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Past Events

This is page features some of the highlights of past One Region Atlanta events as told by author Lea Agnew.

2013 Neighborhood Summit

Living the lyrics
At The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s annual Neighborhood Summit in September, the Atlanta Young Singers performed the Wailin’ Jennys’ “One Voice.” It was the right anthem for the day on which One Region was unveiled to promote metro-wide cooperation across faith and cultural traditions. The spirit of the lyrics echoed everywhere.

The sound of one who makes a choice. Helping each other to make it through.

Singing with love and the will to trust.

Through the morning and into the afternoon, the Summit bustled with hopeful energy of true believers in making choices, helping, trusting. They came out on a rainy Saturday in order to learn and connect. Whether from a distant exurb or an intown enclave, each participant had made the choice to work proactively with neighbors, trust each other’s good will, and devote precious time, sweat and emotion to change their small patch of metro Atlanta for the better.

There was unity of purpose in the midst of great difference. One people, one voice.

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Higher Ground Event at First Presbyterian Church

Wisdom in the Calm
When smart folks who see big things differently get together, the 21st Century expectation is that more heat than light will result. Politicians and media types have taught us that it’s a cowardly compromise of principle to really listen to the other, rather than interrupt or roll the eyes.

Thus the respectful, thoughtful listening of Higher Ground’s October forum at First Presbyterian Church felt delightfully out of another time. The Reverend Joanna Adams, Imam Plemon El-Amin, the Reverend Joseph Roberts and Rabbi Alvin Sugarman sometimes took quite different stances on matters practical and theological. Gun control. Gay marriage. Whether life experience dictates how a person must understand God. The conversation was profound, provocative and sometimes funny.

As these four “states-persons” of the clergy addressed seminal concerns, it seemed that everything each of them said was wise. Since they sometimes offered opposite perspectives, how could that be?

The wisdom was in the deep listening to each other. It was calm, considerate, genuine. With no heat to fog the mood, the light could shine through. And it revealed that threads of wisdom can readily weave through quite different points of view.

 

Interfaith Immersion Weekend, hosted by Interfaith Community Initiatives

There’s something about a scroll …
Rabbi Elana Perry carefully removed the Torah from the Ark at Temple Sinai, and our Interfaith group gathered round eagerly. She unrolled the giant scroll to show us the Hebrew text, beautifully written by hand on delicate parchment (sheep skin).

Only she among us could actually read the scroll, yet it spoke silently to all of us whether Jew, Muslim or Christian. The Torah contains humanity’s oldest monotheistic proclamation, foundational to all three faiths. In its first book, Genesis, Abraham makes his appearance. His shared importance is such that the three religions are collectively referred to as “Abrahamic.”

Sacred scripture is precious in a bound Bible or Qu’ran. Yet seeing the Torah scroll underscored just how far into the ancient past our common roots do reach.

Christmas shopping at the mosque
When Jumu’ah (Friday prayer) ended at the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, hundreds of worshipers spilled outside into the Community Market. Our Interfaith group was right there with them. What a sight! Tables and booths stretched across the front of the building. Colorful, aromatic wares abounded.

The Masjid sponsors the market each Friday to promote economic development and affordable shopping for its members. Promoting opportunity is a priority of Atlanta’s oldest and largest mosque. Founded in 1958, the mosque’s progressive stance, respected school and expansive programs have become a national model for Islamic congregations seeking to maximize their community impact.

Back to the market – it had seemingly materialized from thin air since we had entered the mosque 90 minutes earlier. Now our bus was waiting and the schedule was tight. Even so I paused at a display of soap bars attractively wrapped in flower-patterned paper with gold seals affixed. The woman behind the table encouraged me to sniff the different scents. I chose sandal wood and jasmine – several of each. With Christmas coming up, they would be perfect as stocking stuffers. And, I thought, they might generate some interesting conversations. Sure enough, they did.

 

Reza Aslan at the Atlanta History Center

“Just had to come”
On the night that Reza Aslan spoke at the Atlanta History Center, the auditorium was packed. As the room filled, a long ago remark by a college professor came to mind – “If you want to draw a crowd around here, say something outlandish about Jesus.”

Aslan’s book Zealot depicts Jesus as a “politically conscious Jewish revolutionary.” The polite History Center crowd seemed not terribly offended. Not a hiss or groan in my earshot. The Q&A was peaceful and well informed. The author complimented each question before answering it at exhaustive length.

A fascinating scene played out in the seat next to me. A young man struggled to listen and keep his toddler occupied at the same time. The child held a tablet that played (silently) baby-style videos. I was intrigued, unable to imagine wanting to hear any lecture on any topic so much as to turn it into a babysitting outing.

For a remarkable time the child was as captivated by the videos as his dad was by the talk. Inevitably squirming and noise began. The dad moved near the rear exit, gently bouncing the child in the hopes of keeping him quiet. Failing that, they went out into the lobby.

I had to know why hearing Aslan mattered so much, so I followed. The young dad was an Emory doctoral student in philosophy. He had worked as a graduate assistant for a prominent religion professor who corresponded extensively with Aslan. So this night’s topic was not just familiar territory, the dad was a player in the backstory. His wife was traveling on business – there was no choice but to bring the child or miss the moment.

If only the times we live in were kinder and more trusting – more Jesus-like – I could have held the child while the dad went back inside to listen. But these days, extending the offer wouldn’t even have made sense.