Monday, January 31, 2011

URI Multiregion Leadership Team meeting starts in Tepoztlan, Mexico

I am in Tepoztlan, Mexico (about 2 hours south of Mexico city) for the first meeting of the Regional Leadership Team (RLT) of the Multiregion of the United Religions Initiative (URI) and this is my first chance to get online and post.
The URI now includes over 500 local Cooperation Circles (CCs) in 78 countries, involving about 2.5 million people (  The URI is governed by a Global Council of Trustees elected by the CCs.  To ensure diversity in the Global Council, the CCs are arranged into eight Regions, which have become administrative entities kind of like the Local Councils in the Covenant of the Goddess.  Seven of these Regions are subdivisions of the globe: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean (LA&Car), the Middle East & North Africa (MENA), North America, Southeast Asia & the Pacific (SEAPac).  The eighth Region is global and is called the Multiregion.  The Multiregion includes all of those CCs who either have members in more than one Region or are focused on issues that are trans-Regional, like Women, the Environment, Youth, Peace, etc. (  Each Region is managed by a Regional Coordinator (RC) - sometimes more than one -  who is part of the Global Support Staff.

Each Region elects three Trustees for a three-year term.  This 2009-2012 term, the three Trustees elected for the Multiregion were Yoland Trevino (Indigenous Mayan / Guatemala), Mathew Youde (Catholic / Wales), and Linda Bennet Elder (Christian / US).  One year into this term of the Global Council, the Multiregion found itself under some stress.  One of it's Trustees, Yoland, was called on to help coordinate the Latin American Region, in addition to her ongoing responsibilities as Chair of the Global Council.  Another Trustee, Mathew, resigned to take up a paid position as coordinator of the URI's youth efforts.  It's Regional Coordinator, Lance Trumball, also resigned to pursue other career opportunities.  The Region found itself short-handed.  Under these circumstances, and with too little time left in the term to hold an election in the Region, the Global Council asked me to accept appointment as an At-Large Trustee with a mandate to assist in the Multiregion; an appointment I was honored to accept.

One of the CCs I coordinate - Spirituality & the Earth - is a Multiregion CC and was one of the founding CCs of the URI.  I had also served two previous terms on the Global Council.  Apparently they felt this gave me sufficient experience and ongoing connection to be able to jump right in and get to work.  (And boy did they have work for me to do!  In addition to helping revitalize the Multiregion, I was also asked to serve in the creation of and on the new External Affairs Committee, which will be responsible for crafting the URI's official response to world events like what's going on right now in Tunis and Egypt.  But that's another story...)

While in many ways the Multiregion embodies the highest aspirations of the URI - people of all religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions working together around the world "to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings" - it has always been sort-of the odd-man-out.  It's been a lot easier to organize CCs who all live in one geographic area than it has been to organize something as far-flung as the Multiregion.  We have been VERY reliant on modern technology to create and maintain our network.  We had our very first face-to-face Regional Assembly only last March.  (See the reports in this blog in March 2010.)  That meeting generated a LOT of enthusiasm in the Multiregion and we really didn't want to see this dissipate.

The first thing Yoland, Linda and I did was to find an Interim Regional Coordinator to help keep things going while we did an evaluation of the Region's needs and came up with a plan for a new permanent RC.  Fortunately, a previous Multiregion RC and former Global Council Trustee was willing and available: Jonathan Rose (Jewish / Mexico).  Jonathan stepped in and the four of us became the Multiregion's new Regional Leadership Team.

We really felt the need to meet face-to-face to work on the Work Plan and Budget for the Multiregion, as well as develop the plan for finding a new Regional Coordinator, all while maintaining connections with the 25 CCs in the Multiregion and making sure that their input was part of our discussions.  Accordingly, we are now at the home of Jonathan and his wife Margarita.  They rent out their home for weddings and such and are well-equipped to handle us for the six days we'll be here (  The pictures on their website don't do the place justice!  In addition to what you can see on the website, Jonathan has his own little Japanese tea-house tucked away in a secret part of the garden -- a perfect place for our morning meditations. Spectacular mountains loom over us, crowned by a white stone pyramid built by the Tlahuica c.1200 CE to honor their god of maguey and pulque, Tepoztecatl.  I have never heard of a pyramid on top of a mountain before!  I hope that there will be a chance to visit it before we go on Friday.  Google "Tepoztlan" and "Tepozteco" and click on "images" for an eye-full!

Jonathan's & Margarita's website also doesn't convey the auditory ambiance of this place.  There are birds singing all day long and the sound of running water from ponds and waterfalls in the gardens.  The bells of stone church on the corner ring out the quarter-hours all day (and night) long.  During the day, we can hear children singing in the nearby elementary school and bands playing in the nearby town square.  Truly a remarkable place!

Jonathan & Yoland on the roof terrace

Even with the distractions and the fatigue from a day of travel to get here yesterday, we put in a good day today.  Over all, we spent about eight hours in meetings -- going over the agenda for these four days of meetings, reviewing the status and activities of the 25 CCs in the Multiregion, listening to their input that they sent along to this meeting, discussing the most productive ways to promote a transparent and collaborative relationship between the Multiregion RLT and the central administration of the global URI, especially URI Exec. Director Charles Gibbs, Assoc. Exec. Director Debra Bernstein, and Director of Organizational & Regional Development Sally Mahe (, brainstorming promotional material to help explain the Multiregion to prospective CCs, ways to improve internal communications within the Multiregion, evaluating or Seed Grant program, and discussing how "shared governance" applies in the Multiregion. 

We agreed that we need to develop promotional material to explain to prospective CCs and to other folks who might be interested in the URI just what the Muliregion is all about.  We came up with the tag line "We are the World!" to describe the Multiregion.  We also came up with the idea that while other Regions sometimes have "sub-Regional Coordinators" to help the Regional Coordinator relate to various parts of large Regions, it might be more appropriate in the Multiregion to consider "sub-Regional Directors" based on themes, when, say, there are large numbers of Multiregion CCs focused on particular topics.

Tomorrow we continue with reviewing our Work Plan, discussing a proposal for a collaborative relationship with a UN agency, elucidating what we need in a permanent Regional Coordinator and how we'll go about finding such a person (including looking at some applications we've already received), and looking at some of the administrative structures in the Multiregion and URI.  It'll be a full day.

Well, it's not as late as some of the evenings when I've posted to this blog in the past, but it IS pushing midnight... when the church will ring the hour... twice.  "Chimes", followed by 24 bells.  Time to sleep.  ;-)

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
Nat. Interfaith Representativ

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Boston visit - M. Mueller

I am in Boston this week, visiting Harvard Divinity School as a prospective student. I attended a couple on American Spirituality: From Transcendentalism to New Age and another on International Perspectives on Gender and Religion, the latter co-taught by Ann Braude and Leila Ahmed, all from professors I am interested in studying with.

My Intro to Interfaith class at Cherry Hill Seminary has begun and is going well. An upcoming project I assigned is to do a service project in a multifaith context and report about it. I have found so much meaning in doing service projects with people of other faiths, I wanted to share this experience with students.

Michelle Mueller

Thursday, January 6, 2011

5 days left to register! Cherry Hill Seminary Interfaith Class - M. Mueller

January 17 - April 25, Wednesdays 8:30 PM EST
A Cherry Hill Seminary Masters and Pagan Community Education course by Michelle Mueller, M.Div.
 Sharing dreams and values with people of other faiths, and working towards peace while respecting differences...this is the practice of interfaith.

This course will introduce people to interfaith and help those with experience deepen their practice. Students will learn best practices and organizational structures of the interfaith movement and the steps for getting involved.

We will look at the local, national, and international levels of interfaith, the core values of each, and the steps for getting involved. This is the kind of course where students and instructor will all be teachers to each other, as you will find similar to the interfaith movement itself. Expect a cooperative classroom and an experience of diversity during the semester!  Students should also expect to experience diversity during the semester.
5 days left to register!

Recommended texts:

Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue by Gus diZerega and Philip Johnson. 

Interactive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook by Bud Heckman, Dirk Ficca, and Rori Picker Neiss.

Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation by Eboo Patel.

Michelle Mueller, M.Div. converted to Wicca in 1996 and made it her goal to become a priestess. Since participating in the Parliament of the World's Religions 2004, on a scholarship from the Covenant of the Goddess, her pace towards the priestesshood has rapidly increased.

She attended seminary (Pacific School of Religion) from 2005-2008, has presented papers and led rituals at Pagan Spirit Gathering, Conference on Contemporary Pagan Studies, Sacred Space Conference, and PantheaCon. Michelle has two years experience as Acting Director of Religious Education for a Unitarian Universalist Church.

Michelle has acted as an Assistant Coordinator for Teen Programming at Pagan Spirit Gathering for three years and worked as a chaplain for Pagan students at UC Berkeley for a year. Her interests include feminist theory as it informs religious practice, campus ministry, interfaith, and Greece.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The visit of Alejandrino Quispe

Well It’s January first and I am still trying to catch up with all of the obligations that the end of the year has most graciously placed at my feet. Peter sets such a fine example of correspondence that I felt that I had better follow suite or be trumped.

My “end of year” started in October. With the visit of Alejandrino Quispe ( an indigenous gentleman from Peru with whom Don and I had been working through the United Religions Initiative). Due to take place in November, We made the discovery that nothing had been done to assure his travel visa was approved. We began the rather arduous task of trying to alert the American Embassy in Lima Peru to look for him and put him on the fast track and get hold of him and get him into Lima to get his visa. With less than a week before his departure date we finally received word that did indeed have his visa in hand. As there was quite a bit of funding tied up in this process it was a huge relief to be assured that he would make his flight.

He arrived in good health at San Francisco International Airport with Don, Anna Korn, and myself to greet him. We took him to Saul’s, a Jewish soul food restaurant for his first taste of foreign food, and then home and to bed. The next three weeks was a constant mix and motion of sight-seeing and work.

The evening before his arrival we had been invited to dinner with Gede Parma, a young Australian pagan and writer whom we had met at the Parliament. He was on a book signing tour for his latest book, By Land, Sky and Sea. Over dinner I said that he could not leave the area without seeing our beautiful Sequoia Simpervirens. He said he only had the following day and we decided then and there to take him and Alejandrino to the Redwoods that following morning.

Greg took them to a huge hollowed out tree (about ten feet around) that he knew of some ways off the path and Gede did a ritual for all. Though Alejandrino did not understand the words, (I could not walk that distance and so he had no translator, though Don does a fair to middlin job in my absence) he said that he truly felt that the gods had answered them. Needless to say neither of them had ever seen such trees and were profoundly moved by the experience.

Though technically Don and I sponsored him privately, our mutual membership in the United Religions Initiative and the work that Don and I have been doing with the South American Region, was the focus of a great deal of our time together. We traveled to the San Francisco Hub of the organization one day to meet with all of the folks there and have lunch.

Then Don took us to the Interfaith Chapel to show him around and we drove out to the Marin Headlands where he could get a sense of the topography of the land and sea.

I took every opportunity to show him how the indigenous peoples of the region lived and Don bought him a really nice fold out of many of the animals native to this area which he referred to constantly during his stay. We talked a lot about the native plants of the region and their uses and I showed him the acorns, grinding stones and process used to make the staple of the native diet here in California, acorn mush. He was amazed to see a Sparrow Hawk on display in one of the nature museums and told us that it is a very sacred bird to his people and practically extinct in his land. The curator was nice enough to let us handle the stuffed model and Alejandrino had his picture taken with the bird.

Of all this the things that impressed him most were the areas that have been set aside as natural parks, the endless vistas of pine and mixed hardwood forest viewed from the crest of the Sierras, and the care that we give to setting aside natural places for posterity. There are no forests in the Andes and few trees anywhere. Every square inch that can be cultivated or used for grazing is.

During this time we bought him a small video camera for his work in recording the remaining rituals of his people and encouraged him to use it. I worked with him extensively on expanding his use of the computer with Google, Google Earth, and Wikipedia. He could not believe what can be learned from just “Googling” a bit of information. Not long after that he brought me the computer with something he had found on You Tube and wanted me to watch it.

It seems there is a village in the Peruvian Andes with a rather unique custom. No one in the village is allowed to fight at any time during the year. It seems that two guys trashed a church once and the local priest set up this custom in order to prevent it from ever happening again. On Christmas day the entire village goes to the bull ring, the police act as referees, and anyone with a gripe against anyone else may call them out one at a time, at that time. Men and women both do this and it seems that at least 80% of the arguments for both men and women are over who got the lover. It has now become the standing joke between Don, Anna, Greg and me. “Why no I’m not angry, I will see you at Christmas.”

Alejandrino was our guest speaker at the “People of the Earth” conference held this year on November 20th at the Interfaith Chapel of the Presidio, in San Francisco. I did the set up and food prep and service and Don handled the programing, and hosting. Greg taped his talk but, unfortunately Alejandrino took both the CD and chip with him in error leaving us no copy.

During this time the Chair of the Global council of the URI asked Alejandrino to write a report on his experience with the Indigenous Global Initiative, an organization that the URI was trying to establish starting with the South American Indigenous to eventually include indigenous people from all over the world. It would have taken any one of us a couple of hours to do so but it took three days of solid hard work for Alejandrino to write that report. The trouble is that he simply did not understand what information was required or how to present it in a corporate, professional manner. He kept trying to start by giving an entire history of each person’s actions from the beginning of the organization’s founding and working his way slowly up to the current situation and the status of the membership (the traditional indigenous method of explanation). We had to examine each part and slowly work “our” way toward what was important information that affected the future of the group and what was unnecessary to any decision that the Chair might wish to consider. Then we began to examine his recommendations. Heavy sigh. We finished it just in time to turn it in and have a telephone conference with the First Chair before he left for home. During this entire time he was hard at work studying English at least two hours in the morning and evening.

He left on November 25th at three in the morning. I dropped Don off at his house, got home, went to bed and slept for 24 hours straight waking up with a bad chest cold. Better now.

In putting all of the footage that he shot onto CDs I was astounded to discover that 4 of the five segments he shot were from the back seat of my car giving a running dialogue on the fact that there were five lanes to the road one way, all the cars were relatively new, none of them smoked, they are remained discreetly separated no matter how fast or slow they were going, a woman, a woman, was driving, and look, she was going 100 kilometers per hour. He had never seen such roads. Even the fast roads are one way each way in most of Peru. He had also never in his life seen a woman driver.

Other things that absolutely amazed him were that I had a machine that only made popcorn, a machine with a window in it that washed my clothes, (he pulled up a chair and watched the entire process; it was a front loader.) He discovered that I had a can crusher early on and carefully recycled every soda can in the house the moment it came empty.

We had a long talk about recycling and I took him to the local recycling center. He now wants to start one down in his home town. He loved to go shopping and missed no opportunity to go into Safeway. He had me take his picture in every isle. Once we stopped on the way home to pick up a couple of things and Greg went in and left us in the car. Alejandrino hopped out and went in after him. Later Greg told me that all he needed to feel like an overseer was a floppy hat and cane. He is so much taller than Alejandrino and Alejandrino absolutely insisted on carrying everything. Greg said he all but fought him for control of the basket but gave up and Alejandrino followed him around the store carrying the basket, then insisted on carrying all the bags out to the car. Greg couldn’t wait to get out of there.

I learned many things while he was here. I discovered just how large is the gap between the modern corporate world that we are used to doing business in and his indigenous, one village one family, world. Communication is incredibly difficult. Even face to face communication where one can pull him back into the topic at hand is a challenge. At times I had to ask a question two or three times in two or three different ways in order to get him to address it directly without a major preamble. E mail communication is all but impossibly frustrating. He has no internet and the likelihood that he soon will have is slim. When he does it will be the most jury rigged set up you can possibly imagine with friends stringing the line from whatever they can find for some distance. Even the connection will be made by “a friend who knows how to do these things” rather than the supplier. This is of course if they can raise the funds for the cable. He has no understanding of how the system works and did not understand that any computer can be connected. He thought that the entire system had to be hard wired to a single computer.

Without even this system he is forced to come into town at a cost of two Solis each way, (an equivalent of about $4 for us) and deal with a computer that cost only one Solis per hour but that is so slow you will spend the entire hour just downloading your email. This means that I hear from him with little frequency. When he is tending his crops or doing the government work he is sometimes paid to do I may not hear from him for months literally. Once he focuses on a topic he does not respond to anything else in the email. I have asked him for his physical address three times and each time I get a totally different response to something we were working on when he left and no address.

Still I continue to move, I think, forward. Our next plan is to get him a set of by-laws that they can use to model a set for their organization. CoG’s are the best suited but that means translating them into Spanish. OMG!!! As if they were not complicated enough in English.

The last words that he left both Don and me with were that there is a ritual in December that is as ancient as his people and very secret as they do not want the Government or the Church to know about it. He wants us all to attend this ritual next December. It is a several mile hike into the mountains from the last point at which you can drive a car. “But don’t worry,” he says to me “I will get you a horse to ride”.

Rachael Watcher