Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rachael's NAIN Conference Report

On the 22nd of July I headed out to Phoenix to attend a North American Interfaith Network "Connect". I was gone five days and those days were packed. Up at 6 or 6:30 to take advantage of a delightfully warm swimming pool and get some kinks out then to breakfast. At 9 meetings started. The first two days were filled with board meetings which (with breaks of course) lasted until 9pm. Then there were informal talks at night, until I staggered to bed to begin again in the morning.

As Don Frew has faithfully reported on the happenings of the Connect, I will give you an overview of my time there rather than over saturate you with details. I did not mention specific names where I had less than positive things to say of someone for the sake of their privacy.

On the 24th with the yearly board meeting behind us the conference got under way. The theme was "Living the Golden Rule". As a member of the program committee I might have protested more vigorously about such exclusivity of terms, but this group stepped in when we were totally without a plan for the next year and had just published a book of days with a short meditation from every religion that they could find that had anything connected with a Golden Rule type of philosophy and wanted to showcase their work.

The programming results were predictable; one saccharine sweet talk or panel after the other touting the "Rule" as a universal panacea for a perfect world. Two major concerns arose for me when I realized that the first plenary speaker, who was introduced as the leading academic expert on world religions and the Golden Rule knew nothing of almost any religion except the Abrahamic faiths. He was not even aware that Wicca (currently listed as the fourth largest religion in the US by more than one reliable poll) existed, and had no clue what Rastafarian tradition was (which is arguably among the Christian faith groups). As the days passed and I had an opportunity to speak with him personally I realized that his knowledge was woefully lacking in just about all areas including Jainism and huge chunks of Hindu practice. Worse he has written books on the subject that are pointed to as the authority on why the Golden Rule is universal and teaches college courses in it. Heavy sigh!

The other major speaker was probably a bit more informed but spent most of his time quoting Confucius and using phrases like "All Gods Children" (a phrase that the Inquisition used to distinguish between Christians and all those whom they persecuted). Neither of these men, in personal conversation, were in the least willing to consider that they were not as fully informed as they believed and were being insulting and exclusionary to religions who did not have any such philosophy.

Fortunately two speakers, Rabbi David Kunnin, and Elder Donald Frew, stepped forward to point out the flaws in such thinking and, surprisingly, were well received, most likely because they were both well educated, excellent speakers whose points were pretty much irrefutable.

Not every religion has the Golden Rule, most specifically those closer to indigenous and/or pagan practice

Post colonial occupation either translated and re-worked native doctrines so that they looked more like the Golden Rule or..

Post colonialized populations re-worked their own ethical systems so that they looked more like the Golden Rule in order to be more accepted by their "new friends".

By stating that the Golden Rule is universal we are saying that any religion who does not have an ideology that might be tooled to apply is, by definition not a religion.

Such exclusionary terminology is detrimental to the practice and idea of interfaith.

For me, however, the topics and themes were only of secondary interest as I had just been promoted to the Chair of Internal communications, an office that had here-to-fore been held by one person who handled both the internal and external communications for us. She was falling behind in both technology and time and wanted to focus on the Newsletter and other forms of communication with the broader community of interfaith practice. Unfortunately I inherited a web page woefully out of date and an internal communications network that was totally unworkable.

She had been trying for ages to get the board to release us from a program that was really not designed for our needs but only this year were she and I able to convince the board to drop it in favor of easier and free programs for calendar and list serve processes. However she had proven reticent to release design of or make any changes herself, to the web page. I spent most of the time during the day being collared by members of the board who wanted me to do something about the web site. As it happened I made some excellent connections with the younger contingent who were a part of our young adult program and had received scholarships to attend this year's Connect. They managed to hunt me down when they discovered that I would be doing the new site and volunteered their services.

This was, almost in full, the work of a young intern who had been on the board with the chair of the communications committee for the past year and who was very aware of the need for change and the reticence of the chair to relinquish responsibility. It was she who recruited the "volunteers" for me and helped me formulate a plan to acquire charge of the website rebuild without hurting the person involved. She will be continuing to work with me on this project as a volunteer herself as her time with the board has expired. She is also, though it makes no difference to the process, of a neo-pagan leaning and had a long conversation with me on the history of Craft in general and the various traditions which have come out of it.

I did realize that there might be some generational disconnect while visiting with the younger folks when they started to throw out strings of letters such as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, transgender) and then added even more letters which I can't begin to remember. I told them I had enough trouble just remembering BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) which had taken me years to figure out. They laughed and we had a good time discussing all of the latest issues and agendas around such things. I didn't learn much but I did learn what they are calling it now days and, interestingly, what the academics are saying. I can't be certain but I think that they were a bit surprised and delighted to find that older people in a religious setting were open to and interested in such conversation. (Not to mention World of Warcraft, South Park, and Family Guy.)

Another advancement that I believe was very important was that every board member decided to completely endorse the use of Adobe Connect for meeting purposes. We had had two members who were dead set against any further advances in electronic usage, but Paul Chaffee, one of the previous hold-outs finally allowed me to show him the program and was so enthusiastic that along with my plea to curb our carbon foot print and set a cutting edge example to other organizations that even the most resistant member finally came to me and told me that he was moved by my sincerity and offered me his commitment to work to familiarize himself with the program and use it.

In fact I may have done too good a job on sales as they began to discuss the possibility of a future connect that was all electronic offering plenaries and workshops on line that were totally interactive. Exciting, I have to admit but.... Don't ever think that people over sixty can't get with the idea of a world in the clouds.

By the end of the Connect I was able to report back to all of those who had spoken with me about the web that we were moving ahead. We have a site for our Connects for the next two and possibly four years, and have commitments to better communications both internal and external. We have committed to having ten scholarships available for youth participation and two intern positions for young adults. We determined that every committee chair will have a co-chair to help with work and international communications, and we founded an ad-hoc financial group to help bring back lapsed members and seek new ones along with asking organizations for more financial support. All of the board members and in particular the Chair left feeling very optimistic about our growth and headway and despite the topic of the gathering I felt very good about the general outcome.

At the end of the meeting, at dinner, the Producer asked that anyone who had a brief comment on the time we had spent together or next year's connect should stand up and speak up. I stood and suggested politely that, as we had focused on our similarities this year perhaps we might focus on our differences in the love and safety of our gathering next year. I saw a very large number of people nodding in agreement. Who knows, perhaps we will finally get down to some really interesting conversations next year.

In Her service and yours,

R. Watcher, National Interfaith Representative

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Memorial Procession

The sound of drums drew people together to a circle made of flowers under the trees in Albert Park in downtown San Rafael. The Rev. Paul Gaffney, of the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy, welcomed us to the "14th Annual Memorial Procession in Honor of Those Who Have Died on the Streets of Marin County," beginning with a brief meditation.

A man whose name I don't know played a Native American flute, followed by an offering of incense by the Rev. Michaela O'Connor Bono of Green Gulch Zen Center, and a blessing by the Rev. Liza Klein of the First United Methodist Church of San Rafael.

Bearing our flowers, we proceeded in silent reverence up the street lined with palms, as Paul sounded a bell.

It was strange walking by diners sitting at little tables with crisp linens and glasses of wine on the sidewalk and in the windows of restaurants, since they did not appear to know what we were about. We had no sign. Our silence and reverent attitude, together with the ringing of the bell, made it obvious were about something serious. The distracted part of me wanted to engage these folks in conversation about the very fact that we have homeless people in this rich country of ours, to ask them for money to support the chaplaincy, but I refocussed my mind back on the lost ones......

We arrived at the courtyard of St. Raphael's Church, built at the site of Father Junipero Serra's Mission San Rafaél. Some years ago this same group planted a tree in memory of those we were honoring this day on the church grounds, and it was around the base of that tree that we laid our floral offerings.

We were joined by others who had been waiting in shade of a tree in the courtyard, and welcomed by Fr. John Balleza, who has just taken over as pastor from Fr. Paul Rossi, and who is new to Marin Interfaith Council.

This annual memorial was scheduled later in the day this year than it has been in the past, partly due to the scorching sun and uncomfortable heat of the earlier afternoon. This made for a welcome more shaded venue.

People took turns reading the names of everyone known to have died homeless in Marin County since 1995. After each name was spoken, all assembled repeated it together. This act stirred several mourners to tears as he or she heard the name of a loved one and grieved openly in community. I think this is a healthy part of the grieving process, which is one of the reasons I so look forward to hearing each name when I gather with my co-religionists to honor the Beloved Dead on Samhain night.

As I have in past memorials, I offered a prayer for those who have died violently or in great distress, concluding with an appeal to the Mother of Justice that justice be done. Then I taught a four-line chant written by Starhawk and Anne Hill. When everyone had learned it, we sang it together for a while. This year I didn't try to break it into a round -- it's beautiful when done as a round -- and it seemed to flow more smoothly. There were also fewer people this year than in past years. Usually there a contingent of Dominican sisters come. I think the singing went better this time because some people had sung it in the past and because we were in a cooler space. In any case, some people harmonized and overall it sounded really sweet. I trust it did its job of allowing us to blend our voices in song for the dead.

Paul concluded the ceremony with a reading from the prophet Isaiah.

The Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy "provides a compassionate presence for those who are living outside."

If you are a Pagan and you are reading this, especially if you've ever considered doing any work in the world of interfaith relations, you might consider participating in such events in your area. If there is no homeless chaplaincy, there are surely other activities directed toward aiding less fortunate residents of your community. Consider offering your assistance in their work. There is no need to bring religion into it, except in a gentle way. There are no theological discussions, no "whose god(s) is/are better, more real, more authentic, more powerful, more righteous, or even if you have a belief at all, rather than your lived experience with the numinous divine as you've perceived it. Further, it's easy to join in these efforts without compromising the uniqueness of your Paganism in the slightest. Instead, by sharing something of your ways, you not only educate others about who we are, but also you dispel fear and enrich the overall experience for all participants, yourself included. By joining with other people of other religions in projects beneficial to the commonweal, we help mend tears in the fabric of society.

Yours in service to Coventina,
M. Macha NightMare, PW

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NAIN Report (Day 2)

Rachael and I were up for a 7:30 breakfast meeting of The Interfaith Observer (TIO,  Rachael and I serve on TIO’s Advisory and Editorial Boards, respectively.  About 20 folks associated with TIO are here at NAIN and Paul Chaffee wanted to host a little meet & greet.  In a group of about 30 people, 25 were Christians, 2 were Muslims, and 3 were Witches.  I am noticing that most interfaith efforts seem to be organized and led by Christians & Jews, while the only other folks who show up for the organizing meetings are the ones who feel threatened in our society.  This leaves the few Witches to speak for the interests and concerns of ALL non-Abrahamics.

The opening plenary was introduced by Eldred Spain, the President of the Arizona Interfaith Movement (AIFM).  He introduced a Baha’i named Ernie Bruce who led three other Baha’is in opening prayers: one sung in English, one read in Spanish, one sung in Arabic, and one read in English.

Eldred then introduced the day’s keynote speaker, Dr. Harry Gensler (who will be my co-presenter tomorrow).  Harry is a professor of Philosophy at John Carroll University in Cleveland I was more than a little confused by his presentation.  While he described himself as a leading defender of the Golden Rule, he started right off by saying that “sometimes the Golden Rule is hard to apply & gives confusing results” and so it needs to be reworded to be understood.  He gave us his version: “Treat others only as you consent to be treated in the same situation.”  While he was addressing an audience of religious professionals, his presentation used stories of funny, talking animals to illustrate common “fallacies” in interpreting the Golden Rule and his chronology of the Golden Rule started with its use by Fred Flintstone c. 1,000,000 BC.  This might be fine for a grade school class, but it seemed out of place in this setting.

Harry’s first fallacy was the “literal” one.  This was illustrated by “the foolish GR monkey” seeing a fish in water and knowing that HE wouldn’t want to be underwater, lifting the fish up onto a branch, thereby killing it.  Kita, the smart GR monkey, imagines what it would be like to be a fish, and realizes that if she was in the same situation, she wouldn’t want to be lifted onto the branch.  (“Kita” stands for “Know, Imagine, Test for consistency, Act”.)  I noted that this requires that a person know that they don’t know something in the first place in order to then seek out knowledge.  If the monkey doesn’t know that fishes and monkeys are different, then there is no reason to inquire.  Similarly, people who assume all people are like them won’t inquire into another person’s circumstances before acting.

Fallacy #2 was the “soft” one.  In this example, Willy, the baby squirrel, wants to stick his fingers in a light socket and Mama Squirrel follows the Golden Rule and lets him do it, to predictably ill effect.  Many of us found it difficult to imagine ANY mother stopping to consider the Golden Rule ramifications before protecting their children, but be that as it may, this example requires that one party have superior knowledge such that they can say to themselves “Well, if the other person knew what I know, then they would want me to act this way.”  I found this highly problematic since most humans tend to assume that they know more than others and this would provide a carte blanche for subverting the intent of the Golden Rule.

Fallacy #3 was the “doormat” fallacy.  This basically interpreted the GR to say “I wouldn’t want someone to say ‘No’ if I asked for money, so I can’t say ‘No’ to them when they ask me.”  The workaround requires thinking, as Harry said, “But hey, I’m willing that others say ‘no’ to me in similar circumstances!”  I can think of a LOT of folks through whose heads Harry’s thought would never cross.

Fallacy #4 was the “third-party” one.  This did not consider the effect on third parties.  The example was giving someone an undeserved A in a class so the person could get into law school.  The third-party effects could include another, deserving person NOT getting into the same school and, later, another person hiring a crappy lawyer.  The workaround requires yet another alteration and expansion of the Golden Rule: “Act only as you’re willing for anyone to act in the same situation, regardless of where or when you imagine yourself or others.”  At this point, I was beginning to feel that if the main defender of the Golden Rule was having to restate it and amplify it so often, then he was making the case for its inadequacy for me.

The final fallacy Harry presented was the “easy” one.  This boiled down to mistakenly thinking that the Golden Rule could be easily applied in all circumstances without thought or consideration.  You can say that again, as the above has shown.

I couldn’t help thinking that the more Harry said how much the Golden Rule needs to be reworded and amplified to apply it properly, the more he undermined the argument that the Golden Rule is “the’ guiding moral principle.

During the Q & A that followed I pointed out that Harry had argued both that the Golden Rule is severely undermined whenever we assume that we know more than the other person and that (in the case of Fallacy #2) it was necessary to assume a position of superior knowledge to prevent little Willy Squirrel from electrocuting himself.  Since humans are usually prone to assuming that they know more than others, I asked, doesn’t this create a considerable risk in being guided solely by the Golden Rule?  Harry’s response was basically that “we have to be better in knowing when we do and don’t have superior knowledge.”  I remained unconvinced.

The morning presenters introduced themselves and gave previews of their programs, followed by a short break.

During the break, I reconnected with Earl Smith of the Church of Scientology of Toronto.  We had shared a suite at the first NAIN Connect I attended in Southern California many years ago and had had many wee-hour conversations about Wicca and Scientology.  Earl is a great spokesman for Scientology and I always enjoy conversations with him.

After the break, we had our first choice of workshops, between:
* The Golden Rule and the Ethics of Reciprocity
* Women Transcending Boundaries
* The Golden Rule Curriculum for Schools

I attended the first, given by Jeffrey Wattles, Professor of Philosophy at Kent State University.  Jeff discussed Golden Rule-like concepts, wandering between Chinese Confucianism, Ancient Greek philosophy, early Jewish thought, and late 19th century US Christian Revivalism.  In the last case, he focused on the philanthropic life of textile businessman Arthur Nash.  This last was the most interesting part for me as he discussed how ministers & businessmen (not theologians) emphasized the Golden Rule as “a mean between competitive ruthlessness and naïve idealism” in guiding ethical business practice.  (“How do I make money and still be a good guy?”)  He also discussed the Golden Rule’s use as a symbol at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions of interfaith unity, cooperation, and friendship.

He closed with an interesting quote from Moby Dick, but without comment, leaving several of us wondering what point he intended to convey.  Ishmael writes about Queequeg:

<< He then went about his evening prayers, took out his idol, and removed the paper fireboard. By certain signs and symptoms, I thought he seemed anxious for me to join him; but well knowing what was to follow, I deliberated a moment whether, in case he invited me, I would comply or otherwise.
I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth - pagans and all included - can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship? - to do the will of God - that is worship. And what is the will of God? - to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me - that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. >> (page 51)

For whatever reason, Jeff didn’t give us the rest of the quote:

<< So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world. >>

In the second morning session, we had two workshops to choose from:
* The Golden Rule and the UN
* Women’s Leadership.

Again, I attended the first one, led by Grove Harris, who is known to many of us.  This was a VERY good presentation on the ins and outs of trying to do spiritual / environmental work at the UN.  Grove discussed the complexities of protocol, the competition for time and resources between different administrative entities, the personal difficulty if addressing heart-rending global crises in clinical terms, and more. 

She said that at first she was put off by the US’s approach of never signing on to anything that they weren’t already doing, until she saw how many declarations and plans full of lofty words and expressions of intent came to nothing.  She talked about the “buzz words” and phrases that can get you into hot water because they refer to some conflict behind the scenes that you may know nothing about.

She gave us a thumbnail sketch of many of the UN groups that would be of interest to us:
* Interfaith Consortium for Environmental Concerns
* Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
* High Level Panel on Sustainability
* Forum on Forests
* Forum on Oceans
* United Nations Environmental Program
* UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
* Rio +20 / Green Economy

Grove said that all documents and declarations are finalized BEFORE the events about them, so folks are surprised when they show up for a conference and discover that they have no input into the document coming out of the conference.  The time for input is well in advance of the event.

She said that the UN buildings are constantly under construction as the number of countries in the world continues to increase.  Delegations from new, small, poor countries arrive at great expense only to find that only a couple of their people can have an office.

She reminded us that ALL negotiations at the UN are political.  Each delegation is representing, first and foremost, the interests of THEIR people.  Political interests and consensus process are often in tension.  There is also a great tension between human rights and environmental protection.  Many delegations have no choice but to focus on the immediate, desperate humanitarian needs of their people, relegating the ultimately more crucial issues of environmental collapse to second place.  Grove commented that the Golden Rule really didn’t offer much guidance in these matters since it is so human-centered.

(Actually, there was a LOT of information in Grove’s presentation.  Too much to even try to reproduce here.  Fortunately, NAIN was videotaping the talks and they’ll be available soon on the NAIN website.)

During the Q & A, the issue of overpopulation came up often.  Grove said that there is a constant focus on feeding people rather than having fewer people in the first place, and that it is vitally important that the religions get on board with endorsing condom distribution and use.

After this session, most of the folks got onto buses to visit a local Indian temple – very unusual in that it combines a Jain temple and a Hindu temple in a single complex (  Once again, I stayed at the hotel, since the visit would involve a sumptuous Indian feast for lunch, a gracious act of hospitality that I would have to refuse.  Rachael also remained to work on a project for the NAIN Board, so we grabbed lunch in the Mexican restaurant in the hotel.

When everyone returned, we had a panel on “Broad Questions Faced by Interfaith in the 21st Century”.  Salim Jaffer, a Muslim, spoke about the importance of reaching out to youth and about looking to Canada as a model of religious pluralism.  Rabbi David Kunin, who had originally prepared a program somewhat similar to mine, but found himself placed on this panel instead, read the foreword from his paper warning about the dangers of a “narrative of similarity” in which the uniqueness of our faith traditions is lost in language that implies greater similarity than actually exists.  His points were clear, concise, and very well-received.  Beverly George, a practitioner of Soka Gakkai Buddhism, tried to make some point about dependent origination using Buddha’s story of the Poisoned Arrow, but I confess that neither Rachael nor I could figure out what point she was trying to make.  Finally, Jason Smith, whose faith tradition was listed as “Young Adult”, brought up some very interesting thoughts about how the interfaith movement might engage “secularists” and “exclusivists”.  His remarks were also very well-received.

During the Q & A, Bettina Gray (current NAIN Chair and long-time interfaith friend, dating back to the Berkeley Interfaith Council) mentioned that 20 years ago, Diana Eck (of Harvard’s Pluralism Project) had warned that while the “exclusivists” rejected the faith traditions of others, we could also b e SO INclusive that we ended up doing the same thing.  David observed that while a syncretic religion could be a member of NAIN, syncretic religiosity itself is not a goal of NAIN.

After a short break, we reconvened for NAIN’s actual annual business meeting.  Unlike CoG, almost all of NAIN’s business is conducted by its Board and is merely ratified by their membership at the annual meeting.  There was a remembrance of those who had passed in the last year, the usual introductions of and thank yous to the Board Members (including Rachael), approval of the previous year’s minutes, and a presentation of the budget for next year: ~ $9000, over half of which is for youth scholarships.  However, this budget is a deficit one and the Board pledged to raise more money.  Even so, they did not raise the membership dues, which are $125 for an organization.  Rachael was appointed Chair of the Internal Communications Committee.  Next year’s NAIN will be in Atlanta GA and NAIN Connect 2013 will be in Toronto.

After the meeting, it was back on the busses for a trip to the L.D.S. Student Center at Arizona State University.  Our L.D.S. hosts told us about the recently-opened center before serving us a yummy dinner.  Dinner was followed by a panel of the 10 recipients of Young Adult scholarships to attend the NAIN Connect.  They were asked to answer questions about using the Golden Rule in their interfaith work.  While the Golden Rule itself seemed to have little bearing on their answers, we were VERY impressed with just how much they are doing in community service and how deep their commitment to interfaith in their private and professional lives seemed to be.  (I wasn’t able to take notes or I would have a lot more to say, as the Young Adults were the most interesting and lively part of the whole program.)

On the busride back to the hotel, I sat with Josh and had a fascinating discussion of “religious naturalism” as a new form of atheism gaining popularity among the youth, which sounds suspiciously to me like a less devotional form of Neopaganism.  We agreed that there are some important connections to be made here and exchanged emails to pursue later.

Over dinner, I had been informed that some strings had been pulled behind the scenes and a separate room had been arranged so that Harry and I could each present our own programs in a full time slot.  This was great news, but meant that I now had to take what I had prepared for half of a joint presentation and retool it into a single, 50-minute piece.  Staying up late attending to that made this report a day late.

More to come... the last day of the conference.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

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 (  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 (, 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 (  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.)

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.

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” (, 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,  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.

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.

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Report from Rachael Watcher

July 17th 2011

This has been a long couple of weeks. I had told the United Religions Initiative that they were welcome to use the Adobe Connect program for their Global Council meeting as, is so common with many large organizations in this economy, there was not the funds to bring everyone together from all over the world.

Now this might have been all there was to it but Monday before the meeting on Thursday, they decided that they needed the support and equipment that I had to offer and asked that I be “available” during the week end and help to set up on Thursday. This meant that Monday and Tuesday were spent in setting up the equipment and checking it to be certain that everything was working. On Thursday I showed up at Vallombrosa in Menlo Park, CA to discover that they had already set up what they considered to be an adequate system using web cams and web mics and felt that the equipment I had brought was unnecessary.

Needless to say, aside from failing to understand the difference between HD chips and high resolution lenses on real cameras, they did not do adequate research into what the pipeline would carry. The result was a pretty radical failure but like most similar situations my associate, PK McCary and I learned some valuable lessons. As it turns out, everyone who had joined from a distance very much enjoyed the experience and are now pushing to continue the the use of the program. PK and I will have a larger part in the participation, organization, and production of these meetings to be certain that they are successful. This means about a year of information gathering about the people who will be involved and the systems that are available to them. Heavy sigh....all I really wanted was to help one meeting be more accessible to distance folks.

Yoland asked that Don and I provide the opening ceremony, but at the last minute Don could not attend due to the fact that he simply had too many other commitments piling up so I did the opening alone, having the group preform a walking meditation to the spiral dance leaving mundane space and entering into sacred space for the duration of the meeting time. I then called down the ancestors to stand by us and guide us in right thinking, and the land wights to bless our presence, lit a candle and rang the bell three times. I got home at ten and had a late dinner with friends who had come down to visit, unaware that I would be out. Late night.

On the following Monday after the meeting, Elias Pinto, a representative from Brazil and the South American Region of the URI, asked if he could visit a bit before going home and I collected him and brought him back to Walnut Creek. Greg decided that he should go to Yosemite as the excessive rains over the winter and spring would make it the most spectacular place for waterfalls in twenty years. So...Tuesday after lunch with Don in Berkeley, and a two and a half hour visit with the Hub in San Francisco while I actually got some work done pulling permits for my construction crew, we headed back to Walnut Creek, threw clothes, cameras, and other tourist junk in the car and headed to Merced to spend the evening in a Motel 6 in order to get an early start toward the Valley on Wednesday morning.

Elias was fascinated with the motel. He'd never stayed in one before and explained that in Brazil motels were strictly for sex and were very sensual places very decorated for the “occasion”. When I asked him what people who were traveling did for rest, he told me that one planned trips based on getting to a city where they would either stay with friends or in hotels.

The trip to Yosemite was great but very long. I gave him my video camera and some quick tips on how to use it. We drove the long way round, about fifty miles, to the Giant Sequoia grove where he got to see the big trees. He had seen the Sequoia Sempervirens and I was able to show him the differences in the two species. We then drove thirty miles to Glacier Point. On the way we actually so a brown bear. You don't see too many of them anymore. They pretty much stay out of people's way now days.

At the Point we got a good look at Half Dome from that side and he got so excited because he immediately saw the “eagle” that is outlined in the rock and kept pointing out that this was a good omen for 'the people of the eagle', which is how the Central and South American people refer to the indigenous people of North America among whom they count us. Another thirty mile drive into the Valley floor and by this time he was beginning to understand just how big the park is. We visited several falls and the museum at the park which showed him many interesting artifacts about the Miwok and Paiute cultures that inhabited the valley prior to European influx.

With that we started home, stopping every whip stitch for Greg to take pictures. I finally had to promise him that we would come back in October and stay in the park for the weekend so that he could take all the time he wanted for photography just to get him to stay in the car long enough to get out of the park. It was fifteen miles to the park entrance and one hundred and fifty miles home. We arrived home about nine PM and spent the next several hours putting his video on DVD and editing all of the pictures that Greg took and getting all of those plus all of the the other pics we have of Yosemite in all types of seasons and weather on a DVD also. On Thursday morning PK came by and picked him up to take him to the airport.

Needless to say much of our time together was spent in discussion about the URI. He was also interested in the Gay and Lesbian Rights movement here in the US and I was sorry that I could not speak more fully to that issue.

For the Global council meeting Think Peace International developed a short film on the roll of the Global Council through the Seventh Generation, working to make them more aware of the necessity to to plan for the future and take into consideration such factors as the economy and environment and how we need to be able to sustain an international organization as resources become more dear.

Throughout all of this very busy time I was involved in board planning for the upcoming North American Interfaith Network meeting in a week in Phoenix, and helping to form a new Blog zine called “The Interfaith Observer” with a very interesting group of folks. I have no idea why I was asked to be among this incredibly prestigious group, but perhaps time will tell what it is they think I can contribute. I hope that they will not be disappointed. More on this as it develops.

In Her Service