Friday, October 16, 2009

Turkish-American Dialogue & Friendship Dinner

Well, Patrick and I made it to this event in spite of the fact that my car overheated in the BART parking lot where I was picking him up for the drive down to Santa Clara in evening rush hour. We managed to get the car several blocks to the home of Don Frew and Anna Korn, where Don gave us his keys and off we went.

We were guests at the 3rd Annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner sponsored by the Pacifica Institute, a Turkish-American organization whose mission is "to promote cross-cultural awareness, in order to attain peace and diversity with our neighbors, help establish a better society where individuals love, respect and accept each other as they are." Since this group is specifically Abrahamic in focus, I considered it extra special that we Pagans were invited. My sister Catherine has been participating in activities sponsored by this organization for some years and has spoken of me to them, saying that what they are promoting is right up my alley. They generously extended an invitation to me, and fortunately Patrick was available and interested to accompany me. Anyone who knows Patrick knows what a charmer he is, perfect in such situations.

For dinner we shared a table with three other couples: Ahmet and Latifa Kaya, a Turkish-American couple who are members of the sponsoring group; Jerry and Cathy Fox, a Methodist minister and his wife; and Denise and her husband whose name I didn't get and who I think may have been among the sponsors. These last two were across the table from me so I couldn't hear most of what they said. Most of my conversation was confined to the people on my immediate left (Latifa) and right (Cathy).

The meal was delicious, with fresh baby greens salad, a salmon entree and rich melt-in-your mouth chocolate cake for desert.

At times I had difficulty understanding some of the welcoming talks due to the speakers' accents and rapidity of speaking. I did pick up some tidbits of knowledge, one being that the population of Turkey in 98% Muslim, making it much less diverse than we here in the U.S. are used to. The Pacifica Institute will host a shared dessert called Ashura in January, and it sponsors the largest Turkish festival in the U.S. in Los Angeles in the Spring.

We screened two videos about the Institute before the main speaker. One was an overview of their work, including some social service work (earthquake relief, child abuse).

The main speaker, Juan Campo, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and the History of Religion at UC-Santa Barbara, spoke of things I have a fair knowledge of. His talk was informative, and yet I realized that I could probably craft a respectable talk on the exact same topic. That's no criticism of the speaker at all. Rather, it's a realization on my part that I know more than I credit myself with knowing and have more to share than I realized.

He began with a litany of the many problems facing us, the world, at this point in time, mentioning the writings of Thomas Friedman, disease, hunger, nuclear proliferation, political violence, religions and ethnic violence, the depersonalization of violence, global warming, nuclear proliferation, growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, and poverty. He claims that 1.4 billion people in the world today live in poverty, meaning on less than $1.25 a day.

He followed by mentioning reasons for hope. He specifically mentioned the election of Obama, calls for nuclear disarmament, Central and South American nations moving away from military dictatorships, rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia, and emissions reduction. He listed successful efforts at addressing these problems -- education, AIDS prevention, research, humanitarian efforts, and so forth. This was a prelude to the three things he emphasized.

He spoke of the emergence of a sense of need for a global ethic, beginning with the signing of Hans Küng-drafted Declaration of a Global Ethic at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago. The document speaks of universal human rights, peace and nonviolence, peace among living things, cultivation of a just economic order, seeking truth, speaking truth, promoting tolerance, women's rights, with love as the organizing principle. I'm definitely down with all that.

Professor Campo proceeded to talk of a book by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama wrote in 1999 that also addressed the need for a global ethic, one that goes beyond religions. The book espouses compassion as an organizing principle, in the pursuit of reducing suffering and fostering happiness. The Dalai Lama articulates what he terms "dependent organization," meaning cause and effect; we, each one of us, can promote a positive effect or a negative one.

The speaker concluded with reference to the teachings of Fetullah Gülen, the founder of the movement from which the Pacifica Institute springs. Imam Gülen**, a member of a Sufi mystical spiritual tradition who is committed to Turkish national pride, teaches about a global ethic of loving service (to God together with service to humanity).

Campo's final challenge was for us to think beyond ourselves.

After Juan's speech, Latifah asked me what I thought of it. Of course, I told her I liked it, which I did, but then mentioned how pleasing it was to hear him speak of a document about which I had some knowledge. I told her that I had a dear friend who had signed that original document. Deborah Ann Light signed the 1993 "Towards a Global Ethic" on behalf of three American Pagan organizations: Covenant of the Goddess, EarthSpirit, and Circle.* I felt proud to be able to say this.

After the main speech, we were treated to a talk and power point presentation called Turkish Coffee 101, and a demonstration of how to make Turkish coffee, after which we were served same. Coffee reached Istanbul in the 16th century CE. brought from Yemen by Sulieman with the purpose of helping worshipers to stay awake and pray longer. The Turkish word for breakfast is kahvalti, meaning before, or under, coffee. The Turks have a saying, "A cup of coffee has a memory of 40 years," meaning that sharing one is the beginning of a long friendship. Sometimes people divine by means of viewing the residue.

Andrew Kille, with whom I spoke afterwards, made an announcement about his Interfaith Space organization. I learned when we got back to Berkeley that Andy is married to Don Frew's sister-in-law's sister. Small world!

A Presbyterian minister, who said he's Chinese born in Korea and brought up in San Francisco's Chinatown, delivered a greeting from Congressman Mike Honda before offering a closing blessing.

As we left, each of us was given a beautiful little flowered coffee cup, some finely ground coffee, and some Turkish Delight.

Afterward, Catherine introduced me to several of her friends who'd visited Turkey together this past May. Wow, were they enthusiastic! They were interested in the Spiral Dance, so I gave them some of the promo cards I had with me. Also gave one to Latifa.

By the time I got home hours later, after dropping Patrick at a BART station, phoning for a tow, getting my car to my local mechanic, waking Corby to pick me up from the mechanic's, and getting home in my house, I was really wired.

* Those of you who were active in Paganism back then know that choosing a single individual to sign on behalf of three different Pagan organizations was taking a huge step towards Pagan cooperation, collaboration and community-building. More about CoG's participation here.

** I believe this is the proper title for him, since he evidently acquired that title in 1959.


Dj Connell said...

I enjoyed reading this very much. Thank you for sharing this with us.

I visited Turkey two years ago and I liked the people we met. We felt very welcome and safe while we were there and enjoyed the mix of old and new in the towns we saw.

We took a day to tour the ancient city of Ephesus which is one of the most well preserved, impressive and (for a Pagan) deeply moving ancient sites I've ever been too. I was struck by the library grounds in particular and by the many monuments and honors accorded to Isis. If you go there, take the tour of the ancient houses at the dig site. The murals are wonderful, the tiles look freshly painted and the water still works. These upper class dwellings are so well preserved our guide told us, that people could still live there. The surrounding countryside is beautiful, as well, and we saw red poppies growing everywhere.

We also toured a fair trade rug dealer in the coastal town nearby. I fell in love with the intricate silk rugs I saw being made by some of the young women there. They showed us both old and modern designs for the Tree of Life theme. All of these pieces struck a cord with me and all were very beautiful.

I hope to go back there someday.

Again, my thanks. You made me feel like I was sitting there with you.


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