Dear ERTHAWARE Adventurers,
Thank you for your patience. It has been well over a month since I sent out our last ERTHAWARE REPORT, mainly because of my recent two journeys. This has also thrown me off with the big bunch of Emails that accumulated while I was gone, and with my 2 finger hunt-‘n-peck slow typing skills, I need the longevity of Methuselah to get around to them all. But here’s the summary of these journeys, but with the much more exciting trip home at the end.
In mid-November I flew to San Francisco to attend an international gathering of scholars who engage the history, sociology, philosophy, theology, and critical texts of global belief systems. This is not a sectarian gathering bent on propagating a religious imperialism, or an air-headed attempt to mash together a minimal world faith. Rather, it is a rigorous, peer reviewed exercise in scholarship to understand the content and practices of the universal phenomena of religion that seems to be embedded in all cultures, and that is now a major factor as these beliefs vigorously interface with each other in our 21st century global situation.
Several scholarly subgroups in this large event pursue a serious quest in contextual understanding, a willingness to listen and learn from the “other and different” while at the same time open to respectful questions and debate. Thus I attended
1) a dharma group, the scholarly work to understand the philosophy, psychology and practices of Asian religions;
2) a Buddhist/Christian dialog discussing the potential of merging Buddhist meditation practices with orthodox Christian devotion (pioneered by such folk as Hugo Lassalle, Thomas Merton, and William Johnston), and;
3) the challenging boundary between religion, cosmological and biological sciences, and environmental responsibility.
Obviously, I didn’t align with everything. But, in an era of populist misinformation and fear of the foreign, strange and different (xenophobia), this was an occasion for civil conversation and growth in understanding. By doing this we hope to encourage others to penetrate walls of fear, prejudice, misunderstanding, and misapplied ignorance (often linked to protectionist politics), and instead building cross-fertilized communities of mutual respect and constructive communication. There is a healthy and mature social and spiritual art of open-hearted critical hearing and speaking with grace, compassion and humility. And while there undoubtedly will be moments of tension and disagreement, the process still opens doors for humane mutual respect, mature understanding in depth, and possible reconciliation and transformation into the future. I am still struggling to practice this challenging art that often lifts me out of my bunkered comfort zones.
A week following the first trip I drove to Colorado Springs as a delegate from the State of Washington to a national educational conference. (In 2012, it will be 40 years since I was first elected to serve on the regional school board that services the 15 school districts west of Seattle). This conference of 600 delegates was held at the lush Broadmoor Hotel Complex and Convention facility set against the backdrop of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountain Front Range (or locally known as the Tebow mole hills that he can leap with a single bound). The whole complex was lavishly decked out for the holiday season with a myriad of light bulbs.
One of the most powerful social revolutions that America brought to human history was the institution of public education that is available to all youths in spite of class, color, gender, capability or creed. Certainly, it’s checkered history evidences serious flaws, but what a noble dream. Until 160 years ago, education was mainly confined to racial and class privilege, or the dominant local parochial bias, and largely limited to boys. However, in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, during the height of the expanding industrial revolution, America began one of the greatest liberal social revolutions as local, state and federal governments taxed their citizens in order to apply compulsory non-sectarian education to all young people, that is, unless their families could provide an accredited alternative. This major socialistic program fed the growing needs of the expanding labor force required by entrepreneurs. America boomed.
But in all such mandated and funded state social systems, the heavy burden of history, tradition, bureaucracy, and nostalgia make change challenging. And the world is changing rapidly. Few deny that this great institution has serious work to do. We realize that all such progressive efforts at equitable and relevant opportunity in a nation with immigrants from over 200 countries and growing urban minorities, need continual reassessment and adjustment .Furthermore, we are facing a global emergence of new expanding nations in which demographic and economic realities are shifting away from Euro-American dominance. In addition, rapid technological innovation that is obsessively adopted by each new generation is racing past some of our anachronistic approaches to learning. How does our visionary contract with public education fit in the present and future centuries? That’s why we gathered. The theme of the conference was: RETHINK, REDESIGN, RECREATE.
It would be naïve to suggest that in 4 days these 3 action verbs were satisfactorily exhausted. Certainly fresh substantive research data, analyses and subsequent ideas were explored. While no structural changes could be implemented, the accumulated explorations had a freeing effect, opening windows of fresh perspectives and strategies to be considered in due process.
WHY ARE THESE CONFERENCES IMPORTANT TO ME AND OUR L.E.A.R.N. PHILOSOPHY
For me, these 2 conferences are central learning experiences to our small non-profit org. – 1) the foundational belief systems that permeate cultures and how they function and interact in the life system matrix of this planet, and 2) the process of educating populations to live on this tiny planet into the future.
We wrestle with the important question: how will we live on this planet in the 21st and 22nd centuries so that all the bio-diverse and interdependent systems of life (including human society) can flourish? That is why we call our small clutch of thinkers ”The L.E.A.R.N. GROUP” (Life Education And Research Network). If we were to attach a motto to our endeavor we would pick up Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s book title: Reverence for Life. Such a motto lends a specialness to the amazing wonder of the phenomena of life in all aspects on this tiny globe spinning through space. It embraces everything from raw physicality to spirituality and the arts. And we are so privileged to be connected with many of you who embrace this journey also.
THE WILD TRIP HOME
I purposely drove to the Colorado Conference so that I could drive home. Conferences and retreats can be heady experiences, rich in ideas with hot-house human encounters, and overloaded with conference meals and banquets between hours of sitting. Mental and physical bloat-time! I often need to touch the earth in solitude after such stimulation. And what a better time. I wended my way home 1700 miles (2736 km) in the dead of winter in some of the most remote areas of the American West. I chose the smallest roads I could find, often driving all day without seeing another person. The temperature consistently hung a little above or below 0 f (-18 c), and one time reaching as low as –15 f (-26 c). My “trail equipped” 4 wheel drive was outfitted with food and water, and in the back I had my arctic down sleeping bag and down clothing in case I got stranded.
After the holiday celebrations and New Year I’ll share some of the pictures from that journey. Just to whet your appetite, the picture below is of a stretch of road that climbed 2200 ft. (671 m) from the bottom of the Colorado River Canyon in the Pennsylvanian Honaker geological formation of 600 million years ago to the Jurassic Kayenta formation on the plateau top. The road you see at the bottom was in the best condition there. The higher I drove, plunging through gaps and hugging cliff edges, the road deteriorated rapidly. Next time I’ll show some of those challenging spots where I almost got hung up.
The great blessing about traveling in such country is that there is NO cell phone coverage, and no easy escapes. It calls upon one to assess and prepare and to know ones skill level and psychological limits. The wonderful thing about Lynn is that she would be disappointed if I called her from the bottom of a canyon or the top of a mountain. She understands that I need such periodic remoteness and solitude at testing places of risk.
HOLIDAY GREETINGS from LYNN and ME
So in this festive season, to all our family and friends around the world, Lynn and I send our best wishes for peace and love to enfold you. And a warm hearted THANK YOU to all of those who have sacrificed donations to keep our computer, software, camera gear, environmental library, vehicle, office space, webpage, internet connection, and more going. We are now reaching almost a thousand sites on 5 continents in many cultures.
On the journey with you,
Hugs from Lynn and me!
LIFE EDUCATION AND RESEARCH NETWORK (LEARN) (non-profit.org) 2204 Chestnut St. Port Townsend, WA. 98368 USA (tax receipts for 2011 donations sent to the above address will be mailed out at the end of January) With thanks to our kind donors who help keep this going. To make tax deductible contributions, please send to LEARN at the above address.