Wednesday, February 2, 2011

3rd workday at Interfaith meeting in Tepoztlan, Mexico

Wednesday, February 2nd.  Our 3rd full day of meetings.  Candlemas for me, and for the inhabitants of Tepoztlan, who celebrate it as “Candelaria”  I can tell that it’s a holy day dedicated to the baby Jesus by the rounds of cannon-fire that wake me from a sound sleep, wondering if the protests in Cairo have spread to this small Mexican hill-town.  Of course, it’s not cannon-fire, but rather the largest yield fireworks I have ever encountered, made to explode just above the roof-tops and set off all over the town at random intervals not to exceed a minute and a half.

No one here can explain the connection between explosives and the baby Jesus, except to say that it is “costumbre” – custom.

We started the day, as always, with our 7:30 am silent (Hah!) meditation in the tea-house.  Over breakfast, Margarita explained about the traditions associated with this celebration of the presentation of the baby Jesus in the temple 40 days after his birth.  Almost every family has, in the past few days, acquired a doll of the baby Jesus and made elaborate baby clothes in which to dress him.  Today, they will bring these dolls to the town’s main church (built in 1580) to have them blessed in a huge outdoor Mass.  They will take these dolls home and seat them on little thrones in house-hold shrines for the next year.  The whole process is accompanied by feasting, processions, music in the streets, and yes, explosions.  Apparently, the bigger the bang, the greater the prestige.

We got down to business at about 8:30 am and started with what we thought would be quick items.

We discussed a proposal from the Global Healing CC regarding creating a closer relationship between the Multiregion and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).  After much discussion of this and of the Multiregion’s URI-UN CC we decided to ask the Global Healing CC for more detailed information to circulate to our CCs.  If there are CCs interested in pursuing the proposal, then the Multiregion Regional Leadership Team (the Trustees and Regional Coordinator) can consider endorsing it.

On a related note, we agreed that we need to arrange some communication with the URI-UN CC to talk about more productive collaboration between it and the Regional Support Team.

We talked about the thematic MCCs in the Multiregion, that is, CCs that have grouped together around a common concern to form what are called Multiple Cooperation Circles (MCCs).  Currently, we have two MCCs: the Women’s Coalition MCC and the Indigenous MCC.  We revisited the idea that while other Regions often have sub-Regional Coordinators, the Multiregion might end up needing thematic sub-Coordinators instead.  We noted that the description of MCCs in the URI’s Bylaws would allow individuals to members and also other, non-URI groups as well.  The promotional material we have talked about creating needs to explain this, and explain to CCs in the other Regions that they can be a CC within their geographic Region AND a member of a Multiregion MCC focused on a theme of common concern AT THE SAME TIME.  We need to engage in outreach to CCs in the other Regions around this.

We discussed the Seed Grant program (which has provided small grants to Multiregion CCs to help jumpstart projects) and the need to review and revamp the process of application, selection, and evaluation of results.  We agreed that we don’t have enough time to do this here, that we can do it in follow-up electronic communications, and that we wouldn’t award any new Grants until we can conduct a review in consultation with the Global Hub Staff.  We agreed that we want this to be completed by June.

By this time it was 12:30 pm and time to take a break to go see the Candelaria service at the Church.  We joined the throng of hundreds, perhaps over a thousand people converging on the church – some playing music, many carrying wrapped dolls. 

 Crowds at the Tepoztlan Church for Candelaria

As the service would go on for an hour, we had time to take a peek inside the attached Convento de la Natividad.  The convent is no longer functioning as one, but its extensive wall-paintings have been restored and the huge building is a historic site, including a museum and bookstore. 

Interior of Convent

The restored art was quite striking.  The museum included a model of the area seen from high above.  It showed the mountains behind Jonathan & Margarita’s house and the pyramid on top of the mountain.  It also showed that the mountains are in th3e middle of a long slope, with Tepoztlan on the downhill side.  The town of San Juan, on the uphill side of the mountain range, is closer to the summit.  This will have bearing later on…

We went back outside just in time to hear the priest call forward everyone carrying a doll to be blessed.  As the crowd surged forward, we slipped out the back.  In the large market filling the town square outside the church precinct Jonathan helped Yoland and Linda look for fruits and sweets to buy, while Margarita took me to a book stall she had discovered that she thought would interest me.

The stall was small, but filled with the most amazing array of books (in Spanish) on esoteric subjects: the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Understanding Dream Symbols, the Dialogues of Plato, Legends of the Vampires, Feng Shui for Love, Astrology for Success, the Odyssey, Myths of the Greeks & Romans, Islam in Antiquity, Talismans of Black Magic… on and on.  I purchased a dictionary of Nahuatl and a Mexican edition of the Necronomicon for my collection!  Perhaps the former will help me decipher the latter.  ;-)  Actually, the Nahuatl / Spanish dictionary is fascinating.  Between my basic ability to read simple Spanish and the many pictures, it’s quite easy to pick up Nahuatl words and phrases.  A conversation with Margarita helped me understand how to properly accent the words.  This will be fun.

Dodging mariachi bands and processions of doll-bearing women wreathed in the smoke of copal burning in swinging censors, we returned to the Rose hacienda for lunch.  Afterwards, we reconvened in what has become the “Multiregion office” – the terrace outside Linda’s room overlooking the Rose’s gardens and under the watchful presence of the pyramid of Tepozteco on the mountain.

We reviewed the work we had done the day before on the description of the Regional Coordinator position in the Multiregion and the plan for finding a new one.  After a few more tweaks of the language, we had completed something that could be submitted to the Hub for comment.

We had a lengthy discussion about the idea of tapping the musical performance potential of the members of the Multiregion as a means of raising funds, including the possibility of having a Performing Arts MCC.  This led into a lengthier discussion of fundraising in general in the Multiregion.  In addition to the possibility of income from music, as Linda had suggested, we talked about:
* cultivation of donors.  (We already have an annual pledge of $2000!)
* the creation of a dedicated bank account for the Multiregion.
* the idea of a global e-marketplace, selling the crafts produced by many of the members of Multiregion CCs.  This had been suggested before in the Global Council of the URI, but the scale of such a venture might be better suited to a Region.
* eco-tourism.  Yoland brought up how many of the Indigenous in the URI are interested in exploring this.  If it was done under the auspices of the Multiregion, both the Region and the Indigenous people would benefit.

Everyone on the Global Council has talked for years about the need for the Regions to be financially self-sufficient.  We in the Regional Leadership Team had been talking for weeks about committing to moving the Multiregion in that direction.  We agreed to start with generating 5% of our planned budget.  This is a great place to start since we have already raised more than that.  We agreed to commit to raising this percentage each year.  We call this “incremental financial autonomy”.

Yoland suggest that we state our intention to have another Regional Assembly in March of 2012 (possibly here at Jonathan’s).  We all agreed that we should work towards this.  I suggested that we ask all of our CCs to consider, if they want to meet face-to-face again NEXT year, contributing some money THIS year to help raise money for such a meeting – perhaps some fraction of what they would have spent to go if the meeting had been this year.

We talked again about using the phrase “The Multiregion -- We are the World!”  I said that I kept thinking of variations: “We are the World, and the World sings!” for music, “We are the World, and the World loves to eat!” for an interfaith cooking program, etc.  I said that I would look into the possible legal ramifications of using the phrase.

Linda said that we definitely need to increase youth participation in the Multiregion, with which we all agreed.  Linda said that she would ask former-Multiregion Trustee, now-URI-Youth-Coordinator Mathew Youde to consider young people in the URI who might be interested.

Reaching then end of another day spent in eight hours of meetings and of our time working together, we closed as we opened – by going through the list of CCs of the Multiregion and appreciating the gifts and skills that each of them brings to the Region.

This was a VERY positive experience!  We got MUCH more done than we ever could have through phone calls and email, and we built the Multiregion Regional Leadership Team in the process.  The Trustees are all VERY thankful to Jonathan and Margarita for opening their lovely home and gardens to us, and for showing us Tepoztlan.  Yoland leaves tomorrow morning, while Linda and I both leave on Friday.  That gives Linda and me one more day to try to see more of this amazing part of Mexico.

Tomorrow, Jonathan and Linda will drive Yoland to Cuernavaca to catch a bus to the airport in Mexico City.  Then they will get lunch in and explore the city of Cuernavaca.  I plan to be doing something very different.

Ever since we arrived, I have been fascinated by the white pyramid of Tepozteco shining on the mountain above us.  I am planning to hike up to it tomorrow.  Jonathan has called some friends who have confirmed that approaching the pyramid from San Juan will mean a much shorter climb – since the pyramid is almost half a mile higher than Tepoztlan, but San Juan is closer to the top.  Also, approaching the pyramid from the San Juan side means that I’ll be in the shade cast by the mountain for the ascent.  Then, the half-mile change in altitude will only be for the two-kilometer walk DOWN from the pyramid on the Tepoztlan side of the mountain.  The only down-sides of this plan are that we are already at an altitude of 1.5 miles here in Tepoztlan and all of us visiting can feel the relative thinness of the air, and that the trail on the San Juan side is not as well marked and rather hard to find.  Jonathan and his friends are trying to arrange for a local to accompany me.  I REALLY hope that this works out, since, much to my surprise, when I Googled “Tepozteco” site after site talked about how the hike to this pyramid is one the most fulfilling experiences one can have while traveling in Mexico!  Wow! 

It’s been calling to me since we got here.  If all goes well, I’ll celebrate my own Candlemas a day late at the pyramid.

It’s almost 1 am, so it’s time to post this and rest up for tomorrow.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

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