A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Kingdom of Peace

Tonight, at the request of a friend, I attended a program called "A Call to Action: The Kingdom of Peace Is at Hand." It was held at the Shriner's Hospital not too far from me, and sponsored locally by Al-Baqi Islamic Center, a congregation of African-American Sunni Muslims. The other sponsors were the Universal Peace Federation and the American Clergy Leadership Conference.

Both UPF and ACLC are organizations begun by the Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon. The ACLC is overtly Christian-based, but seeks to unite all the Abrahamic faiths. The UPF is interdenominational, but still faith-based. Reverend Moon, of course, is a very controversial figure, accused of everything from tax evasion and money laundering to brainwashing converts to buying right-wing political influence with billions of $$$.

The purpose of the evening's program was to present "Ambassador of Peace" and "True Family Values" awards to ten individuals and five couples. A variety of local religious leaders, from Iman Rasul Seifullah of Al-Baqi Islamic Center to Smith College Chaplain Sister Khalilah Karim Rushdam-Salaam, offered comments and prayers. Most presenters were from out of the area, though--Boston or Worcester or Bridgeport or Washington, D. C.--and had some affiliation with Moon's Unification Church.

The keynote speaker was Archbishop George Augustus Stallings, Jr. of the Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation. He's a defrocked Roman Catholic priest who started the Imani Temple AACC in 1989 and in 2001 married Sayomi Kamimoto in one of Sun Myung Moon's "Blessing Ceremony" mass weddings.

Listening to Archbishop Stallings's address took me right back to Holy Name Church, circa 1964. It was pretty obvious to me that he had been a Roman Catholic priest. He took the word "religion" back to its Latin roots ("to tie back together") and rang changes on that tune throughout the very sermon-like speech. He was articulate, animated, intelligent, and funny: altogether a very engaging man.

The various speakers talked a lot about peace and brotherhood, all races and faiths living in harmony, etc., etc. At the same time, there was lots of stumbling over one another's names, references to the Bible as the holy book corrected by audience members to include the Koran, and so forth. As an agnostic who's not so much opposed to gay marriage as to marriage, period, I felt somewhat excluded. A film showing round-the-world peace delegations giving each other hugs and flowers made me a little nervous. As did the rapt (to the point of slack-jawed) expression on the face of Unification Church minister Reverend Catherine Ono, ACLC State Coordinator, when Stallings was speaking. (She's the sister of Ford Greene, a lawyer who's successfully de-programmed hundreds of Moonies, but couldn't succeed with his own sister.)

The Al-Baqi contingent was earnest and eager to be good hosts. Sister Donna, Sister Doretha, Sister Medina were all trying hard. Samuel Bass, the M.C., was pretty cool. The award recipients were certainly all worthy, especially the spry little octogenarian mother of three of them. Since the Al-Baqi mosque was torched by vandals a few months ago, their little community has been gratefully accepting support from other religious groups. I wonder if, in their sincerity and good faith, they didn't see quite what skeptical Cicily saw.

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