Sunday, July 13, 2014

URI Global Council 2014 – Day 7 (Last day, Talent Show, and finally: lots of pictures!)



Saturday, June 28

I had breakfast with Victor and Peter.  Peter had been the Creative Director for the opening, closing, and evening plenary sessions at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia (http://paninternational.com.au/portfolio-item/parliament-world-religions/).  We discussed how the closeness of the relationship between the URI and the Parliament has waxed and waned over the years and what we could do to make sure the relationship remained close and strong.

After breakfast, during the short break before the next Global Council session, Peter held chorus practice.  He would grab just about anyone who walked by and include then, necessitating a rearrangement of singers and parts.  I kept getting moved back and forth between baritone and tenor (even bass, sometimes) and got thoroughly confused.  Peter is a very talented conductor, but we were mostly very amateur singers.

We gathered together as a joint GC/GSS meeting and were joined by several members of the President’s Council: John and Maria Weiser, Biff Barnard, and Bill Fuller.  At Kiran’s invitation people called out the names of those not with us.  Some were absent due to health issues – like North America Trustee Rebecca Tobias (Jewish / USA).  Some were unable to get visas in time – like MENA Trustees Tareq al-Tamimi (Muslim / Palestine) and Ashraf Samir (Muslim / United Arab Emirates).  Some had passed on and were now considered to be members of the “Celestial CC”.  Some had business conflicts – Like NorAm Trustee Sam Wazan (Muslim / USA).  Some were Trustees whose terms had ended and were no longer on the Global Council – like former GC Chair Yoland Trevino (indigenous Maya / Guatemala and USA), former Trustee PK McCary (Christian / USA), and former Exec. Director Charles Gibbs (Christian / USA).  Many people remembered family members and those yet to come who would be sitting where we were then.

The opening blessing was offered by the contingent from South East Asia and the Pacific (SEAPac):
* Dr. Potre Diampuan (Muslim / the Philippines) – Regional Coordinator, offered a Muslim prayer.
* Mr. Musa Sanguila (Muslim / the Philippines) – Trustee, did the same.
* Mr. Ros Sam An (Buddhist / Cambodia) – Trustee, read a Buddhist teaching.
* Mr. Peter Mousaferiadis (Orthodox Christian / Australia) – Trustee, acknowledged the first peoples of his native Australia and o the place where we were meeting.  He then sang a Kyrie Eleison from his tradition, followed by leading us all in an “Omm…”
They have 36 Cooperation Circles and two more staff persons who couldn't attend.

Kiran invited us to imagine that it is the year 2020 – only six years away – and what the URI would look like.  Highlights…
* We are celebrating our 10 millionth member.  (Currently, about 2.5 million people participate in URI programs.)
* There is a Cooperation Circle in every city.
* We have 10,000 CCs.  (The CC Approval Committee said it would need more members if we were going to grow that rapidly.)
* There is a URI TV channel.
* There is a “Royals CC”, made up of royal families from around the world.
* We’ve reached our goal of a $100 million endowment to cover our basic operating expenses. (Our current annual budget for the Global Support System is about $3.2 million.)
* Everyone knows about the URI.
* We have finally bridged the gap to those who have opposed us.
* There are fewer headlines about religious violence and more about religious peacebuilding.
* The work of the Global Indigenous Initiative has integrated the indigenous voice into the URI.
* We have a global interfaith university.
* The URI has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
* Any CC can easily reach any other CC.
* Funders and investors seek us out.
* The Regions are strong and self-sufficient.
* The Multiregion holds a Regional Assembly on Mars. ;-)

We then broke into small groups to come up with three concrete steps we could take towards making these dreams a reality.  My group included Despina, Qutub, Musa, Peter, Diana, and Swamini.  (Despina’s first suggestion was that we create a “Trustee-for-Life” position so we could keep me on the Global Council.  I was very flattered.)  We came up with:
1) Investigate and understand local cultures of giving and fundraising (rather than just projecting outwards from the Bay Area) and so provide locally relevant and useful assistance to CCs around the world.  (This followed-up on conversations we had started at the previous face-2-face GC meeting we had in 2013.)
2) Create a global action in which each CC can participate with achievable and inspirational results (like the “72 Hours for Peace we did at the turn of the millennium) which we can promote to demonstrate our ability to create global change.
3) Develop a global marketing strategy that can be applied locally.
Other groups had very similar ideas, but many mentioned greater engagement with academia, including offering some sort of certification in interfaith work.

Bill gave us all an explanation of the President’s Council (http://www.uri.org/about_uri/presidents_council).  The President’s Council is mostly made up of “friends of Bill” and their fundraising efforts have been the source of 80-90% of the URI’s global funding.  (The CCs themselves are self-funding.  The global budget covers the Global Support Office in San Francisco, the Regional Support Offices and Regional Coordinators around the world, and Regional support for things like Regional Assemblies.)  At the age of 79, Bill said, he and the rest of the President’s Council are giving serious thought to th3e long-term funding of the URI.  It had long been Bill’s hope that the President’s Council could put together a $100 million endowment, the interest income on which could cover the global budget, so the Global Support staff could focus more on developing local sources of funding for CC efforts around the world.  This has proven to be harder than expected. 

However, as we have grown, “we have touched more and more hearts”.  Two years ago, one man promised Bill that he would donate $1 million a year to the URI for the next five years.  When Bill told the story to another man, that man also promised to donate $5 million to the URI, but figured “Why wait?” and just gave it to us all at once.  So… we are in a much more comfortable position for the next five years than we have been in the past, but “the cliff is out there”.  We have three more years.  Now, when we have successfully transitioned from our first Executive Director (Charles Gibbs) to a new one (Victor Kazanjian), when we are in the middle of the 4-year term of our fourth elected Global Council (I have served on all four.), when we have had two Global Assemblies (in 2002 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and in 2008 in Mayapur, India), we have a track record that suggests permanence.  When at a recent meeting, Bill talked to the rest of the Council about raising $60-80 million from within the SF Bay Area and no one flinched, he thought that the time had come to re-start the campaign for a $100 million endowment.

He said that we have a listed membership of over 600,000 people in our CCs.  If each person gave $1 a year to a dedicated fund, in two years we could afford to hold a Global Assembly somewhere in the world.  If we kept that up, we could hold Global Assemblies every two years.

Principle 17 states that: “We have the responsibility to develop financial and other resources to meet the needs of our part, and to share financial and other resources to help meet the needs of other parts.”  We’ve got the first part of that covered.  All of the 640+ CCs are self-funding.  But, as Bill put it, the money isn’t circulating.  It needs to be flowing throughout the system, from CC to CC, from Region to Region.  (During the next break, I told Bill that my CC – the Spirituality & the Earth CC – exists to create exactly the kind of “flow” he mentioned.  We have raised money for CCs in Latin America to provide English lessons, computers and internet connectivity, travel to the Parliaments to engage in international networking, and more, AND we’ve been doing it since being a founding CC back in 2000.  He was surprised and pleased.)

Bill pointed out that our 600,000-member+ organization has a paid staff of only 37 people!  That’s unheard of and shows that we are successful as a grass-roots organization.  Bill acknowledged that the greatest givers are those who give all of their time without any recompense.

Victor said that we would ritualize Genivalda’s idea of each contributing 1$, which would go towards holding a Global Assembly.  I said that if it was meaningful for donors to hear that all of our Board contributes, how much more so would it be to be able to say that every one pf our 600,000+ members contribute!

Victor said that the cost of doing business at the Global Support Office had reached a relatively stable state at a little over $3 million annually.  He would like to grow the core budget so we could provide more support to the Regions.  He would like to see us with a core budget of around $5 million in three years.  A $100 million endowment would almost guarantee that.

Victor started the ceremony that Genivalda had suggested days before.  She rearranged the altar table in the middle of the room so that the components more closely resembled the Quarters as she understood them in Brazil.  Going deosil: Tibetan singing bowl (East), candle, basket for $ (South), candle, flowers (West), small Peace Pole (North), candle.  A URI logo was in the center.  Victor rang the bowl and passed the basket around clockwise, starting in the East.  We each put $1 into the basket while Genivalda prayed over the logo in the center.

Time for lunch.  I sat first with Biff and Peter and talked finance, especially the need to understand local cultures on money.  I then sat with Rachael, Patrick, Karen Barensche, and Monica.  Someone brought up the “Royals CC” idea and I gave them a long story about Prince Charles’s support for interfaith work, including Paganism.  This was news to them and we discussed following-up with the Prince’s Trust.  I went off to explore the campus bookstore and found a book on world religions with a surprisingly decent section on Wicca - Religion 101 by Peter Archer - and a book on haunted college campuses (Santa Clara isn’t). 

We met again briefly for Liam to pass around evaluation forms for us to fill out.  Everyone felt that this had been one of the best Global Council meetings ever!

Announcements:
* Victor explained about that night’s special dinner followed by a talent show.
* Maria announced that we now had 649 Cooperation Circles, with the approval on-site of Kiran’s Compassion for Animals CC in the Multiregion.

We had some free time to get ready for dinner – a chance for a shower and to get into some nicer clothes.  Dinner was downstairs in the student union building, in a fancier room with a stage.  Dinner was fancier, too.

 (L to R: Victor, Elisha, Alejandrino, me - Picture credit for this and all following: Barbara Hartford)

The talent show started with our chorus.  We rose out of seats all around the room and made our way to the stage singing “URI.  We are one.  Re-u-nit-ed, We be-come.”  This continued as a background between several folks offering blessings from their traditions. 

 (L to R: Sande (USA), Patrick (Geermany), Emmanuel (Nigeria), me (USA), Brian (USA), Marianne (Germany), Karimah (Germany), Maria (Argentina), Dianna (USA), Enoe (Venezuela), Karen (South Africa), Genivalda (Brazil), Despina (Uganda), Becky (USA), Luz (Mexico), conductor Peter (Australia) with back to camera)

I had originally prepared a blessing for the meal, but at the last minute was told that the blessings would be after the meal.  Instead, I invoked the memory of my blessing at the founding of the URI, explaining that the God and Goddess of the Wicca are present for my coven as Hermes, God of Travelers, and Hekate, Goddess of the Crossroads.  And so, I invoked their blessing over the URI as we passed through this time of transition and found our way into the future. … Or some improvised words to that effect that I can’t quite remember.

The evening included:
 
* Karen doing modern dance to Beat poetry read by Sally.

* Enoe and Diana singing a Spanish love song.

* Ros Sam An doing a traditional dance from Cambodia.

* Krithika singing a Tamil love song, accompanied by Biswadeb.

* Despina and Elisha doing a skit about strange interfaith visitors at the court of an African king.

* Luz doing a Spanish dance.

* Alejandrino telling jokes, translated into English by Maria.

* Musa (the Philippines) singing Bob Dylan songs, with back-up vocals by Karen (South Africa, Vrajapati (India), Hawa (Kenya), and Karimah (Germany)

* Bart teaching us all to sing “Hup, Holland, Hup!” whenever the Netherlands was playing in the World Cup.
 
 * Fr. James Channon doing stand-up comedy about life in Pakistan.

* Victor playing guitar and leading us all in Beatles and Carole King songs (with lyrics held by Sally).

This is really what it’s all about… the reason we are here: Interfaith relationships becoming lasting friendships becoming an ever-growing global family.
 
After this part of the evening wound down, Alejandrino and I made our goodbyes, packed our bags, and headed out.  I got him to the Mercy Center in San Mateo – midway point in his journey to the Global Indigenous Initiative meeting – around midnight.  After sorting out his room, I made back to my home in Berkeley around 2am.

Next up, the Global Indigenous Initiative.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew

Saturday, July 12, 2014

URI Global Council 2014 - Day 6

(The meetings have been continuing relentlessly, resulting in a backup of reports.  Even after the GII meeting ended, folks stayed in town, with follow-up meetings and hospitality commitments for Rachael and me.  And other groups' meeting started up again.  Last Sunday I was guest speaker at San Francisco's First United Lutheran Church.  They are doing a summer series asking representatives from various faith traditions: "How does you faith tradeition call you to care for the Earth?"  This was an easy one for a Witch.  My talk and guided meditation were well-recieved.  Yesterday was a board meeting for the Interfaith Observer - www.theinterfaithobserver.org.  Anyway, reporting on the URI Global Council and Global Indigenous Initiative continues...)


Friday, June 27

I had breakfast with Sherif and Peter and heard stories about last night.  Peter said that one of the tires on his bus had blown out and the bus had jerked up and down and swayed to one side horribly before stopping.  Images had flashed through his mind, including our conversation about earthquakes that day during which I had been gesturing mystically with my left hand.  “That Witch was casting an earthquake spell!”, he had thought before the bus stabilized.  I explained about the surgical accident leaving me with nerve damage and he seemed relieved, partly humorously, but partly seriously.  ;-)

After breakfast, Peter roped me into joining chorus practice for the talent show on Saturday night.  If you walked past too slowly you became part of the chorus.  He is very good at getting amateur singers to produce beautiful harmonies.  We’ll see how the performance goes.

Today’s opening blessing was by the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA), but there was only one MENA person present:
* Sherif Awad Rizk (Christian / Egypt) – Trustee
MENA has 67 Cooperation Circles.  There are an additional two Trustees and four Staff who could not be at this meeting.

Sherif played a beautiful recorded sung prayer and followed it with three readings from the New Testament, including Sherif;s comments on how they applied to our work in the URI:
* John 8:3-11 – about the woman accused of adultery, about whom Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
* Matthew 19:13-15 – about Jesus saying “Let the little children come unto me.”
* Luke 19:1-10 – about Jesus staying at the house of Zaccheus the publican.

Victor told us that today was the last Friday before the beginning of Ramadan this weekend, so our Muslim participants would be taking a bus to a local mosque for special prayers.

Today’s morning was focused on the Youth and two of our Youth Leaders – Matthew and Krithika – led the program.  They showed us videos of the work of several members of the URI Youth Ambassadors CC (a Multiregion CC, BTW).  Check out the URI’s amazing work led by Youth at: http://www.uri.org/action_areas/youth  We heard about work led by Youth helping young people in the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Herzigovina, and Kenya.  Matthew pointed out how critical it is that all of the programs are not Elders helping Youth, but Youth helping Youth in a much more empowering way.

Krithika led an exercise using a “Body Map”.  Sande, Regional Coordinator (RC) for North America) laid down on a big piece of paper and Krithika drew her outline on the paper.  the paper was then taped up in a big easel and several areas were identified and connected with comments called out by the group about what we think about young people, which were then written down on the paper.

* Head / What do young people think?
            Adults have it all wrong.  Why can’t I get a job?  We can change the world.  We don’t care about artificial distinctions between people.  The world is in chaos.  Everything is possible.  The world is a social network.  The world is full of opportunities.

* Ears / How do young people listen?
            They listen critically.  (Several parents shook their heads.)  They listen through the heart.  They pay attention only to people they trust.

* Heart / How do young people feel?
            Passionate.  Excluded.  Hopeful.  They want a more joyful structure to work in.  They are very angry and aggressive when they don’t get what they want.  (Several parents nodded their heads.)  They seek to transcend norms.

* Mouth / How do young people speak?
            Through music with a beat.  On the internet.  Focused.  They speak their minds.  Unaware of limitations.  They speak innocently, with strength, full of potential.

* Eyes / What do young people see?
            They don’t distinguish formal and informal.  They are casual.

* Hands / What do young people do?
            They are quick planners.  They want to get right to a task.  Commit quickly.  Sex, drugs, and violence.  ( !? )  Act before thinking.  Inspire others.

I’m not sure why we had to draw a big outline of a body to do this, but there you go.  At this point I noticed that my notes were getting blurry as my pen slipped when I cam close to dozing off.  The schedule here really doesn’t match mine and I’m not getting enough sleep.  I though of slipping off to get a nap, but didn’t.  I am SO glad I stayed, since what happened next was very significant for the Multiregion.

Matthew asked us to break into small groups to discuss and answer three questions:
            1) What does Youth leadership look like in your Region?
            2) What more could the Global Council (GC) do to support Youth in your Region?
            3) What could the Youth Leadership Team (YLT) be doing to support the URI?

They were about to break us up into random groups of five.  I asked that the Multiregion be permitted to stay together as a Region since our situation is unique:
            1) Unlike the other Regions, we rarely are able to speak face-to-face.
            2) The URI Global Youth CC (http://www.urimulti.org/cooperation-circles/youth/multi-global-youth.html) and the Youth Ambassadors CC are both in our Region, so our responses would be very different and probably useless for any other Region.

There was resistance to altering the plan, but with the support of Victor, we got our way.  This was a good thing as the resulting meeting was critical for the Multiregion’s relationship with Youth moving forward.

Vrajapati, Audri, Patrick, Matthew, and me (and sometimes Krithika as she floated from group to group) first looked at the current situation.  The Youth CC (including the Young Leaders Program) overlaps with the Youth Ambassadors CC.  Both are CCs in the Multiregion.  However, the URI’s work with Youth has been so important to the organization that it has for a long time had Staff – currently Matthew and Krithika – being paid by and working closely with the Global Support Office in San Francisco (the GSO, or what used to be called “the Hub”).  This relationship has been closer than with the Multiregion.

However, Matthew shared that there is work he does as a Staff person and work he does on his own time, unpaid, as a member of the CCs.  We all asked how the Multiregion could support THAT work and so build a closer relationship.  Matthew shared that many of the Youth already have a global perspective that is trans-Regional and would be excited about having a closer relationship with the Multiregion.

Audri suggested that we start out with getting more of the stories of the Youth accomplishments on the Multiregion website.  I said that we need to educate the Youth in the CCs about their connection with the Multiregion and the possibilities there.  Matthew said that the URI Global Youth CC may be becoming a Youth MCC (i.e. a “Multiple Cooperation Circle”, with at least three CCs as members) in the Multiregion.  Patrick said that if that happened, his Europe Youth Leadership CC would be interested in being part of it (http://www.uri.org/cooperation_circles/detail/europeyouth).  Audri said that her Trail of Dreams CC has a Youth program called Beyond the Global Divide.  Individuals from that group would probably be interested in joining the Global Youth CC or, if the Global Youth CC became an MCC, the Beyond the Global Divide group might just spin off and become a CC member of the Youth MCC.

At this point, Vrajapati said that we needed Youth on the Multiregion’s Regional Leadership Team (RLT).  I said that it seemed that Patrick had already stepped up and asked if Matthew would be interested.  He was interested and would consider it.  He also aid that Rachael was already in communication with someone from the Youth Ambassadors CC and that we should talk to her about someone from that group joining the RLT.

Patrick pointed out that there was no reason that Elders couldn’t join the Youth CC if they supported their work.  This got us into a discussion of how, 14 years after the signing of the URI Charter, some of our “Youth” now had kids of their own.  We thought we should break down this sharp distinction between “Youth” and “non-Youth”, since we already have more of a continuum from “Young People” (like High Schoolers), “Youth” (like college age into 30s), “Elders-in-Training” (late 30s into 40s), and Elders (old farts… my words, not theirs).

I said that the Multiregion has always led the way… The first CC to make a cash contribution to the URI was a Multiregion CC.  We were the first Region to do Seed Grants.  All of the URI’s early “Initiatives” started as Multiregion CC projects.  The new “Resources CCs” are all in the Mutiregion. … Why shouldn’t we lead the way into the transition to Youth leadership in a Region?  We already, more than any other Region, rely on electronic communication to keep our Region connected.  We should be preparing to pass it on to upcoming leaders who grew up with the technology.

We wrote everything up on a sheet for the wall so others could read it and as notes for Matthew and Krithika.

When we re-gathered, we all heard about the new Resource CCs.  These are CCs that focus on providing resources and assistance to the rest of the CCs.  They have a somewhat closer relationship with the GSO, which helps them find financial support.  The now-forming Resource CCs are:

* Women – Despina and Kutub
            They said that we should always think of women in “gender planning”.  How will women be included / accommodated in programs, budgets, child care at events and meetings, other familial obligations.

* Talking Back to Hate – Sarah Talcott-Blair (not here)
            This is a campaign to reduce hate-speech.  More info at: http://www.uri.org/talking_back_to_hate

* Global Indigenous Initiative (GII) – Audri and Alejandrino
            See the Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/globalindigenousinitiative  Alejandrino said that at the Latin America Regional Assembly in Ayacucho, Peru, in 2004 I had said to him (in a conversation about the Lost and Endangered Religions Project) that “No religion has to disappear.”  This is the risk faced by indigenous traditions all over the world.  Through the GII, the URI can help make sure this doesn’t happen.  He asked all of us to make connections with the indigenous people in our areas at home and pass those connections along to the GII.
            Audri asked us all to support the work of the GII and to sign a banner that would go from this meeting to the GII meeting, and to please include our well-wishes.

* Environment – Bill
            Bill explained the history of the Environment CC and how it became a Resources CC.  He said that they are in the process of producing an assessment of the resources available in the URI and of those CCs with an interest in environmental issues.  Bill also told us that the 2015 Circles of Light annual fundraising dinner would have the Environment as its theme.
            During a break, I spoke with Bill’s Assistant, Debbie Jasso, and asked if they were including spirituality in their assessment of resources, since almost all folks practicing or supporting Earth spirituality are also concerned with the environment.  She seemed as little surprised at the idea.  I pointed out that when we were creating the Earth Wisdom MCC a few years ago I had gone over a database of all of the URI CCs looking for those who might be interested, indicated by who they included in their minimum of three “religions, spiritual expressions, or indigenous traditions” or what they mentioned as areas of interest.  The membership question was not straightforward since, unlike something simple like “Christianity”, Earth spirituality might be listed on a membership for as “Nature religion” or Earth-centered spirituality” or Eco-spirituality” or the name of a specific indigenous tradition or Shinto or Wicca or any combination of the above and many more.  It took a practitioner to recognize the many possible permutations.  I found that over a third of the URI CCs included some form of Earth spirituality in their membership.  She was surprised and we promised to follow-up on this after the meeting.

* United Nations – Monica, Patrick, Mussie
            The URI has been a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) at the UN for many years.  Monica is one of our representatives at the UN in New York, while Patrick Nickisch is our rep at the UN in Geneva.  Almost everyone present felt some connection with the UN through the URI and had done some sort of program connected with the UN through their own CC.  Monica said that the two legs supporting URI actions at the UN are the International Day of Peace (IDP) and Interfaith World Harmony Week.  The IDP is September 21st each year and IWHW is the first week of February – both coinciding with Wiccan Sabbats.  Monica showed a video of URI IDP and IWHW events at the UN, with Mr. and Mrs. Ban Ki-Moon in attendance.
            Patrick told us about URI work at the UN in Geneva, mostly around global access to clean water.
            Mussie told us about work with the African Union in meetings at the UN.  He is know for his work with the Golden Rule CC, but is also involved with the Green Rule Initiative, collecting environmental statements from the world’s religions.
            Monica asked us each to make commitments to do something in support of the IDP this year.  I said that I would approach my fellow organizers of the annual People of the Earth conference about making the event an IDP event this year.

Over lunch, I spoke with Victor about the need to provide some sort of basic briefing of new Trustees to the effect that they should be prepared to encounter and work with people with different assumptions not only about administrative structures and decision-making processes, but also of personal space and appropriate physical contact.  We all come from very different cultures and should be prepared to address these differences before they become problems.

After lunch, Kiran said that the contingent from Southeast Asia and the Pacific (SEAPac) was still at the mosque and so she and Victor would be doing the opening blessing in their place.  As part of it, they distributed gifts of lavender and cedar.  After this, the Global Council and Global Support Staff once again divided for separate meetings.

In the Global Council Meeting, Kiran led us through reflections on what we’d experienced in the meetings so far.  These included:
* Many Trustees said that the sessions hade been very productive for understanding where the URI is now and charting a course for what is being called “URI 2.0”.
* Several of the new Trustees appreciated how the staggered elections allowed them to meet with more experienced Trustees.
* Several people appreciated arriving in the Bay Area a couple of days early, to get over jet lag and adjust to the local time.
* Trustees expressed their clear sense of responsibility to the Regions that had elected them and their commitment to honor that responsibility.
* One Trustee said that although this is his first GC meeting, after the last few days it doesn’t feel like the first.  He feels that he knows us all.
* Many Trustees shared personal stories of inter-religious violence and how building interfaith bridges had given them hope for a better future.

We heard reports from the various Global Council Committees, including the new Trustee appointments: Finance and Operations, Audit, CC Approval, Standing Committee (our Executive Committee, including the Officers and the Chairs of the others Committees.

We broke into small groups of 2 or 3 to discuss what it would take for the Global Council to more effectively perform its role in the URI.  When we shared the fruits of these discussions, several trends emerged:
* We need to strengthen the connections between Trustees and the CCs in the Region that elected them.
* We have “Energizing the Network” materials for Regional Coordinators and CCs, but not for Trustees.  We need this.
* Trustees are overloaded with email.  We need to ensure that Trustees are actually receiving the crucial messages sent to them.  (I have brought up CoG’s AIR vs. DD list system several times, to no avail.  I’ll try again with URI 2.0)

After dinner, I crashed early.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Quick note from Amazing Global Indigenous meeting!



Wednesday, July 2

There is a temporary delay in our regularly scheduled programming...   Rachael and I went straight from the Global Council meeting in Santa Clara, where it was a balmy 80*, to the first truly global meeting of the URI’s Global Indigenous Initiative outside Middletown, where it has been a lovely 102* in the shade.

We are at Four Springs retreat center which, although rustic, has been fine for our needs… except for the weather and the huge fires the next mountain range over which we all have been tracking.  (http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Pope-Valley-Fire-in-Napa-County-at-3200-Acres-30-Contained-265532711.html)  Internet connections are spotty, so I haven’t been able to keep up with the reports.  This is just a quick note to say that the meetings have been fantastic!  Rachael and I will post more when we are able, but you can see what we have been doing by checking out Mikuak’s great pics and videos at the GII Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/globalindigenousinitiative

Rachael and GII coordinators and URI Trustees Audri Scott Williams and Alejandrino Quispe have assembled a truly amazing group of people practicing living indigenous traditions:

AFRICA
* Dr. Erick Gbodossou – Senegal
* Nana Akomfohene Korantemaa Ayeboafo – Ghana
* Nana Ohemaa Agyiriwa II – Ghana
* Yacine Badian Kouyate – Mali
* Dr. Sekagya Yahaya – Uganda

ASIA
* Rev. Kalyan Kumar Kisku – East India
* Dr. Samuel Nellikkadu  -- South India

EUROPE
* Alessandra Belloni – South Italy
* Zoya Slavina – Altai, Siberia, Russia
* Galina Ermolina – Russia

LATIN AMRICA
* Alejandrino Quispe Mejia – Quechua / Peru
* Raul Mamani – Kolla / Argentina
* Sofia Painiqueo – Mapuche / Chile
* Fany Avila – Kuna / Panama

“MULTIREGION”
* Audri Scott Williams – West African, Cherokee, and Seminole / USA
* Elder Don Frew – Wiccan / USA
* Elder Rachael Watcher – Wiccan / USA
* Grandfather Tom Blue Wolf – Creek / USA

NORTH AMERICA
* Angaangaq Angakkorsuag – Eskimo-Kalaallit / Greenland
* Grandmother Mona Polacca – Hopi, Havasupai, Tewa / USA
* Ta’Kaiya Blaney (and her parents, since she is 13 years old!) – Sliammon / Canada
* Diane Longboat, Kahontakwas – Mohawk / Canada
* Cindy White, Kawennanoron – Mohawk / Canada
* Chief Phil Lane, Jr. – Yankton Dakota and Chicasaw / USA
* Philip “Tiger” Lane (Brown Bear) – Yankton Dakota and Chicasaw / USA

SOUTHEAST ASIA and the PACIFIC
* Ms. Salam Tangol – Maranao / the Philippines
* Genevieve Kupang – Kankana-ye / the Philippines
* Wanegan, Glenis Grogan – North Australia
* Bununda, Coralie Wason – North Australia

Plus a bunch of translators and a superb kitchen and support staff consisting of a friend of mine and most of Rachael’s coven.

I’ll write up more after I can get home and get a shower.  Seriously, check out the Facebook page.  This has been an amazing and historic meeting.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew

Friday, June 27, 2014

URI Global Council 2014 - Day 5 (The best of interfaith - for me.)

Thursday, June 26

Again, I am left behind while the buses drive off…

The day started early with breakfast with Elisha Buba Yero, Alejandrino, and Rachael.  Before being a URI Trustee, Elisha was the Special Advisor on Religious Affairs to the Executive Governor of Kaduna State and Permanent Secretary in the Kaduna State Ministry of Religious Affairs in Nigeria.  He is also Wakilin Kpope (The Ambassador to the Chief and Traditional Ruler of his Community) in Kaduna State of Nigeria.  Nominally a Christian, he is good example of the way Christianity and traditional practices can exist side-by-side in a single person.

Elisha told me about a spring in his village.  It was down in a hole with steps leading down to it.  Only women could collect the water, and then only if they asked permission and had a good heart.  If so, the water would be pure and good.  A barren woman could be made fertile by drinking such water.  There were snakes and such down in the hole, but they would not bother such a woman.  If a woman came with a bad heart, the water would not flow.

There were trees around the spring, making it a cool, shady, beautiful place.  If a man came and asked permission of the trees, he could cut one down and the next day it would be back again whole and sound.  Elisha said that he had seen this with his own eyes. 

But now people are cutting down the trees for lumber and disrespecting the spring.  He asked if I had any advice.  I suggested three things: 1) Talk to people who remember the spring when it was still being properly taken care of.  Collect their stories.  See if there are old photographs of the place.  Make it possible to tell other people the story of the spring and how special it was and could be.  2) With this information, talk to the government, business, and interfaith leaders, comparing the spring to their holy places – churches, mosques, and such – that they would not think of abusing in this way.  3) Work with the people of the village to restore the spring and its sacred qualities, and then make it available to others.  Turn the people who live around the spring into its guardians and stewards in such a way as to help the economy of the village.  All this has been successful in other places.

We talked about how sacred items are treated as “art”.  His people were part of the Nok civilization, which produced amazing terra cotta figures (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nok_culture).  Elisha said that when sacred images are recovered by the Nigerian government from foreign museums, they go into museums in Nigeria when they should go back to the people they came from, to take their proper, traditional place in religious ceremonies and sacred sites.  Why does plundering a sacred site suddenly turn sacred images into “art”?  We talked about how the same ideas I mentioned above could be applied to create collaboration between national museums and local stewards of sacred artifacts.

Rachael and Alejandrino joined us and Rachael filled Alejandrino in about all of this.  Alejandrino shared a story about a man Rachael and I know from Peru – Alejandro – who, while working his fields, cut down a tree that was in the way even though he knew it was a sacred tree associated with a particular spirit.  Immediately he was seized with back pain and bent over like the cut tree.  He was not healed until he made proper offerings and apology to the site and left it alone.

Our morning session opened with a blessing from the North American contingent.  The whole crew is too large to name, since it includes most of the Staff, but you can find out about them and see their faces at http://www.uri.org/about_uri/staff  For the first time I can remember in URI history, none of the North American Trustees were here.  Health issues and other pressing business concerns kept them away.  And so the blessing was done by two people:
* Ms. Sande Hart (? / USA) – Regional Coordinator
* Mrs. Monica Willard (? / USA) – URI United Nations Representative NY

They had draped all of the chairs in flags of the Banner of Peace, emblematic of the Roerich Pact.  Sande explained the story of the Banner and the Roerich Pact (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banner_of_Peace).  These flags were gifts from one of the missing North American Trustees, Rebecca Tobias (Jewish / USA).  Monica then set up a small Peace Pole in the center of the room (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_Pole) and led us all in the Peace Prayer.

Rattan Channa and John Baptist Odama had to leave.  Rattan was going to her daughter’s wedding in Ireland.  Bishop Odama has mediated talks between the Ugandan government and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.  He was needed back in Uganda, but he told us “I’m not leaving.  I’m just taking a long stroll outside the campus.”

Liam Chinn, our Co-Director of Global Programs for Evaluation and Learning, led the first of several sessions on “Energizing the Network”, a handbook on helping Regional Coordinators and Regional Leadership Teams work with Cooperation Circles on participating in the URI.  Liam’s parents are Irish Catholic and Confucian, and he grew up in an Inuit village in outermost western Alaska, so he truly has an interfaith personality and is very supportive of indigenous spirituality in URI.  We started with small group and then general discussions of what a group gets out of being a Cooperation Circle.  All the usual answers came up:  NGO status at the UN.  Connection to resources.  Speaking with a global voice.  Global validation of local actions.  Partnerships.  Knowing that you are not alone in your struggle.  Building personal relationships that lead to a global sense of family.  Strengthening the indigenous presence and voice.  Etc.
 
(Standing Left to Right: Victor Kazanjian, Liam Chinn, Mussie Hailu)
 
I shared my Rio story:  At one point during the 2002 Global Assembly, Rowan Fairgrove and I found ourselves on camera for CNN South America.  The reported asked me why someone would want to do interfaith work?  I answered that “We all want to see change in the world: an end to violence, empowerment of women, a healthy environment… Well, the only true change comes about through changing peoples’ minds, and nothing has the power over peoples’ minds that religion has.  So, religions coming together to collaborate for the common good has the potential to be the most powerful force for positive change on the planet.  As a person of faith, concerned for the welfare of others and for the Earth, how can I NOT be involved?”

Liam asked how our CCs had provided a tangible benefit.  I mentioned the stories from last night about how Multiregion CCs had helped others.  Rachael mentioned the 1000 Kalema project, in which she had been instrumental, and how it had helped young people express themselves (http://1000kalema.org/).  Lots of other projects, many involving reconciling once-warring peoples, were mentioned.  Many involved youth.  Audri talked about how her Trail of Dreams CC held a retreat for LGBT youth of different faiths and how empowering it was (http://trailofdreams.weebly.com/).

Liam said that no other organization on Earth provides the benefits we do, even if we don’t directly provide funding.  We provide access to funding and to policy makers.  Mussie talked about his work with the African Union and the UN and how the URI, as an included NGO, can speak directly for the people when they meet.

Liam then led us into a complex exercise about sharing stories – how important it is and how hard it can be.  We broke into groups of three.  Each group decided that one person would be the story-teller and the two others the story-recorders.  After this, we would meet in groups of 18, where each story would be shared with that group by one of the recorders (not the original story-teller).  The group would then vote on which story to share with the whole group when we re-convened, and someone else would then tell the story again to that group.  (Sort of an exercise in “Telephone”.)

My group was me, Elisabeth Lheure (Baha’i / Spain), and Patrick Nickisch (Hindu / Germany).  They decided I would be the Story-teller and I told the Tabebe story, again, since it’s my most powerful experience of interfaith work...
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“At the Parliament Assembly that took place at the monastery of Monserrat in advance of the 2004 Parliament of the World's Religions, Mussie Hailu told me that in Ethiopia there is an indigenous, ethnic group called the Tabebe.  The Tabebe possess the power of “tenkwe” – literally “far seeing”.  The Tabebe speak with nature spirits.  People go to the Tabebe to have their fortunes told, for charms, for healing, etc.  So far so good.  They sound a lot like Gypsies, or Witches.

However, if a member of your family falls mysteriously ill, you figure out which of the Tabebe must have cursed the family-member… and kill them to break the curse.  The government turns a blind eye to this.  In fact, the Tabebe are considered so disreputable that they are not allowed to settle in cities, their children are not allowed to attend public school, and they are not allowed in the hospitals.

When Mussie and his interfaith partner Sr. Laetitia Borg set out to create the first interfaith organization in Addis Ababa – a cooperation circle of the URI – he said that they should reach out to the Tabebe.  Sr. Laetitia, like most people, didn’t see the Tabebe as a religious group and didn’t see a need to include them.  At the next Global Summit of the URI, in Stanford CA in 1999, Mussie came up to me and (without any of this back story) told me that I needed to tell Sr. Laetitia all about Wicca.  We had a long conversation over lunch, ended up friends, and did a blessing ceremony together with Charles Gibbs at the end of the conference.

Mussie and Sr. Latitia went back to Addis Ababa and founded a URI Cooperation Circle in Ethiopia.  They included the Tabebe in their CC and for their CC logo they used a variation on an early URI logo that included a pentacle among its religious symbols:
As they expected, religious representatives in Ethiopia asked why they were including the Tabebe, and they asked why they were using this symbol (the pentacle, associated with magic).  Mussie and Sr. Laetitia explained that the pentacle is the symbol of Wicca and that Wicca is an internationally recognized religion that speaks with nature spirits, looks into the future, does magic and healing… just like the Tabebe.

As lightbulbs lit over the heads of one religious representative after another, the Tabebe were accepted in the interfaith community, and this acceptance led to changes in government attitudes.  It is now against the law to kill a Tabebe and such crimes are prosecuted.  They can live in cities.  Their children can go to school.  They have access to health care.

All of this directly followed from one group learning about another, and sharing that knowledge with people courageous enough to stand up for the truth, to the benefit of indigenous people half a world away.  THIS is why I believe in the URI and why I think that a truly Global Indigenous Initiative is vital to fulfilling the mission of the URI."
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We analyzed how this story applied to other parts of the URI.  We talked about empowerment of minority religion.  We especially discussed how “invisible” indigenous / Pagan religions are.  Anthropologists joke that “Haiti is 90% Catholic and 100% Voodoo.”  But collectors of religious data are more likely to report that as Haiti being 90% Catholic and 10% Voodoo.  I told them about the time I had lunch at a meeting of the world’s Interfaith Councils in Taipei with a Catholic Archbishop, a Protestant leader, and a Chief Imam from Uganda.  I asked if their were any Pagans or Animists in their Interfaith Council.  They looked at me quizzically.  I tried again, asking about people who practiced the older, tribal spiritual practices that existed before the coming of Europeans.  The minister, sitting in the center, gestured to all three of them and said “Of course.  Us.”  All of them continued to perform their traditional spiritual practices in addition to being Christians and Muslim.

Dual-affiliation is almost never taken into consideration.  If it was, Pew’s current numbering of the world’s Pagans (in the broad sense) at 29.25% of the population would skyrocket.

When we sat out under a tree and shared our stories in the next phase of the exercise, we voted for which one we wanted to share with the whole group and it was my job to tally the votes.  We agreed that people shouldn’t vote for their own story.  My name was first on the list, but no hands were raised for my story.  Bart ten Broek’s story of overcoming intolerance in a Christian school won.  (It turned out later that several people didn’t realize we had started voting when I called out my name, but I don’t think it would have made a difference in the outcome.  “Herding cats” applies as much to interfaith meetings as it does to Pagan events.)

As we waited to reconvene, I chatted with Biswadeb Chakraborty about the upcoming Global Indigenous Initiative gathering.  We agreed that there is a tendency to equate “indigenous” with the pejorative “primitive”, with “marginalized”, and with “poor”, and so end up excluding a lot of traditions who should be included: many kinds of Hindu, Shinto, Taoists, and others.  We need to embrace a larger understanding of indigenous, both because it’s the right thing to do and because it expands our economic base.   Someone asked me what “indigenous” means and I replied that it refers to “spiritual traditions that have evolved as manifestations of a people’s relationship with the environment in which they live.”  Biswadeb agreed.  Biswadeb will be at the opening of the GII meeting and we will bring this up. 

I have always said that we need to develop a global indigenous economy in which practitioners of indigenous spiritualities in wealthier countries can help their bothers and sisters in less wealthy countries through assisting in building economic infrastructure.  There is a BIG difference between sharing resources, knowledge, and skills between with brothers and sisters in a two-way exchange vs. going to the Church for a handout.  One is empowering and the other re-enforces a powerless, subordinate status that started with colonization and continues today.

Before we went back inside, Global Council Chair Kiran Bali (Hindu / UK) asked us to gather of a moment of silence in solidarity with then girls taken by the Boko Haram.  This was all the more poignant in light of the information that CoG’s Greg Harder had sent to Rachael that 60 more girls had been taken yesterday.

While we were still standing in a circle, someone pointed out that today – June 26, 2014 – was the 14th anniversary of the signing of the URI Charter in Pittsburgh PA.  Everyone asked Bill to say a few words.  Among other things, he said that his intention had been to create a “United Religions”, based on the model of the UN, but instead we had a “United Religions Initiative”.  His intention had been to get the world’s religious leaders around a big table, but instead we had over 600 Cooperation Circles.  So he was a big failure, but out of that failure came a shining star!
 
  (Bishop Bill Swing explaining his "failure".)

I ate lunch with Peter Mousaferiadis (Orth. Christian / Australia).  He is a new Trustee for the South East Asia and the Pacific Region.  We just wanted to find out more about each other.  He laughingly said that someone had told him that I was a Wiccan and was surprised when I confirmed that I was.  I explained about Pagan / Witch / Wiccan etc.  Somehow the conversation drifted into comparing natural disasters between where he lives in Australia (fires and floods) to where we were sitting in Santa Clara (earthquakes).  He was surprised to learn that we have earthquakes strong enough to feel about once a month.  He said that he appreciated what I had been saying about Bylaws and URI structure and asked to be on the Bylaws Committee.  Since we had mostly talked about me and where I live I walked with him back to the dorm to learn more about him.  It turned out that we have a shared interest in trying to create a game that replicates the interfaith experience.  Check out his work at: http://culturalinfusion.org.au/

I remembered that the Multiregion was supposed to do the opening blessing after lunch and dashed back to confer with my fellow Multiregioneers before we started.  When I walked in, Karen Barensche, the new Regional Coordinator for the Southern Africa Region, with whom I had barely spoken, stopped me and said that when she first saw me at the ceremony at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, she had assumed I was the presiding minister for the place, but then she got a psychic flash that I was Wiccan.  She was the person who had spoken to Peter!

(Meanwhile, Rachael had taken Vrajapati out to find an Indian restaurant.  He had been looking a bit peaked and it turned out that there wasn’t any food that fit his dietary restrictions other than the green salad and it just wasn’t enough.  He was too polite to ask for something else since in his culture it is offensive to ask for food or take it; rather you wait for someone to give it to you.  Rachael understood this and helped him out.  He looked much better when he got back and was much happier.)

We asked everyone in the room who was in a Multiregion CC to stand with us, so we ended up with about half the room standing in a circle facing out at the other half, but only a few of us spoke:
* me (Wiccan / USA) – Continuing Trustee, led everyone in singing “Air I am…”
* Rachael Watcher (Wiccan / USA) – Regional Coordinator, performed the Dryghtyn Blessing.
* Patrick Nickisch (Hindu / Germany) – URI Representative at UN Geneva, read a Vedic hymn to the Divine Feminine.
* Swamini Adityananda Saraswati (Hindu / India) – At-Large Trustee, did a Sanskrit chant.
* Audri Scott Williams (Christian and Indigenous Cherokee / USA) – Trustee, recited a prayer asking for the blessings of the Ancestors from the four directions.
* Vrajapati Das (Hindu / India) – Trustee, read an excerpt from a book by a teacher I didn’t catch.
* Ed Bastian (Buddhist / USA) – Trustee, recited part of the Heart Sutra in Tibetan.

After this, Liam led us into the final phase of this morning’s exercise: hearing the final stories from this morning’s groups.  We heard Bart’s story and one from Karen B. and Peter M. about the age of the universe that I confess I didn’t quite understand.  It had something to do with astrophysicists figuring out what the Big Bang sounded like and that it wasn’t a “Bang!”, but more of an “Ommmmm…”

Isabelle Ortega, our Director of Global Communications and Strategic Planning, led us through another process of identifying which communication stream was the best for finding information and for sharing information with the Global Council, the Global Support Staff, or the rest of the URI.  We have: Social Media, Websites, Publications, Email Listserves, etc.  I was fading by this time as, like many of the folks coming from other countries, I am used to a nap in the afternoon and that, combined with the heat and medications, was making me drowsy.  Several other folks were drooping over, too.  There were a LOT of good suggestions about improving and expanding our information flow – internally and to the rest of the world.  Someone suggested a URI TV or radio show (or podcast, or whatever is the current version of the same idea).  Marianne suggested collecting our best stories for a Jubilee book about the URI.  Genivalda reminded us not to forget the blind or deaf.  Monica suggested a URI story-a-day calendar. 

For our next exercise, Liam split us into groups of five, each of which was given an actual CC activity report from a real CC somewhere in the URI.  We were supposed to evaluate the information for what it told us about how the CC was achieving (or not) its goals, how the URI might help it more, what it had to offer to other CCs, etc.  Not just how many people met on what day to do what event.  In other words, not Who? What? When?, rather How? and Why?

My group was me, Patrick, Musa Sanguila (? / Philippines) – Trustee, Ros Sam An (Hindu / Philippines) – Trustee, and Potre Diampuan (Muslim / Philippines) – Regional Coordinator.  Our CC to study was one in India.  As a real, functioning group I don’t want to identify them.  We noticed that the CC seemed to be stretching its information to fit the evaluation questions, which suggested that the questions weren’t quite right.  We noticed that the CC had several faith traditions, but that seemed to be incidental to its work.  This raised the question of whether any service group that just happened to have several faith traditions could qualify for URI membership, or does our Principle #1 “URI is a bridge-building organization, not a religion.” mean that bridging differences between faith traditions needs to be part of its raison d’etre?  We noticed that whoever filled out the form did not have English as their first language and that might be part of the problem.  We concluded that the form should be the basis for a more direct communication, like a phone call.  We also noticed that the form asked the group what it was doing and how it could help other parts of the URI, but nowhere did it ask “How is the URI currently helping you in your work and how could it do more?”

When we all got back together, we brought all of these points up.  Monica asked if we have an assessment of what the URI can offer CCs, in the form of resources, connections, etc.?  Before we ended the session, Liam gave me a draft of the Energizing the Network manual for CCs.  We all know in CoG that in grass-roots organization you can’t wait for everything to flow from the top.  You have to be proactive and ask for things.  This manual is a guide for CCs to get the most out of their participation in the URI.  I am looking forward to going through it, since Liam and his team do great work and appreciate input and feedback.

Victor explained about tonight’s home visits.  We were all to take buses to designated homes of local URI supporters for dinners and schmoozing.  These would all be folks who support the URI financially and are enthused by meeting and talking with the people whose work they support.  I didn’t want to get in a situation where my hand and arm got worse and I was stuck with no way back, so I opted to stay at the dorm and find my own dinner.  (Turned out it was at a Starbucks.  There is surprisingly little around here.)  It gave me a chance to work on reports.

When folks got back, Patrick checked in and we had a long chat about the history of the URI and the role it plays in the spiritual transformation of the world.  When I’m writing about it, it sounds gushy and Hallmark-y, but when you are here, it’s easy to believe that anything is possible.  We look around the room and see tremendous religious diversity, different races, different countries, different cultures, Archbishops and ordinary citizens, men and women, young and old, rich and poor… all enjoying each other’s company, all on a first-name basis, all helping each other, all listening and learning from each other, all working together to make the world a better place.  If we can do it, theoretically anybody should be able to do the same.  When we come together like this, we are the microcosm in a great spell to change the macrocosm.  We are an example of the future.  I always say about these meetings – URI meetings, Parliaments of the World’s Religions, NAIN Connects... all of them – “Come see what the world can be!”

Enough gush.  2:00 am.  Must be up by 7:30 am.  Time for bed.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew

Thursday, June 26, 2014

URI Global Council 2014 - Day 4, later...

Wednesday, June 25 – Part 2, Dinner and a Show

Well, I thought the bus would be there any minute.  After posting the last report I looked at my phone, saw it was 6:00 pm (a half hour past dinner) and dashed over to dining area.  No one was in sight.  I was joined first by Luz, one of the translators (with whom I had worked when Tata was here last year), and then Fr. James Channon.  They had both stayed here due to not feeling well, but were doing better.

Finally, around 7:00, the bus arrived and very tired folks started straggling in.  I sat with Luz and Fr. Channon.  We were joined by Marianne and Bart.  Bart and I chatted about the CC he has with Morgana.  He knew about different Traditions of Wicca and asked if Morgana and I are in the same one.  As it turns out, we are – Gardnerians, but descending from different Priestesses of Gardner.  I asked if he had seen my article in the latest issue of Morgana’s online journal, the Wiccan Rede (which they pronounce “raid”).  (http://wiccanrede.org/2014/05/harran-last-refuge-of-classical-paganism-part-i/)  He hadn’t read it yet, but knew about it as he and Morgana had talked at length about her own trips to Harran.

Both Bart and Marianne said that the Americans talk to fast to be understood.  I was surprised, since they both speak English very well.  We had an interesting conversation about the difference between “constitution”, “statutes”, and “bylaws”, and about words that do not easily translate from one language to another.

After dinner was the “URI CafĂ©”, with reports / performances from the Regional Leadership Teams from Latin America and the Caribbean (LAandC), South East Asia and the Pacific (SEAPac), and our own Multiregion.  I confess that I didn’t get to appreciate mist of what LAand C and SEAPac did as our Multiregion RLT was scrambling to get our act together… literally.  Unlike the geographically contained Regions, we have few chances for real conversations and so had little opportunity to prep a show, but it all came together at the last minute.

Meanwhile, LAandC and SEAPac were leading songs and dances, doing video presentations, telling jokes, and more that was making us fear more and more that we would look second rate.  A highlight for me was the last “act” before we went on…  Potre, one of the RCs for SEAPac, had done research on everyone’s given names and read off the results.  As most folks came from nominally Christian countries, most of the given names were Biblical or related and meant things like “Messenger of God” or “God is my strength” or “Purity” and things like that.  Three that stood out as non-Biblical were Alejandrino = “Defender of Men”, Donald = “World Leader” (that got a few “oohs” and “ahhs”), and Victor = “Victor”.

When it was our turn, Rachael, as Multiregion Regional Coordinator (RC), was our MC.  She got us all up on stage and introduced us to the crowd.  I went first.
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“Even people in the URI sometimes have trouble explaining the concept of the Multiregion to others.  (For the record, it’s all CCs that have members in more than one Region, or have a focus that covers more than one Region (like “the Environment”), or who just want to be in the Multiregion.

Part of the problem has been our name.  Multiregion.  We’ve never liked it.  Our own members would ask, “Am I in the Multiregion Region?”  It was confusing.  The name that has always made the most sense to all of us is “Global”.  We are the Global Region.  But the word “Global” was already taken.  We didn’t want confusion with the Global Council, and the Global Support Staff, etc., so we’d try alternates:

Virtual Region?  That sounds like we don’t really exist.

Non-Geographic Region?  That sound like we’re nowhere, when in fact we are everywhere.

Cyber-Region?  We do tend to communicate electronically, but not all of our members have internet access.

So then we started dreaming big.  Instead of “Global Region”, how about “Planetary Region”?  Or why not “Galactic Region”?

And so we have plans t contact NASA to see if the crew of the International Space Station would be interested in becoming a Cooperation Circle.  And you can bet that we’ll be talking to the crew of the first Mars mission before they go.  If we can get the URI established on Mars, where would they fit in the URI?  In the Multiregion, of course!

So, in the spirit of “coopetition”, we look forward to the day when we have established the Perseus Cluster MCC – made up of several Planetary CCs – and can look back and wave at all the little Regions back on Earth.

Lest anyone doiubt the commitment of the Multiregion to pushing boundaries, we offer a short video clip.  The men you’ll see are in a Multiregion CC and are: Ali Bushnaq (Muslim / Palestine), Dudu Yifrah (Jewish / Israel), Sele Selamolela (Christian / South Africa), and Lance Trumball (Buddhist / USA) and our current webmaster.


(People were in tears.)  To find out what happened next, Lance would usually say, “Buy the DVD.”, but after a dramatic rescue effort, Sela was saved with only the loss of some fingers.

This demonstrates the commitment and vision of the Multiregion.  When humanity moves out into space, we’ll be there!”
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This went over much better than I had expected.  People laughed at the right places, expressed awe and sadness at the video, and were enthusiastic about the Multiregion.

Rachael explained about the Multiregion and our 39 CCs – up by nine in just the last year, with another sitting in the audience waiting to be approved.  She did a wonderful stand-up-comic-esque routine telling how the Multiregion was often overlooked because our CCs are also in geographic Regions.  Mussie’s Golden Rule CC is associated with Africa, but it’s a Multiregion CC.  Our work at the UN is associated with North America, but the URI at the UN CC is a Multiregion CC.

Our work is also often invisible.  In the LA&C presentation, Alejandrino showed video of his work in the Andes, but the digital video camera and training in its use was provided by the Think Peace Communications CC, a Multiregion CC.  Alejandrino’s lessons in English – as well as those of former indigenous Trustees Rosalia Gutierrez and Raul Mamani – were provided by the Spirituality & the Earth CC, a Multiregion CC.

Rachael asked everyone in the room who was in a Multiregion CC to stand up, and it was about a third of the room!  It’s amazing how we can be so overlooked.  (Kind of like how Pagans can be the fourth largest religion in the US, and so overlooked and little understood.)

Audri told everyone about the upcoming Global Indigenous Initiative meeting and asked for everyone’s prayers.  Folks were stunned at the list of attendees.  Check it out at:

Vrajapati showed a video about the annual Science and Religion conferences his CC hosts in India, with hundreds of attendees, including India’s President.

The crowd loved our presentation.  We closed with gathering all the folks in the room who are in a Multiregion CC for a photo.  I’ll get a copy soon and post it.

A tired crowd staggered across the campus to our dorm.  I walked with Genivalda and Enoe.  Genivalda speaks Portuguese and some Spanish.  Enoe understands some Portuguese, speaks Spanish and English.  I understand some Spanish.  Between us, Genivalda was able to ask about getting involved in the Multiregion.  We talked about a CC joining a Multiregion MCC like the Earth Wisdom MCC vs. her joining a Multiregion CC, like Enoe’s and my Spirituality & the Earth CC.  All the latter takes is her asking Enoe and me and us saying “Yes.”  She will think about it.

Back in the dorm, I exited my shower and put on a galabia, only to discover two of my suite-mates Vrajapati (Hindu / India) and Patrick (Hindu / Germany) discussing their dietary restrictions and how well the university was accommodating them.  We were joined by our last suite-mate Sherif (Christian / Egypt) and got into a discussion about how one of my coveners discovered a test for the presence of pork in food down to the molecular level.  Eventually, the conversation turned to questions about Wicca and their desire that we had more time to lean about each other’s practices.  They had seen my travel altar – with a stone from Coventina’s well – and wanted to know more.  Sherif was especially interested in connections between Wicca and Islam.  I promised to send him my paper on the subject – the result of working with Muslims in interfaith for 29 years.  It now being midnight, we decided to continue the conversation tomorrow.

And so, to bed…

Blessed Be,
Don Frew