Small Stones Interviews: The Rev. Kat Banakis

Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois.

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The Rev. Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. Her writing, preaching, and teaching explore how to be people of faith in this time and place. She is host and producer of The Holy Holy Podcast, an interfaith program on life’s large questions bringing together secular leaders with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian voices. She is the author of Bubble Girl: An Irreverent Journey of Faith (Chalice, 2013), which puts Christian systematic theology into an accessible, narrative form for personal and group reflection on how our stories are wrapped up in God’s story. Outside of St. Luke’s, Kat works in fundraising consulting for large non-profit organizations. She and her husband live in Chicago. Full disclosure: Kat and the Small Stones editors were college classmates.

Small Stones: We are picking people to talk to who are engaged in education at all sorts of different levels and worlds, and part of why you came up is because of the podcast work you were doing in the second half of last year, and because so much of what that podcast is, at least from my perspective, is very educational. And not in a way that’s didactic or anything like that, but it seems like it was educational for the participants, and it was educational for the people listening. It was a really great interfaith, intergeneration dialogue… and that feels very last-administration.

I’m curious, given that you recently had that role, how do you look at what we have happening now, in the civic world, that’s really invoking a lot of notes of conservative religious positions, too?

Kat Banakis: So Karl Barth is a mid-20th century theologian, and he talked about how when you preach, you always do so with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. And when I was putting together the first season of the podcast, I was really looking at, and to use a religious term, exegeting, my congregation, seeing that so many of the young families coming in had grown up in multi religious or non-religious households, and really for me to be a good pastor to my congregation, I needed to expand my aperture and purview of interfaith work. This was to be able to gain fluency, to be able to pastor to them, and also because I think that it is important in the public square to have interreligious dialogue.

But you also make a really good point that it was, to a certain extent, a situation of the time, in that there was this burgeoning—there’s always been interfaith work in the US, but particularly since 9/11, thinking about intra-Abrahamic initiatives has been very live. And so it was intentionally the sort of topics that bring people back to religion, broad topics, and then doing interfaith education around life issues, which as you point out, felt appropriate to the time, and creating a space for interfaith education around life topics.

Fast forward to the present, and—

Continue reading “Small Stones Interviews: The Rev. Kat Banakis”

Weekend Reading

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First in our reading list is, appropriately, a summer reading list, via Public Books. It’s curated by their section editors, and covers topics from Global Black History to Literary Fiction to Comics. Our library lists just expanded from reasonable to out-of-control…here are a few we’re really excited about:

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook). This warm, witty, and inclusive picture book filters first-day-of-school jitters through the perspective of the school itself, giving young readers a new outlook on a familiar place…

In Gratitude by Jenny Diski (Bloomsbury). Part of it is mourning: those of us who read everything Diski wrote read this memoir-of-dying as a goodbye to an essential habit. Part of it is the pleasure Diski always gave: seemingly familiar stories told by dispensing with any of the usual reference points, like some sort of trick of the light making you step gingerly into a room you thought you knew…

Underground Airlines by Ben Winters (Mulholland). In the spirit of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, this account of slavery still ongoing in 2016 America asks readers to notice how much (or how little) has actually changed in our own world of racial profiling and third-world factory production…

Public Library: And Other Stories by Ali Smith (Anchor). Smith’s latest collection looks uncannily like the bookshelf of a library: you don’t know what you’ll find next to what, but you do trust that some logic governs the juxtapositions.  The lyrical statistics and laconic anecdotes that caulk together Smith’s stories add up to a story of their own, about the neoliberal British state replacing librarians by volunteers and selling off reading rooms to private fitness clubs.  The collection ends with Smith’s partner going through her dead mother’s purse to dispose of credit cards, reward cards, driver’s license: “The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to throw away was her library card.”

Next week’s interview is with an Episcopal priest working in interfaith education out of Chicago. If you’d like to get a quick preview of what we’ll be discussing, check out this quick read from Daily Kos about the contemporary Sanctuary Movement:

A month after popular vote loser Donald Trump’s election, some 450 houses of worship nationwide pledged to become sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, with one church in the Los Angeles area calling for “holy resistance” to his mass deportation force. And houses of worship have heeded the call, with the number of congregations vowing to protect immigrants from ICE doubling to 800, according to a new report from 60 Minutes. Undocumented parents like Jeanette Vizguerra—recently named one of Time’s 100 most influential people—have fled to churches for safety and as a last recourse.

And in honor of our first Small Stones Interview, we want to finish up by highlighting LaQuisha Beckum’s non-profit, Generation Reformation, and some of its programs. Check them out, and get in touch with the organization if you are local, have question, or even have services to offer! They are particularly looking for funding to complete the Generation Reformation organization site, which you can find here. The Facebook page is here. One of their projects is an after-school program that you can check out here.

Multimedia: Videos for Teaching about Islam

We’re on a bit of kick looking for resources for teaching about Islam, maybe because we feel relatively ignorant ourselves. One of us lived in Senegal, West Africa for a few months and became fascinated by the pause in the flow of daily university life as large crowds of students stopped and gathered for afternoon prayer.

(Let’s also pause here for a note: we welcome constructive criticism and guest writers who have deeper knowledge of Islam and the resources available for teaching students about it).

Here are two videos about Islam, appropriate for high school students. The first covers main tenets and some history of the religion and the second addresses common present-day stereotypes of American Muslims. The latter is particularly relevant given the uptick in anti-Muslim incidents during and after the presidential campaign, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

From PBS Learning, here’s John Green in a 13 minute video entitled Islam, the Quran, and the Five Pillars All Without a Flamewar. In the video, Green “teaches you the history of Islam, including the revelation of the Qu’ran to Muhammad, the five pillars of Islam, how the Islamic empire got its start, the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and more.”

Also from PBS Learning and Unity Productions Foundation, here’s another video, of 11 minutes in length: Muslim Americans, Fact vs. Fiction.  The video “provides poll-based answers to the most frequent questions Americans ask about their Muslim neighbors [and]… debunks stereotypes and separates many of the prevailing fictions about Islam and American Muslims.”

Both videos are informative and thought-provoking, even for adults.

* smallstones is grateful to the PBS Education “Teacher’s Lounge” blog post by Rachel Otty, Teaching Islam: Deconstructing Myths and Clarifying Truths, for introducing us to these videos.

 


♣ The Resource ♣

PBS Learning Media. (2012). Islam, the Quran, and the Five Pillars All Without a Flamewar – Crash Course World History. Retrieved from https://ca.pbslearningmedia.org.

PBS Learning Media. (2015). American Muslims: Fact vs. Fiction. Unity Productions Foundation. Retrieved from https://ca.pbslearningmedia.org.