IFLC Vice Chair Bishop Greg Geiger to Receive Award from ETS

Greg

The seeker seeks, and through a winding path of influences, faces inevitable cross-roads, decision points at which a destiny may be selected. And so it was for a young Greg Geiger, an outstanding Catholic School graduate on a full-ride scholarship to University of California Santa Cruz. His roommate, he said, had been stoned for a year, and six weeks into the school year he realized that if he stayed, he might not avoid a similar fate.

According to Geiger, his whole life, his strong family upbringing, his education, his own desire for meaning, had all led to this pivotal moment.

In a high school religion class, Geiger had been introduced to the concept of teleology, the study of a thing according to its purpose.

“It summed up my world view,” says Geiger. “I have a strong need to define my life in purposeful ways.”

“Outside of religion, I don’t know how you can find a satisfactory purpose,” says Geiger. “Faith in something that defines purpose. To me that’s always been very important.”

Catholic doctrine did not provide satisfactory answers, so Geiger spent a great deal of time “seeking” a church and doctrine that did. He spent his last few years of high school exploring numerous churches, as well as eastern traditions.

“I was interested in a lot of different faith perspectives. That’s why interfaith comes so easily to me.”

Santa Cruz was one big clothing optional, marijuana-fueled beach party, a scant 40 miles south of Haight-Ashbury in 1970.  The unofficial school motto was “When UCSC gets high for a game, its different!” Geiger started thumbing rides to LA and camping out in his girlfriend’s yard to get away for the weekends.

“After about 6 weeks I decided that either I could stay there for a year and end up just like my roommate or I could leave.”

He left Santa Cruz for UCLA and the girlfriend, who had introduced him to the LDS church. The following June, he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a year later, he transferred to Brigham Young University – the opposite end of the moral spectrum from UC Santa Cruz.

He loved BYU and it was there that he met and married his wife Denise.

After graduating, he pursued an MBA at University of Utah. He came to Michigan for a job with Ford in 1977.

The next decades were busy ones for Geiger, raising five children, working and travelling in his position as a senior Finance executive for Ford, and doing the work he felt called to within the LDS Church.

“One of the reasons I found the doctrines of the LDS Church appealing is because there is a lay ministry. And everyone in the church serves in different ways. There are lots of opportunities to serve with other people and for other people. We believe that God calls us to perform in different capacities, and in different ways. Church leaders ask and we can accept or decline. There’s always the sense of a providential hand in the work in our faith.”

His work as a Ford executive took him and his family on a foreign service assignment to England, where Geiger found a surprising lack of religiosity in Europe. A meeting facilitator once asked a group he was in if anyone knew the ten commandments and he was the only person who raised his hand. He was glad to return to the United States.

“America is a place of people of faith. It is missing in many parts of the world. I had a desire suddenly to go out and celebrate that. I went out and knocked on doors to find out if there was an interfaith group in my community. I just had this hunger to be exposed to people of faith of all kinds.”

He found the Farmington Area Interfaith Association (FAIA), and began making the long trip from his office in Dearborn back to Farmington Hills once a month to attend FAIA lunch meetings.

He helped them organize several events, and they invited him to be the convener for a year. He’s now held the position for 6 years.

“One of the things LDS members know how to do is organize volunteers,” says Geiger. “It’s one of the largest volunteer networks in the world.”

In the course of his work with FAIA, he met Steve Spreitzer, President and CEO of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, who invited him to a retreat where he presented on The Puzzle of Interfaith Learning. The gist of it is that underlying the different languages, doctrines and ritual practices of our many faiths is a core of similar values.

“A lot of things I’ve been to celebrated the diversity,” says Geiger. “But it doesn’t help establish common ground.”

He gives as an example, a session with Rabbi Daniel Nevins, in which Rabbi Nevins described the Jewish tradition of cleansing the home of chametz, or leavened products in the week before Passover.

LDS members bake their own bread. They value yeast. The idea of getting rid of it did not resonate with Geiger.  But Rabbi Nevins explained that, to him, the yeast represented the puffing up of pridefulness, and that it took a week of searching to cleanse oneself of it.

“That meant a lot to me. We also value humility — honesty in our relationships with God and others. We recognize how difficult it is to clear our minds of pride.  I had a completely different view of Danny’s faith practice once I understood what it meant to him.  It now meant something that I could understand and appreciate as well.  It’s getting beyond, underneath different practices and language, to understanding the values. That’s where the opportunity for unity comes. You have to look for it and find it, because it’s not superficially obvious. What is superficially obvious are the differences.”

This perspective is the underpinning of Geiger’s work as Vice-Chair of the IFLC, and his efforts to create and promote programs like Religious Diversity Journeys and Exploring Our Religious Landscapes.

“I continually look for ways to inject this value focus into interfaith education. It’s been pretty remarkable, what the IFLC has been able to accomplish.”

That understanding has also helped him bring together diverse partners in a Farmington area coalition to help feed, clothe, and provide resources and support to Farmington Public Schools’ 120 homeless students.

As Co-Directors of the LDS Church’s Personal Storehouse Project, Geiger and his wife Denise are also pulling together diverse community partners to help members who have struggled with generational poverty. The project trains mentors to assist individuals and families through the process of spiritual and temporal change in their lives. Mentors help with goal setting, and helping families build the skills needed to reach those goals. It is a unique initiative in the LDS faith, the first time the Church has done this work outside of its Salt Lake City base of organizational strength and membership.

On May 12, Greg Geiger will be honored for this work, receiving the Inspirational Spirit Award at the Ecumenical Theological Society’s 10th annual Spirit Awards Gala.

Tickets for “The 10th Annual Spirit Awards Gala” are priced at $125; proceeds will benefit ETS and its many activities. Tickets are available online at http://bit.ly/10thAnnualETSGala. For more information, call 313. 831-5200 and speak to Ms. Pamela Johnson, at extension 209.