The final session for the year’s Building Bridges of Understanding program focused on Service, and was held on Saturday, January 21st, at Dominican University. Professor Arthur Kane Scott welcomed everyone on behalf of The Building Bridges of Understanding Program Committee, the IAS and Dominican University, and shared his reflections on service, including service to one’s own self in order to then serve humanity.
Seido Lee de Barros, of Green Gulch Farms Zen Center, moderated the Faiths Panel. He began by sharing two brief prayers: “thanks” and “how can I help,” which set the tone for faith perspectives on service. The first speaker was Sister Elizabeth Padilla, who is currently the Program Manager for the Anubhuti Mediation & Retreat Center administered by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization (BKWSO). Beginning with a shared chant, she introduced the history the Brahma Kumaris from its beginnings in India. She highlighted the four main subjects of the teachings: Knowledge, Oneness (yoga), Becoming, and Service, and described an organization devoted to serving the universe through love and understanding of self, others, the laws of nature and the Divine. Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman, the Western Regional Director of the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement, spoke next. She explained that Jewish teachings focus on the human being as a partner with God in moving the universe from Creation to Redemption through moral imperatives. Historically, Jews live in a community which serves its members, and in the more individualized modern secular world, many find it a challenge to retain a life in balance. Many Jews support social justice movements and service organizations. As human beings are the stewards of the earth, they are encouraged to engage in the service of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the universe.
The Rev. Carol Hovis, Executive Director of the Marin Interfaith Council, introduced presenters of the Organizations Panel. Diane Linn, the Executive Director of Ritter Center in San Rafael, California, spoke of the impact of homelessness in Marin. She said the annual cost is more than $20 million, including municipal government and philanthropic funds, but not counting lost potential revenue. Over 4000 people are “precariously housed,” and 1200 homeless, with a small group of people chronically in need using most of the funds. A more strategic plan for spending could provide greater benefit, going beyond harm reduction to empowering these people. She shed light on the impact of several years of recession on Marin’s population and appealed to faith and business communities to understand the benefit to all in providing aid and service to those in need. Andy Fyne then spoke on behalf of Marin AIDS Project. The organization began in1984 as small groups of friends and family members debated what to do for their sick friends. Always supported by a strong group of volunteers, many professional services have been added over the years, such as social workers, benefits advocates, service coordinators, mental health professionals, as well as emergency funds and food pantries. Marin AIDS Project helps their clients to live with chronic disease as best they can, often with limited income. They also provide prevention programs, still a focus in spite of funding cuts, and they cooperate with other local agencies in providing services.
Arife Ellen Hammerle, Ph.D., began her presentation with a brief meditation, encouraging attendees to concentrate on their breath and gather their energy. She described the Community Healing Centers as an outgrowth of appreciation for connection with the source and alignment of intention. The Centers have a core group of professional psychotherapists who are all spiritual individuals, and they work with a staff of interns in providing service to the community, including some who are HIV-positive. Although it can be painful working with people who are troubled or ill, when it is grounded in service from the heart, it can be richly rewarding. Dr. Hammerle closed her talk with a poem of Rumi. Hamaseh Kianfar, Ed. D., currently works as the Director of Senior Services at Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. She inspired the audience with a compassionate report of her work with a group of women, all of whom are mothers and are HIV-positive. She shared her own experience of moving beyond the stereotypes and prejudices of HIV-positive individuals, having learned from her conversation partners the importance of forgiveness and imagination in accepting, working through, and reconciling with their condition. Dr. Kianfar noted that worldwide, women are the fastest-growing group to contract this disease, and pointed to the personal responsibility that will be at the core of addressing this important local and global issue. (hamasehkianfar.org)
A lively question and answer period with all of the presenters brought out the need for comprehensive and cooperative thinking – holistic and non-judgmental – to serving pressing social justice issues, focusing on the best approaches for common good. Conversation continued into the Round Table discussion, which focused on the question of participation and public involvement in forums such as this, particularly on ways to reach young people, their families, and those in Marin who live with abundance and have the desire to help others. We concluded with a plan to create a blog and/or Facebook page for the Building Bridges of Understanding program – stay tuned for more information on this!
The day’s session closed with inspiring sacred music by Sister Elizabeth Padilla.