Thursday, September 22, 2016

Interfaith Report -- Religious Leaders' Gathering

Green Gulch Farm & Zen Center
Last month I attended one of MIC’s religious leaders’ gatherings at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, California.  As is customary with these gatherings, three leaders from three different religious traditions spoke on the same topic or theme, followed by small group discussions and Q&A with the presenters.

At this gathering, we explored and shared “how we can speak from our different faith perspectives in a way that not only honors our similarities but also honors our diversity and places of disagreement.”

The Rev. Stephen Hale of Green Gulch Zen Center said Zen teaches practitioners to honor the similarities and differences of all faiths.  Zen also stresses impermanence and seeks to end suffering.  With respect to theism, trying to prove or disprove the existence of God(s), efforts are futile because “ultimate reality is beyond comprehension.”  Rather, one’s efforts are better expended in cultivating and acting with kindness, generosity, and compassion towards all.

Moina Shaiq
Moina Shaiq, President of the Tri-City Interfaith Council and founder of the Muslim Support Network, has dedicated her life to dispelling misunderstandings of Islam and its followers.  She maintains that all religions and their practitioners are different so we must look beyond exterior appearance.  She advocates getting to know one’s neighbors in the surrounding area of forty homes in diameter 

Neighborly neglect seems more the norm in contemporary society than in earlier times.  Nowadays people focus on careers and acquisitions, and families relocate more frequently, in my view.  I think her suggestion is a good one.  We humans fear what we do not know, so the obvious remedy is to listen and learn, and to reciprocate.

When queried about the prescriptions, prohibitions, and exhortations in sacred text, she responded that one is judged based on piety over obeying texts.  This statement directly contradicts the interpretations of the precepts of the Koran by those who seek to eliminate or convert all non-Muslims by jihad.  I welcome Moina’s alternative views.

Rob McClellan
The third speaker, the Rev. Rob McClellan, Senior Pastor at host congregation Westminster Presbyterian, said that when he was at Reed College in Oregon, either he or a group with which he was affiliated issued an apology by testifying to all the wrongs done in the name of religion.

Generally speaking, I love these opportunities for religious people to share their views, beliefs, and experiences in an appreciative, non-judgmental milieu of multi-faith colleagues.  I’m grateful to Stephen, Moina, and Rob for their sharing and to Marin Interfaith Council for providing the opportunity.

[Please bear with me, readers, because since my stroke I cannot write clearly and quickly.  I’m interpreting some sloppy notes, hoping they are accurate.]

Yours in service to Coventina,

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Don Frew again elected to United Religions Initiative Global Council

On September 8th I was elected to another four-year term on the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative.
Recently, the URI went to staggered elections for its Trustees, so half of the Regions in the URI elect Trustees every two years for a four year term.
A few months ago, the following Regions elected new Trustees:
* Latin America & the Caribbean
        Salette Aquino (Brazil), Sofia Painiqueo (Chile), David Pajar (Peru)
* the Middle East & North Africa
        Ahmed Osama Abu Doma (Egypt), Naoufal El Hammoumi (Morocco), Ameena Ezzat Yaqoob (Jordan)
* the Multiregion
        Suchith Abeyewickreme (Sri Lanka), Elana Rozenman (Israel), Audri Scott Williams (USA)
* North America
        Joan Brown Campbell (USA), Fred Fielding (USA), Jaya Priya Reinhalter (USA)
The mix of these new Trustees and those in the middle of their terms from the other four Regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, and South East Asia & the Pacific) met for the first time on today's conference call.  The call included the outgoing Trustees, so they could be honored before their farewells.
This was the first time we used the Zoom meeting software for a meeting.  It was great to see everyone's faces all over the world!  And it apparently saves the URI thousands of dollars a month in phone bills!
The Global Council then dealt with several issues of interest.
* They elected three At-Large Trustees - myself, Becky Burad (USA), and Chief Phil Lane (Canada).  Becky had just ended her first four-year term as an At-Large Trustee and has been doing a great job as the URI's Treasurer.  Chief Phil was tasked with focusing on indigenous issues, rather than representing one of the Regions.  I was brought back on for my expertise with the URI's Bylaws (I've Chaired the GC's Bylaws Committee for two years), my knowledge of the URI's administrative history, and to increase the Global Council's religious diversity. 
I have served on the Global Council as a Trustee since 2002, with a brief period off the Council in 2010-2012.  The only Trustees who have been on the Global Council this long are myself and the URI's founder, Bishop Bill Swing.  While I am of course honored to be asked to serve again, I think that it's important to look at the bigger picture and note that the URI has had a Witch on its Board of Trustees almost continuously since its founding!  This speaks well of its commitment to maintaining diversity and its acceptance of Paganism.
* Chief Phil was talking to us from the Standing Rock Reservation. We looked at the problems going on there and how we can address them.  The Standing Committee will decide on an appropriate course of action.  Of course, for many in other parts of the world this was entirely new information.
* We approved the incorporation of the existing President's Council into our structure as an Advisory Committee.  The President's Council raises most of the URI's $3.4 million annual budget.
* We elected some new Officers to replace those who just left the Global Council (GC):
        -- Rattan Chana (Kenya) - Vice Chair of the GC
        -- Audri Scott Williams (USA) - Secretary of the GC
        -- Bart ten Brock (Netherlands) - Assistant Secretary of the GC
BTW, Bart is in a Cooperation Circle with Morgana Sythove of the Pagan Federation International, a Wiccan known to many in CoG.
* We talked about our annual face-to-face meeting of the GC.  It looks like - once again! - we will be imitating CoG and starting a system where the annual meeting moves around the world, hosted by a different Region each time.
* We learned a little about our latest member Cooperation Circles (CCs):
        -- Council of Religions- Mauritius (Mauritious)
        -- Interfaith Cooperation Circle of Kaua’i ( USA )
        -- Solar Cities ( USA )
        -- Porsesh Research and Studies Organization ( Kabul , Afghanistan )
        -- Women and Peace Studies Organization ( Kabul , Afghanistan )
        -- Bridge Builders ( Argentina )
        -- Gallatin Valley Interfaith Association ( Montana , USA ) 
        -- Dialogue Interreligieux pour la Paix en Afrique (Interreligious Dialogue for Peace in Africa) ( Burundi )
        -- Religious Journalist Association of Liberia ( Liberia )
As of the CC Approval Committee meeting on Wednesday, the URI will have over 800 Cooperation Circles in over 80 countries!
* We are in the process of a major website overhaul that will make it easier for folks to find CCs that are doing work in particular areas of interest around the world.  In the meantime, the website is updated all the time and well worth checking out --  The current Action Areas of the URI CCs are listed below.
As always, I am deeply grateful for the support of the Covenant in this work.
Thanks & Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

URI, as a global network actively engaged in the growing interfaith movement, is dedicated to peacebuilding through cooperation that bridges religious and cultural differences. Cooperation Circles engage issues in various action areas that they have identified as crucial for achieving sustainable peace in their communities. This is consistent with Principle 14 of our Charter, which states:

“We have the right to organize in any manner, at any scale, in any area, and around any issue or activity which is relevant to and consistent with the Preamble, Purpose and Principles.”

In order to better reflect the work of our CCs and to be consistent throughout URI, we propose using the following action area categories below. We also included examples to help clarify the broader categories. You may identify your CC using more than one action area. If you are a CC working on an area not captured in the categories below, please let us know via email to We welcome your feedback, and thank you for the important work you undertake.

Examples: programs and projects utilizing fine art, music, dance and poetry, as well as media (broadcast, print, online)

Community Building
Examples:  projects/programs related to civic engagement, social cohesion, community development and tension reduction

Examples:  curriculum development, workshops and trainings, assistance with schools and school programs, as well as research initiatives

Examples:  climate change, water sanitation and clean water access, global warming, environmental sustainability projects

Health and Social Services
Examples:  work with hospitals, clinics, blood drives, AIDS patients, people who are disabled, prison visits, homelessness, mental health

Human Rights
Examples:  work with refugees and other displaced persons, asylum seekers, political prisoners, labor rights, religious freedoms, LGBTQ issues

Indigenous Peoples
Examples:  projects that share Indigenous cultures, practices and traditional wisdom; programs that address political issues pertaining to Indigenous peoples, leadership, empowerment, equity, representation, knowledge transfer, truth and reconciliation

Interfaith Understanding and Dialogue
Examples:  interfaith dialogues, interfaith encounters and exchanges, and other interfaith activities

Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation
Examples:  conflict resolution as well as all peacebuilding initiatives that aim to change systems from which conflicts emerge so conflict does not recur

Poverty Alleviation/Economic Opportunity
Examples:  small business training, microloan projects, services that uplift people living in poverty

Policy Advocacy
Examples:  policy engagement, political partnerships, nuclear disarmament

Examples: projects/programs that address empowerment, leadership, equity, representation, violence against women and girls, female infanticide

Examples:  work with children, schools, youth mentoring and leadership, equity, empowerment, representation, and intergenerational peacebuilding