Sunday, September 25, 2011

Student Panel on Interfaith Dialogue in Philadelphia

There is an upcoming interfaith event connected to Bryn Mawr College--where there is sufficient public Pagan presence--in Philadelphia. Jane McAuliffe, current President of the College and well known Islamic Studies/Religion scholar, will give opening remarks for a student panel on interfaith and intercultural dialogue.

“When Cultures Meet on Campus: Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue” 
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
at the National Museum of American Jewish History
101 South Independence Mall East, Philadelphia, PA 19106–2517

 4:45 p.m. - Docent tour of the museum 

6:00 p.m. - Remarks by President McAuliffe followed by student panel discussion and reception 
Register Online (Oct. 15 deadline)

I believe this is the new Jewish history museum in Philadelphia. I won't be at this particular event because I am in the Bay Area now. I look forward to hearing about the event though and sharing anything that I learn.
-Michelle Mueller

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hindu American Foundation Fund Raiser

On Saturday evening September 17th, the Hindu American Foundation  held it’s annual fund raising dinner.  Two of the Covenant of the Goddess’s National Interfaith Representatives were there to enjoy the dinner and witness the professional finesse with which this organization handles its only SF Bay Area fund raising drive. 
What makes this event of interest to us as Pagans and Wiccans, is that this religious organization holds so much in common with us, recognizes that connection, and is actually reaching out to us to form bonds of mutual support.   Rather than bore you with a blow by blow description of the evening let me instead mention some of the many reflections that occurred to me. 
The first thing that struck me so forcefully was the repeated mention of PantheaCon and their attendance at that event last year.  Samir Kalra made a point of coming over to join Macha Nightmare and myself prior to the start of the program to introduce himself as the HAF California representative this year.  He wanted to thank us for our presence and mentioned how much he had enjoyed attending the PantheaCon conference.  For those of you reading this who may not have attended the Convention last year, the Pagans and Hindus put on a ritual combining elements of both systems and everyone on both sides seemed to be very happy with the result.  Mihir Meghani, one of the co-founders also present at PCon, even mentioned  it during his main presentation.
I was struck by all of the ideologies, practices and beliefs that we share as the program moved forward. Army Oficer  Rajiv Srinivasan, of Roanoke, Virginia, now a recruitment officer for West Point, spoke of his isolation as a practicing Hindu, in the Armed Forces and how his faith was tested in Afghanistan as a platoon leader almost constantly in harms way.  As a Wiccan myself who was in the military I can very much relate to his feelings of being pressured to attend one of the religious services offered on base on Saturdays and Sundays and, having partaken of mess hall food can only imagine his difficulty in maintaining a vegetarian diet.  Many young pagans have spoken to me of similar issues.
They spoke of the difficulty that their children face in school.  Where Pagan children can sit quietly back and not worry that issues of their religion will arise, Hindu children must face that fact during the fifth and sixth grades here in California when, during Social Studies and World Culture, religions of the world are discussed.  Many of the text books are incorrect in their information on Muslim and Hindu practices and the children must face the decision to correct them, or set themselves up for ridicule from class mates during breaks and after school. To counter this mis-information on the Hindu religion, they have developed their own textbook in partnership with several Hindu scholars and professors which is due to be released in hard back within the next two weeks.
Their Gods, like ours are multiple and complicated and they emphasize the equality of power among genders.  Their practices vary as much as ours, and they respect men and women in modern practice equally.  Within this organization there were as many highly positioned and professional females as males. Many of their spokespersons are women.  
We do also have vast differences between us.  They worship in a congregational manner, with temples and all of the infrastructure that this implies. As I looked around the room I noticed that most of the people in it were Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, or  other very highly paid professionals.  A person at the  table next to us, during the fund raising part of the program, wrote a check for $20,000 without even wincing.  Can you imagine?  A Hindu comedian commented  that if you were an American Hindu male you had only four choices of career, doctor, lawyer, engineer, or failure.   Unlike most Pagans today, they have grown up with and have a deep commitment to their religion that goes back five thousand years over countless generations.  This means that they don’t even have to think about how much they wish to commit to this religion.  It is simply who they are. Many of these still fairly young professional families are donating a year or two away from careers to work full time without pay for this organization.
During the program they spoke about how they came to develop HAF and the plan that they implemented, which is certainly a model that we could all use.  The first step was reaction.  They took immediate action against articles and news reports that were incorrect and set forth to both correct and educate the people and organizations involved.  The second step was pro-action.   They quickly discovered that there was no “go to” place to get accurate information on the Hindu religion and so they set out to let those same people and organizations know about them.   The third step was activism.
This has been reflected in many ways.  They began a program to take back Yoga.  Over the course of many years here in the United State there had been a real effort on the part of health practitioners and the new age movement to play down and separate the practice of Yoga from its religious roots and connected practices.  The program was very successful with great news coverage by all of the major news media.  We received word during the dinner that several of the Lawyers in the room were flying back to Washing DC the next day to attend a congressional hearing on the case of the Hindus in the Kashmir.
There is much that we could learn from this organization and I believe that we will profit from the work that they are doing on behalf of Hindus and Pagans.   As a new religion I believe that Hindus have much to teach us about dedication to a belief, and as an organization I believe that HAF has much to teach us about organizational structure and how to use its members to their best and fullest ability. 
As a final note, all that this organization has accomplished has been done with only four paid staff employees and a budget one tenth the size of any of the comparable major religious organizations out there doing the same work. They raised approximately a quarter of a million dollars last night.  I wish us how to do THAT.
Rachael Watcher 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Greek Orthodox 9/11 memorial photo

From inside the Greek Orthodox Church of Stockton, CA during 9/11 memorial.

Michelle Mueller, M.Div.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MIC Contemplative Service for Peace

Like so many millions of Americans across the country, we here in Marin County stopped to remember the events of 9/11/2001. There were about a dozen events listed in the local newspaper commemorating that day, so I wasn't expecting too many people to come to this one offered by Marin Interfaith Council, but come they did, about 80 in all. In speaking with others who were there, I learned that some were not religious people, but simply wanted to come together in community for this occasion. They didn't want preaching, of which we had none (and if we had, I likely would not have participated).

We gathered in a circle around Community Congregational Church of Tiburon's new labyrinth. One arc of the circle was shaded by a small grove of redwoods, and another opened onto a vast view of the Golden Gate and the Golden Gate Bridge. A central altar table held a staff (gift to the church from the woman who consulted on building the labyrinth), a blue glass novena candle, a Tibetan singing bowl, and a small statue of Lady Liberty. I placed the last two items there. Lady Liberty's torch held a small candle. There was a light breeze blowing, so I didn't expect to be able to keep a candle lit. Those who saw me about to do so told me not to bother. Still, it was important to light it, so I did. It burned for a few seconds, maybe a minute, and blew out.

The Marin interfaith singers opened the gathering with "Dona Nobis Pacem," a lovely song that most, if not all, religions seem comfortable with. I know I am.

We were welcomed by the Rev. Carol Hovis, Executive Director of MIC, and the Rev. Curran Reichert, pastor of the host facility. I was encouraged to hear Carol speak of the religious dimension of the 9/11 attacks and of the fact that all religions have their dark sides.

The Rev. Jeremy Levie of Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center, read from the Buddhist tradition. Rabbi Henry Shreibman, a reconstructionist Jew, recited in Hebrew from the book of Lamentations, then spoke the words in English. Then MIC intern Abby Fuller rang a bell signaling silent meditation.

From Brahma Kumaris, a Hindu order, Sister Kyoko Kamura played flute while Sister Roslyn Seaton read.

Group chanting and silent meditations occurred between readings.

Sister Colleen McDermott, of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, read a Roman Catholic meditation.

Following another period of silence, in honor of Lady Liberty, I read "The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus, written in 1883 and inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York City Harbor.*

As I walked back to my seat on the other side of the labyrinth, I stopped to relight Lady Liberty's torch. It lit, and it stayed lit.

After a musical meditation by Stephen Iverson, Music Minister at Sleepy Hollow Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo and Cantor at St. Rita's Catholic Church in Fairfax, a youth leader, Nura Heydari, from San Rafael Bahá'í Community, gave a reading.

Author Nafisa Haji of the International Society of Sufism, gave the final reading, followed by closing words from MIC intern Abby Fuller from San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo and First Church of Christ Scientist, San Rafael.

We closed with a group chant that was written by a member of the EarthSpirit Community in Boston as her immediate response to the 9/11 attacks. As I led the chant, I extended my hands to grasp those of the people on either side of me, until the we all created one circle.

Rabbi Schriebman played taps.

The magic of the day was that for the duration of the service, Lady Liberty's flame stayed lit. It would flicker and seem to be gone, and then it would leap to life again. Corby and I were watching it intently. I noticed that Carol Hovis across the circle was also watching it. As it turned out, almost everyone was watching that sacred flame, as many of them commented to me afterward. I told them it was magic, which indeed it was. We Pagan priestesses are good at doing magic.

Corby and I, and others, I'm certain, found each different reading offered something comforting, wise, and inspirational to be gleaned.

One could not have asked for a more beautiful day to commemorate such a horrendous day ten years earlier. Or a more beautiful location. Healing is happening.

Yours in service to Coventina,
M. Macha NightMare (Aline O'Brien)

* I was pleased to learn that my colleague at CHS, Holli Emore, read the same piece at an Interfaith Gathering for Peace in which she participated in Charleston, SC.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Saratoga California - 9/11 Observance: Moving Forward: Transformation through Community Engagement

On September 7th the Islamic Networks Group (ING) in partnership with the Council on American Islamic Relations – San Francisco Bay Area, Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center, Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose, Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC) hosted an interfaith gathering commemorating the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in Saratoga, CA.  The event was meant to both memorialize the victims and honor those who sacrificed their lives trying to save others on that day.

There was a lovely reception with Middle Eastern snacks. The lobby of the McAfee Center was colourful with all the religious garb and other nicely dressed attendees. There were over 30 religious leaders, a dozen first responder representatives and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, two filmmakers and I would estimate 100-150 attendees and staff. Local service organizations were present in the lobby offering volunteer opportunities.

The program started with the documentary Love Hate Love by Dana Nachman & Don Hardy chronicling three families torn apart by terrorism. The Aldermans lost a son in NYC's World Trade Center, the Hymans lost a sister in the London Underground bombings and the third story was about Ben Tullipan, who was himself caught in the Bali nightclub bombing where he was severely burned and lost both of his legs. In each case the survivors turned to helping others in their search for meaning. The Aldermans have created mental health clinics in war torn areas to help those afflicted with PTSD make new lives. The Hymans support a children's eye clinic in India because their lost sister  discovered as a teenager that she was nearsighted and corrective lenses let her appreciate art. Ben helps new amputees get back on their feet and supports the Bali community with his import store in Australia. It was very nicely done and filled with hope and meaning.

After the film, Supervisor Cortese welcomed people and the 30 faith leaders processed up to sit on stage. (So I have no pictures of the event, first they put us in the very back and then on stage.)  Then the first responder representatives were called and they joined us on stage. We had four keynote faith leader speakers Fr. Jon Pedigo from the Catholic Diocese, Shifu Jian Hu from the Sunnyvale Zen Center, Rabbi Dana Magat from Temple Emmanuel and Imam Aladdin El Bakri (that is Al eh Deeeen not Aladdin like the Disney movie). Between them they hit on absolutely every theme that was appropriate for the day. I am very impressed by our local interfaith community!

We finished on time and folks were so energized that they continued to chat in the lobby (and finish off the snacks). It was a really beautiful ceremony and brought our community together.

Rowan Fairgrove
NCLC Interfaith Rep

Friday, September 2, 2011