Sunday, July 24, 2011

Report from North American Interfaith Network conference (Day 1)

Rachael and I are at NAIN Connect 2011, the annual meeting of the North American Interfaith Network (www.nain.org).  Rachael is on NAIN’s Board so she’s already been here a few days and been through hours of grueling Board meetings.  The general conference started today.  The facility we’re in is great (http://embassysuites1.hilton.com/en_US/es/hotel/PHXTPES-Embassy-Suites-Phoenix-Tempe-Arizona/index.do), if you can deal with the 100+ degree weather.  (“Yes, but it’s a dry heat.”)

Some things about the conference are a little odd… not bad, just odd.  It’s the first interfaith conference I’ve been to that started on a Sunday evening.  It’s the first interfaith conference that has had a scheduled “Happy Hour” every evening for getting a drink and meeting some new people.

I met and had breakfast with Dr. Harry Gensler (www.jcu.edu/philosophy/gensler/).  He and I have had our programs mushed together by the conference organizers and we thought we should sort out who would be doing what.  The theme of this year’s NAIN Connect is “Many People, Many Faiths, One Common Principle: The Golden Rule”.  I’m on the program to give what might be called a dissenting opinion called “Am I not welcome?: The Dark Side of the Golden Rule”.  The conference organizers had renamed my talk “Weaknesses of the Golden Rule” and Gensler is a noted defender of the Golden Rule.  I explained that I was only planning to use the Golden Rule as one small example of a larger problem, that of assuming ANY universals about religion and how that has the tendency to keep people out of the discussion.  (I mean, let’s face it… would MOST Witches come to a conference titled “Many People, Many Faiths, One Common Principle: The Golden Rule”?)  Genlser is a Professor of Philosophy and a Jesuit, but he is new to interfaith and knew almost nothing about Wicca.  We agreed that we need to have a few more discussions before our program on Tuesday morning.  (Back in the room, I emailed him some docs on Wicca to read while he is here.)

[Rachael:
While Don was duking it out with the Jesuit priest I spent the morning finishing up with the board.  We ended up by giving me the task of developing a list of “deliverables” which in real English means a list of advantages for joining the organization.]

Mid-day there was a field trip to a local Sikh Gurudwara.  The Sikhs were including a Langar, a sacred meal.  I passed, since I am terminally allergic to an unknown ingredient in Indian food and I didn’t want to refuse the Sikh’s hospitality.  Rachael also didn’t go since the long meetings have put her back out-of-sorts and she didn’t want to spend a couple of hours sitting on the floor.

[Rachael:
It was during this time that I worked on my list of “deliverables”.  I just love this committee speak.]

Conference registration began after the field trip and included a lot of familiar faces – Bud Heckman, Ruth Sharone, Paul & Sybil Eppinger, Paul & Jan Chaffee, Anne Roth, Bettina Gray, Grove Harris, and more.  Mussie Hailu is here from Ethiopia to give the keynote address.

After registration, we saw a film called “Globalized Soul” (www.heavenearth.net/globalizedsoul.html), a pleasant film about the importance of interfaith focused on the work in Jerusalem of Sheikh Bukkari of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order.  I was a bit distressed to learn that the Sheikh had died last year, as I had known him.  He spoke at Shambhala Booksellers a couple of times and had tried to arrange attendance at a Sufi event for me in Turkey.

Happy Hour was accompanied by a Mariachi band and followed by the Opening Dinner.  I sat at a table between a Christian Scientist couple and one of the Board members of our hosts, the Arizona Interfaith Movement (AIFM, www.azifm.org).  Bettina, Bud, and Paul & Jan were also at the table.

The dinner was very good, featuring Arizona cuisine.  Paul Eppinger, Exec. Dir. of AIFM was the Emcee.  Bettina, as Chair of NAIN welcomed everyone.  As is standard practice for AIFM, the welcome was followed by six invocations, in this case: Jewish (a shofar), Muslim, Sikh, Jain, and Christian Science.  The last “invocation” was in the form of an amazingly intricate Hopi hoop dance performed by a young man accompanied by his father on a drum.

The dinner conversation at my table focused mostly around my explaining what Wicca is to my AIFM table-mates and bringing everyone up-to-date on the activities of the Lost & Endangered Religions Project.

[Rachael:
Because Don and I were last into the room, we were seated separately and I had the surprising pleasure of sitting next to Rabbi David Kunin whom I had met a few years ago at the Connect in Kansas City.  He had given a talk on why the “Golden Rule” was neither complete nor totally acceptable as a universal ethical construct.  I made a point of introducing myself during lunch to speak to him of why Witches and Wicans in particular were in complete agreement with that statement.  Imagine my surprise when he not only remembered me immediately this evening, but based upon our brief conversation in Kansas, learned more about Wica and Craft and using us as a prime example continued to pursue his argument at University levels.  At one point he was told that “if there was nothing in a religion that could possibly be construed as analogous to the Golden Rule then that Religion had no God.”, which makes no sense at all.  

He is also presenting at this connect and also against the assumption that the Golden Rule is the panacea for good in the world.  This is promising to be a very interesting Connect indeed.]

The dinner closed with a local musical duet singing “Living the Golden Rule” and with Mussie’s keynote address.  Mussie has been at the forefront of peace efforts in Africa and spreading the Golden Rule has been a big motivator for him.  The crowd loved him and his speech was followed by much mutual awarding of medals and certificates by Mussie, representatives of NAIN, representatives of AIFM, and others.

[Rachael:
Don returned to the room to begin this report while the board was requested to be available to meet the young adults who had received scholarships.  While I was returning to the room one of the board caught up with me and gave me edits for the “Deliverables” list which I worked on while Don finished his portion of this report.  When done we traded, so that he could look over my work and I could add to this report.   A horrendous thunder and rain storm broke over us and lightening struck somewhere very near by knocking us off line temporarily.  We are now winding down and will report more tomorrow.]

More to come...

Blessed Be,
Don Frew & Rachael Watcher
National Interfaith Representatives

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