Leap in Faith video celebrates diversity of religious beliefs

"They knew me, but they were wondering what I was up to." They need not wonder any more....

Manju (267K)

As hundreds of Sikhs parade singing down Memorial Boulevard, a few women glance at the older woman filming nearby.

Wearing a brightly coloured sari and holding a video camera, Manju Lodha was as much a curiosity to them as the Sikh ceremony of Nagar Kirtan was to her.

"They were wondering what is going on," the Winnipeg artist, poet and filmmaker recalls of her experience recording last fall's public event in downtown Winnipeg.

"They knew me, but they were wondering what I was up to."

They need not wonder any more. That parade of Sikhs is now part of a 38-minute documentary about eight faith traditions Lodha made with fellow artist and creative partner Ray Dirks, curator of the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery.

Leap in Faith premiered on Tuesday, May 15 at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery, 600 Shaftesbury Blvd.

Funded by $25,000 in grants from the Manitoba government and private donors, copies of the DVD will be distributed to schools inside a yet-to-be published book on compassion by Dirks and Lodha. The DVD is also available from Mennonite Church Canada (www.mennonitechurch.ca) for $15.

Although Winnipeg landmarks and houses of worship are clearly identifiable, the documentary will speak to others beyond the city and province as an educational tool and an entry point to other faith traditions, says Dirks.

"I think it's neat that people could see it's in Winnipeg," he says.

"Our intention was to make this in a way that it could be generic enough to be used in other provinces."

Over a period of nine months, the pair filmed religious ceremonies, weekly worship, special events and interviewed people from eight traditions, including their own.

Dirks' minister, Rev. Dan Nighswander of Jubilee Mennonite Church, is one of the voices explaining Christianity. Lodha's daughter, Jugnu Lodha, speaks about the beliefs of Jainism, the faith tradition the Indian-born artist follows.

"We took every opportunity we got. I didn't miss anything," Lodha says of the hours spent filming places of worship throughout Winnipeg.

"Some places we went to services, some places we just shot photos."

The non-narrated documentary also features Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and First Nations spirituality from the perspectives of faith leaders as well as the proverbial people in the pews.

"We made connections with lots of people. It's from a grassroots level. We asked basic questions," explains Lodha, adding they steered away from complex doctrinal and theological issues in the DVD.

"In plain, simple words we are saying, 'leap in faith.' "

Using lyrics written by Lodha, Dirk's daughter Alexa Dirks composed the theme song for Leap in Faith, and performed it on the DVD with Ariel Posen, her bandmate from The New Lightweights.

Focusing more on the experience of faith rather than just talking heads, Dirks and Lodha portray the Jewish festivals of Hanukkah and Rosh Hashanah, Muslim celebrations of Eid, including still photographs of the pilgrimage to Mecca, and the Hindu ceremony of Yagna, which takes place in the Seine River, near the temple on St. Anne's Road.

"We wanted to go as wide as we could with the time and resources we had," explains Dirks, who is pleased at the latitude faith groups gave him to film their services and festivals.

A project like Leap in Faith underscores the fact that commonalities lie beneath diverse expressions of faith, says the rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, where several ceremonies were recorded.

"It's tremendously enriching to see the different traditions worship the same God," says Rabbi Alan Green, who sings a Hanukkah song and provides a brief synopsis of Judaism in the DVD.

Winnipeggers can be proud of their long tradition of cultural and religious diversity, which has translated into acceptance for each other, says Rev. Fredrich Ulrich of the Manitoba Buddhist Temple, also pictured leading services in the documentary.

"Interfaith (dialogue) encourages us to have a theology of accommodation rather than a theology of condemnation," explains the Buddhist sensei, who annually hosts at least half a dozen visiting groups at the Winnipeg Avenue temple.

For Lodha, nearly a year of interviewing and filming on street corners led to new appreciation for the complexities and richness of spiritual traditions in Winnipeg.

"What I find is that all religions are a way of life," says Lodha, who practices both Hinduism and Jainism.

"There are so many common things, and I don't know why we don't all get along together."


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