A wooden chest filled with handmade books by concerned citizens worldwide has become a source of contention and inspiration in Indianapolis. Sally Linder, co-creator of “The Ark of Hope” and the Temenos Books project, is a Vermont-based, internationally-known visual artist who has been exploring the interdependence between art and life and art’s healing capacities.
Sally Linder, co-creator of the Ark of Hope
“The object of this project is to raise awareness of global interdependence and the power of art to raise questions and provoke changes in thinking, consciousness and behaviors,” stated Linder during a visit to Indianapolis on Oct. 10. Linder’s impetus is the Earth Charter, a worldwide initiative to engage all peoples in thinking about shared responsibility for environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development and peace. Proponents of the Charter cross a wide swath including the Action Coalition for Global Change, the World Parliament of Religion, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Humane Society of the United States and the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis. The Ark arrived in Indianapolis as the centerpiece for the third annual Earth Charter Community Summit on Oct. 11 and as a part of the current, citywide Spirit & Place Festival. Prior to its appearance, however, communications of dissent were forwarded to area churches and to organizations intending to display the Ark and offer community programs for reflection on shared global responsibility. “The John Birch Society does not have concern per se with the Ark of Hope or Temenos Books. Our concern is with the United Nations,” said Lionel Terzi, Indiana’s state coordinator for the society. Speaking by telephone from Elkhart on Oct. 22, Terzi stated, “The plan of the U.N. is to take away our Christian religion and to push non-Christian religions on the world.” Letters forwarded to NUVO included one from the Indianapolis Get US out of the United Nations Committee. Dated August 2003, it is addressed to “Dear Pastor” and states in part, “We wish to alert you to a great concern for Indianapolis area churches. For many months now we have watched a movement develop and take root here that is opposed to biblical Christianity. This movement is the Earth Charter Initiative. The Earth Charter is a document intended for United Nations ratification. The goal is for this charter to become international law. [Emphasis in the original letter] ... The Earth Charter promotes pagan worship that is clothed in environmental extremism and socialist ideals ... We must preserve our religious freedoms! Will you stand with us and help us to preserve those freedoms?” An undated “Pastoral Alert” signed by Steve Frazer reads in part, “I am a resident of Indianapolis and wish to alert you of a threat to Christians in this area. Called ‘The Earth Charter,’ [sic] it proposes establishing, as law, [original emphasis] an earth-based pagan worship system, primarily directed at our children. “... You are a key person who can help us stay vigilant in our efforts, and keep it’s [sic] influences out of our city.” “We’ve already accomplished our goal,” Terzi said. “Eight hundred pieces went to area churches. We brought attention that there is a danger to take away our Christian heritage. We’re a very grass-roots organization. People who believe get out and do our work. “The John Birch Society is for the Constitution. We defend others’ rights to display the Ark while we work hard to make its display not possible.”
Half pulled out for fear
Of the dozen or so community organizations planning to exhibit the Ark, fully one-half pulled out for fear of controversy or harm to their constituencies, yet Terzi claims the John Birch Society asks its members not to engage in demonstrations or shouting matches. He said the protestors at the Oct. 11 site were “from the Crown of Life Baptist Church” and are not connected with the society, per se. “We will not tolerate threats by our members,” he emphasized. “These are people having a voice and doing it constructively. We slowed down their process. The great victory is the public pressure we could generate to change the venue of the summit.” According to Sylvia Reichel, an Earth Charter Summit Committee volunteer, even though the original site for the summit pulled out, “The conference was not less well-attended because of them [John Birch Society]. We invited them to come in and some did, and were respectful. “The biggest thing about attending the summit is learning you are not alone in your concerns. Other people are doing things to make the world a better place.” “The John Birch Society has been informing police of its activities,” Indianapolis Police Sgt. William Rouse said during a telephone interview on Oct. 21. “I think all the showings are going to be safe. Every time the Ark is moved or displayed we visit to ensure safety.” David Thomas of the Indianapolis Arts Center concurs. Aware of the possibility of being picketed, security systems have been set in place. Part of a major initiative including solo exhibitions of four artists and seven hands-on and discussion programs, the three Temenos Books workshops are specifically aimed toward family participation. Nov. 15 is for parent-child teams, ages 5-10; Nov. 22 for parent-child teams, ages 11-16; Nov. 29 ages 17 and up, individuals or family teams; each, 9:30-11:30 a.m. “We’ve been working for two years on In Search of the Spirit to be representative and ecumenical. It’s not supporting or promoting any one religion,” Thomas said, adding, “Anything we do has a significant educational program. We are talking about how people connect with that theme and how we express our ideas through the arts.” Temenos is old Greek for sacred circle, or a protected space. Sessions can open with a conversation about how individuals create a context of meaning for their lives. “I’m leaving it open to interpretation,” said Susan Watt, one of the workshop teachers. The only constraint is the uniform 8-inch-by-8-inch size of the sheets of paper making up the books. Contents and binding are entirely up to the participants. Tied to national standards of learning, the workshops emphasize selecting and using subject matter, symbols and ideas to communicate meaning. Themes such as kindness, respect, reverence for life, affirmation of individual concerns and the impact of even a single word are discussed. Activities include going outdoors, weather-permitting, and utilizing observations and materials as images to show the artist’s concerns. Making the Temenos Books “is not a slap-dash act; it requires some thinking. The end result is a change in how we behave toward each other,” said John Gibson, a coordinator of the Earth Charter Community Summit. “The process of making art can lead to enlightenment beyond the fact of a finished piece,” Thomas commented. “Our exhibits are based within educational programs to expand the ways we can look at art. We can build appreciation for other cultures, explore what does it mean to have reverence for life. There are no right or wrong answers. Parents might want to discuss prior to coming how family members might react to a confrontation.” Thomas said the Arts Center never wavered in its commitment to programming with the Ark of Hope. “We help build appreciation for all points of view.”
For more information John Birch Society: www.jbs.org Get US Out of the United Nations committees: 570-8807, www.getusout.org The Earth Charter Initiative of Indiana: 925-9297 or 783-6235, www.earthchartersummits.org , www.earthcharter.org Sites to view the Ark, read books, participate in workshops: • Nov. 1-14 at Marian College, 3200 Cold Spring Road, 955-6130 • Nov. 15-30 at Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St., 255-2464 The Ark of Hope and Temenos Books are on exhibit at the Indianapolis Art Center through Jan. 18.