasant person. I always wanted more. No level of accomplishment was ever enough, so I pushed myself and everyone around me for the ever-elusive gold standard of perfection.

Since perfection inevitably proved impossible for me I would shift my efforts to making those around me perfect. My colleagues, coworkers, and family exhibited the proverbial patience of Job just to tolerate my never-ending quest for more, more, more.

Over the course of time the planets of my life aligned causing me to realize that I am not the center of anyone’s universe.  I still remember the moment while on a flight from Seattle to Charlotte when this reality struck me like a ton of bricks. That poignant and sometimes painful journey is another story for another day, but the essence of it is this — through a series of deep frustrations and self-inflicted setbacks it became increasingly clear that I am not the sum total of my accomplishments. I embraced the full truth of my faith tradition and discovered that relentless pushing for perfection is not necessary. I discovered the ‘rest’ of the gospel that I had so arrogantly short-sold all my life. Realizing that my identity had been established in the work of Christ and not my own my own performance brought a welcome wave of relief not only to me, but to those around me. Gradually my obsessive drive receded and in its place a newfound passion emerged. I began working from who I truly am, not who I want to make myself appear to be.

What made this difference? What is that changes one from relentlessly driven to purposefully passionate? For me, it was simply acknowledging with my heart and my actions, rather than only with my lips, that there is a God. Once that happened, I no longer had to control every circumstance of my life. I could trust God’s plan.  And from honoring God, it was simply natural to honor His creations, who were the neighbors I had previously viewed as competitors.

This shifted perspective caused me to begin pursuing the power of partnerships and collaboration because I no longer had to hoard all the credit to feed my own fragile identity. No longer did I have to insulate myself from failure. Instead I could work wholeheartedly with others, encouraging their successes and not just my own accomplishment. Every interaction with every person became a fresh opportunity for partnership. Accomplishments became victories to celebrate – not for my own ego, but for my community, my friends, my colleagues, even people with whom my belief set might differ on significant issues.

Even failure could be embraced as a learning opportunity. The drive for perfection was replaced by seeking, finding, sharing, and caring. Your success became our success. Together we grew. People became partners, not projects or competitors.

That, in a nutshell is what keeps the passion alive in my life. It may seem a bit simple but simple is good. It has been said that these kinds of things are ‘deep enough for elephants to swim, yet shallow enough for children to play.” I invite you to join me in the sea of passionate partnerships. Some may swim. Some may playfully splash. But everyone is welcome to engage their passions as together we collaborate for the common good.

Dwayne Burks serves as executive director of the Gaston Faith Network. You may reach him by emailing collaboratingforthecommongood@gmail.com