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Thursday, April 9, 2020

From the Same Source | Margaret Somerville

This spring, Interfaith Philadelphia is sharing stories and recipes from across the region. Today's post about sourdough bread comes from Rev. Margaret Somerville. Do you have a recipe or a story you'd like to share? Email Liz Royer at

I started to get anxious when there was no yeast left on the grocery store shelves. I had been to three stores. Sharing my panic that I would not be able to bake fresh bread in isolation, I received a message from a friend who had a sourdough starter. I could pick up a jar from her mailbox when she divided her starter the next day.

Kneading the bread dough is one of my spiritual practices, learned from a Jewish friend, who kneads her prayers into her challah. Into my first sourdough loaf, I kneaded gratitude for my friend who shared her starter, for the connection, for my children quarantined with me who would share this loaf, for my children quarantined in their own home, for those with whom I could not share this loaf today but with whom I would connect in the new world of virtual classrooms and worship services. The loaf rose with my concern for those without bread that day, for those without connection.

One of the youth in my congregation has become a baker as well. I offered to share my starter with her, and her mom drove her over to pick up the jar from my mailbox. And then the idea - what if we passed this starter around our congregation, leaving it on doorsteps, leaving baked loaves for those who don’t feel comfortable baking it themselves? Could we strengthen our connection by sharing of the same bread?

As Holy Week approaches, I am facing the loss of the familiar setting of my favorite service of the church year, Maundy Thursday. This is a service that is literally about communion with others, the celebration of the last supper of Jesus, when he broke bread at table with his disciples, in preparation for passing his ministry onto them, that they would find ways to connect with people the way he had.

What will it be like to celebrate by breaking bread at the table when the table is not there, when we can’t pass the loaf to one another? But perhaps with our shared sourdough starter, what we can do is eat of the same bread. Our loaves in our individual homes will have come from the same source. And perhaps as we daily divide our starters in our own homes and leave them in jars, in mailboxes, and on doorsteps, this bread will be shared from congregation to congregation as well, from one faith tradition to another. Perhaps this sourdough starter will be a reminder that we are all fed from the same source.

We do this is remembrance of one who came in the name of love and light to honor all those who have been created from the same source of love and light.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Shakey-Shakes and Popcorn | A Recipe from Milan Kunz

This spring, Interfaith Philadelphia is sharing stories and recipes from around our region. Today's recipe for Shaky-Shakes and Popcorn comes from one of our 2020 Dare To Understand Awardees, Milan Kunz. If you want to try making this recipe yourself, take a photo and share it with us on Facebook

Shaky-shakes and Popcorn for Family Night

Since 1915, our Church has encouraged members to hold a weekly Family Home Evening (FHE) on Monday evening, or whenever possible. There are no scheduled Church meetings on Monday evening because it is reserved for Family Home Evening. The purpose of FHE is to help families strengthen bonds of love with each other, as well as provide an atmosphere where parents can teach their children principles of the gospel. 

For most families, FHE includes music, prayer, a short lesson, a game or fun activity, and treats. Our family’s favorite treat was “shaky-shakes” and popcorn. Now, you might ask, what is a “shaky-shake?” A “shaky-shake” is a chocolate milkshake with a twist. Instead of mixing the ingredients (ice cream, chocolate powder and milk) in a blender for all to enjoy, the ingredients are put into a separate plastic 16 oz cup with a lid and each person shakes their cup rigorously until it is blended together – thus the name - “shaky-shake!” It was quite a sight to see the five children jumping up and down while running around the kitchen shaking their “shaky-shakes” with great excitement and laughter. 

Each child’s “shaky-shake” was done to their specific informal, unwritten, and secret recipe; some liked more ice cream with little milk, while others added extra chocolate powder. Each acquired their own special blend of ingredients. There are two critical steps in making a “shaky-shake”: first, ensure the lid is on completely, and second, make sure the straw hole is covered by either a thumb or finger - otherwise disastrous things can happen … and have happened in the Kunz home. 

My wife or I usually made the popcorn, but over the years as the children grew older, we delegated that to them. When the children made the popcorn, you could be sure that a lot more butter was added than when Mom or Dad made it. Why popcorn? Well, it’s cheap, fun to make, and goes perfectly with “shaky-shakes.”

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Darn Good Lemon Cake | A Recipe from Rev. Steven Lawrence

This spring, Interfaith Philadelphia is sharing stories and recipes from around our region. Today's recipe for Darn Good Lemon Cake comes from one of our 2020 Dare To Understand Awardees, Rev. Steven Lawrence. If you want to try baking this recipe yourself, take a photo and share it with us on Facebook

"My mother gave me a bread making machine and later a book called The Cake Doctor. It provides simple instructions for great cakes. As I used the book, I discovered that I am a baker, not a cook, at heart. 

Cooking is an art. Cooking is a world of a "pinch" and "salt to taste" and other instructions that change from person to person. Baking is a science. A cup of this and teaspoon of that; it's about precise measurements, not approximations.

I bake cakes for classes I teach, and for church members on request. Cake helps the student have a pleasant memory of a tough class. I make a lemon cake and a chocolate cake. Ironically, I have a food allergy to caffeine, so I have never tasted the chocolate cake."

Rev. L's Darn Good Lemon Cake 

Cake Ingredients

One box Duncan Hines Yellow Cake Mix
One box Jell-O lemon Pudding Mix
One box Jell-O lemon Gelatin Mix
Four large eggs
One stick unsalted butter (or one-half cup vegetable oil)
One cup (8oz) sour cream
One half cup water (room temperature)
The zest of one large lemon

Lime Butter Cream Frosting Ingredients

One stick unsalted butter
One lime
3 & ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar

One bundt cake pan
One baking sheet

Cake Directions
Place baking sheet in oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Most ovens have “hot spots”;  the baking sheet allows for even baking.

For best results, all ingredients (especially softened butter, eggs, and sour cream) should be at room temperature.

If you make the cake with butter, place the softened butter in mixing bowl. Sift the cake mix over the softened butter.

If you are using vegetable oil instead of butter, place the eggs in the mixing bowl and beat thoroughly. Add the oil, water, and sour cream and mix until blended.

Sift the cake mix and gelatin into a mixing bowl. Add the wet ingredients and mix until blended (about one minute). Add the lemon pudding and lemon zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix thoroughly (about a minute and a half?)

Grease and flour your bundt pan. (I use Pam with flour. It gets into the detailed spaces of a fancy bundt pan and doesn’t affect the taste of the cake.) Pour the cake batter into the pan and even it out by shaking or rotating the pan (your preference). Let the cake set for 10 minutes, then place the pan in a 350-degree oven on the baking sheet and bake for 50 minutes. Let the cake cool for 20 minutes, then invert the rack and turn the cake out on to a plate.

Directions for Butter Cream Frosting
Place the softened stick of butter in mixing bowl and mix until creamed. Add confectioners’ sugar gradually until incorporated, but hold back 1/2 cup. The mix will become too dry to continue mixing, so now add the zest and the juice of one lime. Add the last ½ cup of confectioners’ sugar until frosting is creamy. You can frost your cake in any way you wish. I like to refrigerate the frosting for a few hours, then put it in the microwave for one minute and pour over the cake


Friday, December 6, 2019

"The Voice of the Stranger" | by Pat Cody

The news, television, and movie industry sometimes focus on the chaos in the world, and they often point toward religious differences as a primary reason for the world's troubles. At times, I too found myself wondering, "maybe a world without religion is the solution."

But Thomas Merton once said: "God speaks, and God is to be heard, not only on Sinai, not only in my own heart, but in the voice of the stranger."

So what I've chosen to do instead, is to stop listening to the media and start listening to my neighbors.

Encouraged by Merton and others, I began to seek opportunities to listen to the voices of those who thus far have been strangers to me. After all, the world is not as big as it once was, but my neighborhood is bigger now than it ever was.

While seeking these opportunities, I was soon led to Interfaith Philadelphia and their "Gateways to Religious Communities" series. Since 2009, this program has given many an opportunity to learn firsthand the histories, beliefs and practices of many of the world's faith traditions.

Throughout the series, the enthusiasm of our diverse group of visitors, representing many religions, was infectious.

At the Sikh Society of Philadelphia we learned of the Sikhs' commitment to selfless service and standing up for the rights of others.

At the Islamic Society of Chester County, we learned that one of the five pillars of Islam is Charity. In this spirit ICC created "Youth Connecting with Communities", an organization that helps Muslim youth provide clothing and meals to people in their community, as well as engaging in interfaith activities with youth from neighboring churches and synagogues.

At the Mantra Lounge, where bhakti yoga is practiced, a core belief is: when we are able to see others not for their external coverings, but for the indwelling soul, and act according to that understanding, then we can achieve real unity.

Upon entering the meeting space at the Philadelphia Ethical Society, we were greeted with these words high up in the wall "The place where people meet to seek the highest is Holy Ground." We learned that one of the guiding principles of Ethical Culture is to "always act to elicit the best in others and thereby yourself."

At the Baha'i Center, we learned that the Baha'i faith seeks to foster the unification of all nations and people, "honoring all, and benefiting from the unique cultural and religious heritage each brings to the whole". The Baha'i Center actively nurtures the spiritual needs of youth through their Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program.

We also visited Reformation Lutheran Church in Media, a representative of my own faith of Christianity. We were made to feel welcome. I wondered what to say of our visit, but after checking out their website--well, why would I want to say more than that? The greeting on their homepage uses the word "Welcome" five times.

What more straightforward a message would I want my faith to convey than: WELCOME

So, far from being a problem, I have heard in the voices of these strangers a solution. A message of welcome, of love, of compassion, and respect for all life. A solution rooted in the teaching and practices of hundreds and thousands of years.

I am deeply grateful for this experience, and for the work of the interns at Interfaith Philadelphia who organized these visits, particularly Arisha and Hannah. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Stay Curious, My Friends | by Megan Briggs

Quoting Albert Einstein, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” 

Although his talents were profoundly special, I at least can relate to his 'passionately curious' claim. I once heard something I try to remind myself of when I feel angry or sad about current events, or irritated with my spouse or two sons (ages 9 & 12): The most peaceful state of mind is the state of curiosity. When I think about the glaring reasons why our criminal justice system is a mess, such as racism and capitalism gone wrong… I tell myself, “Stay curious, Megan.” I try to ask myself, why? How did it get this way? What are the stems of human nature at play here? Where did history go wrong, and how might we course correct? 

Or even, how might the way I think things should be, differ from the way my neighbor thinks they should be? Or when I have to tell my son to pick up his dirty clothes for the third time, instead of getting frustrated… well… that’s a difficult one to find curiosity for. Or, how about when he resists doing his homework? Instead of getting angry, how about I find the curiosity to discover why. I might find out that the subject is tough for him; or realize he needs to run around outside before getting to his work; or that he just prefers that I stay in the room while he works because he is such a people person.

Curiosity is my mind’s baseline, which is what launched me into the study of psychology in college. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the degree, but I didn’t think too much about that. I craved learning about how humans think and behave. It was curiosity that pushed me through any fear-based reluctance to facilitating Coffee, Tea & Civil Conversations at Broad Street Grind, a local coffee shop in Souderton, PA. The owner of the coffee shop had a vision of hosting civil conversations where people from across the political spectrum come together to discuss a specific topic in a civil manner, and seek to understand. 

Image result for civil conversations broad street grind"

I offered to help him get these events off the ground, because this was the exact thing I wanted to be a part of-- not necessarily to facilitate them-- but that’s what ended up happening. So, going on two years now, every month a group of about 20 people show up to discuss topics such as immigration, guns, race, gender inequality, mental health, religion, etc.  We agree to a set of rules of engagement such as “We will not educate on a topic,” “We will speak out of our experiences and from our perspective” and “When I disagree with something, I will notice my feelings and choose to stay curious.”

At the top of each of these gatherings, I quote Brene Brown, who credits the Institute for Civility and Government with this definition: “Civility is the claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” I’m passionate about the work of getting people together for face-to-face, intentional conversations, because I believe people soften when we look into the eyes of another while listening to his/her/their story. This work is my current role to play in hopes of creating a more peaceful society.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Of Music and Protest | by Harold Messinger

The Interfaith Music Project of Philadelphia (IMPP) is an answer to a question posed nearly three years ago:  The question, asked by James Pollard Jr, ( bassist and musician extraordinaire at Zion Baptist Church in Ardmore) and myself, Harold Messinger, (Cantor at Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley) was simple: How can we best respond to the hate-filled rhetoric coming from the White House, but do so in a way that brings people together rather than further dividing them.

It started with one song, "We Rise", written by Batya Levine, after she witnessed the protest at Standing Rock. Her song inspired James and me to record our own version of her song and create a video with our partner Sam Zolten, taking images from the historic Women's Marches and subsequent protests.  James and I have collaborated for many years and in 2010 had completed a project called, "These Songs of Freedom", songs of the Jewish Passover tradition alongside new and Traditional Gospel Music. For IMPP, we wanted to expand beyond our two Houses of Worship, and so, with the help of Abby Stamelman Hocky of Interfaith Philadelphia, we connected with Muslim, Mormon and Christian singers who were interested in our work. Recording commenced and in 2018, we released our second project, "Of Love and Protest". 

Our group continues to morph, expand, contract and grow. We are excited to feature young women as our principal singers and spiritual leaders, as they are an inspiration and a source of hope for a better future. Hearing and seeing people of different faith come together in song is powerful in and of itself. We are grateful to God for providing the opportunity to make space for these connections to flourish and grow, and look forward to performing on Nov 2nd at the Sisterhood Saalam  Shalom Jewish Muslim Women's Conference and later this year at Mount Saint Josepsh Academy. Our Music can be heard on Spotify:

Thursday, October 10, 2019

What Creativity Can Teach Us | by Chelsea Jackson

Many of you know me as the Community Partnerships Manager at Interfaith Philadelphia. In addition to this Im also a published poet, movie quote encyclopedia, and lover of all things creative. Today I get to talk a bit about the latter. 

I believe art and creativity are part of what makes us human. I live with the understanding that while not everyone considers themselves an artist, everyone has the capacity to be creative. Creativity is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing, and instead it takes many shapes and forms, permeating almost every aspect of our lives, from the music we hear in the supermarket, to the architecture that makes and remakes our cities, to the culinary masterpieces people post on Instagram.

I have been fascinated with creativity's power to stir something within us for a long time, and channeled this interest into my education. I studied Music Therapy in college and then moved to New Orleans to intern at a psychiatric hospital. My internship was a difficult, beautiful, stretching time, and I was fortunate enough to work with a Creative Arts Therapy team, learning from colleagues who led music, art, recreation, and psychodrama therapy sessions. It deepened my appreciation for creativitys power to comfort individuals even as it challenges them to grow, critically think, and heal. 

In graduate school, this appreciation expanded to include the role art and creativity play on the macro level, as it impacts whole societies, religions, and cultures. In fact, one of my final research papers on Art and Social Change used Mural Arts as a case study. Little did I know then that I'd be working the Mural Arts team on our Dare to Understand Mural! (It really is a small world!)

I use all of my past studies and experience in both my role at Interfaith Philadelphia and my own poetry, always striving to use creativity with intention and purpose, and stay open possibilities it offers for collaboration and learning. For me, creativity is about feeling the freedom to think outside the box and move beyond boundaries, and offers the opportunity to ask questions, problem solve, and wonder what we can make and remake together-- and thats how art and interfaith intersect for me, in these spaces of wonder and courage. 

If we approach art with a sense of wonder, then we make space to respect, understand, and appreciate both the art and the artist. Similarly, interfaith work invites people of diverse traditions, beliefs, and practices to respect, appreciate, and better understand one another. Whether it be art or interfaith engagement, this work takes courage. It takes an openness to be vulnerable, and navigate the vulnerability of others with care and respect. In this way the arts provide a unique space for Interfaith Philadelphia to do our work, offering individuals and communities opportunities to express and explore their religious/cultural identity even as they express and explore the identity of others.

Not only do I hope you'll join us for the interfaith art experiences we offer at Interfaith Philadelphia, but I hope that all of us always see ourselves as the creative people we are, and that we dive into both creativity and interfaith experiences with courage and wonder.