On April 29, 2014, the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest hosted its annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner for the local community of Lawrence, Kansas. Over 200 guests from diverse religious and philosophical traditions filled the ballroom of the Kansas Union, on the campus of the University of Kansas. Mr. Hank Booth served as Master of Ceremonies for the program with panache, filling in at the last minute for Ms. Kim Murphree, who was taken ill. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, former Poet Laureate of the State of Kansas, set the tone for the program by calling for unity among people of different religious backgrounds in the wake of the shooting of three people at Jewish institutions in Kansas City on April 13.
She commented, “While I do feel more vulnerable as a Jew right now, I also feel more grateful to be part of events like this, in which we come together in friendship and respect to listen to and learn from each other.” She read her original poem “With an Outstretched Hand,” which begins, “With an outstretched hand, you turn to me, and I turn to you/ at the moment we’re united by what was meant to divide us.” The featured speakers included the keynoter, Dr. Scott Alexander of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, an expert on Muslim-Catholic relations. He focused in particular on the philosophy mutual understanding and mutual responsibility enunciated by Fetullah Gulen, and how the Hizmet (“Service”) movement he inspired has aided so many people, Muslim and non-Muslim, around the world. Dr. Alexander told the story of visiting a Hizmet-sponsored school in Soweto, South Africa, where 80% of the students are Christian. This illustrates the philosophy of the movement, he noted, to help whoever is in need. The Reverend Dr. Shannah McAleer of the First United Methodist Church of Lawrence similarly invoked the teachings of Fetullah Gulen, as she described the community educational and service projects sponsored by the Dialogue Institute. Professor Eve Levin of the University of Kansas shared teachings about charity and social justice drawn from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions, focusing on the spiritual value not only of giving aid, but also of receiving it. In his remarks, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson emphasized the importance of building a safe and prosperous community, and reminded listeners that in order to be responsible for others, they must first be responsible for themselves. Father Steve Beseau of the St. Lawrence Catholic Center invoked the precepts enunciated by Pope Francis, for whom care for the most vulnerable members of our world community is a high priority. As part of the program, five community leaders were honored for their service. Dean Danny Anderson of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences of the University of Kansas received the Outstanding Education Service Award, for his work in promoting the study and appreciation of different cultures. Dr. Barbara Ballard and Mr. Mike Gaughan received Community Leadership Awards. Dr. Ballard represents Lawrence in the Kansas State Legislature, and she works as the Associate Director of the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. Mr. Gaughan is a Commissioner of Douglas County, Kansas. Both have long advocated for the building of a diverse, accepting community. Mr. Jeremy Farmer and Mr. Greg Moore received Outstanding Public Service Awards. Both have led efforts to feed the hungry in Lawrence and the surrounding region. Mr. Farmer directs the organization Just Food, that provides groceries to families. Mr. Moore is the director of L.I.N.K.—Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen—which provides meals the the hungry in collaboration with faith groups throughout the community. Representatives of the Dialogue Institute presented Mr. Moore with a check for $500 to L.I.N.K., collected from donations attendees at Dialogue-sponsored events had given. The program also included artistic presentations. Ms. Malika Lyon performed whirling derwish dance to the admiration of the audience, dressed in traditional costume. Mr. Aydin Cayir demonstrated traditional Turkish calligraphy, effortlessly producing beautiful works of art before the eyes of the audience. Each attendee at the dinner received a calendar with his or her name written with Mr. Cayir’s artistry. The guests were greatly impressed by the work of the Dialogue Institute and its local Lawrence volunteers. The dinner modeled the mutual understanding the Institute hopes to foster.