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News Release: Village Square Salt Lake City Announces Its Formation



NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release
May 22, 2015

Media Contact: Jacob Hess
Director
Village Square, Salt Lake City
Phone: 801.712.1346

VILLAGE SQUARE, SALT LAKE CITY ANNOUNCES ITS FORMATION
Inaugural Dinner Event, June 18th – focused on LGBT/Religious Dialogue

(SALT LAKE CITY, UT) – May 22, 2015 – Utah has recently been recognized nationally for an historic deliberation between political leaders associated with the LGBT and religious communities. Since then, some have wondered: how can the larger spirit of that event be multiplied to involve more Utah citizens in the same kind of generous, open-hearted conversations?

We are excited to announce the creation of a Salt Lake City chapter of The Village Square – a nationally known nonpartisan 501(c) 3 public educational forum dedicated to raising the quality of civic discussion on issues of local, state and national importance.
Since 2006, the Village Square has been innovating unique methods to create a “Town Hall for the 21st Century” – helping communities move beyond the polarized bickering and diatribes that often characterize these events. Senator Olympia Snow called the Village Square one of 8 national organizations to support if you’re concerned about healing the partisan divide. Village Square advisor Jonathan Haidt, professor at New York University, says the Village Square “helps open hearts, then minds by fostering the mutual recognition of everyone’s decency and sincerity.”

On Thursday, June 18th, Village Square Salt Lake City will host our inaugural event, “Reaching Across America’s Deepest Divide: Former Adversaries Tell Their Story of Coming Together to Explore Sexual Orientation-Faith Conflicts.” This dinner event, open to the public, will be held at the Salt Lake Acting Company (168 W, 500 N) – with dinner starting at 6:30 and the program beginning at 7:15. The program will be co-moderated by Jacob Hess, Director of Village Square SLC, and Jay Jacobsen, Director of Circling the Wagons.

Co-sponsored by Living Room Conversations and the Salt Lake Civil Network, this event will offer a chance to participants to ‘listen in’ to the story of members of the Reconciliation and Growth Project – a collaborative effort to deepen understanding across the LGBT/religious divide, including: Jerry Buie (Pride Counseling), Lee Beckstead & Jim Struve (The LGBTQ-Affirmative Psychotherapist Guild of Utah), Shirley Cox (Brigham Young University instructor), David Matheson (Journey into Manhood), David Pruden (Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity) and Marybeth Raynes (Crossroads Psychotherapy).

Unlike an information-based “panel discussion,” this event will prioritize relationship building and FUN – with cabaret-style tables and dessert served to punctuate the conversation. Unique mobile-phone-based methods will be used to solicit questions and prompt interaction throughout, with two civility bells held by left and right-leaning audience members.

Future events being planned in Salt Lake City include “Speed Date Your Local Leaders” and similar dinner forums exploring potential common ground on policing, climate change & religious freedom. A “Sticky Issues in Civil Society” lunch series will also begin this summer, featuring topics such as “What to Do When We Disagree on the ‘Facts’?” and “Are there Some Issues it is NOT Okay to Disagree About?” In all Village Square events, the aim will be to focus on issues of importance to Utahans about which misunderstandings exist and questions that may perhaps uniquely benefit from a creative, trans-partisan exploration.

In a time when increasing political animosities continue to be documented nationally, it is time for communities to take more proactive measures to nurture and bolster our collective capacity for productive disagreement. Like the preservation of our precious natural and environmental resources in the state, we believe this civic space in our communities also deserves careful protection – indeed, as a national heritage dating back to the colonial “village square” where a diverse people came together to explore the future of this country.

For more information or to reserve your seat, go to www.villagesquareutah.org. With limited seating, some spots are being held for journalists. With questions, contact Jacob Hess or Liz Joyner at the numbers above (between May 27 and June 5, please contact Liz).



Tallahassee Democrat: Tallahassee in “Fast Forward”



squares-ff-2015Byron Block writes in today’s Tallahassee Democrat:

If you’ve been struggling to keep up with all that is taking shape in Tallahassee and wonder what’s coming next, hold on. You’re not alone.

Tallahassee is experiencing a spurt of growth that is changing the face of retail, housing, entertainment, neighborhood life and more. To help residents upgrade their scorecards and get a glimpse of what’s ahead, the Village Square is hosting “Our Town, Fast Forward” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

“It’s part civics and part sporting event,” Liz Joyner, founder and executive director of The Village Square said. “This is the most popular program we do all year long.”

The free event is being held at St. John’s Episcopal Church; co-partners are the Tallahassee Democrat/Tallahassee.com, Leadership Tallahassee and Knight Creative Communities Institute (KCCI).

Read the entire article online HERE.



Rabbi Jack Romberg: Faith v. Science



faith-science-logoRabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel moderated Tuesday’s panel in Tallahassee on “Faith v. Science,” the last dinner in this year’s series “Us v. Them?” Find the program online here.

Is this truly an accurate assumption? Do faith (or religion) and science have to be pursuits that are in opposition to each other? In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI gave an address at the University of Regensburg. This speech tried to give a perspective on the intersection of faith and reason, and subsequently religion and science. It was a brilliantly conceived and written speech. Unfortunately, the world focused on a quote the Pope used from a dialogue between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian intellect that reflected badly on Islam. The press about the address centered on support for or opposition to Benedict’s statement about Islam. His quite cogent statements about faith and reason got buried in the storm.

What did Pope Benedict say? He began with reminiscences of his days teaching at the university, noting how, with apparent pleasure, reasonable people could disagree on such fundamental issues as religion and God. He recalled a colleague commenting how odd it was to have two faculties at the university devoted to something that did not exist – God. Perhaps my favorite quote from his speech is this, “The scientific ethos…is the will to be obedient to the truth, and as such, it embodies an attitude which reflects one of the basic tenets of Christianity.” Think about this. By seeking truth, science is reflecting a core religious value. Science searches for the truth about the mechanics and the Church reveals truths about the “why” of the existence of the mechanics. Rather than seeing these as incompatible, Benedict saw them as reflections of two needed basic values – faith and reason. At the very core of his message was a plea for people to be reasonable. People of opposing views must at least share a commitment to “reason.” One cannot be so anchored in faith as to reject what is reasonable.

But is the reconciliation of science and faith a reasonable expectation? When one reads the critiques of religion by Oxford professor Richard Dawkins – then probably not. Dawkins, in an article commenting on the relative contributions of science and theology to the origins of the universe and humanity writes, “It is science and science alone that has given us this knowledge and given it, moreover, in fascinating, overwhelmingly, mutually confirming detail. On every one of these questions, theology has held a view that has been conclusively proved wrong.” Proceeding with even harsher words he adds, “What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody?”

Religious institutions will take varying degrees of umbrage at Dawkins’ comments. The Catholic Church, which is the source and supporter of many distinguished institutions of higher learning, cannot give up the totally improvable concept of the resurrection. To do so would destroy a basic underpinning of the Church. Further, segments of the Church believe in the existence of Satan, an additional irrationality. In the larger Christian world (at least in America) a majority do not accept the science of evolution, taking the first chapters of Genesis to be literal truth. Religious Americans who believe in the literal truth of Genesis and anyone embracing the scientific discoveries regarding the origins of the universe do not even consider the possibility that the other side is, as Pope Benedict would have said, “reasonable.”

Indeed, the word reasonable might not even be relevant when considering the human characteristic of “believing.” We all have articles of faith on which we build our lives. Many seem completely unreasonable to our neighbor. Trying to understand creation, from either the science or religious perspective, is a prime battle ground for this conflict. Yet, out of the ashes of this battle are some embers of possibility.

Recently I moderated a panel for The Village Square on issues of faith and science. Featured on the panel was the noted physicist, Dr. Harrison Prosper. Dr. Prosper is part of the team at CERN that discovered the Higgs boson, the particle that explains much towards how our universe actually holds together. If you want a sample of his brilliance, please listen to this TEDX talk:

Dr. Prosper is not a religious person in any way, yet acknowledges that when looking at the complicated set of equations involved in the creation and order of the universe, one can wonder if intelligence was indeed behind it all. Indeed there are scientists who see an intelligent hand in the structure of the universe, in both what is physically observable as well as in the math necessary to explain its structure. For example, the value of pi (3.14…) is present in many of the equations that explain our surroundings. Is that a calculated marker left by intelligence?

Further, the belief in scientific theory can at times be another form of faith. All you have to do is read Thomas Kuhn’s book “Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Kuhn shows that stubborn belief is what happens when one scientific paradigm is about to give way to a new one. Scientists have a history of holding onto a theory, often in the face of mounting evidence that disproves the theory. Sometimes society will have shifted to the new change before the scientific community. This is simply faith, but under a different guise. While there are certainly areas of science considered universally to be true, our scientific understanding of the universe often undergoes radical revision. During the program I moderated, I found Dr. Prosper’s most interesting statement to be his wish that everything his team had discovered would be overturned by a whole new discovery. What makes the process exciting for human inquiry is the disproving of a theory by new, amazing evidence. Where religion becomes “unreasonable” is when it tries to discount scientific theory without evidence, only faith that the words of the Bible are incontrovertibly true.

Judaism has little conflict with science. We can point to numerous examples in rabbinic teaching that affirm and support scientific truth. The model of creation proposed by the 16th century mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria, is eerily similar to the “big bang” theory of creation, complete with a miniscule singularity point out of which all of creation explodes. Perhaps most impressive is the work of the 13th century rabbi Maimonides, who posits that the language about God in the Torah is metaphorical, as our ability to articulate anything about God is so limited. He goes on to teach that in order to better understand God, one must develop their intellect, and study science, philosophy and math. Some more contemporary Jewish thought posits God not as an object, but as verb – the process of continuing existence. Our prayers are an attempt to relate to this process, to sensitize us to the process and to find our place in it.

The scientific community need not see religion as opposition. Rather, just as science is an attempt to explore truth, religion does the same. But I believe the truth religion is exploring is much more and much deeper than the “why” to the mechanics of the universe. All of us have our non-rational sides. They are moved in different ways, music, art, spiritual wonder, and the search for meaning. Prayer is an emotive experience, that can deeply move our souls. Prayer can sensitize us to human suffering in ways very different than fact and research. I do not claim everyone needs religion, just that it can provide as much as a path to meaning, to managing life as science. In addition, religion is the primary arena in which morality and ethics evolves. Deeply religions people can be at odds over profound moral dilemmas (see abortion, same sex marriage as examples). Science can give us some facts to frame issues, but it is religion that leads the struggle over what our moral boundaries should be.

Finally, both religion and science must grow and evolve to remain vibrant and relevant. Both find strength when finding a proper path that holds onto tradition and history yet changes as humans change. At their best, religion and science travel parallel roads on their search for respective truths.



My state of mind will always be Purple.



I was reminded by my friend (and political opposite) Lea that this week marks the 6th anniversary of the Purple State of Mind duo visiting Tallahassee – a visit that inspired so very much. To mark the occasion of our anniversary with John and Craig, today seemed to be a wonderful occasion to re-run our tribute to them. John and Craig, we love you.

There are some people who change your life forever from the minute they walk into it. Hard to believe it was just four years ago since it happened with the partners in Purple State of Mind, John Marks and Craig Detweiler.

Before the holidays, the Purple pair announced that they’re calling it a day for their Purple State of Mind website, being the busy guys that they are with many new things on the horizon.

In John’s Farewell to Arms he reflected:

Lacking in the appropriate humility, perhaps, we thought we might bring a tone of moderation, conviviality and openness to a dialogue with someone whose views of the world we did not share and by extension to the national discourse. It’s an open question whether we succeeded at the former. We failed with epic grandeur at the latter. Rhetoric that was mean-spirited and intolerant seven years ago has become embittered, ferocious and increasingly violent today.

John couldn’t be more correct in his assessment that despite efforts like Purple, the national dialogue has gotten worse. But I’d like to suggest to John that he’s looking around instead of down. Looking down shows an entirely different reality.

John and Craig, over these years, have traveled America planting little Purple seeds. Like they did in Tallahassee, they came in, made lifelong friends and changed hearts. They planted possibilities that in some cases – in our case – has grown to reality.

There are daunting, overwhelming forces that are creating the rancor our nation is currently laboring under. Here’s a partial list: The internet, search algorithms on the internet, email chain letters, the fiscal crisis, unemployment, highly targeted marketing techniques, demographic and sociological trends, 24-hour news, talk radio, and – the big elephant in the room – human nature.

The only way anything will ever change is that crazy people with big ideas about what can be different plant seeds.

In his goodbye post, John called The Village Square a “real world vision of where the Purple idea can go.” We humbly accept that less as a current reality and more as an aspiration for what we might become. “Purple State of Mind” is a category on our blog. There are five pages of Purple graphics in my WordPress image library. There are 2,258 hits when I search my computer for “Purple.” There are 34 pages of Google hits for a “Purple State of Mind” search.

Because of John and Craig, I will forever capitalize a color, I think that pretty much says it all about what it is they did in one little corner of this big angry world. (And they even did it with their shirts on, see below…)

Everything we ever do will be tinted Purple. And that is a start.



Hedrick Smith: Can we heal our great divide?





Tallahassee Democrat: Town hall format allows for face-to-face interaction



From today’s Tallahassee Democrat:

Tallahassee-Democrat-logo-squareWilnick SaintCharles, 34, was a student at Florida A&M University when Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was student government president, but he never took the time to discuss issues.

SaintCharles, who stayed in Tallahassee and now works at Citizen Insurance Corp., got that chance Thursday night while attending the annual “Speed Date Your Local Leaders” event hosted by the Village Square at St. John’s Church. Nearly 80 people attended the event that drew several local elected and appointed government leaders.

Read the entire article at Tallahasssee.com.



Tallahassee Democrat: Join the Town Hall



If you’re in Tallahassee and want to attend Thursday night’s Tallahassee Town Hall, click here.

From today’s Tallahassee Democrat (print edition only):

rachel redcoatWhen it comes to getting things done in a country, there were actually some advantages to having a king.

If a kingdom had a problem, a good king could send for the most brilliant scholars in the land, commission them to scribble mathematical formulas into the wee hours, apply his royal intellect and issue an edict. Of course, there were the bad kings and the heads that rolled… which, more or less, gets us to where the American story begins.

As they went about the business of building a country without a king, our founding fathers had more than a little trouble agreeing with each other. Democracy turns out to be a pretty sloppy business. But no matter how unpleasant they found it, the framers never had the luxury to avoid the difficult conversations.

There was every reason to think they would fail – the notion that a diverse people could self-govern was a nearly insane idea at the time. Still, the founders did more that believe we could muddle our way through our diversity; they bet our future that diversity of opinion could become a strength for their new country.

They designed our form of government around that bet.

In America, political foes become partners in ensuring “deliberation and circumspection” as they engage in order to govern. This clashing of opinion creates a competition of ideas that deepens thinking, sharpens solutions & moderates extremes. James Madison saw the Bill of Rights as a “mere parchment barrier” compared to the power of this factionalism to check the power of the majority and insure freedom for the minority.

So, despite the differences between the framers and the odds against them, in this new country the king was no longer the seat of power – it was now the humble town square. This was the unlikely place where our first citizens went about the business of building a country “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Almost 250 years later, that’s exactly what you’ll find Thursday night, when the Village Square, the Tallahassee Democrat and Leadership Tallahassee join forces to host the fourth annual Tallahassee Town Hall. It’s free and open to the public (go to tallahassee.tothevillagesquare.org to print your ticket). You’re invited to bring take-out and a drink, roll up your sleeves and dive into our local conversation of democracy.

Facilitated by the publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat, Skip Foster, the program is at St. John’s Episcopal Church downtown.

Joining the panel are Leon County Commissioners Mary Ann Lindley, Nick Maddox and Kristin Dozier; and from the City of Tallahassee, Mayor Andrew Gillum and Commissioner Curtis Richardson.

The program will be live-streamed at Tallahassee.com and you can even tweet your questions from home – in your slippers if you like (a cool freedom George Washington might not have imagined).

Sure, navigating hometown democracy probably isn’t your first choice on how to spend an evening. But if you come by St. John’s Thursday night, we hope you’ll take a moment to consider that you’ll be at the very heart of what makes us America.

A kind and intelligent ruler might not do a bad job deciding how things should run in our hometown, but there is no king; there will be no writ from on high. It’s up to people like us in this place we call home to care about the city we share.

_____________________

Liz Joyner is Co-founder and Executive Director of the Village Square, dedicated to reviving civil discourse across the partisan divide. Created in Tallahassee in 2006, the Village Square now has five locations nationally. Contact Liz at liz@tothevillagesquare.org

_____________________

IF YOU GO info:

OUR TOWN Tallahassee Town Hall
Thursday, February 19th
5:30 to 7:30 pm
Free and open to the public
St. John’s Episcopal Church
211 N Monroe Street, downtown Tallahassee
For more information or to reserve your seat http://www.tallahassee.tothevillagesquare.org
Watch livestream at Tallahassee.com
Stay for dessert and coffee after the program



Florence Snyder: A Valentine to David Carr



rachel-heart-desatLike all addicts, David Carr had a drug of choice. His was journalism.

He craved the constant rush that the news business provides. The endorphins unleashed in the newsrooms where he worked in Minnesota and Washington and New York made for a better high than “the frantic kind of boring,” that Carr described in his memoir about the years he spent out of newsrooms, shacked up with the harsh mistresses of alcohol and cocaine.

Carr got sober and spent the next 25 years as journalism’s Romeo. He loved reporting the news, and was an ardent lover of people who reported the news.

Unlike many aging baby boomers, Carr had no fear of new technology and no contempt for young people who did not equate the survival of newspapers with the survival of journalism.

But he brooked no insolence from new media whippersnappers who insulted the New York Times, for which Carr had “an immigrant’s love.”

The nut graf of Carr’s life is preserved forever in the 2011 documentary film “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” Carr is seen interviewing Vice founder Shane Smith about Vice’s coverage of Liberia. Smith babbles that mainstream media “never tells the whole story.”

Carr explodes, “Before you ever went there, we’ve had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fucking safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn’t give you the right to insult what we do.”

But Carr’s love was not blind. Day after day, year after year Carr documented the “industry suicide’ of old media while writing road maps for the people who will invent journalism’s future.

Some of those people are studying at Boston University, where Carr, the first holder of the Andrew R. Lack Professorship, created a “contemporary and entrepreneurial journalism” course called PressPlay: Making and distributing content in the present future.

Former Miami Herald Editor and Dean of the Boston University College of Communications says it was “…almost as the result of wishful thinking” how Carr came to the Professorship.

“Several of us were at a lunch that Mr. Lack hosted tossing about the names of people who might fit the vision of the Lack Professorship, that is, a person with a unique ability to understand and explain the changes, good and bad, that were occurring in the communication fields as a result of emerging communication technologies. Someone — probably Andy Lack — remarked that the person we were searching for would have to be on David Carr’s speed dial; it would have to be a person whom David would call when he was seeking insight into some development. Not in our wildest dreams did we think at that moment that David himself would be interested in this position and would find a way to join Boston University.”

Fiedler should not have been surprised. Carr spent every minute of his professional life teaching people inside and outside of the newsroom what journalism is, and why it matters.

On the last night of his life, Carr conducted yet another master class in finding stuff out and sharing it with the world, moderating a Times Talk about the film “Citizenfour” with its principal subject, Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, the journalists to whom Snowdon leaked a trove of classified documents.

And then he collapsed in the newsroom he so dearly loved.

_____________


Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Florence Snyder: Journalistic credibility requires the attention from the top



Media bashers, media ethicists and the Greek chorus at Comedy Central will be gorging for a long time on the disgraced remains of Brian Williams.

But the credibility crisis now engulfing NBC News is not Williams’ fault. It is never the reporter’s fault.

An “anchor and managing editor” is neither God nor a kid with a YouTube channel. He does not edit his own stories and he does not put himself on the air.

Like print journalism, broadcast news employs an army of producers and business executives whose job it is to demonstrate with every story, every day that “we work for the viewers, and we care about the truth.”

The folks in charge of ethics and basic reporting skills at NBC have been failing Williams for a long, long time.

More than a decade ago, Don Helus, one of the pilots of one of the helicopters that figured in Williams’ escalating tales of derring-do, noticed Williams’ embellishments of his brief stint as a war correspondent in Iraq. Helus showed NBC the respect of writing a letter pointing out Williams’ factual errors.

Such communications are taken seriously at news organizations wishing to be taken seriously by audiences, advertisers and sources.

Helus had every right to expect that NBC would show him the respect of acknowledging his letter and investigating his concerns.

NBC instead ignored Helus and year by year, Williams’ propensity to self-aggrandize grew along with his salary and his bromances with Jimmy Fallon and Joe Scarborough.

It wasn’t until other soldiers who were around for Williams’ journo-tourism adventure came forward on Facebook to call him a liar that we began to learn that there might also be some holes in Williams’ award- winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

Helus, now retired and living in Enterprise, Alabama, was unimpressed by the apology Williams offered his audience on last Wednesday’s Nightly News.

“I had to chuckle, and it is not because I wish ill of Brian Williams,” he told Erin Edgemon of theDothan Eagle. “It was just ‘admit you are wrong and take your lumps.’ It really wasn’t an apology. It was more of an excuse than anything.”

Excuses may cut it in business and politics, but not in the Fourth Estate. Williams’ name will live in journalism infamy, but the real villains are the yet-to-be-named people at NBC News who ignored Helus’ letter.

________________

Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Tallahassee’s Dinner at the Square guest David Blankenhorn on religion, gay rights and the culture war



board-blankenhornAmerican Culture just Shifted a Bit with LDS Church’s Statement
David Blankenhorn, Deseret News, 2/6/15

In American religious life, something interesting just happened. Last week, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, long viewed as opponents of gay rights, publicly opened a dialogue about how to balance needed expansion of legal protections for gays and lesbians with reasonable exemptions intended to protect religious freedom. American culture just shifted a bit.

Read the entire article online here.



Ibn Morgan: A Tribute to Martin Luther King





McDonald’s nails the importance of neighbors (even arch enemies)



McDonald’s has managed to charm us with two very fundamental Village Square-ish concepts in their new “I’m Lovin’ It” ad campaign.



Quotable, after the tragedy in Paris



The great divide is not between faiths. Rather it is between terrorists and moderates, between those who are tolerant and those who “otherize.”

–David Brooks, in the New York Times