Header Blog

Village Square co-founder Bryan Desloge in the Tallahassee Democrat: Proud to meet with Pope and President

desloge-squareThere was a time in our nation’s not too distant past when meeting with the President of the United States or even the Pope himself would be seen – without question – as an honor and a true privilege.

Yet, as I made the humbling journey to our nation’s capital to attend a meeting of both Pope Francis and President Obama, I felt somewhat uneasy and, frankly, a little worried about how this visit would be received by those in the body politic.

It shouldn’t be that way.

Read the entire editorial at Tallahassee.com.

News Release: Village Square’s “Faith, Food, Friday” launches fifth season of programming


Local clergy join The Village Square in hosting lunch series on hot topics

(TALLAHASSEE, FL) – September 14, 2015 – This Friday, September 18, a diverse group of local clergy – affectionately known as “The God Squad” – will begin its fifth year of talking about the topics your mother warned you to never discuss in polite company: politics and religion. This season, “Faith, Food, Friday” programs will be crossing thresholds, sharing food with those outside of our usual circles, and welcoming the stranger – whether we don’t know him because of color, class or politics – as a new friend. The season will include several programs focused on racial and economic divides, and will move among new locations in order to broaden accessibility and participation.

The series began in 2011 with the hope that neighbors breaking bread together could begin to heal the civic division that has so paralyzed our nation, our states and our hometowns. Four years and many meals later, everyone is still speaking to each other. People from across the community, no matter what their background, are invited to participate in these improbable conversations “for people of faith and no faith at all.”

“The God Squad” includes Dr. Bill Shiell of First Baptist Church, Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel, Pastor Darrick McGhee of Bible Based Church, Rev. Betsy Ouellette-Zierden of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church, and Fr. Tim Holeda, Parochial Vicar at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. The series is hosted by local nonprofit The Village Square, dedicated to building community across the partisan divide in order to improve the quality of the civic conversation in America. Organized in Tallahassee in 2006, The Village Square is expanding nationwide with locations in Fort Lauderdale; Sacramento, CA; and Salt Lake City, UT.

The first program this season is titled “Food, Food, Food” and will be held on Friday, September 18 from noon to 1 pm at First Baptist Church (108 W. College Avenue) with lunch available beginning at 11:30. Rev. Betsy Ouellette-Zierden of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church will moderate. From the American South to the Middle East to the African plains, in all cultures, hospitality around food is a central principle of civil society. And at The Village Square, food is considered one of the most essential elements to the effort to seek reconciliation across the partisan divide.

Other topics this season include Religious Liberty; Income Disparity, Poverty, Race and Our Children; The Hidden Wound; Police and Community; Rights of Passage: Raising our Children; and An Inconvenient Truth: End of Life Issues. The April 2016 program is currently a Wild Card, with the public invited to submit topic ideas. The location and lunch menu vary for each program and are posted online.

All Faith, Food, Friday forums are free and open to the public. Lunch is available for $8 for those who RSVP by the Tuesday ahead of the program and $10 with a late reservation or at the door. All lunches are paid cash or check at the door. Guests may also bring their own lunch. For menus, more information or to reserve your seat, go online to wiki.tothevillagesquare.org/x/BwGvAQ, call 590-6646 or email fff@tothevillagesquare.org.


Jacob Hess: Ten Reasons to Spend Time with Your Political Opposite

info graphicHere’s a little preview of Part 2 of a smart piece written by the Director of our newest Salt Lake City Village Square, Jacob Hess (find Part 1 here):

So why would anyone be crazy enough to spend significant time with someone on the other side of the political fence? Why funny you should ask…

1. To Hear it from the Horse’s Mouth. While some people seem increasingly satisfied with a daily download about what-those-dumb-people-are-up-to-now, others are hungry for something more.

“When my like-minded friends all share the same talking points,” our colleague Debilyn Molineaux writes, “I start wondering if there isn’t more to the story…”

Is there? Well, there’s one sure-fire way to find out.

2. To (Really) Be Heard Yourself. In addition to deeply hearing out your political opposite, it’s also surprisingly refreshing to have someone do that for you too – especially one of ‘those people.’ This starts, ironically, by making a shared commitment to seeking to understand each other as the first priority.

Read the entire article at Huffington Post.

Jacob Hess: Ten Reasons to Stay Away from Your Political Opposite

new yorker elephant donkeyThe Director of our newest Salt Lake City Village Square Director, Jacob Hess, has written a smart and thoughtful piece posted at the Huffington Post. Here’s a sneak peak:

In discussions of political polarization in America, it’s often widely assumed that ‘most Americans’ want to see the hostility change.

Do they? On the one hand, a 2013 American survey found 70% of respondents believing that incivility had reached crisis proportions in the country.

On the other hand, when these same Americans are offered a chance of hearing out their own political opposite in a generous and productive setting, we have observed a striking level of resistance.

One woman told us just yesterday, “I cannot even begin to imagine trying something like that…” Another person insisted, “Most people don’t want to sit and have a real conversation with their political opposite…They just don’t!”

Could that be true? That even though (most of us) are worried about political tensions, for different reasons (most of us) don’t feel able or willing or interested in doing anything about it?

Read Jacob’s entire article at Huffington Post.

Photo credit: New Yorker Magazine

Leon County wins Eleven National Awards (and we helped)

As we work toward launching our 9th season at the Village Square in Tallahassee, we’re recapping this summer’s cool news (that happened while we were – uh – fishing). Here’s some of it:


June 16, 2015

Jon D. Brown, Director
Community and Media Relations
(850) 606-5300

Leon County Recognized as Model Local Government with Eleven National Awards

Recently, Leon County Government received eleven national awards recognizing outstanding county programs and services. In addition, one of these awards was designated “Best in Category” as the most outstanding program nationwide in its award category. The National Association of Counties (NACo) presented Achievement Awards to Leon County in categories ranging from Civic Education to Information Technology. NACo’s awards recognize how Leon County provides the most cost-effective, high-quality service to citizens.
“We are so proud to see our Leon County local services and programs recognized as national benchmarks for effectiveness and innovation,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Mary Ann Lindley.

    This year, the following Leon County Government programs and services received awards:

    9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, winning best of category in Volunteer,

    Club of Honest Citizens in the category of Civic Education and Public Information,

    Community Legislative Dialogue in the category of Civic Education and Public Information,

    Domi Station, Leon County’s Startup Business Incubator in the category of Community and Economic Development,

    Leon LEADS: ‘People Focused. Performance Driven.’ in the category of County Administration and Management,

    Penny Sales Tax Public Education Effort in the category of County Administration and Management,

    Leon County Sustainable Communities Summit in the category of County Resilience: Infrastructure, Energy & Sustainability,

    Leon County Veterans Resource Center in the category of Employment and Training for County Residents,

    Procurement Connect in the category of Financial Management,

    Trailahassee.com in the category of Information Technology, and

    Leon County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Policy in the category of Personnel Management, Employee Training and Employee Benefits.

“These national awards reflect the effort and commitment of talented and dedicated County employees who actively engage our citizens on the most important challenges and opportunities facing our community,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long.

One award that stood out recognized Leon County’s 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, which received highest honors as Best in Category. Through this annual program, Leon County encourages citizens to remember and honor the sacrifices of 9/11 by volunteering locally and giving back to the community. Since the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the program has consisted of a remembrance ceremony and day of service. Over the past four years, 976 volunteers have contributed over 4,400 hours of volunteer service to veterans, low-income seniors, disabled individuals and families of active-duty military personnel in the Leon County community through service projects ranging from creating “garden buckets” for growing vegetables at home to housing rehabilitation for disabled veterans.

Many of the NACo awards highlight programs, services and initiatives that have been in place for years. Such awards recognize how Leon County Government listens to citizens’ needs, anticipates challenges and engages citizens to collaboratively shape the community for future generations. One such example was the multi-year penny sales tax education effort that involved hundreds of hours of citizen input to determine infrastructure projects that County residents not only need, but want. Moreover, Leon County was nationally recognized for programs such as the Sustainable Communities Summit, Community Legislative Dialogue and the Veterans Resource Center, all of which are programs or initiatives that engage many different County departments and divisions to succeed.

These national awards recognize not only effective services, but highlight the successes of Leon County Government during the slow economic recovery. Since the Great Recession, the County has managed to reduce its budget while at the same time exceeding expectations with key infrastructure projects and citizen engagement. Leon County remains committed to strengthening what works, abandoning what does not, receiving citizen feedback, leveraging partnerships and listening to changing needs.
Founded in 1970, the annual NACo Achievement Award Program is an award series that recognizes innovative county government programs that increase services to county residents. Leon County will be recognized at NACo’s 80th Annual Conference in July in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For more information, contact Shington Lamy, Assistant to the County Administrator, at (850) 606-5300 / LamyS@LeonCountyFL.gov or Jon D. Brown, Director of Leon County Community and Media Relations, at (850) 606-5300 / cmr@LeonCountyFL.gov .

Leadership Florida: Leadership Florida honors The Village Square with the Florida Impact Award

LF logo


Wendy Walker
Leadership Florida
850-521-1220 ext 103

Leadership Florida® honors The Village Square
with the Florida Impact Award

Tallahassee, Fla. — On June 14, at its annual meeting in St. Petersburg, Leadership Florida presented the The Village Square Tallahassee with its 2015 Florida Impact Award, recognizing the organization’s efforts to bring together those with opposing viewpoints by using civil, respectful, fact-based discourse.

Leadership Florida established the Florida Impact Award to recognize a business or non-profit organization that has created a body of work whose impact is currently transforming the future of its region and has the potential to impact Florida as a whole. It was created to promote a heightened sense of appreciation for the possibilities available when Floridians work together as a single statewide community.

The Village Square was founded by Tallahassee leaders with differing political affiliations, but united in the belief that education and civil discourse on topics of public policy among our diverse citizenry is vitally important, particularly in a society that has become increasingly polarized. In a non-partisan fashion, The Village Square convenes discussions on matters of local, state and national importance, which create a myriad of opportunities for constructive conversations that build understanding and trust among those with disparate views.

The Village Square idea of differing perspectives leading to united goals is growing throughout the state and beyond. Already, it has “franchised” its model by establishing a Village Square in the Florida cities of St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale, as well as the out of state cities of Sacramento, Kansas City and Salt Lake City.

Leadership Florida is proud to honor The Village Square as its 2015 Florida Impact Award winner.


About Leadership Florida
For thirty-four years, Leadership Florida has developed a reputation as a builder of a stronger, diverse statewide sense of community. A respected non-partisan convener of committed individuals, Leadership Florida enhances the knowledge and leadership abilities of Florida’s leaders through educational programs and by encouraging collaborative work for the betterment of our state. Leadership Florida provides Floridians essential information and a meaningful forum for their opinions, and creates opportunities for shared experiences that are inviting, inspiring and of lasting value. Leadership Florida is a federally registered trademark.

Find Leadership Florida online at leadershipflorida.org

Village Square receives Leadership Florida award

Joan Blades: Stepping Away from the Fight

web-slideshow-living-roomFounder of MoveOn.org and Living Room Conversations Joan Blades shares how she arrived at her decision to step away from partisanship and work on bridging the divide. Her Living Room Conversations initiative partners with Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler to support real conversations you can host in your very own living room. Joan writes:

As a founder of MoveOn.org I have seen partisan fight rage back and forth for better than 15 years. I don’t see that either side is decisively winning in the near term. In fact I’ve concluded that we are losing too much. We are losing treasured relationships. We are losing goodwill toward our fellow citizen. We are losing our recognition that we are one country — so many of us see red states and blue states rather than the United States.

Read Joan’s entire article online at Huffington Post. Living Room Conversations is now a Village Square partner – check out how we partner here.

A Bastille Day Special: Let them eat (purple) cake

LET-THEM-EAT-PURPLE-CAKESeldom have four words ever brought such disastrous consequence to the person who uttered them, or so goes the legend of Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake,” and that nasty business of her public beheading.

While a visit to modern day France finds Versailles proper positively dripping with the wretched excess history has assigned it, Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, the private residence of the French queen, tells a somewhat different story. Rather than the gilded surroundings the king’s riches would surely have afforded her, she built a likeness of a quaint Austrian village, complete with working vineyards and livestock.

Could Marie-Antoinette – symbol the world over of condescending wealth – be misunderstood? My trip to France last summer had me scratching my head and returning home to learn more about the queen we love to hate.

Turns out the words we’ve put in poor Marie-Antoinette’s mouth may have been spoken – if spoken at all – by the wife of a different King Louis decades earlier. And even if the doomed queen had said it, a familiarity with French law regulating the price of bread suggests she would have probably meant “let them eat expensive bread with less flour in it for the same price,” a rather generous and common sense suggestion during a flour shortage.

We do know that Marie-Antoinette said “it is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.”


Apparently when vein-poppingly angry people pick up their pitchforks and roll out the guillotine, they’ve been known to get it wrong from time to time.

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, will be given away as a door prize at a coming Village Square dinner!

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, actual Village Square door prize!

As uber-partisanship and the culture war have opened a gulf between us, we have been toting our own pitchforks lately. We’ve created opposing custom-ordered villains a la Marie-Antoinette, complete with oft-repeated misquotes, half quotes, and an occasional story spun of whole cloth.

In Revolutionary France, misinformation about the queen was fueled by the libelles – venomous slander-filled booklets produced by political opponents. Besting the distribution of French libelles, America’s present day incarnation sends distortions by email clear across the universe tout de suite.

Even as Americans are called to other countries to handle the fallout of ideological hatred gone to seed, we have a homegrown and thankfully only verbal – version of what journalist John Marks calls “wars of absolute dichotomy” brewing, fueled in part by a lot that we’re getting plain wrong about each other.

John, assigned to cover Bosnia for U.S. News & World Report, has seen the danger of absolute dichotomy. He’s since teamed with college roommate filmmaker Craig Detweiler to make the film “Purple State of Mind,”a conversation between friends with different religious worldviews. John and Craig were our Village Square guests in Tallahassee in 2009 – see their program here.

John explains that shaking up partisan red and blue to make “purple” isn’t really about seeking homogenized agreement but “about taking ourselves and our concerns seriously enough to demand the utmost of ourselves and our political and cultural opponents, the utmost in moral and intellectual rigor, the utmost in compassion and decency.”

On the queen’s behalf, I’d add “the utmost in factual accuracy.”

If we’re going to bring the best of America to bear on the big problems ahead, we can ill afford the cartoon version of a civic dialog that neglects the real consequences of creating fictions rather than grasping facts. At another perilous time in our history, the Founding Fathers set a high bar for the debate because they couldn’t afford the luxury of getting it wrong.

Marie-Antoinette met her end at Place de la Concorde, Revolutionary France’s version of our televised public square, where her beheading earned the eighteenth century’s equivalent of high Nielsen ratings. Whether or not she had it coming, most of us would like to think our decision-making has grown to reflect a higher standard in the couple of centuries since, regardless of potential for market share.

As we begin writing the history of what happens next in America, perhaps we can start by at least getting the quotes right. To do that, we might occasionally put down our pitchforks long enough to break bread with someone who doesn’t see it our way. Or, maybe, in a hat tip to learning the lessons of history, we should eat cake instead.

Only this time, make it purple.


Liz Joyner is Executive Director of the Village Square

Rabbi Jack Romberg: After Marriage Equality, Then What?

17309725212_31d8d8be09_zIt is official. The Supreme Court has upheld same sex marriage and ruled no state is able to outlaw same sex marriage. For many of us it is the culmination of decades of fighting another battle to assure equality under American law. For others this is a declaration of war against the will of God. This statement from the American Anglican Church is typical of that reaction:

“Marriage is established by God for the procreation and raising of children and for the good of society. For this reason, governments have an interest in marriage and have delegated authority from God to protect and regulate it. But no court, no legislature and no local magistrate has the authority to redefine marriage and to impose this definition on their citizens.”

Political reactions to the ruling focus on parsing Justice Kennedy’s reasoning, usually condemning his summary as NOT based on the constitution. Dissenting justices such as Roberts and Scalia say this is denying states the right to a legislative process that expresses the will of the people. They hold that a committee of 9 lawyers is usurping the democratic rights of the citizenry. To me there is no question that those who oppose same sex marriage tie the two reasons, religious and political together.

I am not a lawyer. I cannot drill deep into the legal reasoning used by either side. I would simply make a couple of obvious observations. First, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that any law preventing interracial marriage was unconstitutional. The ruling was in response to a case brought by an interracial couple that was forced to leave their native state of Virginia because state law deemed their marriage illegal. There was no movement in state legislatures to change the law. There was no “democratic” process in play. It was simply the court upholding a basic right of two citizens to choose to marry each other. I will point out that there were some Christians who based their opposition to interracial marriage on their interpretations of the Bible. The legal process exists to address threats to individual liberty that the legislature has not or will not consider. To wait for state legislatures to pass laws regarding equal rights (look at the history of civil rights) is to allow injustice to continue at human whim. The court’s intervention in these sorts of cases are necessary and honorable. Such is my uneducated opinion.

As to the Anglican Church’s and other religious leaders’ assertions that marriage is established by God in order to further procreation, I disagree on a number of levels. First is the obvious. Sex between man and woman is what ensures procreation, not marriage. Marriage is a human institution created to define a range of issues from establishing the boundaries of a family, to financial arrangements. Marriage in the Hebrew Bible was a transfer of the ownership of a woman from her father’s household to her husband’s household. This institution has undergone numerous changes over the centuries. The inclusion of same sex marriage as an accepted path is just another adaptation to the institution of marriage. Further, we now understand homosexuality not so much as choice, but genetically driven. Indeed, our understanding of sexuality in general is undergoing a revolution. We are only at the beginning of understanding the diversity of variations. If God created this world, then God intended these variations. Our job is not to condemn them, but to understand them. Of course, this approach means one has to recognize the Bible not as written by God and handed to humans, but the human attempt to understand our relationship with God and the world that God created, therefore subject to reinterpretation.

There is, however, an issue that raises at least a yellow flag in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling – to what extent will state or local governments try to control religious choices. I raised this in my previous blog and a couple of readers dismissed my concerns as unrealistic or a “red herring.” I beg to differ and here is why.

I wrote that the Catholic Church has legitimate concerns (even though I disagree with the Church on this issue) over being forced to provide coverage for contraception as part of the mandated health care packages. I am not talking about private businesses such as Hobby Lobby, whose owners profess a religious belief. Rather, I refer to Church run institutions, not only churches themselves, but hospitals and schools that operate under Church supervision. These are extensions of the institution of the Church. The question of whether or not the federal (or any government) can force an agency of the Church to provide something that is against the expressed doctrine of the Church IS a legitimate question. I cannot dismiss these concerns (even though politically I disagree with the Church) as they open the Pandora’s box as to what degree the government can interfere with acting out religious beliefs.

This becomes more complex when a religious doctrine or practice is seen as opposing a human right. In 2011 there was an initiative in the city of San Francisco to outlaw circumcision as an abridgment of the right of the baby boy, since the baby cannot make the decision on whether or not to have the circumcision. Jews and Muslims saw this as a direct interference with their religious beliefs and practices (rightfully so I add). Here is a case where a group of citizens are arguing that protecting an individual right supersedes the right of a religious group to hold a belief and perform the applicable ritual. While this initiative failed, it is neither the first or only attempt by a group of citizens to interfere with a religious rite (and right) while advocating for an individual right.

It is not unrealistic to see a group of citizens in a local community or a state, who will try to force clergy to perform marriages that are against their personal religious beliefs using the argument that they cannot deny a couple the right to marry in the religious institution of their choice. Lines are becoming more and more blurred. One can argue that it is one thing to force a photographer not to discriminate by refusing to shoot a same sex wedding versus forcing a member of the clergy to perform a wedding he or she does not condone. But people are raising these concerns. Religious beliefs are challenged all of the time in the name of the common good. We need to recognize these discussions are taking place and not dismiss them as being invalid or silly. At the minimum, religious organizations’ non profit status might be in jeopardy if they refuse to accommodate same sex marriages (see Bob Jones University loss of non profit status in 1983 due to policy banning interracial dating).

It was Bob Dylan who wrote “The times they are a changing.” Indeed they are. Regarding the legalization of same sex marriage I believe it is a change for good. It is just a disservice to ignore the probability of unintended consequences and the need for conversations to resolve them. The concerns of religious communities, even those with which we might disagree, should not just be casually dismissed. Our country will be so much better if we do not.


Jack Romberg is the Rabbi at Temple Israel in Tallahassee, Florida. He is a co-chair of the Village Square and the co-founder of the Village Square’s Faith, Food, Friday.

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes

Florence Snyder: Florence’s Handy Dandy Father’s Day Shopping Compendium

3520871459_ed2586d917_zHey kids! Just six more shopping days until Father’s Day. Step away from the tie counter, please, because your father does not want another tie, unless it’s the one Jim Morrison wore at his high school graduation.

Here are some other things your father does not want: belts, bathrobes, T-shirts, cuff links, coffee mugs, and electronic devices that were on the shelves before Mothers Day and cost less than $500.

If you’re old enough to be reading this, you’re old enough to get it through your head that what you father wants from you is time.

Give him as much of that as you can spare, because God counts the years, and you never know when his number—or yours—will be up.

Here’s some stuff your father wants you to ask about:

  • What’s the first thing you remember?
  • When did you decide to become a butcher (or baker or candlestick maker)?
  • What’s your favorite movie?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
  • If you could do anything, what would you do?

For best results, have these conversations in person, and remember to shut off your father’s device, as well as your own.

And kids, while you’re home, don’t forget to clean up your room. Your father is very tired of hearing your mother wringing her hands about whether it would be ok to give away your stuffed animals.


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

(Photo credit: Easa Shamih)

News Release: Village Square Salt Lake City Announces Its Formation


For Immediate Release
May 22, 2015

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

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.