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Bay Area Interfaith Connect

Additional News Stories from 2008

August 2008

Global Interfaith Gatherings:


Mecca and Madrid:

  • The Makkah Appeal for Interfaith Dialogue (Saudi Embassy)
  • The World Conference on Dialogue: Its Promise and Challenges
    (Rev. Dr Shanta Premawardhana, World Council of Churches)
  • Not just another interfaith parley
    (Rabbi David Rosen, Jerusalem Post)
  • My Talk with the Saudis, and What I Learned from Them
    (Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun)
  • The Madrid Declaration (Saudi Embassy)

Yale Conference:

North American Interfaith Network
Comes to San Francisco

A glistening San Francisco cast off its summer fog for the first three days of NAINConnect 2008 – Embracing Our Interfaith Future, held July 24-28. When the fog returned on Sunday, old friends and new and a cacophony of happy conversation kept us from noticing. Fromm Hall, a lifelong learning center at the University of San Francisco, was an extraordinary work space. For assemblies and an initial banquet, a lovely tent replaced the intended hall that was suffering emergency construction issues.

This 20th anniversary Connect drew about 150 registrants (final tally to come). One-day passes, along with presenters who could only attend their own workshops, raised the number of participants to about 250.

Eighty presenters informed three dozen workshops, four assemblies, and early morning/late evening meditation sessions. (Workshop descriptions, many with blogs attached, are still accessible at www.nain.org/2008.)

An American Indian opened the conference outdoors, and an African-American gospel duo started us indoors. A Buddhist folk singer punctuated our talk on Friday. NAIN’s Birthday Banquet sparkled with a jazz quartet, and Brahma Kumaris graced us musically at the concluding banquet at St. Mary’s Cathedral, co-sponsored with San Francisco Interfaith Council. Don Frew and Tomiko Nojima led the meditation room creation. Mark Denni’s classical guitar gentled the noisy breaks, and at the final celebration, Host Committee member Jack Lundin led us through a number of songs, concluding the Connect with “It’s a Wonderful World.”

Conference highlights included the Kabala Shabbat Friday evening and the Sunday morning tour of the Interfaith Chapel in the Presidio and Muir Woods’ stunning redwoods. This year’s service project taught us how to create, use, and distribute solar ovens, a lifesaver in Darfur and a source of goodies during Connect breaks. The optional Saturday supper cruise started with panic when six scheduled taxis failed to show. But everyone finally made it aboard for a lovely evening.

Corbin Davis, Pacific School of Religion seminarian and former Interfaith Center at the Presidio intern, was conference director. He quickly facilitated miracles whenever trouble raised its head. Corbin, Fred Fielding, Connect communications director, and NAIN board members Steve Naylor and Tracy Wells, helped focus the young adult excitement. Nine young adult scholarships had been awarded, a dozen more paid their own way, and the 18-35 crowd made a palpable difference. Young adults organized workshops, were presenters, and put together the late-night digital showcase sessions, significantly magnifying the conference’s offerings.

Rachael Watcher, Angela Carlson, and David Ponedel, probably the only NAIN banquet chef who has also served on its board, did the heavy lifting in terms of hospitality and logistics. Jan Chaffee handled the books. Their detailed plans and follow-through made for happy registrants. More than a dozen other host committee members, here and across the continent, gave time, energy, and imagination to making this a satisfying experience. They all deserve our appreciation! Thank you!

Paul Chaffee, Chair
2008 Host Committee

Recognition of Huston Smith

Huston Smith, known worldwide for his lifelong work in promoting religious understanding, was honored at a banquet at St. Mary's Cathedral during NAIN Connect 2008. Jim Wiggins (NAIN), and Henry Baer (ICP) spoke at the tribute, and presented Huston with a silver platter inscribed:

This plaque is given to Huston Smith
In appreciation for illumining the world's religions for millions of us
& for his example, his friendship, and his passion for truth and goodness

At the 20th Anniversary of the North American Interfaith Network
San Francisco — July 27, 2008

Kumar Mehta (Ahimsa) wrote a poem for Huston:

A Brief  Tribute in Honor of Dr Huston Smith

I have heard of a white swan
 that lives in a remote lake
  at the foothill of a snow-white mountain
   in the Himalayas.
Feed him  a mixture of white sand and sugar
 and the swan will separate the sugar from sand.
Like the mythological swan
 from time to time, wisdom tradition of the world
 have produced men and women
 who separated the non-essential from essential
 and practiced the essential truths
 to achieve spiritual union with  Universal Spirit.

I believe, from the mysterious Infinite Ocean of Divinity
  a mighty wave rises, takes the form of a human spirit
  that comes with a Divine mission  -
   the mission of teaching humanity,
  that there is but one heart
   pulsating in  the body of universe,
  that the sun, moon, and stars,
   mountains, rivers and forests,
   birds, animals, and human beings
   are bound in a seamless web of Consciousness.
I also believe that an awareness of this inter-connectivity
  is essential for peace, prosperity, and survival of the planet
  that we call home.

Huston, my friend !

 We salute the mighty wave of spirituality in you.
From the religion of Christ
 you picked up charity and unselfish service.
From the religion of Mohammad you picked up Namaz —
 -  devotional prayer several times a day to remember God.
From the non-dual faiths of Gandhi and Dalai Lama
  you picked up the practice of loving kindness to all,
  irrespective of race, color and creed. 

                                                                             -  kumar mehta , July 27, 2008.  


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July 2008

Memorial Day Service with Andrew Carroll

We made a wonderful new friend in Andrew Carroll, founder of the Legacy Project and editor of several books of letters from troops in wartime including Grace Under Fire, about the religious faith of servicefolk. He was very impressed with our interfaith work & our connection to David Fox of the Immortal Chaplains Foundation. He, in turn, is a wonderful speaker talking about our young people in the military, from the Revolutionary War through the war on terror. For those of us who have been, are a family member of, or know someone in the service, we were heartened by these stories.

The Memorial Day interfaith service at 1:00 on May 26 was well-attended. The Interfaith Center staff provided refreshments outside as people arrived from the memorial service at the cemetery.  Fr. Gerry O'Rourke, Board President, was here to welcome the crowd and then provided the blessing at the end. Andy Carroll gave the homily talking about stories of soldiers. Between the donation box at the reception and the offering, $600 was given to support the work of the Center.

Thanks to Paul Chaffee for again doing a great job organizing this service, and if you haven’t been to one yet, please try to make it next year. Other participants were Sally Porter Munro, the Sausalito Presbyterian Choir, Craig Middleton (Executive Director of the Presidio Trust), Rabbi Jay Heyman, Mai-Ling Garcia of Swords to Plowshares, Michelle Latimer playing “Taps” on the trumpet (and perfectly), Lynn Miller playing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes (just as perfectly), and Boy Scout Troop No. 14 Color Guard, presenting and retiring the Colors (flags). It was all very moving.

Linda Crawford

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May 2008

Muslim leaders from Egypt visit Interfaith Chapel

Ten sheikhs from Cairo visited the Interfaith Chapel for an hour and a half conversation with staff and board members from the San Francisco Interfaith Council and Interfaith Center at the Presidio on April 27. Our Muslim guests came to this country on a U.S. State Department-funded visit. These are engaged leaders in Cairo's community (academia, the press, television, business, engineering, and more) as well as spiritual leaders of particular Sufi communities. They are intent on learning how we deal with grassroots interfaith relationships. An expert translator traveling with them kept the conversation quick and alive.

Egypt, we learned, is religiously diverse, but much less so than the Bay Area – that Sunnis can be Sufis, not just Shias – that most Egyptian Muslims (70 percent) affirm the peaceful, heart-felt approach of Sufism – and that fundamentalist Muslims get a huge press though they represent but a tiny percentage of the population.

Our Egyptian visitors learned about the kind of relationships we enjoy between and among followers of the Abrahamic traditions, to say nothing of the joy that comes from the wider diversity that defines us.

In 1992 Rita Semel and an ad hoc group of interfaith activists proposed having a place in the new Presidio national park where interreligious dialogue could address the major issues of the day. This past April, along with our Egyptian visitors, the Chapel hosted interfaith conversations about… coordinating anti-poverty legislation; clergy as first responders to Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; the place of Earth-based religions in the larger culture; and coordinating Darfur efforts.

Rita, it turns out, participated in most of these conversations, getting to enjoy the fruit of 15 years of labor getting us here. Talk about creating the future!

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