Friendship & Inevitable Peace

Heading to a new home in New Mexico, Church Lab member, Mac, reflects on her time dialoguing in Austin, TX.


There are no "others" here at Church Lab. Only friends. People with good hearts and the courage to take a chance on being open and vulnerable in talking about their faith as it relates to daily life and current events.


Years ago, before he passed away, the famous segregationist and Alabama Governor George Wallace had a change of heart. Governor Wallace made international news when he stood in the doorway of a school blocking black students from entering. After his assassination attempt and the paralysis that followed, Wallace actually went to black churches to apologize. He apologized on national television. Many credit his change of heart to that brush with death, but that wasn't the only thing that changed him....


Wallace had an attendant who helped him when he was in the wheelchair for many years. Proving that God does indeed have a sense of humor, this man was African-American. Through their close work together they had may conversations. Few news reports gave much interest to this, but in their conversations about family, about life, about children and about faith, the heart of a devoted racist was changed forever. Wallace became a Christian and his daughter who survived him works for justice. Wallace proved the truth that we cannot hate a person or people who are so much like us. Knowledge of the depth of our friends creates love.


This little truth is the most powerful thing for me about Interfaith Dialogue. We are living in times when we are just so darned busy we can hardly breathe, much less sit down and actually listen, understand and share with another person. Yet we find it hard to fear and hate once we get to see the humanity, courage and faith in those we make the time to know. We have everything to gain by doing this simple, yet powerful thing.


In my time attending dialogue I have sat in the room with atheists, neo-pagans, conservative and liberal Christians, Buddhists, Mormons, Muslims, wiccans, people unsure of their faith and people who felt that their faith was the best part of who they are. The impressive thing is that in this group, the people treat each other the way I wish the whole world would treat each other: With the attention, respect, dignity and honor we all deserve.


We have discussed so many ideas and beliefs in so many ways. It's hard to not leave the room and ask myself, “Could this be a way to create the peace we all dream of and hope for?”


There are no "others" here at Church Lab. Only friends. People with good hearts and the courage to take a chance on being open and vulnerable in talking about their faith as it relates to daily life and current events. In doing so, we have learned how to love people who in some ways are quite different and yet share some deep and connecting traits. I have watched Republicans, Democrats and Independents sit in a room and have a not just civil, but loving dialogue about faith and politics! We even talk about essential or strong differences, but do it with honor and respect. We have discussed so many ideas and beliefs in so many ways. It's hard to not leave the room and ask myself, “Could this be a way to create the peace we all dream of and hope for?”


If participating in Dialogue changes me, makes me more able to carry forth the principles learned in the room as I walk through my world, then I am blessed. And maybe I can be a blessing too. That's my own agenda— To create peace in my own heart toward others and then take another's hand and pass it on. Listen and understand, even if my own feelings are different, but always, always, show the honor toward my brothers and sisters that my own faith tells me is right and just.


Going to the Dialogue has convinced me we can do this. And we must. The world is too fragile and difficult a place for us not to be peacemakers.


Mac Morrison

Ramadhan's High Five!

Qamar, who is a community member of both the Ahmadiyya Muslim and our Church Lab communities, shares about the meaning of Ramadhan.


“Even though fasting may seem challenging during the long days of summer in Texas heat, the gains are many. Islamic fasting as it is meant to be practiced bears the promise of bringing about spiritual, personal and social change.”


All religions prescribe their respective paths for salvation. Islam also lays out rules of conduct to live peacefully in this world and attain salvation in the next. I like to call Islam’s road to salvation: The High Five…more on that later.

One of the main tenets of Islam is Fasting in the month of Ramadhan. This year Ramadhan will begin in the last week of May. It will last 29 or 30 days being based on the lunar cycles. Compared to the solar/Gregorian calendar, it arrives approx. 10 days earlier every year, encompassing all months and seasons in about 33 solar years. Islamic fast consists of refraining from eating, drinking (no exceptions!) and intercourse during the daylight hours. In this blog, I will cover the basics of this practice plus its spiritual, social and physical benefits per my understanding. 

The injunction for fasting is laid out in the Quran, Islam’s Holy scripture thus:

[Chap 2: Verse 184] O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous. 

[Chap 2: Verse 185] The prescribed fasting is for a fixed number of days, but whoso among you is sick or is on a journey shall fast the same number of other days; and for those who are able to fast only with great difficulty is an expiation — the feeding of a poor man. And whoso performs a good work with willing obedience, it is better for him. And fasting is good for you, if you only knew.

In a following verse, the duration of daily fast is laid out:

[Chap 2: Verse 188] …and eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn. Then complete the fast till nightfall… 

Fasting is a way of improvement of one’s self. One gives up worldly pleasures for the sake of God, learns to avoid sins, evil and establishes him/herself on the path of goodness. During this month, we are given an opportunity to make and follow through on our resolutions and then continue to practice the newly acquired habits the rest of the year. An empty stomach affords a state of self-awareness and a capacity for growth which is unmatched. Devotion to worship goes hand in hand with fasting. Increased spiritual focus to complement the reduced physical focus is the goal here. Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is known to have said

“Fasting is not just giving up food and drink, but it also means giving up bad and evil talk. If you are fasting and someone abuses you or provokes you, say I am fasting. One who involves in fighting and brawling while fasting, he is only starving and would not gain anything.”  

In addition to spirituality, fasting also brings social benefits. It is noteworthy that fasting empowers us to have control over 3 of seven deadly sins, i.e. gluttony, lust and sloth. Avoidance of food and sex resulting in control over hunger and carnal desires makes sense. Similarly, a person is dishonest and may steal etc., due to an inclination towards life of ease. However, one who fasts spends time in worship, gets up early to eat in order to start the fast, refrains from eating, exercises patience all day and reduces his sleep time. By continuing this practice for a month, his/her habit of carelessness and laziness is transformed into increased discipline over mind and body.

Similarly, by staying hungry, one comes to understand the condition of the poor and less fortunate and is more likely to help them. Indeed, Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) made a habit of spending in the cause of the poor during the year, which has been likened to a breeze, never ceasing to comfort and help the needy. However, during Ramadhan, it is related that the breeze seemed to pick up speed and blow like strong winds.

Physically speaking, the body becomes used to enduring hardship of fasting during the month of Ramadhan. This creates forbearance and tolerance. These lead to good behavior, chastity, honesty, self-awareness and mindfulness.

Even though fasting may seem challenging during the long days of summer in Texas heat, the gains are many. Islamic fasting as it is meant to be practiced bears the promise of bringing about spiritual, personal and social change.

 As for The High Five, these are the five tenets that Muslims practice, namely:

 1. Kalima - Affirmation of Uniqueness/Oneness of God AND Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him)

2. Salaat - Five Daily Prayers

3. Saum - Fasting

4. Zakaat - Obligatory Alms

5. Hajj - Performing pilgrimage to Mecca

Bitterness, Anger and Religion

A guest blog-post by Church Lab participant, Stephen Cinti

I grew up in a very typical American Christian church. I was raised to believe that having faith in Jesus was the the only “right” thing to do or the only “one way.” I was also raised to believe that Christians are the only happy people and that if anyone is doing something that was bad, a common remark I’d hear was, “They really need Jesus in their lives.”  

Like a lot of fellow millennials, I got pretty disenchanted with the Church and contemporary church culture by the time I was in my early 20s. Though, I feel like that went a little differently for me than what I hear from other millennials. While most of my peers left the Church because they felt let down, mad at God, bitter, hurt, or any number of things like this, I mostly got to a point where I felt like I was forcing myself to go along with it. Most of the hurt and bitterness for me was more directed at specific people and not at the Church or at God. Initially, I started to feel this hurt directed at the Church, but then quickly noticed that I felt the same anger and bitterness towards an equal amount of people that weren’t churched at all. This led me to be bitter at closed-mindedness in general, rather than solely at religion.

This put me in a very awkward position (and I still feel this awkwardness quite a bit). It kind of brought me to a position where I didn’t resonate with what was going on in the Christian Church anymore, but at the same time I wasn’t angry or bitter at it. I’ve been involved in church long enough to understand and not be hung up on the common attacks that angry atheists usually usually throw at Christians, so that wasn’t an issue for me. It was more like I just connected with a different type of spirituality than what was being presented to me at the time.

I began to find way more internal peace and continuity through personal meditation and the willingness to embrace uncertainty. I found these things to have way more noticeable benefits to my life and my interactions with those around me than I ever found through trying to force things to work for me. I still feel very awkward when people ask me to explain this to them or challenge its validity. Maybe someday I can find words to help explain this, but that’ll have to be a later time. Right now, all I can say is that I’m in the most genuine and true-to-myself place than I’ve ever been. I’m also in a place that is way more freeing and true to my own personal convictions.

The other day I found the statements below written on a piece of paper. I don’t remember exactly when I wrote them; I think it was a year ago or so, but I do know that they were written when I was in a place of sincerity and probably written when I was feeling helpless about someone challenging the validity of myself.

I’m very comfortable in not having any certainty about anything religiously. I’m very comfortable, and kind of feel a drive to embrace the idea of anything, or accept the absence of anything. Frankly, the only reason I ever feel like I need to have a definitive stance on things is the fear of judgement from other people and that they’ll not understand how much the above statement means to me, or judge it as just a “cop out” or as “being spiritually immature” or something along those lines.

I’m very serious about my spirituality, and how it’s very much an internal thing. I’m really starved for people to just encourage me to have the journey that I feel I’m led to have, even though it’s a very internal one, and appears to be very simple.

The second half of this blog post can be found here on Stephen’s blog, Attempting to Be Wise.

Misconceptions; Or, how to reclaim the party mingling nightmare.

Here’s the scene: You’re at a party. There are more people present who you don’t know than you do. Perhaps it’s your partner’s work party and there is the obligation to get to know some of the strangers present. As you look around the room, what assumptions are you making by the people you see? What assumptions are they making about you?


At The Church Lab dialogue on Monday, December 12, nine interfaithers met to share our perspectives on “Misconceptions.” What are the misconceptions you face the most by those of another tradition? What are the misconceptions you’ve made about your own tradition?


Before we dive in further, the entire conversation is available to listen online here:

We invite you to listen to this dialogue session and think of it as a launch pad to get you thinking and engaging in the topic of misconception, too.


There’s something to the fact, that regardless of faith tradition, everyone at the dialogue had a personal experience of being misconceived based on their faith identity. And often less realized, everyone shared in the ways that we’ve made misconceptions about our own faith traditions. It is a complicated and messy exploration of identity and how we desire to be known as individuals, while also aligning ourselves with larger collectives of people.


Some questions I’m left with…

  • How do we perpetuate or reinforce the misconceptions made about our faith traditions? Have you ever assured someone you didn’t fit the mold of your faith tradition, that you weren’t “that kind of fill-in-the-blank?” Who fits a mold?  

  • Are we actively seeking to teach ourselves about other traditions in order to end misconceptions we have about others?

  • Can we navigate the sources of the misconceptions we have learned?


Sharing about our experience with misconceptions really encompasses the mission of The Church Lab, which is to replace the misconceptions we have of people and replace them with real relationships. The Church Lab initiates these relationships by hosting folks in a room together, but that is just the beginning of the process. Developing relationships is a long game, made-up of creative encounters. So, here’s to that next party, when you’re surrounded by strangers. May at least one stranger become a misconception-smashing partner on your journey to better know and care for the world.   

“I’m Pagan!” An Interview with Church Lab Member, Dash

by Diana Small

 It turns out an e-mail interview with Dash was the best route by which to get know Dash, the self-described (and celebrated) “Big Giant Nerd” of the Church Lab family. Here we go...


Who: David Dashifen Kees (I took my wife’s last name!)

Hometown: Catasauqua, PA (currently in Alexandria, VA)

Profession: Programmer

Family: A lovely wife, 1 dog, 3 cats and 4 snakes



OK, We're all human beings with hobbies and day jobs and stuff we like. Before we get to the Church Lab goods, care to share how you spend your days? 



No fooling, I spend a great deal of my time programming. Either for work or pleasure.  Yeah, I’m a big giant nerd. I also continue to play World of Warcraft and other video games as well. My wife also plays WoW so that’s a thing we share. I’ve been reading comics for years, so this modern era of Marvel movies and TV shows is pretty much nirvana for me in that respect, too. I’m an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, religious studies, theology, and political history. I ride bikes and take my dog for a 1.5 mile walk every day at 5:30 AM so I guess that makes me a morning person.


Here’s four random facts, in no particular order and likely without any value or importance to your question:


1.     My father is in local government and that instilled within me a great desire to be a public servant.  Rather than get into the cesspool of our federal government, a job in public higher education has fit the bill for the moment.

2.     We have a dog (Boston Terrier), named Jilly.  Three cats, Noel, Aiden, and Toshi, kicking around our house in Alexandria, VA.  And we have two ball pythons (Kendi and Uzuriz, female and male respectively), an Andean Milk Snake (Keira), and a Kenyan Sand Boa (Mahiri).

3.     I hate money and ownership.  It’s a philosophical thing.  I do everything I can to get rid of things that I own and only replace that which I absolutely need.  And, there’s very little that I absolutely need.

4.     If I had it all over to do again, I’d learn to play the drums.



Would you share with us your religious and/or spiritual identity? 



I’m a Pagan! 


That’s a little vague. To be more specific, I’m an eclectic Hellenic, which has the added benefit of rhyming. There is a more formal modern Hellenic religion, sometimes referred to as Hellenismos, but I don’t actually think of myself as trying to revive or recreate tenants of the ancient world.  Instead, what I do is pretty much entirely a modern faith practice inspired by the mythology and values of the ancient world, but all jammed together to remain appropriate in a modern setting. The “eclectic” part simply indicates that I’m willing to pull from other sources not necessary linked to the Hellenic world (i.e. Greece and Greek mythology and pantheons).


Additionally, I’m a witch. My witchcraft is less about potions and cauldrons and more to do with drawing symbols and empowering them toward a given result. To foster my witchiness, I’ve joined the Firefly House, a tradition of witchcraft here in the Washington, D.C. area.  Unfortunately, my schedule is such that I don’t get to do as much with them as I’d like.



How has Church Lab enriched your spiritual journey? 



Church Lab gives me a space to explore topics that aren’t always things that Pagans worry about. We’re a religion that’s really based a lot more on what you do and less on what you believe. The Church Lab helps me to explore the theological concepts that might influence – perhaps unconsciously so – the behaviors and practice that I find spiritually fulfilling.  Plus, it’s just plain fun to learn more about the practices of others. 


I also find great joy in sharing a bit about Paganism with others. We’re a religious community that uses terms like pagan, witch, and heathen—words that have a negative and sometimes blasphemous connotation in other communities. By being a part of the Church Lab, I hope that I’m able to share a bit about myself, a bit about my religion, and help to allay fears that we’re all mustache-twirling evildoers.



What's one thing you wish more people knew when it came to your particular religious/spiritual identity?  



That Paganism is truly a creation of the modern world.  We may have our reconstructionist traditions that are working to try and take what we know of the ancient world and make it live again in the modern one, but even they know that not everything believed or practiced by some dude in Europe in 400 BCE is going to be appropriate in these times.  We’re not all luddites that eschew modern technology to live in nature dancing under full moons.  In fact, most of us love computers and drive our cars to the forest to do our full moon dancing!



What's something you've recently learned about a religious/spiritual practice other than your own that you'd like more folks to know? 



To be honest, I feel like we don’t learn as much about our spiritual practices through the Church Lab. Maybe it’s because I only join remotely, and therefore, never cross paths with any of the other, but I feel I learn much more about the people that attend our meetings and not as much about their faith practices. For example, learning from a number of Muslim women about how their faith inspires them to act politically in the world was a joy. To hear one of our conservative Protestant members talk about how she’s moved to work both at a crisis pregnancy center and an abortion clinic blew me away. It’s these moments that make Church Lab valuable and different from other similar groups, like the three Pub Theology meet-ups that I attend monthly in the DC area.



What are you reading right now? What's one book you'd recommend we all go out and get from the library today? 



Right now I’m reading Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored by Sarah Kate Istra Winter and A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly.  As for book recommendations, my favorite book of all time is Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.




Help! I’m Stuck! Part I: What Just Happened?

Whether you are brand new to dialogue, or a veteran, we all have moments where we might feel a bit, well, stuck. We might find ourselves triggered, suddenly feeling filled with emotion or scurrying to be defensive. Or we might simply not understand a person’s response to something we have shared. We might notice the tone of the room suddenly tanks and you simply don’t know what caused it or how to get back to solid ground.

Be assured; it is common -if not inevitable- to find a moment where building bridges gets bumpy! Part I of this blog is about what may be at play when a dialogue gets stuck.

Part II will further outline possible actions to get out of stuck-ness.

Part I: What Just Happened?

  1. Undercutting

    “I am pro-life because my faith teaches me that all forms of life are sacred.” “No you aren’t. You believe it because you think the government should force everyone to conform to your beliefs.”

    When someone asserts something about their own convictions, feelings or reasons for actions, and another dialoguer contradicts it, the dialogue is dismantled. Why? Because building bridges necessitates trust in each person telling the truth about their own experiences better than you can do for them. If one person is permitted to undercut someone’s feelings or convictions, than we lose the vital dialogical commitment of seeking to understand before being understood. Here a dialogue will do well to pause, back up, and work toward collectively re-committing to the legitimacy of each dialoguer’s experiences.

2. Narrative

    “My political party represents those that have been swept aside, that live unheard and unseen. The other side is reprehensible and they overlook the wrongdoings of their candidate.”

    It is striking that I have heard voters from multiple political parties across multiple elections describe themselves and others just like this. Strongly held within us are narratives that we subconsciously affirm and perpetuate. When we have new experiences, what stands out to us are the pieces that endorse already-held beliefs. We are often entrenched in like-minded communities, not to mention the reinforcing efforts of niche marketing and media outlets, we easily get lost in our own biases. Over time, this narrative can solidify into our very core.

    Our most distancing disagreements are often about underlying narratives in our lives that we don’t think about much, but that steer the ship of our decisions and actions. We follow a script that is hard to change, and it is bewildering when we encounter someone that doesn’t follow a script very similar to our own. In fact, it is so challenging that we are often left to either a) deconstruct, then reconstruct our whole life narrative, which is no piece of cake or b) save energy by deciding that people with other narratives are either miseducated or just plain loco.

    As such, needed in dialogue is humility. Specifically needed is a willingness to change, question our own biases, and to take a step back and wonder what else might be at play when we are tempted to make the world simpler by pointing a finger at someone else.

 3. Proximity

    We are often so buried in like-mindedness that we don’t even know “those people” that think like that, vote like that, or believe that crazy stuff. Rest assured, someone out there is thinking the same about you.

    Sometimes we mistake being “open-minded” for being around like-minded people. For example, you may be good friends with people from 7 different faith traditions, but it is entirely possible that if you all self-identify as liberal, you may agree on more than more conservative intra-faith counterparts. I have seen conservative Christians get along more easily with conservative Jewish folks than liberal Christian folks. Take note that embracing diversity and trying to understand people you don’t already understand are at times different things. We have good work to do, and to do it, it takes intentionally placing ourselves in less comfortable, less like-minded environments. It may not be comfortable, but it is fruitful over time!

4. Readiness

    There is such a thing as someone who has been talked into a dialogue, attends, and is not ready. For instance, I often say if someone “needs to win,” they are not ready for the dialogue and would do better to wait to attend until a different season of life.

There is also such a thing as a dialoguer being well-meaning and not ready for certain topics, rather than an entire dialogue. I have seen a dialoguer respond to a question I’ve asked by expressing that they are overwhelmed by the question and cannot answer it. This is a very legitimate - even considerate - response! A dialogue’s success in part depends on the honesty and vulnerability of its participants. In this situation, I validated the good reasons why someone might not be ready to hear the question, much less answer it. I invited those that felt comfortable enough to try to do so before we moved on to a question more palatable for the entire group.

5. Work-in-progress with self-awareness (all of us)!

Sometimes we can confuse ourselves more than we can confuse others! That is ok. We may encounter a feeling or response to something someone shares that we simply didn’t expect, or that we do not understand. This is an opportunity to grow, to reflect beyond the dialogue, and perhaps to seek pastoral care or the care of your worshipping community. Have grace and compassion for yourself if you find yourself feeling or responding in a way that takes you off guard. In the same way, please extend grace and compassion toward others for the same reason. In the most effective dialogue, the members are not nearly worried about the specific words shared so much as the heart of what they are trying to get across.


Stay tuned for more thoughts on how to respond when a moment of stuckness strikes!

[mockingbird argument image from Creative Commons]

After the Election: Reflections on a First-time Interfaither

By: Diana Small

These are the expectations of every interfaither when attending a dialogue at Church Lab:

1. Seek first to  understand before being understood.
2. If your faith tradition is evangelistic,  please be transparent about that conviction, yet suspend proselytizing during the dialogue.
3. We refrain from speaking on behalf of traditions not present in the room.  
4. Speak from your personal experience. We do not represent our entire tradition.
5. Carrie is an advocate for all perspectives in the room, curating a safe space for the group as a whole. 
6. Carrie has no agenda or moral lesson  for  the dialogue. We will jointly see where this conversation takes us and find a stopping point, then continue the work at the subsequent session.

These expectations seem simple and fair, but at last night’s dialogue, before the dialogue even started, these expectations needed to be written down for everyone to see. It would be a kind of dialogue that has never happened before at The Church Lab because just last week, the United States experienced an unprecedented and nationally dividing presidential election; its outcome revealing itself every hour as rallies, living rooms, protests, schools and social media pages roaring with diverse personal experience. So, before the Post-Election Dialogue begins, Carrie writes these expectations on a white board--which most Church Lab regulars know by heart--to remind everyone of why they’re here. 

Let me tell you now, there was no great secret to solving the world’s problem revealed last night. Dialogue participants did not leave the two and a half hour conversation with perfect solutions for how to negotiate the fear, anger, mistrust and isolation many U.S. residents are experiencing. But that’s not really the goal of The Church Lab.

The goal is to practice the expectations written on the dry erase board, knowing they are in fact fair, but not simple to practice. In exercising two and a half hours of concentrated empathy, interfaithers hope to venture back into their homes, workplaces and places of worship having practiced listening, seeking understanding, articulating their personal experience, and exchanging experiences with someone from another perspective without imposing  intentions. 

Other irregularities to last night’s gathering: the group of dialoguers was larger than usual, not wanting to turn anyone away, but also, the divisions between even Christian faith groups called for a larger spread of Protestant representation. There were also participants who have never participated in a dialogue before (including me), but when invited, sensed the value and urgency to participate in a safe interfaith post-election gathering. 

Those represented were Protestants across the political spectrum,a Latter-Day Saints member, Shia Muslims, an Ahmadi Muslim, a pagan, agnostic, Native American and unassociated spiritual members with the affectionate nickname of  “the ish contingency.”  Folks of varying convictions and embodiments of sexual orientation and gender identity were present, and thanks to Google hangout, a variety of geographic perspectives was present between Austin, Houston, DC and New York. There was also significant representation missing—representation too long to list and worth lamenting.

The Church Lab dialogues are not a one-stop shop to solving the world’s problems. It’s a gym of sorts; you show up, do what exercise you can today, maybe you push yourself, maybe you give yourself a break, hopeful you’ll leave a little more able. 

And what can I report back to you to bring clarity to your new day, as your Facebook feed piles up? A few simple gifts: I sat on the floor in a living room with twenty other people
(and three on a Google hangout ) and for three hours, my smart phone stayed silent in my backpack across the room. When was the last time I was apart from that device? I met a woman who’s only lived in the United States for five months and she reminded me that there are nations and communities across the world, experiencing their own political upset; there is always unrest about which to be concerned and prayerful, or in other words, this won’t be the last dialogue of this nature. And there were moments when everyone in that room laughed together—over our shared unnerving and over pictures of puppies and babies. 

The world can contain the emotions of every creature as they experience them. It takes practice to care for them and to transition those emotions into fruitful action that will create safer and richer communities. The Church Lab dialogues are the reminder that there is room for me and room for you in this country; we don’t have to fight to determine a winner and loser.

The Church Lab dialogues are the assurance that understanding is possible and that peaceful engagement can be the social norm, but we must consider the lives of those who are most different than ours. We cannot forecast the future, and there’s a vast array of opinions. But we can name the moment we’re in, meditate on the kind of moments our neighbors may be in, reach out and ask, “How are you today?”  

“You Cannot Hate Someone You Know” – meet Mac, a Native American TCL Inter-faither

By: Diana Small

Mac is a healer and fighter for justice with a beautiful laugh.  Mac hosted me in her apartment on the campus of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary to share with me a little about herself and her participation in Church Lab. As a newcomer to Church Lab myself, I asked Mac to tell it to me straight, giving me and readers the opportunity to learn about the Who and What behind this unusual interfaith group.  

“What I see in Church Lab is a lot of people who have a closer understanding of the beauty in the others around them who may see the world in different ways. They’re not only taking away something that they’re learning from that person, but they’re also somebody who’s going to be standing alongside them when they need a friend.”

When Mac moved to Texas from New Mexico, she was shocked and distressed over the lack of attention contemporary Native American culture and history received in the state. Now a graduate student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Mac works to raise awareness about Native American culture, history and current events. (Right now that means supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline protests happening in North Dakota, and getting other folks on board to help.) 

Mac is a pastoral counselor, social activist, storyteller, theologian, filmmaker, and the list goes on and on. 

“I try to speak the language of the people I’m working with. I can speak fundamentalist Christian, I can speak Islam, I can speak Judaism…Not as well as a native speaker, but I do have an appreciation for a lot of different kinds of traditions.”

Mac was raised in two emphatically pagan traditions herself. Her father is Northern Cheyenne and Lakota and Mac’s mother is a Scottish immigrant who practiced ancient pagan religion. When Mac decided to attend the College of Santa Fe, a Jesuit school, to study religion and pastoral counseling, her parents’ could not wrap their minds around their daughter’s decision. 

“They told their friends I was studying to be a teacher, they were so embarrassed!” 

With her degrees in religion and counseling, Mac’s worked as a counselor for intergenerational trauma before it had a clinical name. Her father grew-up in an abusive Presbyterian-run Native American boarding school and this influenced Mac’s desire to help others heal from their abusive histories. The intersection Mac has found in Church Lab has been meeting members from other faith groups that are also navigating intergenerational trauma including refugees, multi-generational homeless families, and multi-generational marginalized families of color. 

“The members of Church Lab are very gracious and open-hearted. People are able to talk about what they believe and, my impression is, it goes-off something that native people believe very strongly in: You cannot hate someone you know. The more you develop friendships with people, the harder it is to see them as ‘the other.’”

Investing in intergenerational trauma has even nurtured within Mac a greater sense of empathy and compassion for her father, having a better understanding of how his trauma shaped him.

Now back in school, Mac’s a part of creating the first ever Native American Student Group at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary to educate her classmates and future pastors in Native American culture, with the hopes of creating more allies for Native Americans. 

“In order to be an ally, you really have to love someone enough that you don’t want anything bad to happen to them. That means you have to get to know them. Make a friend!” 

To get to know some of Mac’s better, here’s some films and books she recommends:

The Wind is My Mother by Bear Heart with Molly Larkin

Thirty Days on an Indian Reservation by Morgan Spurlock

Dakota 38 by Smooth Feather Productions

Update on our Project in Burkina Faso

Please pray for Bosco as he meets our BuildOn rep for the village site visit TODAY in Burkina Faso!!!

This will potentially greenlight our partnership with this org, and the beginning of our work toward building a school for the village of Bassiama II. May everyone's travels be safe, conversations uplifting and informative, and all requirements met with ease.

May Bosco, BuildOn and this village community be greatly encouraged and able to celebrate the beginning of these partnerships, and possibly the beginning of girls and boys having access to education!!!

Why Dialogue Matters: Living in the US as a Muslim

The Church Lab recently held a very special dialogue in which 3 Muslim special guests shared their voices about living in the US in our current climate. This is our first ever recorded dialogue, and all participants agreed that even as dialogue is a vulnerable practice, this special conversation is worth sharing. 

We hope you'll give it a generous listen here

Please keep the spirit of dialogue when listening; we seek to understand before being understood and honor one another's perspectives as legitimate experience.