The Women of WISDOM

In response to the divisions that emerged during the recent elections, many women have come together to form unity and a more peaceful world. They began taking on leadership roles, with over 25,000 women contacting Emily’s List about running for office. This is one small example.

But the pattern of women stepping up to create harmony during difficult times is not a new phenomenon. Many women around the world have worked hard to help provide equal opportunities and healthier environments so that individuals, families, communities, and nations can strive. Over a decade ago, Gail Katz, a Jew, Shahina Begg, a Muslim, and Trish Harris, a Catholic, reached out and brought other women together to form WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit) which officially became a 501 (c) 3 in May 2007.

The 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War had caused a polarization as turmoil escalated in the world between and among the various faith traditions. In the belief that women could come together and form an interfaith movement where we could listen to each other, respect each other’s differences, and then take action towards change, these inspiring women started a beautiful circle of sisterhood that has gone on to present many empowering programs.

Wisdom

I met one of WISDOM’s co-founders, Trish Harris, through Padma Kuppa, who’s running for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives. Trish is a Catholic like myself, and she definitely has a lot of wisdom to contribute to the world. In the book Friendship & Wisdom, she writes, “There is something distinctive about how women work together. We tend to take the time to build the relationships first, and then work on solving the problem.”

Friendship & Wisdom features true stories from over 50 remarkable women. One of the woman who shares her story in the book is Padma. Padma is a Hindu American and community activist working for social justice and understanding. Born in India, she arrived to the U.S. to start kindergarten in 1970 on Long Island. Returning to India with her family in 1981, she finished high school and college while living in a mainstream Hindu culture. Returning to New York in 1988 as a foreign student, she, her husband, and their two children have made Troy, Michigan their home since 1998. Padma is a founding member of the Troy-area Interfaith Group, as well as the Bharatiya Temple’s Outreach Committee.

Padma starts her story with profound words (page 89):

One of my favorite Bible verses from 1 Corinthians: “Faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” This is a lot like passages in Hindu scriptures, including these words from the Maha Upanishad: “The whole world is a family.” There also is a prayer of peace in the Rig Veda that reads, in English: “May all be happy. May all be healthy. May all be prosperous. Let no one suffer.”

The Foreword by Barbara Mahany was also touching:

Day after day I wake up with my chest feeling hollowed. The space in my heart hurts so much, so immeasurable, I can’t fathom how to contain it. I shuffle down the stairs of my old shingled house, look out the windows into the quiet dawn, into the leafy arbors, and wonder how in the world can I stitch a single thread into the tatters of this world, this oozing brokenness all around?

And then the stories of this book landed on my desk. This, I knew right away, is where the answer lies: In ordinary-extraordinary stories of women who reach across doorways, and hallways, and kitchen counters – who see beyond burkas and veils and prayer beads and venerations.

Being in the presence of these women, you know there’s something special at work that you want to be a part of. Wisdom received from anyone is very important. With women, their wisdom allows them to see in another woman what she herself might not be able to see or articulate so clearly. When I opened the book that Trish had gifted me, I saw these words: “Weam, thanks for helping to change the world – one relationship at a time.”

I’m grateful for women like Trish and Padma and others who help make communities a better place. May their sisterhood circle continue to grow, prosper, and embrace the whole world.

To learn more about Wisdom, click here:

To learn more about Padma Kuppa, click here

Women in Ministry

Reverend Barbara Yarnell was in law enforcement for 29 years and retired from the Detroit Police Department with the rank of Executive Lieutenant. After she retired, she decided to be a minister. She was ordained on October 27, 2007 and her earlier studies certified her as a spiritual healer, medium, associate minister and Level One Meta-physician. She works as a minister, teacher, and healer. Her classes include Sacred Space, Pendulums, Comparative Religions, Healing Oils, Shamanism, Life between Lives and Drumming. 

I met Rev Barbara through a mutual friend at the Edgar Casey’s Association for Research and Enlightenment.  Shortly thereafter, she invited me to speak at her church, the Center of Enlightenment in Ferndale. She also wanted us to meet and asked me to recommend a restaurant that served good Iraqi food. I offered that she instead come to my home for a homemade Iraqi meal. We’ve been friends ever since.

Over the years, I’ve given a number of talks at the Center of Enlightenment and I’ve learned so much from Rev Barbara and the other ministers there. I particularly enjoyed my talk last month because my eight-year-old son accompanied me. After service, he and I joined the ministers at a restaurant for breakfast.  He was so intrigued by the service and the conversations we had that he asked to visit again.

Rev Barbara has been a blessing and instrumental in helping me put together The Path of Consciousness, a spiritual and writing conference and retreat, where in the early mornings she will lead service at the beautiful chapel inside the establishment. Aside from providing continuous services, she has led a full and meaningful life, doing the work she enjoys best and traveling the world with her husband. She went to Brazil twice to visit the famous medium and psychic surgeon John of God who has been featured in major news outlets and interviewed by Oprah. She went simply for curiosity’s sake, to watch John of God perform, not for any healing. From that trip, she had an idea to write two books which relate to John of God. He gave her permission to do so and blessed the process. 

When I invited her on my show, I didn’t know whether to have her talk about John of God or about women in ministry.  I then figured I’d have her on the show twice because once wasn’t going to be enough. She has a lot of rich information and many delightful stories to share.

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Regarding women in ministry, women have always played an important role in the growth of the church, even being among the few who witnessed the crucifixion of Christ when most of the disciples had run away (Matthew 27:55; John 19:25). The apostle Paul held women in high regard and in many of his letters to the church he greeted precise women by name. Paul addresses these women as “co-workers” and they evidently served the Lord to the benefit of the church.

Yet women in ministry is an issue which Christians have disagreed upon. The split stems from the passages of Scripture that forbid women to speak in church or “assume authority over a man.” (1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 14:34).  Some say that, since there is neither “Jew nor Greek… male or female… but you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28), women are free to pursue any field of ministry open to men. Others still say that those passages were relevant only to the era in which they were kept.

During the interview, Rev Barbara quotes Corinthians 12:27-3, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

What I hadn’t realized is that the Catholic Church ordained women for nearly 11 centuries. Gary Macy, professor of Theology at Santa Clara University, said in a lecture at Vanderbilt University that until about the mid-12 century, women were ordained as deaconesses, served as bishops, distributed Communion and even heard confessions. He said, “Women were considered to be as ordained as any man… they were considered clergy.”

But, he added, politics led to theological rules that wiped out the practice.  The church by the 12th century sought to protect its property from feudal lords by inventing “a separate clerical class.” Theologians came to view women as “metaphysically different from other people,” so that, by the mere fact of being female, women were considered incapable of being ordained.

From mere observation, it’s obvious that less women leaders in government and religious institutions has not helped make our world a better place. One need only look at the Middle East vs. Norwegian countries as an example of how her absence or presence can either make or break that country.

Watch the 30 minute interview and visit The Path of Consciousness to learn more about the spiritual and writing conference and retreat.