While the 99 Names project was on display at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, my friend Josie Stone of Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable introduced the project to the Reverend Robin James at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark in Salt Lake.  Rev. James was intrigued, and invited me to give a series of lectures for the Sunday morning adult education program discussing my own spiritual path and the motivation for the 99 Names project.  Many of the attendees, I was told, are faculty from the University of Utah and Westminster College, so I was to expect insightful discussion and questions.  There has been a lot of recent discussion on faith and religion in media arenas using cutting, abrasive, and offensive terms; faith is close to the heart, and I was hoping my comments would not contribute to any ongoing caustic debates.

A friend of mine, Dean Obeidallah, said it is imperative in a free society that we allow all faiths the opportunity to define themselves, rather than demand each faith defends itself from oftentimes spurious and thoughtless “soundbite” assumptions.  Dean is a regular contributing writer for CNN, and also performs with the standup comedy tour “The Muslims are Coming!”, a group which disarms anger and ignorance with laughter, and helps inform people through humor and answering serious questions about faith.

The four presentations for St. Mark’s, “Faith and Alchemy,” “Honest, the Cuts Don’t Hurt That Bad,” “Why God Loves Stained Glass (Or at Least, We Think He Should),” and “Building Bridges through Art” were all well received.  I found the people I met at St. Mark’s to be open, gracious, and welcoming, and I hope the friendships made will continue for a very long time to come.

(The Very Reverend Ray Waldon, Rector and Dean at St. Mark’s, gave a beautiful Christmas Service in which he referenced some of the experiences we shared.)