Thursday, August 27, 2009

A unique communion practice

"Of course, this is Santa Fe." That phrase, or some variation of it, is used frequently to describe some of the quirky things one may encounter here that may not be found in other places.

My neighbor and friend is a lawyer representing the religious group Unaio do Vegetal (UdV) here in Santa Fe. There may be a property dispute between that religious organization and Santa Fe County. He came by a few weeks ago to open my eyes to yet another manifestation of the unusual nature of humans and religion. "This group, Uniao do Vegetal, uses some kind of tea for communion. Their a Christian group, but are facing resistence to building a church building from the people in that neighborhood who are concerned that they are a cult."

I'm on the board of the Interfaith Leadership Alliance here in town. We are mainly a bunch of Christian church leaders, with a few Jews and one Muslim leader who are members. We have agreed to sit around the table with one another without thinking that "others" are going to hell, at least that's how the Rabbi describes it. We would certainly not want to see religious discrimination in our town, and would consider leadership from various faiths to join our group so long as they share similar values to do justice and are not "self-ordained" people.

UdV has sought to meet with representatives from the ILA in order to begin dialogue and muster potential support in the community were their case to go public and they need some kind of backing for credibility. Currently under federal law, recognized legal religious institutions can buy property and set up shop pretty much wherever they please, so long as they don't violate any building codes, etc (I think that's right). Religious freedom is a great value in this country. UdV is a legal religion, as they won their case before the Supreme Court and are allowed to import and use the tea:

So we set up a meeting with UdV to learn more about them, and see how we might be of assistance. We came out of the meeting agreeing that they should be able to build their building. But, as we learned more about their religion, we were kind of scratching our heads. How is this a Christian religion? They have some unusual practices.
Here are a few of the highlights:
- The main controversy of their practice is that they use a tea for communion. This isn't Earl Grey. It is made with two types of leaves (or a stem and a leaf of two different plants) which are found in the jungles of the Amazon forest. These two plants together produce a chemical that causes hallucinations, and therefore is a contraband substance.
- The religion is currently in it's third manifestation in history, this time out of Brazil; The first was in the early 3rd or 4th century in Europe, and the second was in the 12th century in Peru.
- They believe in reincarnation.
- They don't use the Bible
-They teach doctrine as handed down from the leader of the third manifestation, and reading and discussion takes place on this doctrine during the "sessions", or services of worship
- They call themselves Christian because they believe that they encounter Christ, and salvation offered in Christ, when they drink the tea.
- "Sessions" are on Saturday evenings beginning at eight. They drink the tea early on and then have fellowship with each other, including a meal, until midnight. Then they go home. The effects of the tea have worn off by this time.
-The services are at 8 on Saturday as prescripted by the leader of the third manifestation as an alternative to those who would go out on Saturday night and engage in immoral behavior.
- Children are allowed to drink the tea in small doses. But not until one is 18 can they fully partake.
- Visitors are examined thoroughly as to their intentions for being at the "session". And it is not until certain degrees of approbation is one allowed to participate in the tea drinking ritual. This is to ensure that their intentions are genuine.

We had a very interesting discussion, to say the least. I was very thankful for the other representatives of the ILA for their openness and critique of what was taking place. Maggie Monroe was particularly astute in her interaction, as she works with Habitat for Humanity and knows a lot about property issues and working with the county, and she has a genuine curiosity about religious liberties and practices.

Alas, only in santa fe might I have these kind of encounters. Who knows, I may end up serving a hot bowl of soup to a homeless person next to someone from UdV this winter. But, most likely it won't be on a Saturday night. Something else hot will be served, perhaps in a religious building?

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