Transcript Staff Writer

It's not a debate or even a tense conversation, but a chance for the Norman community to ask questions and learn more about a variety of faiths, said organizer Gina Taylor of Sunday's New Life Bible Church religious panel.

Titled "Aren't All Religions Basically the Same?" six religious leaders will address questions about their faith and beliefs in an attempt to help the Norman community better understand their religion. The event is the first in a three-part series called "Alternatives to Christianity."

The Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Baha'i panelists will be asked questions including: "Who founded your religion? How long has it been in existence? Do you believe in an afterlife? And, what are the sacred texts of your religion?" If necessary, New Life pastor Russ Martin will follow up with clarifying questions.

"I love this kind of stuff where people are coming together, where you just have a kind of blending of things," Taylor said. "You are learning about something important in people's lives, putting a human element on things."

The idea for the panel stemmed from New Life's association with Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, Taylor said. Willow Creek presented a similar program more than a year ago and since then, New Life has worked to organize the panel for Norman.

"This is a great opportunity for people who are trying to figure out what they believe, which is pretty much the essence of our church ? meeting people where they are and taking them from there," Taylor said. "This is not so much an evangelizing opportunity ? We want people to come, hear the different beliefs and if they want to talk to somebody about whatever religion it is, they can stick around and ask questions."

Taylor said ultimately, the panel is "an opportunity to learn" and is intended to "let people make their own decision about which faith is right for them."

The speakers, Rabbi Steven J. Kirschner, Dann May, Judson Poling, Jiane Shi, Saad Mohammed and Dr. Acharya Vedala, will speak at the 9:30 and 11:15 a.m. services Sunday. The church is located at 4343 N. Flood in Norman, (Hwy 77 and Franklin Road). Sunday school and a nursery are provided for younger children and infants.

Subsequent services in the 3-part series includes "Secularism" Sept. 18 and "Consumerism" Sept. 25, both services at 9:30 and 11:15 a.m. More information about New Life and the service can be obtained by calling 329-3101 or visiting

Rabbi Steven J. Kirschner ? Jewish

Rabbi Steven Kirschner, the executive director of the Hillel Foundation at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in suburban Philadelphia, Pa., in June, 2004, after five years of study. Prior to rabbinical school, Steve lived in Madison, Wis., where he practiced law for 18 years. His Jewish interests include Kabbalah and Jewish spirituality; Hasidism; and Hebrew language and literacy. Rabbi Steve, who is 54, is an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, as well as poetry, and an enthusiastic fan of rock music, especially contemporary punk rock and emo. He also loves movies, especially "The Lord of the Rings" series and the Harry Potter movies.

Dann May ? Baha'i

Dann May is an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City University where he has taught courses? in philosophy and religious studies since 1994. He also has taught courses in philosophy and religious studies at the University of North Texas (1987-1993) and at the South Campus of the Tarrant County Junior College in Fort Worth, Texas (1990-93).? In addition to teaching, Dann is the assistant director for the Vivian Wimberly Center for Ethics and Servant Leadership and the Owen Wimberly Center for Continuing Education.

Dann received his master of arts degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of North Texas in December 1993 and his master of science degree in geology from the University of Washington, Seattle, in December 1980.? Before pursuing his teaching career, he worked as an exploration geologist for six years with the Standard Oil Company in Dallas.? He has been a member of the Bah?'? Faith for 25 years and has given numerous lectures, classes and seminars around the country on various aspects of Bah?'? theology, including inter-religious dialogue, world religions, and the Bah?'? - Christian dialogue.

Dann is married to Phyllis Bernard, a law professor at OCU. They have a 22-year-old daughter.

Judson Poling ? Christian

Judson has been on staff at Willow Creek Community Church since 1980 and has served in a variety of roles. He currently works as an internal consultant and staff writer-at-large. He contributes to various Willow Creek in-house and published study resources.

He is co-author of the Walking With God small group study series, the Tough Questions series, the Pursuing Spiritual Transformation series, author of "Interpretation: Discovering the Bible for Yourself " (from the Bible 101 series), author of "Taking the Old Testament Challenge: A Daily Reading Guide" and is the general editor of The Journey: The Study Bible for Spiritual Seekers.

He has a B.A. in Hebrew and Semitic studies from University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a master of divinity from Trinity Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill. He is married to Deb and they have two grown children, Anna and Ryan.

Jiane Shi - Buddhist

Dharma Master Jiane is the abbess of Buddha Mind Monastery in OKC. Buddha Mind is one of over 80 Zen meditation centers established by Taiwan's Grand Master Ven. Wei Chueh, who integrates the teachings of sudden enlightenment and gradual cultivation with the altruistic and ascetic practices of Buddhist traditions.

Master Jiane grew up in Taiwan and holds a master's degree in religion from Columbia University. After taking Buddhist vows, she took on several positions at Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Taiwan, including director of Prajna Research Center, director of curriculum and director of student affairs at Chung Tai Buddhist Institute, and abbess of Pu Jia Zen Center. Master Jiane's current role at the Buddha Mind Monastery includes teaching Zen meditation and Buddhism classes as well as officiating ceremonies.

Saad Mohammed ? Muslim

Saad Mohammed is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., and has lived in Oklahoma for 13 years. He and his wife have been married for 16 years and have three sons: Keanu, aged 13, and 8-year-old twins Liam and Ian. Saad has been a Muslim for 10 years and serves on the board of directors of, and is vice president of the executive committee and director of Islamic information for, the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.

Dr. Archaria Vedala ? Hindu

Dr. Vedala Srinivasacharya has received two master's degrees and a Ph. D in Sanskrit and Bhashapravina in Telugu from Andhra University, A.P., India. He worked as a lecturer in SN Sanskrit College, Chitigudur, Machilipatnam, India, for six years. There, he taught Vyakarana, Sahithya Mimamsa, and Vedanta Sastras.

Acharya Srinivas Vedala has worked extensively both in India and the United States of America. He has worked as a scholar, preacher, and priest in Hindu temples in New York City, Chicago, and Oklahoma City. In addition, he has traveled widely as a philosopher, scholar and poet in Europe, India and the United States.

Dr. Acharya Srinivas Vedala is also the founder/president of the Institute of Hindu Studies, a center for Indic studies and culture.

He received several awards, including the Governor's Commendation in 1997 for his dedication to the community.

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