Saturday, December 5, 2009

A very full day (Sat., Dec. 5 / 09)

The variety and number of programs on offer is staggering! In any given 90-minute timeslot there are between 20 and 30 programs scheduled!

At 9:30am, Anna and I attended “Challenge of Shinto: An Approach to Living Together in Diversity”, given by Rev. Munemichi Kurozumi. I have known Michi since we worked together in planning meetings in Chicago in 1998 for the 1999 Parliament. He is the son and heir of the 6th Patriarch of Kurozumikyo Shinto. (Long time readers of my reports may remember the “Titanic” photo of him and me on Table Mountain at the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. Michi explained the history of Shinto through three periods. The early period, in which Shinto was the indigenous folk religion of Japan. The Meiji Period (1860’s – 1945), during which Shinto was welded to the State and made into a State religion with the Emperor as the primary God (in a misguided effort to emulate the success of Western nations with state churches). And the post-War period, in which State Shinto had been abolished, the Emperor was now just a symbolic national “parent”, and many smaller expressions of Shinto had flourished.

Michi’s sect was founded by one of his ancestors – Munetada Kurozumi – who had received a direct transmission of divine essence from the Sun goddess Amaterasu. As a result, Kurozumikyo Shinto focuses on the Sun perhaps a bit more than other sects, but it shares the fundamental idea of living in harmony with the kami, or spirits of nature. After his talk, we chatted for a bit, remembering previous conferences, and he asked Anna and me to attend his sunrise observance on Tuesday. We’ll try to be there. (Anna later showed me a wrapped box of Japanese tea that Michi gave her in the hall, some time after the morning program.)

At 11:30am, we went to “Interreligious Regional Concerns: Latin America”, a discussion to which Raul had been asked to contribute. The group was small, so we all met in a circle. The facilitator, an indigenous El Salvadorian named Marta, asked each person to share, vocally and on a pad passed around, their name, contact email, and concerns. She would then circulate the information so folks could be connected with others who could be of assistance. There was one Catholic monk who organizes interfaith dialogues for monks and nuns and is interested in setting up dialogues in Latin America. There was a Korean student who was preparing for a class on Liberation theology in Latin America. Everyone else who attended was primarily interested in indigenous issues. There was great concern that the language barrier keeps Latin America out-of-the-loop in interfaith, and that this and the financial barrier keeps Latin American indigenous representatives away. The group decided that it wanted to meet again to seek productive ways to address their concerns with the Parliament’s organizers. Also, most of them had never heard of the United Religions Initiative and were very interested in how the URI might help with their own networking efforts.

After lunch, we wandered through the Exhibition Room for our first pass through the booths.

I have learned, after attending four Parliaments, that the folks most likely to get booths at a Parliament are also the folks most likely to be intently evangelical about their particular Teacher. (Of course, there are exceptions – the Pagans always being one.) As a result, there is an art to successfully navigating the Exhibition Room with any quickness: Walk in the middle of the aisle; don’t get to close to a booth until you have decided to enter it. Avoid eye-contact with booth minders; look at their signage instead. Only if the items on display catch your interest do you then engage the people inside. Otherwise, every other booth will become a half-hour immersion experience in another faith tradition. That’s fine, if that’s what you’re looking for, but can make you very late for a meeting or program if you aren’t.

One of the first booths I encountered was the one for, a website seeking to become the premier neutral source for information on religion. I introduced myself mentioned that they had asked for copies of my previous Parliament presentations to post, which I appreciated. I picked up some literature and moved on. Soon, a man ran up to me and introduced himself as Leo Brunick, patheos’s CEO. He said that they were doing quick interviews and would like to do one with me, if I had the time. I did, so we did. He asked four questions: What does it mean to be a Wiccan in today’s world? How has the rise of internet technology affected our community? What about our tradition is easiest for other faiths to understand, and what is hardest? What good do I see coming out of this Parliament? You’ll see my answers on the site soon. ;-)

Another booth was staffed by the followers of Dharma Master Hsin Tao. He maintains a marvelous Museum of World Religions in Taipei, Taiwan, which I have visited twice . The first time I met him, he asked me to send information about Wicca. The second time, I met with him at Wu Sheng monastery on Ling Jiou Mountain on the north coast and presented him with all the items necessary to construct a Wiccan altar in the Museum. The items were donated by members of the Northern California Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, and included my own first cord and athame. I hope that there will be an opportunity to meet with him here.

Another booth featured the interfaith prayer beads of Eleanor Wiley. Each prayer bead string includes a metal “Sacred Wheel of Peace” with six spokes. Around the rim, at the ends of the spokes, are six symbols which do multiple duty in representing several religions each. For example, a Sanskrit “OM” is there to represent “Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, all religions using Sanskrit for holy writings”. I was a little amused to read that a crescent moon and star represent “Muslim, Wicca, separate the symbols, the possibilities are endless”. I have no problem with this, but I imagine that more than a few Muslims might. The beads really are quite charming and I encourage folks to check them out at

At 4:30pm, we went to “URI – Global Community Gathering”, a reception for the many United Religions Initiative members attending the Parliament. URI Director Charles Gibbs welcomed everyone and introduced URI Global Council Chair Yoland Trevino. Yoland, in traditional Mayan garb, introduced aboriginal elder Uncle Max Duramunmun Harrison of the Yuin nation. She asked his permission for our being there, and when he agreed, presented him with gifts from the URI. Uncle Max was moved to tears and expressed his gratitude and feeling of being with family.

I bumped into Kay Lindahl, co-coordinator of the URI’s Wisdom & Vision Council, and we immediately cornered Charles & Yoland to arrange a dinner meeting to discuss the latest developments in the creation of this council of former URI Trustees.

Gerardo Gonzalez, another fellow former URI Trustee, arrived late. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, so we quickly caught up. Gerardo is one of the prime movers behind the effort to get the UN to declare 2011-2020 the “UN Decade of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace”. Unfortunately, his program tomorrow is scheduled against my “Lost & Endangered Religions” program.

By the time the URI program ended, it was after 6:00pm, we were all hungry, and there was no place nearby that would be open. Anna, Raul, Yoland, Rachael, and I retired to Rachael’s and Rowan’s room, in the Hilton attached to the Parliament venue, to order room service and work on tomorrow’s “Lost & Endangered Religions Project” program. We finished around 10:00pm and Anna and I caught a cab back to our hotel, as the sky seemed to be threatening rain.

It's just after 3:00am. Tomorrow (today!) is the big day for my program. Wish me luck!

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

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