Thursday, June 8, 2017

Table to Action Design Workshop



Back in October 2016 I wrote about attending the initial SF Bay Area meeting of Table to Action[1].  I mentioned soliciting one or three of my local interfaith colleagues who are Roman Catholic, Buddhist, and/or Hindu.  Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.  A college professor friend recommended a liberal Catholic at her institution, and introduced us by email.  I invited her and got her in the loop for the next meeting in February.  She responded that she was eager to come, but for whatever reason(s) she did not attend.

Sponsored by Auburn Seminary and Starr King School for the Ministry, that second meeting was very like the first one.  Table to Action had planned a longer follow-up workshop to take place in April.  It was an evening, followed by a daylong design workshop.  This is some of what the invitation said:

From September 2016 through February 2017, a multi-religious group of about thirty Bay Area spiritual and community leaders have gathered…to form a community of resilience and accountability and discuss common questions related to our struggles for justice.

When we began…the questions before us were related to our spiritual, emotional and physical sustainability in the context of relentless demands and challenges and frequent setbacks.  We approach the questions intersectionally, both from personal and communal standpoints,

We asked ourselves what kind of justice movement we dreamed of, one that would engage issues intersectionally, respected our different social locations and histories and honored our bodies and souls as we are in the struggle.  …

After the elections, we checked on how our bodies and souls and our community fared in the midst of constant multiple attacks on the values and communities we love.  We asked ourselves how we could best support each other across our different communities, and strengthen our capacity to build a sustainable and resilient local community or resistance and resilience.

This longer engagement culminated “with a DesignShop[2] … [to] imagine together where we might want to reimagine ways to collaborate for justice in the Bay [Area] in these times.”  The title was:

We Are Not Afraid to Reimagine[3]
A Design Shop Intensive[4]

We gathered at City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland on the evening of April 23 and all day on April 24.  The Hospitality Services of City of Refuge, an excellent venue, conveniently located with plenty of parking and a small garden outside, catered our event.  The food was great, accommodating various dietary concerns, and the food preparers (all women, it seemed) friendly and kind.  They earned several applauses throughout the two days.

The first evening entailed a re-acquaintance with other participants, and for those who hadn’t attended the first two meetings, getting to know each person.  Again, I was unsuccessful in recruiting either Buddhists, Catholics, or Hindus, although I know that all three are active in interfaith, social justice, and environmental concerns.  To be fair, there are few Hindus in my immediate area except for a Vedanta retreat, which is a member of Marin Interfaith Council.  However, there are plenty of activist Catholics and Buddhists.  And since this was a Bay Area-wide effort and there are many Hindus in the Santa Clara Valley (aka Silicon Valley), I found their absence worth mentioning.  It wasn’t I who convened this group, so I don’t know how wide a net they cast.  Regardless, I did invite Felicity Grove, an interfaith colleague from NCLC-CoG.[5]  Surprisingly, among this group of about thirty, there were four Witches.  One, Courtney Weber Hoover works at Auburn and is part of the program, so she was an employee-participant.  The other was local Witch Luna Pantera, whom I’ve known for many years and knew of her involvement with NOW.  I had not encountered her at interfaith activity until now, although I’m now aware that she attended the second MountainTop in Atlanta in 2015, as I did in Nashville in 2013.  I was glad to see her taking the step of further involvement.

As in earlier DesignShop sessions, we gathered in small working groups, where we were given a topic or a problem to address collaboratively.  The specific configurations of these groups changed with each change of topic; all were timed to 30 minutes.

An artist documented our full group discussions on whiteboards around the room.  I described this here, starting at the sixth paragraph. 

Get on the Bus

Round One of this exercise involved teammates depicting “the Bay Area’s movement work as if it were a bus on a journey…traversing any kind of landscape.”  Includes details such as obstacles, challenges, landmarks, “as well as the nature of the interaction on the bus…”  After this we walked around to see what others had been talking about.

“It’s easier to get from THERE to HERE than it is to get from HERE to THERE.”
DesignShop Axiom

For Round Two, teams drew a bus that represented the ideal Future State, three years from today, then chose a team member to report the group’s final ideas to the whole gathering.

Design a Home

For this module we formed new teams in which each of us was given a description of a specific person and assigned to enact that individual in the discussion.  We were five people, each decidedly different from the other in terms of age, health, economic situation, ethnicity, et al., seeking to share housing in the Bay Area.  We were to consider each participant’s needs: cost; location; quiet hours or quiet area; rooms for entertaining visitors; sharing food and/or meals or not; accessibility of public transit; pet(s) or none; house meetings; levels of fastidiousness; chores; need for yard or garden area; etc.  No one knew who the other was portraying prior to the role-playing discussion.

My role was that of a 52-year old gen X-er, middle class, working in nonprofit, given to inclusivity, reflection and discussion, no rash decisions.  The names given to each participant were not generally seen as being gender-specific.  My name was Leslie.

“To add someone’s experience to your experience, 
to create a new experience, is possibly valuable.”
DesignShop Axiom

Then we debriefed for another 20 minutes, setting aside our roles and reviewing what just happened in our housemate meeting.  Questions we considered were:

1.              What process did you work out to make this decision?  Who took the lead?  Was it an explicit process or did it just evolve?

2.              What worked well and what could you have done differently in listening to what was important to each of the other housemates?

3.              How did you balance incompatible objectives and priorities?

4.              How was this scenario like some of the trade-off decisions that have to be made in creating a more racially and economically equitable Bay Area?

5.              What did you learn about design decisions like this one that you can use going forward?

At the end of that time, we reported what we learned to the whole gathering.  I felt okay about how this module went.

“Everything that someone tells you is true; 
they are reporting their experience of reality.”
DesignShop Axiom

Designing a Game
Design the Sustainable Justice Game

Beginning with the assumption that everything can be turned into a game, we were tasked with designing a “sustainable racial and economic justice game.”  Colored paper, beads, yarns, colored markers, and other game-making materials were provided.  Both Felicity and I were in this group together with two other people.

Questions we considered in devising this Sustainable Justice Game were:  Choosing a game to model; the objective of the game; what winning looks like; who can win and under what circumstances; strategies leading to success or failure; what advances play or sets players back; barriers/obstacles to winning and how to overcome them; resources/skills players need and whether they’re easy to pick up or can be offered from one player to another; who are the players and what are their roles and characteristics; player interactions and powers, limits or constraints; cooperation or competition; field of play; and rules.  And importantly, what unique characteristics of the multifaith movement for social justice can be built into our game?

We began by brainstorming a list of our favorite games.  There was one game that neither Felicity nor I knew anything about.  Both of us clearly expressed this numerous times. Nevertheless, time was running out and we hadn’t settled on one game to use as a template that all of us agreed on, so the person most invested in using the game she suggested took the lead and began writing about it on our whiteboard.  We settled with doing the support work of making the board and the pieces according to what the other two were telling us about how the model game goes.  Personally, I felt excluded from designing the game and handicapped due to our ignorance of it.  And I will say that this exercise was not fun for me.  Nor was it an equitable collaboration.

Our result, ideally, was writing the rules, preparing the board (or other field of play), pieces, and other elements so that another team can actually play it.

“If you can’t have fun with the problem, 
you will never solve it.”
DesignShop Axiom

We then moved our tables together to hear what another group designed and to share what we designed.  The other group created a game I really liked.  It was a board game, with all roads leading to the center.  The object was to get to the center, and for those who reached the center sooner to work towards bringing along every other player.  I couldn’t hear their explanations due to the distance created by two large tables pushed together, the acoustically “live” room, and the softness of their speech.  I did the obvious, which was to request the speaker to speak louder because I wanted to hear what they had to say but couldn’t.  The first time I said this, the speaker duly increased her volume.  However, the next speaker again spoke softly and again I said I couldn’t hear.  This situation was exacerbated by people leaning in to hear better and thereby blocking my view.  Of course, I kept moving my vantage point so that I could see the speaker, but it didn’t do much good

We concluded the day by gathering once again in a circle, where Melvin Bray, the facilitator asked that someone from each team tell us what they did.  This is where things got dicey.  The facilitator did not extend our talk so that we could express our frustrations and resolve our differences.  Perhaps others didn’t see the tension and bewilderment on our faces.  I was disappointed.  Normally I would do that myself  -- speak up.  However, we were at the end of the day and there seemed to good way to deal with the problem without being disruptive.  Instead, I spoke another team member one-to-one after the close, expressing that I wanted to clear things up.  I have heard nothing more.

In hindsight, I see that we – or I, at least – participated in a lower key, less take-charge way because we were conscious that we were viewed as the seemingly privileged middle-class educated white folks, or using the term I prefer in such circumstances, Euros, among a minority majority assembly.  We tended to hold back more than we usually would in service, I thought, of good behavior, not bullying or trying to take over.

At each of the three Bay Area sessions, I met and talked with several very interesting people, folks it’s unlikely I’d meet otherwise, because they were primarily from the Abrahamic religions and I don’t usually have occasion to attend Christian, Jewish, or Muslim religious ceremonies.  At all three Table to Action events I attended, I met several people I’d like to know better, and perhaps ultimately either supporting each other’s efforts or perhaps collaborating.  I would have enjoyed more socializing -- just in general, not specifically at these events.  Because those of us to participate in interfaith (or, more appropriately in our case, inter-religious) activities know that it is in opening ourselves to and cultivating personal friendships that forge and sustain our efforts.  In order to make this happen, we would need to be able to remain in contact so we could deepen these connections to the extent that each of us was moved to do so.

So my primary frustration with this whole project is that we have been provided no way to continue our conversations and to help with and/or fortify each other and each other’s interfaith work.  For some reason I was under the mistaken assumption that this project was intended to forge alliances.  Some of us did, individually, exchange contact information.  I hope that a contact list is provided at some point, although I don’t anticipate more sessions.

In service to Coventina,
Macha



[1]  Unfortunately the FAQs on the Table to Action website appear to be in Latin.
[2]  DesignShop is a method created by Rob Evans of Imaginal Labs.  Here’s a brief talk about it.  You may recall my post about MountainTop in 2013, which I explained as I experienced it.  The founders explain it here. 

[3]   “We Are Not Afraid to Reimagine” is a line from a poem written collectively at the Table to Action dinner on September 20, 2016.
[4]   “DesignShop is a methodology that puts participants into interaction with one another to identify challenges, concerns, problems or opportunities and to design together a way of addressing them.  The future is coming, whether we are ready or not.  Our desire is a future by design—that we shape toward justice—not by default.”

[5]   Northern California Council, Covenant of the Goddess

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Multiregion Meeting of the United Religions Initiative – 30 May 2017



Don Frew, CoG National Interfaith Representative

The United Religions Initiative (www.uri.org) is the world’s largest grassroots interfaith organization, with over 850 local groups (called Cooperation Circles or “CCs”) in over 100 countries, involving several million people.  CoG members have been involved from the earliest days of the URI; I have served on all of the URI’s elected Global Councils (i.e. Board of Trustees) since its founding in 2000.  

 https://urimulti.org/_img/_big/100.jpg
 
The URI is administered through seven “geographic” Regions – Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean (LA&C), the Middle East & North Africa (MENA), North America (NA), South East Asia & the Pacific (SEAPac) – as well as an eighth, the “Multiregion” (www.urimulti.org).  The Multiregion was created for all those CCs whose members are in more than one Region or whose purpose is inherently trans-Regional (e.g. the Environment, Women, Youth, etc.).

 https://straightupcraft.com/content/gallery/3628/_projectGalleryThumb/urimulti.jpg
 
I coordinate a Multiregion CC – the Spirituality & the Earth CC – which was a founding CC of the URI.  Our purpose is: “To foster and facilitate communication and cooperation between all those who feel a spiritual connection with the Earth.”  We have members from many indigenous, tribal, Pagan, nature-based, and Earth-centered spiritualities, including many current and former CoG-members: Gus diZerega, Rowan Fairgrove, myself, Greg Harder, Anna Korn, Katya M., Diana Paxson, Catherine S., Rachael Watcher, and the late Deborah Ann Light.  I have served as a Trustee for the Multiregion and Rachael has served as its Regional Coordinator.  (BTW, more URI Trustees have been members of the S&ECC than of any other CC in the URI.) 

I am also one of the coordinators for the Earth Wisdom MCC (aka en Espanol: MCC Multiregional “Sabiduría de nuestra Madre Tierra”).  An MCC – or MultiCooperation Circle – is a group of three or more CCs that come together around a common purpose.  I have long been a proponent of CC’s being members of the Region in which they are located and members of one or more MCCs in the Multiregion that help them connect with others with shared interests.  The Earth Wisdom MCC was founded in 2011 “to foster and facilitate communication and cooperation between all those who live a life of ceremony in honor of Mother Earth.”  This wording was carefully chosen to focus on shared indigenous spirituality, rather than on being indigenous people.  There are many groups for indigenous people, but in those groups Christianity often ends up swamping local indigenous spiritual traditions, as the vast majority of indigenous people today are Christian.  Earth Wisdom member CCs are:
Asia
Rainbow CC (West Bengal, India)
Women’s Welfare and Rehabilitation Center CC (East Medinipur, India)
LA&C
Amaru CC (Ayacucho, Peru)
Movimiento Ecuménico Interreligioso de Pueblos Indígenas CC (LaPaz, Bolivia)
Qewña CC (Jujuy, Argentina)
Multiregion
Spirituality & the Earth CC (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela)

The current Regional Coordinator (RC) of the Multiregion is Frederica Helmiere.  On the occasion of the Multiregion reaching 50 member CCs, she organized a Zoom online conference today called “50 CCs in 50 Minutes”, in which each CC would have one minute to describe itself to the rest of the Multiregion.  I was asked to present on the Earth Wisdom MCC and the role of MCCs in the Multiregion and the URI as a whole.  As usual, timing for a conference call with people all around the world is dicey; for me in Berkeley CA it was at 7:00am.  We didn’t get 50 CCs, but we did get 35, with messages sent in from another six.  A full list of the Multiregion CCs and what they do can be found at the Multiregion website – https://urimulti.org/cooperation-circles – but I’d like to highlight a few from the conference call (Some of the following info is taken from the CCs’ web pages.)...

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
 
Paul Chaffee (USA) spoke about The Interfaith Observer CC.  If you don’t already know about it, The Interfaith Observer (TIO) has become the leading online journal on the interfaith movement.  You can read, comment, and/or subscribe at www.theinterfaithobserver.org.  I serve on TIO’s Board.

Bosco Ng (Hong Kong, China) told us about the Wedo Global CC, which was created to enhance cultural understanding of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong among the Chinese majority population, to reduce negative perceptions and racial discrimination. It provides training opportunities inside and outside Hong Kong for under-represented ethnic minorities.

Omar Hatem (Alexandria, Egypt) explained RadioTram CC.  It promotes free expression, human rights, gender equality and tolerance through radio in Egypt.  The channel was founded and fully funded by young people.  They present ideas, talent, projects and activities that emerged among youth following the 2011 Arab Spring.  Learn more at www.radiotram.com

 https://urimulti.org/_img/_medium/880/k4p.jpg
Shoshanna Abrams and Josh Thomas (USA) told us about the Kids4Peace CC, dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and other divided societies around the world by bringing kids together from divided communities in summer camps and other youth programs.  With a membership of 1,150 worldwide (500 Jerusalem youth, 350 Jerusalem parents, 150 USA youth, 150 educators & volunteers), K4P brings together Jews, Christians (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox), Muslims (Sunni and Shi’a), Unitarians, Druze, Bedouin, and families with multiple religious practices.  This is a good example of how CCs can vary in size and scope from a handful of people meeting to talk once a month to much larger programs with global reach.

Suchith Abeyewickreme (a Multiregion Trustee from Sri Lanka), Vincent (Malaysia), Sharon Vaswani (the Philipines), and Matthew Youde (Wales), talked about various global youth oriented programs, including the URI Global Youth CC and the Global Youth Ambassador CC.  The URI engages youth all over the world in interfaith programming focused on developing peace and understanding.  Suchith told us where to find info about the Talking Back to Hate campaign of the Global Youth CC: http://www.uri.org/files/resource_files/TalkingBackToHate%20_FinalReport.pdf

I was particularly excited to hear about two relatively new Multiregion CCs: The RISE CC (Revivers of Indigenous Spirituality and Ecosystems – www.risecircle.org/) and the SE Indigenous Interfaith Council CC.  Nonty Sedibe (South African Sangoma living in Spain) told us about the former, which aims to support fellow indigenous and Pagan spiritual leaders in reviving and empowering earth-based wisdom traditions to survive to serve future generations.  Tom Blue Wolf (USA) told us about the SE Council and their efforts to preserve and share traditional ceremonies.  Wow!  Two groups with which I must connect!  (There is a good bio of Tom at http://www.uri.org/action_areas/indigenous_voices/circle_of_wisdom_keepers)

Audri Scott Williams (USA, and one of the Trustees for the Multiregion) talked about the Global Indigenous Network CC and their project to create a seed-bank of plants used in indigenous ceremonies around the world.
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Shruti (India) explained the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance CC (GIWA).  This is a HUGE effort connected with the United Nations to focus on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (hence WaSH).  GIWA and the URI are combining networks to maximize our impact in parts of the world that need us most.  You can read about work in India at www.gangaaction.org/

Claire Marie Pearman (Cairo, Egypt) told us about the CARAVAN CC, focused on peace-building between the religions and cultures of the Middle East and the West through the arts.  They are a UN NGO and have art shows traveling around the world.

Hooma Multani (Costa Rica) of the La Villa de Arcilla CC (or “House of Clay”) is building a sustainable eco-village in Costa Rica to host international interfaith events

Despina Namwembe (Uganda) brought us up to speed on WIN-URI, the Women’s Interfaith Network of the URI.  While not a formal MCC, it functions in much the same way.  Its members are all members of other CCs doing work around women’s issues.

Monica Willard & Deborah Moldow (USA) coordinate the URI’s efforts at the United Nations through the URI at the UN CC.  The URI is an EcoSoc NGO (in UN-speak).  Their work is especially focused around the International Day of Peace (21 September), the UN Sustainable Development Goals, World Interfaith Harmony Week (1st week in February), the Commission on the Status of Women (in March), and the Indigenous Forum (in May).

Karen Watson (USA) brought us up to date on the relatively new LGBTQ CC.  Finally!  The presence of LGBTQ+ people has been the “third rail” of interfaith for decades.  It’s great to see a group dedicated to creating safe space for LGBTQ folks involved in the URI. 

(Note: Sometimes a Multiregion CC doesn’t have its information on the Multiregion website yet, in which case it should be at the URI general site at http://www.uri.org/cooperation_circles/explore_cooperation_circles)

That was just 15 of the 41 groups we heard from!  There is a LOT going on in URI’s Multiregion, and that’s just one of eight Regions!  To learn more, check us out at www.urimulti.org and www.uri.org.

Blessed Be,
Don

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Update from a National Interfaith Representative – the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative


Don Frew, 11 May 2017

Merry meet!

I haven’t posted in a while; not because I’ve been inactive, but because health issues usually left me too tired to do a report after meetings and events.  Fortunately, two health crises this year (diabetic keto-acidosis & hyperthyroidism) both complicated my life and improved it dramatically.  When the doctors know what you have, they can give you the right medications.  I had felt like I was just winding down and getting old, but now I am much more strong, awake, and active.

So, on the occasion of my 57th birthday, I just finished a Zoom conference call of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative.  Of the 31 Trustees we have residing in 22 countries, 19 were able to attend (16 being needed for a quorum).  Some were on the call from home, some on their phones – one at a train station in Delhi, India, where it was 110 degrees in the shade!  Accommodating all of us meant meeting at unusual times for some; for me, just at 7:00am.
 
 
 
Highlights of the call and where the URI is now include…

An opening reflection was led by URI Executive Director Victor Kazanjian (Christian / USA).  He focused on cycles of birth & death and remembrance of friends who have passed.  (EricTomarompong, President of the Muslim / Christian Peacemakers Circle in the Philippines was shot and killed last week while working on Muslim / Christian dialogue in a war torn region – http://muslimchristianpeace.blogspot.com/)  This was a reminder that interfaith efforts in many parts of the world involve action in conflict areas that are very much not safe.

[As I post this - May 25 - I get word from Victor that Father Teresito "Chito" Suganob of the Peacemakers Circle and members of his parish were taken hostage from the Cathedral of St. Mary's in Marawi City in Mindanao in the Philippines by ISIL-linked fighters.  We are all hoping for their safe return.]

Thirty-eight new Cooperation Circles (CCs) have joined the URI so far this year, bringing our total to 851 CCs in over 100 countries, involving several million people!  You can find info about all of the CCs at (http://www.uri.org/cooperation_circles) but just a few highlights from new CCs in April and May…

* The National Coalition of Religions and Community Together (Bujumbura, Burundi, Great Lakes, AFRICA)
* Society for Health Education and Development – SHED (Anantaporamu, India, ASIA)
* La Villa de Arcilla (Based in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, LATIN AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN)
* Youth Today Foundation CC (Blantyre, Malawi, Southern Africa, AFRICA)
* Women Organization for Rural Development – WORD (Kadiri, Anantapur, India, ASIA)
* Greater Concord Interfaith Council (Concord, New Hampshire, United States, NORTH AMERICA)
* Building Better Society CC (Yangon, Myanmar, SOUTH EAST ASIA & THE PACIFIC)
* Advocates for Grassroots Inter-Religious Cooperation (Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines, SOUTH EAST ASIA & THE PACIFIC)

We just held our Circles of Light annual fundraising dinner, at which the first Chair or the URI’s Global Council was honored by having the position of Chair named “the Rita Semel Chair” henceforth.  I have mentioned Rita Semel (Jewish / USA) many times in my reports.  She helped found the San Francisco Interfaith Council, the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, and the URI.  She has been doing intercultural and interfaith work in the SF Bay Area since covering the signing of the United Nations charter here in 1945 as a cub reporter. 

Speaking of the United Nations… The URI is a NGO at the UN, where we are in the process of formalizing relations with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, the United Nations Environmental Program, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Department of Public Information, the World Federation of United Nations Associations, the Office of Genocide Prevention, UNESCO, and the United Nations Development Program. Having formal relations goes a long way when your trying to work together on the ground to improve things in various parts of the world.

Each year, the Global Council meets several times by Zoom and has one face-to-face meeting.  We try to move these meetings around the world, to make it easier for people to attend.  This year, the meeting will be in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in September.  Travel to and getting visas for Sarajevo has been a bit tricky, so Victor will be stopping there to help work things out on the ground with Foreign Ministry of Bosnia and Herzegovina on his way back from visiting interfaith groups in Russia later this month.  In anticipation of the Global Council meeting, several working groups – consisting of Trustees and outside advisors – have been focusing on aspects of the Global Council’s work and preparing materials to help move the meeting along in a productive way.  The working groups are: Organizational Sustainability, Growth & Impact, Connectivity & Visibility, Capacity Building & Leadership.  With an international organization that is as multicultural as ours, we can’t just assume that one administrative culture fits all.  We are trying to build something that allows everyone to express maximum creativity for the good of all. 

I chairing a group that is working with the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School on upgrading our Bylaws to fit the kind of organization we are becoming, even though we haven’t really become it yet.  URI founder Bill Swing (Christian / USA) is fond of saying that “we are building the airplane that we are already flying”.  If so, then some of us are trying to write the instruction manual when we don’t know what kind of plane it will be yet.

Twenty-three Global Council members are part of the “Principle 19 Project”, based on the URI’s Preamble Purpose and Principles (http://www.uri.org/about_uri/charter/preamble_purpose_and_principles).  #19 reads: “We are committed to organizational learning and adaptation.”  This group is working on ways for us to understand and measure our impact in the world.  How do we know if we are succeeding?  What can we show others?

[BTW, I just took a break from writing this so Anna and could attend the commencement ceremony for Michelle Mueller at the Graduate Theological Seminary here in Berkeley.  Michelle is a former CoG National Interfaith Rep for Youth and just got her Ph.D. in Cultural & Historical Studies of Religion for her dissertation “Performed Polygamy and Polyamory in the Media Age: The ‘Teleducation’ of Nonmonogamous Religious and Spiritual Families in Reality Television”.  She also just had a baby, so… Yay, Michelle!]

The URI will be launching its new website in September, but in the meantime, the Multiregion of the URI has already launcher theirs: https://urimulti.org/  (For those who don’t know, the URI is organized into seven geographically proximate Regions and an 8th “Multiregion”.  The Multiregion inclused all CCs who either have members in more than one Region or are focused on a global topic that crosses Regions – like Women or the Environment or Peace.  CoG-members have been most active in the Multiregion.)

“In February, the URI announced a new partnership with the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA), a global grassroots training organization that focuses on empowering women to develop local environmental projects: www.womensearthalliance.org.  URI and WEA are developing a global training program called The Ripple Academy.  The Ripple Academy will unleash a global cadre of women leaders allied to forge and amplify solutions for peace, justice, and environmental healing in communities around the world. The Ripple Academy will bring together the best of URI’s and WEA’s models, offering a coordinated training experience to equip leading change-makers with the skills, tools, and alliances they need to build bridges of cooperation and environmental solutions for generations to come.”  (Victor’s words)

The URI continues to work on building an endowment – the URI Foundation – to fund the day-today actives of a global interfaith organization.  So far, the Foundation is managing a little over $1.1 million in assets.  The URI’s current annual global budget runs a little over $3.9 million, so we have a ways to go before an endowment can cover our expenses.  Treasurer Becky Burad (Christian / USA), as always, gave a thorough report.  I pointed out that, not only can this be difficult to follow for English-speaking Trustees who may not have any background in business, but the Global Council includes many Trustees for whom English is not their first language and who come from cultures with different ways of handling business affairs.  I suggested that she give a workshop at our face-to-face meeting on how to read and understand her reports.  She agreed on both counts.

Chief Phil Lane (Yankton Dakota & Chickasaw / USA) is an At-Large Trustee focusing on URI’s relations with indigenous peoples.  He gave us an update on how things are progressing with the Standing Rock group.  He offered a song for those continuing the work of Standing Rock and for the URI member killed in the Philippines.

There was a lot more, but this is a snapshot into the ongoing work of the URI’s Global Council.  For more of the work on the ground by the over 850 Cooperation Circles, just check out www.uri.org or, for a focused view of what’s going on in your particular area of interest, go to http://www.uri.org/action_areas

Blessed Be,
Don Frew