During this East Coast trip I have not only been traveling light, but traveling in the Light. I spent the last couple of days in Greensboro, NC, where I was took part in a meeting of the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee of Friends General Conference. It was wonderful being among Friends who are deeply concerned about interfaith and ecumenical bridge-building and reconciliation.
I love Greensboro, NC. It's an incredibly Friendly place. There are more Quakers in NC than anywhere else in the US! Streets and businesses in Greensboro are named "Friendly." And the people live up to this name: they exude Southern hospitality and warmth.
I spent time writing and reading at the Guilford College Library, which has a Quaker collection. In 2003, I did research there for an article I wrote about the time that Howard Brinton was president of Guilford during World War I.
During this visit, I reflected on how enjoyable it is to have a "tribe." To some degree, all religions are tribal: they are like an extended family, with shared stories, beliefs and rituals. When you meet a fellow tribesperson, you feel a kinship. This is very comforting.
The problem with religious tribalism is that one can become too comfortable. Or fall into the trap of thinking "my tribe is better than their tribe."
Many people reject religion because of its tribalism and all the baggage it includes: dogmas, rituals, etc. That's why more and more people are saying: "I'm spiritual, not religious."
This preference for Spirit is understandable, but it misses an important point. Spirit is like water. It flows freely, but if it isn't channeled, it can be useless or even destructive. If Spirit is like living water, religion is like the banks of the stream. A religion without spirit, without living water, is like a dry riverbed. Water without a riverbed is simply a flood. Religion and spirit need to go together.
To carry on this metaphor, all the streams and tributaries of the various religions eventually end up in the same place: the Ocean of Oneness, from which they all emerged in the first place.
During this visit, I was impressed with the art of a N. Carolina artist named Patrick Dougherty. I went to see his installation in the middle of the Guilford campus and was utterly charmed. His work consists of sticks woven together to create structures evocative of nature. His installation at Guilford looked like a colony of bird nests, twelve or so feet high.
A robin greeted me happily, as if she'd discovered the world's most amazing nest. Dougherty has caught the spirit of native american art better than anyone I know--by honoring and using the process by which art was created for tens of thousands of years. He also engages local people--in this case, mostly students--as helpers, thus turning his art into a community-building experience. His art comes from and returns to nature, just like the Buddhist sand mandalas....http://www.stickwork.net/installations.php
The CIRC meeting went well. Most of CIRC's work involves providing Quaker representatives for meetings sponsored by the National and World Council of Churches. This ensures that a Quaker voice and presence is at these ecumenical gatherings. CIRC also sponsors interfaith faith, of which I am the main practitioner. This summer I will be representing CIRC and QUF at the Freinds General Conference Gathering.
After the meeting I drove to DC with Friends. The drive through Virginia was beautiful. Sping has definitely sprung--the tulip trees are in blossom, the cherries are budding, and the forsythia are blazing forth with intense yellow. And the rolling hills and farms of Virginia are heavenly....like a scene from the Waltons (which was filmed here). We had lunch in Charlottesville, a quaint and charming college town.
I am currently staying in DC at the William Penn House, a very inexpensive ($40 per night) place on the hill. I am sleeping in a dorm but I have the entire downstairs to hang out in, with a lovely old living room and the opportunities to meet interesting people. This is simplicity at its best, no frills comfort. This is Quaker heaven! See http://williampennhouse.org/
William Penn house is currently full of students from Minnesota who are part of the Christian Campus Outreach. Nice kids. I enjoy being back in a dorm!
This morning I am going to one of my favorite museums, the National Museum of Indians, which was created, curated, and maintained by native americans. It's a wonderful place to deepen one's understanding of native american culture: http://www.nmai.si.edu/
I plan to spend Monday and Tuesday exploring museums and then head up to Pendle Hill and Philly for more meetings.
I feel so blessed to be living a life that's free and simple and full of good people and good works. God is so good, all the time!