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Two days at ARE Congress

Jun 25, 1998 05:40 PM
by K Paul Johnson

Greetings to both lists, Cayce students and Theosophists.  Since
I've been commenting on theos- lists about the ARE as compared to
Theosophical groups, I'm sharing these impressions of the 1998
Congress, still going on in Virginia Beach.  I attended Sunday
evening through Tuesday afternoon.

The opening picnic was a chance to visit with old friends and
start to get to know some new ones; the space behind the
meditation garden where it was held is perfect for the occasion.
But this will soon be gone for the new building housing the
medical research institute, the school of intuitive studies, and
the life purpose institute.  After the picnic, Charles Thomas
Cayce gave a moving and personal keynote address, outlining
several themes he proposed for the weeklong deliberations.  One
was what kind of ARE we would wish to come back to in another
life, and what we could do to transform it in that direction.
Another was how we might find the next Edgar Cayce.  The most
memorable part for me was Charles Thomas talking about a dream in
which he saw his father Hugh Lynn and Rev. Pat Robertson talking,
walked up to listen, and was told by Hugh Lynn, "It's the medical
readings and the media."  Meaning, presumably, that this is the
way that the Cayce legacy might become known as widely as
Robertson's CBN.  (A local newspaper gave the number of annual
calls received at ARE as 1 million and at CBN as 2 million, so
we're within sight of them!)

I cannot say enough about the qualities shown by the board
members and executive council in the opening session Monday
morning.  Stan Khury led a presentation of current board
concerns, and invited questions and comments from the audience.
Alas, instead of serious, substantive questions, what the
audience provided was IMHO a series of trivial and/or irrelevant
long-winded pronouncements from people who were really
confrontational to the leaders.  But Stan, Charles Thomas and the
others handled all this extremely well; I was really impressed
that they could be so non-defensive under fire.  Of all the
speakers, the most impassioned and critical was Gail Cayce
Schwartzer (not sure of last name here) who accused ARE of gross
commercialism and turning its back on the research function; she
said ARE was in the process of becoming a laughing stock rather
than a light to the world (two possibilities outlined in the
readings.)  Not only did the leaders respond nondefensively,
admitting that there was some truth in her observations; they
made it clear that they considered it part of their job to take
flack and were not blaming the source.  I was very impressed by
the way people were invited to speak up to the board and execs,
and the seriousness with which even flaky comments were received.
John Van Auken handled himself very well under fire, btw.  My
sense of audience reaction was that no one considered ARE or the
board or execs perfect, and everyone felt this session was a good
thing despite the acrimony.  But also that the audience was quite
supportive of the board and execs due to their openness,
responsiveness, and accessibility.  (It was quite easy to pull
aside a board member or exec, or Charles Thomas, to share one's
views on whatever issue might be at the top of one's agenda.)
Bottom line: I came away super impressed by the attitude of
board, execs and CTC that they owed the members this kind of open
access and information about board affairs.  And also the lack of
hierarchy; no one acted "special" or holy because of their
position as best I could tell.  While ARE is not a democratic
organization, it does have a democratic atmosphere or attitude.

Monday continued with a choice of workshops followed by a choice
of sharing groups.  I picked the workshop on study group
development, led by Jim Dixon, Ron Smith and Nancy Eubel.  This
was a weeklong series and I only attended the first.  It was
already apparent, though, that study groups are a subject that
engenders great enthusiasm.  There was a real spirit of
enthusiasm in every program related to study groups, a sense that
we will turn around the decline in their number in recent years,
a feeling of tremendous gratitude for what study groups have
meant in members' lives.  This was a kind of optimistic
enthusiasm that I don't recall ever experiencing in the
Theosophical movement.  The sharing group I attended was on world
publications for the new millennium.  (All these were designed to
provide a formal means of member input to board and staff.)  Our
group quickly diverged from the topic of books and magazines to
discussing the Internet.  It was nearly unanimously agreed that the top
priority is to get as much of the readings as possible on the
net.  Many other topics were discussed but this was clearly the
one that got the most interest and concern.

Monday evening after dinner the executive directors have
presentations on their various areas of responsibility.  Mark
Thurston discussed a video series now in works.  He showed
excerpts from one on dreams in which he interviewed Henry Reed.
This looked very professional, and the content was accessible to
the general public but not "dumbed down."  Rather at the level of
the Toms's New Dimensions radio show, I thought.  Mark also
presented drawings of the new building and answered questions
about the facility.  Nancy Eubel focused her presentation on the
revitalization of study groups, which she has taken as a special
area of concern.  John Van Auken surveyed recent publications and
talked some about conferences.  (I think; towards the end I was
sleepy which is no reflection on anyone's speaking ability.)

Tuesday morning was the time for regional representatives to
speak, and we got brief reports from the field from all of these.
There was a feeling of excitement about the programs across the
country, a sense that these people truly loved their work with
ARE and were delighted to share it.  Again, a kind of infectious
enthusiasm that was almost like those felt in missionary
religions: Pentecostals, Mormons and Baha'is in my observation
have it.  But in this case the enthusiasm wasn't for a set of
dogmatic beliefs, but rather for a set of workable principles and
a pathway toward spiritual growth that is open to all regardless
of belief system.  The excitement about sharing the Cayce
approach was not oriented to "converting" people to anything, but
rather offering ways to enhance their discovery of their own
mission and ideals.

The next Tuesday program for me was a workshop led by Kirk Nelson
on his prediction of the return of Christ for September 30 of
this year.  He tied together astrology, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the
Bible, and the Cayce readings.  The audience was respectful and
good sized but my sense of the general attitude was that people
are quite interested but not at all persuaded by them.
Certainly the leaders, when given the chance to comment on 1998
prophecies, made it clear that they expected nothing so dramatic
as what Nelson has predicted.  By the way, I went to Congress
with a moderate amount of fear that someone might jump down my
throat about my forthcoming book, in the way that some
Theosophists have about my alleged disrespect for Blavatsky in
previous books.  There was hardly a trace of suspicion or
discomfort that I saw from anyone-- except Kirk Nelson, who early
on more or less accused me of being there to write a sociological
expose of the ARE as a cult!  (Actually, *asking* me if I was
going to do that, in a tone that made it clearly an accusation.)
Dunno where he got such an idea, as the manuscript has been read
by several leaders in the group and was well received.  It's very
obviously a highly favorable portrayal of the group.

Well, that's it, off the top of my head.  Questions?  Comments?

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