---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 07 Jan 2002 14:07:57 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
"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
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
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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