[sixties-l] In a Quest, Arlo Guthrie Is Back in That Church (fwd)

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Date: Mon Jan 07 2002 - 21:45:46 EST

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    Date: Mon, 07 Jan 2002 14:07:57 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: In a Quest, Arlo Guthrie Is Back in That Church

    In a Quest, Arlo Guthrie Is Back in That Church

    January 5, 2002
    New York Times
    by Eric Goldscheider

    GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. ^ Arlo Guthrie, the hippie icon, says his
    search for spiritual enlightenment has taken him down many roads,
    leading almost inevitably to a church here that he made famous in
    the song and movie "Alice's Restaurant."

    Along the way he has explored his Jewish roots (on his mother's
    side), spent time with Franciscan monks, studied Buddhism and
    found a personal guru who awakened him to what he says is the
    Hindu practice of embracing all religions.

    "I have three or four major traditions that I am carrying around
    inside me," Mr. Guthrie said, "and they are all just different
    views of the same reality."

    He has long felt that zealotry and fundamentalism are among the
    biggest dangers facing the world, he said, "and nothing could
    have proven me more right than 9/11."

    Now Mr. Guthrie is building a ministry grounded in two
    intertwined institutions he started 10 years ago. The Guthrie
    Center, whose Web site is www.guthriecenter.org, is an interfaith
    church devoted to promoting understanding among religious
    traditions. The Guthrie Foundation seeks to protect indigenous
    cultures from encroaching globalization.

    "We need to find a way of saving local cultures from extinction
    and at the same time continue the process of
    becoming one world," said Mr. Guthrie, who sports a Fu Manchu
    mustache and whose white hair hangs below the
    collar of his black button-down shirt.

    Both initiatives are housed in a building that holds considerable
    significance for Mr. Guthrie, the de- consecrated Episcopal
    church where his high school teachers Alice and Ray Brock once

    In 1967, Mr. Guthrie recorded "Alice's Restaurant," an 18
    1/2-minute ballad about his arrest for illegally dumping garbage
    that had piled up in the church. The resulting criminal record
    made Mr. Guthrie ineligible for the draft in the Vietnam War. In
    1969, the church was the site for the movie of the same name.

    When an opportunity to buy the former church for $300,000
    presented itself in 1991, Mr. Guthrie seized it. "There is a
    history that I have with it," he said, "and I am trying to craft
    a use for it that fits."

    Mr. Guthrie, who is licensed to conduct weddings, said he did not
    do many because he spent 10 months a year performing, in part to
    raise money for the church and the foundation.

    "I would love to be here and lead meditation classes and other
    things I find interesting," he said, "but it's going to have to
    wait till I pay off the mortgage."

    The foundation recently secured a private grant to heat the
    sanctuary. A kitchen at the base of the bell tower doubles as a
    gift shop. It and a living room area are now used year- round by
    social service agencies and community organizations. They sponsor
    such things as play groups for children and activities like
    cookie baking by people with developmental disabilities.

    The church also serves as a performance and exhibit space. During
    the cold winter days, a candle burns on a free-form altar in a
    carpeted area overlooking the nave. Though visitors are welcome
    to pray and meditate, no formal religious ceremonies are held in
    the church.

    "It's a bring your own god church," Mr. Guthrie said.

    The sanctuary was reconsecrated in the early 1990's by Ma Jaya
    Sati Bhagavati, a woman Mr. Guthrie has regarded as his guru for
    almost 20 years. In her teachings, Ma, as she is known by her
    devotees, draws heavily on Hindu traditions that emphasize
    interfaith understanding.

    Mr. Guthrie said he believed in one God, but he hedges slightly.

    "Either there is a great truth or there isn't," he said, "and if
    you live by it, even if it isn't there, then
    what's the harm?"

    Mr. Guthrie acknowledges that he is known more for his
    counterculture past than his current spiritual efforts.

    "I think most people think of me as the happy hippie of the 60's,
    and that's fine," he said, adding, "I think we stood up for the
    right stuff, and many of us still do."

    The grounding for his personal beliefs comes from his parents.
    Mr. Guthrie tells a story of when his older sister Cathy was
    fatally injured in a fire before he was born. When his mother,
    Marjorie, arrived at the hospital, a nurse asked what religion to
    put on the child's form.

    "All," she replied. When the nurse would not accept that, she
    said, "None."

    The nurse asked his father, the folk-singer Woody Guthrie, the
    same questions when he arrived 20 minutes later. Without
    discussing it with his wife, he gave the same answers.

    Mr. Guthrie said his father read many religious books and made
    copious notes in the margins. He read the Bhagavad-Gita as a
    young man and later in life "could argue back and forth about the
    Torah and the Talmud" with his father-in-law. His goal was never
    to sway people but to help them find their own truth, Mr. Guthrie

    "Let me be remembered as the man who told you something you
    already knew," was something his father liked to say, Mr. Guthrie

    Woody Guthrie's religious concerns led him from being a happy-go-
    lucky cowboy-poet to wanting to make a social contribution
    through his songs.

    "I inherited that," Mr. Guthrie said. "My parents are the ones
    who set the foundations of my spiritual life to be big enough to
    include `all' and strong enough to say `none.' "

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