Bridge Builders

Spring 2024
Searching Scripture to Understand the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Free and open to all – regardless of your church/faith tradition

Feb. 12 – Mar. 18
Mon. evenings @ 7:00 pm via Zoom

Our Spring 2024 BridgeBuilders course covers the events, politics and scriptural interpretations fueling the bitter struggle between Israel and Palestine.

This short course follows Theologian Walter Brueggemann’s book Chosen: Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. We also draw from the historical wisdom of author Michael Scott-Baumann who delineates both the nature of Israeli control over Palestinian territories and Palestinian resistance.

​Moderated by Kellan Sarles, with participation from others, the course provides opportunities to explore together, to look beneath the headlines, to open our hearts more fully to the wounded on both sides, and to offer ourselves as agents of peace.

If you are new to BridgeBuilders, we are an online community seeking to bridge the divides that separate and alienate the children of God. We meet weekly via Zoom on Monday evenings from 7:00 – 8:30. The course is free and open to all – regardless of your church/faith tradition.

We highly advise purchasing the book (paperback or Kindle). Click here to buy it on Amazon.

​​​​​​​Kellan Sarles, Moderator

View Recorded Sessions

Searching Scripture to Understand the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - Spring 2024

2/12: Israel & Palestine: Whose Home? (Part 1) – Kellan Sarles
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2/19: Israel & Palestine: Whose Home? (Part 2) – Kellan Sarles
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Public Education in the United States - Fall 2023

9/18: Introduction – Dr. Brian Sohn launches our Fall session with an overview of K-12 education in the United States.
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9/25: History of Public Schools in America – Kellan Sarles

10/2: What We Teach and How We Teach It – Dr. Brian Sohn
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10/9: Funding Schools for America’s Kids – Kellan Sarles

10/16: History of Segregated Schools – Dr. Janice James
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10/23: Education for Special Needs Learners – Kelcey Levering & Susan Miller
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10/30: Curriculum Wars: Diversity & Inclusion; Conservative Christian, textbook controversies, and more – Dr. Brian Sohn & Kim Jaynes
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11/6: Education Equity: Private vs. Public – Dr. Yvette Freter & Lizzy Freter
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11/13: [No session] – reading assignment

11/20: Summation: Our role in advancing fair, effective education for all – Kellan Sarles & Dr. Brian Sohn
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No Place Called Home - Winter 2023

1/23: Introduction
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1/30: Fig Tree – Guest speaker Katie McIlwain introduces us to Fig Tree, a ministry of Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville to our unhoused neighbors. Fig Tree is a place to be seen and known, offering a variety of services as well as a gathering place for friendship and community. They offer showers, laundry, computers, hot meals, and other community resources.
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2/6: The Size of the Problem
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2/13: The Wanderer, the Carer, and the Good Samaritan – Yvette Freter leads a discussion of the parable of the Good Samaritan and its implications for our responses to homelessness. What does it mean to be “a carer” for those we encounter in our daily lives?
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2/20: Immigrants and Refugees – Suzanne Burnell leads a discussion of the hurdles that immigrants and refugees face in finding suitable and affordable housing in the US.
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3/6: Housing Alternatives – Lizzy Freter leads a discussion of alternatives to conventional housing that are offering creative solutions for affordable housing.
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3/20: Wrap Up
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Finding Courage in Fearful Times – Fall 2022

9/19 : “Anatomy of Fear” – What do we fear, and why?
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9/23 : “The Age of Anxiety” – Are there more reasons than ever to feel anxious, or is it just our imagination?
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10/3 : “Weaponizing Fear & Anxiety” – There are active forces at work whose goal is to induce fear.
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10/10 : “Seeking Truth: Strategies for Helping to Overcome Fear” – We must not surrender to fear; we must overcome it.
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10/17 : “Fear of Change”
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10/24 : “For Such a Time as This” – Speaking truth to power … We examine the Book of Ester for insights into when and how to speak with courage.
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11/14 : “Fear of (Gun) Violence” – Suzanne Burnell leads us in examining the data and the historical context of the gun culture in America.
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11/21 : “Fear of (Gun) Violence: Living Courageously” – Kellan Sarles reviews the results of a recent study of gun violence in the Knoxville area over the past decade, and asks, “Was Jesus a pacifist?”
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11/28 : “Fear of Illness & Death” – Rev. Stuart examines the Bible’s teachings on aging and the fear of loss and pain.
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Applying a Micah Lens to Contemporary Issues – Winter 2022

Anti-Semitism in 21st C. America – Feb 7, 14, 21

2/7 JUSTICE: The Facts: Historical context of anti-semitism in the USA; extent and presentation of the problem; biblical texts [Discussion introduced with current example of anti-semitism]
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2/14 MERCY: Guest Speaker: Rabbi Erin Boxt of Knoxville’s Temple Beth El. Please note that, due to technical difficulties, this is only a partial recording of the session. We regret that we were unable to capture the entire session.
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2/21 HUMILITY: Imitating Christ/ Being the Church to our Jewish neighbors
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Understanding Issues of Gender – Feb 28, Mar 7, 21

2/28 JUSTICE: The Facts: Terminology and understanding of gender and orientation; historical context and current culture; biblical texts [Discussion introduced with current example of gender inequality/homophobia]

3/7 MERCY: Guest Speaker (More Light Presbyterians – speaker?)
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3/21 HUMILITY: Imitating Christ/ Being the Church to our LGBTQ+ neighbors
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Caring for Our Endangered Planet – Mar 28, Apr 4, 11

3/28 JUSTICE: The Facts: Terminology; survey of environmental harms and roots causes; contributing structures and policies [Discussion introduced with current example of environmental threat/damage]
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4/4 MERCY: Guest Speaker

4/11 HUMILITY: Imitating Christ/ Being the Church to our planet and all who live here
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4/18 Wrap-Up
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Minute with Bridge Builders Archive

Click on each tab to see each week’s 1-page reflection and action step.

Minutes 1-10

#1 Civility – This is one of the great paradoxes of the gospels: If you want to be high, get low. If you want to be heard, then listen. If you want to be understood, then try understanding. We talk a lot about civility, often using the word to mean politeness. But Ron Harris, guest columnist for the Knox Sentinel, says civility is more about our attitudes and behavior than about soft words and polite phrases.

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#2 Benefits of Dialog – We have just been through, perhaps, the most highly-charged election in U.S. history. During this time and even now, many of us have steered clear of political conversations. While no one wants to argue with a friend, not talking to each other brings its own set of consequences.

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#3 Empathy – We all long for peace in these discordant times. As the verse above instructs, peace doesn’t come from political edict, but starts within each of us. We build bridges of peace through our conversations … not by avoiding difficult conversations, but by using communication skills that lead to understanding and empathy.

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#4 Corinthians advice – Conversations tend to be either debates (the need to be right) or discussions (the need to come to a decision). In dialogue-centered conversations, on the other hand, the intention is to connect, to understand and to learn from one another. Dialogue-centered conversation relies on attentive listening and thoughtful speaking.

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#5 Time, Place, Space – When we strongly disagree with someone on a personal matter, it is more difficult to practice the humility and gentleness that the Apostle Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians. Fearing that any conversation will “make matters worse,” we avoid addressing the issue until it reaches a head—and then it goes badly.

A much better practice would be to plan for an important conversation, keeping in mind four wise practices: PLACE, TIME, SPACE, and RAPPORT.

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#6 Microaffirmations – When conversing in a group setting, always make it your goal to recognize and compliment the contributions of other speakers. Providing small “microaffirmations” builds good will and lets others know that you are listening attentively. A micro-affirmation can be as simple as saying, “I am interested in hearing more about Lisa’s suggestion.” “That’s a great idea!” “Thank you for speaking up about that.” Of course, all comments should be sincere.

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#7 Racism Definition – Racism is usually understood as the “prejudice” of one person against another. But racism goes beyond personal bias. When racial prejudice is shared by a majority of people, it can become “a system of advantage based primarily on race; in other words, “prejudice + power.

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#8 Systemic Racism – When we speak of systemic racism, we are talking about the practices, laws, and traditions that are an accepted part of the larger “system”—or status quo—of life in the U.S. It is the perpetuation of a double standard – assigning positive traits to the dominant racial group and negative traits to non-dominant groups. In truth, these practices are so subtle and have become so common that many white Americans are unaware of them. One example of systemic racism in schools would be relegating the study of prominent Black Americans to a single week or month of “Black History.” Another would be adopting textbooks that ignore or sugar-coat pivotal chapters in U.S. history or that feature only the literary/artistic works of white authors and artists. Only when such practices are viewed through the lens of equity do they show up as prejudicial.

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#9 Implicit Bias – While few of us would say we are racists, all people harbor biases. In most cases, people gravitate toward and assign positive associations to others who are like themselves – whether in complexion, language, ethnicity, culture, or age. Anthropologists would argue that this tendency developed from the need to seek safety in groups and guard against predators or “dangerous” strangers. While acknowledging that there are people in the world who may seek to do us harm, we must also recognize that most of our biases and pre-judgments are not based on real threat but on overt and subtle messages we received growing up.

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#10 Environmental Racism – What is environmental racism? You might ask the people poisoned by the water of Flint, MI, or the thousands of Black residents of New Orleans who lost loved ones during Hurricane Katrina, or the miners living next to smoldering slag heaps in WV and Kentucky. They would assure you that, had they been more affluent, more empowered, better educated, and/or white, their plight may have been different. Environmental racism is the placement of hazardous waste sites (slag heaps), landfills, polluting industries close to Black, Asian, Latinx, and Native American working poor communities. It can also be reluctance to move or address such environmental hazards when they primarily affect minorities.

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Minutes 11-20

#11 Seeing Color – Most of us would disavow any racist behavior. We may even describe ourselves as “colorblind” – claiming to not even see differences. In truth, people of color do not want to be “invisible” but rather to be seen and valued for who they are. Likewise, our Black brothers and sisters do not wish to be “complimented” for how they “blend right in.” They are whole, unique persons who embody deep, rich ancestries, strengths, and world-views. Not acknowledging and respecting their difference is to not fully acknowledge them.

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#12 Colonialism – In hindsight, the history of colonial America isn’t quite as was learned in kindergarten –or high school, for that matter. The America Columbus “discovered” was already inhabited by 75 million indigenous people of many cultures and tribes. These varied native peoples had spiritual practices, knew farming and hunting. Some had written language, currency, schools, and towns. They justifiably claimed natural rights to the territories long held by their ancestors, and respected and honored the land and its bounty above all else. Sadly, European invaders, through war, disease, enslavement, and forced migration, all but wiped out these native peoples. Many of their descendants, still residing on reservations, number among the very poorest people in our nation.

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#13 Manifest Destiny – Last week’s “Minute” left you with a question: By what imperative did white explorers feel entitled to all the land east of the Mississippi? The answer is “Manifest Destiny” – a policy invented to allow imperialistic expansion in the name of necessity or benevolence –or even God. Many explorers gained great personal wealth through Manifest Destiny. For example, as a reward for returning to Spain with gold and spices, Christopher Columbus was promised 10% of the profits, governorship over newfound lands, and the title Admiral of the Seas.

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#14 Indian Removal – When we hear the word “apartheid,” we generally think of South Africa, but history shows that the U.S. engaged in many practices to separate and contain racial groups. The 1836 Indian Removal Act forced indigenous people –including the young and the elderly—to walk from the southeastern states to present-day Oklahoma. Over 3,000  Native Americans died over the course of the grueling 800+ miles. “The Trail of Tears,” as it became known, was clearly an act of apartheid. The barren land that was to become their home provided few resources to sustain their traditional lifestyle. And, sadly, these destitute reservations are still home to some of the poorest and most forgotten Americans.

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#15 Slavery – In late August, 1619, the first slaves were brought to the shores of what would become the United States of America. Twenty people, violently stolen from their families and homes in the kingdom of Ndogo in what is now Angola arrived here in chains. By 1860, the United States was home to 3.6 million enslaved human beings who were either stolen from their homes and families or born into slavery in this nation.

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#16 Constitution – Until the amendment of 1870, the U.S. Constitution ruled that states would pay taxes based upon the number of residents. Taxes were calculated upon the whole number of free persons. A slave was to be counted as 3/5ths of a person – an advantage to northern states but a disadvantage to southern states whose populations were bolstered by huge numbers of enslaved people.

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#17 Segregated Churches – In the 18th century, Black and white believers worshipped in the same churches, but Blacks were relegated to separate balconies so as not to mix. Over time, Black Christians, founded independent churches and separate denominations like the African Methodist Episcopal Church to allow them to freely practice traditions of oral music and ecstatic praise. Fast forward to 1963 when, in an interview at Western Michigan University, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke his now famous words: “We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this.”

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#18 GI Bill – The end of WWII ushered in a decade of enormous growth for America. Returning veterans received government assistance in the form of the GI Bill –which enabled many to attend college and/get a home equity loan – two predictors of upward mobility and future wealth. Affordable houses were being built by the thousands in America’s suburbs which soon became home to the new “middle class”.

Sadly, many Black veterans, came home to an America still mired in Jim Crow culture.

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#19 Judicial System – In the U.S., Black and Latino inmates comprise a disproportionately large part of the male prison population. As far back as 2003, almost 25% of all Black men in their thirties had served time in prison – and the rate has steadily increased! This staggering statistic points to several factors including significant variation in the ways in which people of color are detained, arrested, charged, represented and sentenced for the same crimes committed by whites. The “War on Drugs” has been especially punitive for poor Black nonviolent offenders, including teenagers, in urban areas. Did you know that poor people who can’t afford bail are put in jail – sometimes for years? The practice results in jails and prisons filled with men and women who have yet to be convicted of any crime and have no means of retaining legal representation. Equally troubling is the proliferation of for-profit, privately-operated prisons that rely on a steady stream of prison labor to increase their wealth.

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#20 Remembering History – One participant in our fall BridgeBuilders study posed this question: “I’ve learned so much about American history that was never taught in textbooks or by my teachers. Without seeming to denigrate America, how do we bring others to a new appreciation/understanding of our country’s ‘racist’ past?” At issue is the discomfort we may feel when we realize that our nation isn’t perfect, our history was not always pretty, and our ideals have not been fully realized.

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Minutes 21-30

#21 Un-level Playing Field – Many Baby Boomers –Americans born between the end of WWII and 1964—grew up in an optimistic period of growth in the US. Employment was at an all-time high and household incomes grew. Few white
Americans considered themselves “rich” or “privileged.” After all, they were working hard to pay for what they had, and putting away any spare dollars for their kids’ education. As a result, many of those Baby Boomer kids became the first in their families to attend college, get a white collar job, become influential in their communities, and inherit financial wealth from their parents. But not all American citizens were able to do the same.

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#22 Racism Damages – Today’s “Minute” reminds us that God purposed and created all of humanity — a beautiful variety of children, internally identical but externally varied, each a beloved son or daughter. And of his creation, God said, “It is good!”

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#23 Little Interaction – Despite the increasing racial diversity in the U.S., evidence suggests that most adults who are Euro-American or of white culture very seldom, over the course of a day or week, interact deeply with anyone other than those of the same race and socioeconomic class!

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