Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Surrender

Surrender is not in our vocabulary here in the US. It’s a dirty word denoting failure, cowardliness and weakness. In the church the language of “conquering sin” and “victory over death” trumps the word surrender. Even in peacebuilding, so much of the language and skills we promote are for the purpose of asserting our rights or obtaining justice. Not that any of this is wrong or misguided but some balance between victory and surrender is needed. In fact these two are intimately linked in the narratives of many a faith.

My work at peacebuilding, from previous posts, is acknowledged to be both personal and global. For the past number of years I have been an observer of the dynamics of violence. One facet in particular has commanded my attention and that is the addictive nature of violence. My tentative conclusions are from both first-hand and international vantage points. As a peacebuilder I am always looking for tools to assist those addicted to violence.

I stumbled upon the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program and realized that they had discovered a critical first step to making headway against any addiction…surrender. This is not the same as giving up. It is surrender to trying to overcome the addiction through sheer willpower by giving it over to a “higher power.” This surrender to a “higher power” will eventually include the giving up of any resentment, grudges and need for revenge. The AA people have documented these toxic attitudes as impediments to true inner peace. By taking responsibility for our own issues and shifting the burden of change to a “higher power” we will actually tap the ultimate power of the universe. Next time you are up against something seemingly unchangeable, surrender to your “higher power” and let the transformation begin.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Average Day

I went to the office this morning and had an average day. First, as I was at my desk typing a letter when a giant meteorite crashed through the roof and landed square on my computer smashing it to bits. After chips, connectors and plastic finished falling I thought: "Now what do I do?"

I decided to file some of the stack of papers on my desk and walked toward the file drawer. Just as I pulled out the first stack of files a runaway truck came careening down the road, burst through the outside wall and smooshed the file cabinet flat against the opposing wall. After a blizzard of papers settled I thought: "Now what do I do?"

So I decided to photocopy some documents. While hunching over the copy machine a colossal wind blew through the window and pushed this sensitive apparatus right off the table. Glass shattered, springs sprung, and sparks flew. When the sprockets were finished rolling across the floor I thought: "Now what do I do?"

With the one side of my offices in disarray, I went to the library side with the hope of organizing some books. While working on the books, an alien spacecraft landed nearby, a three headed, green scaled beings from outer space walked into the library, pointed a wicked looking incoherent photon disruptor weapon at me and demanded our books. When the alien walked out with 5 tentacles full of absconded books I thought: "Now what do I do?"

I decided to call it a day.

When I got home that evening my wife, Carolyn, asked me: "How was your day honey?" "Oh", I said, "You know how it is here, I didn't get much done."

[Story told to Solomon (5) and David (3) Rudy at the supper table one evening to keep the boys seated and make them stop squirming, Swaziland Sept. '96]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Violence Debunked

A friend of mine once said that if war would bring peace, the human race would have achieved peace long ago. This idea exposes one of the lies about the use of violence to accomplish any kind of so social change, that ends and means can be inconsistent.

It is this incompatibility of methods and goals that has become such a blind spot in western culture today. From influencing a person to change their ways to nations being persuaded into giving up certain ambitions, the west continues to try to heckle, strong arm and bomb the other side into ‘correct’ actions.

I suppose the conventional wisdom is that the use of force is the most ‘rational’ course in many cases. However, how many of the ‘rational’ military adventures in this nation have started out as seeming the right thing to do only to become a quagmire once they are underway. Likewise, how many nonviolent campaigns start by looking like irrational and untenable efforts only to, in the end, bring real sustainable change? See http://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/PDF/IS3301_pp007-044_Stephan_Chenoweth.pdf for a hint.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Connecting the Pieces of Peace

Something clicked in my head about the nature of my work while working on a sermon for Willow Street Mennonite Church. At the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) over the past 8 years I have co-facilitated courses on nonviolence, the basics of peacebuilding and how religion can be a source of conflict or a resource of peace. It strikes me that these three are on a continuum somehow for Christians.

One of Jesus' core teaching was to love our enemies. This is not just a 'nicey-nicey feel good stuff. It was his way of saying the work at making peace is with enemies, not friends and in order to do that you gotta move toward tough spots in relationships. This is the way it is when conflict sides fall on the fault lines of faith. We have to get together and talk with our religious neighbors, not just about the commonalities and points of overlap but the tough things that could divide us. In so doing, respect and tolerance are generated.

Jesus says that we will be blessed in our peace making. Blessing is such a nebulous word. But I can tell you from experience that anyone who has experienced the calm of peace after the storm of violent conflict feels blessed. The hard work is to refine skills of peacebuilding so that they become the norm out of which people seek to address conflict not violence.

Jesus' life demonstrated that nonviolence is the only way to undo the spiral of violence in which humans are trapped. Our commitment to non-retaliation is costly. It is not popular and makes no sense. But if I have learned one thing it is that the use of violence to solve problems, while seeming to be the logical choice at the beginning quickly spirals into irrationality.

So these three topics - dialogue, peacebuilding and nonviolence- are intimately linked. I suppose these three are what make sense to me because they are in such short supply in the world today. I suggest you read my mentor/friend Deng's blog to see how blending these three are making a real-life impact.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Two Books - One Stand


In a place where the religious differences are easy handles used to manipulate communities to perpetrate violence, inter-religious dialogue is critical. When faith communities come together, they can dispel biases, clarify misconceptions and denounce outright lies that some spoilers use to derail peace processes.

I have been meeting with a few groups who have taken the risk to come together across, sometimes large, divides. These leaders are demonstrating that your religious neighbor is still your neighbor and each faith has an imperative on how to treat them.

Inter-religious dialogue does not mean giving up our faith to meet the other. Rather, it sharpens our own beliefs as we articulate why we believe what we believe. Dialogue is not about least common denominators and brushing aside differences, but rather respecting the differences which opens up the possibility of learning from the other.

The picture is of a holy book stand. It is made out of one piece of wood, carved to open like a clam shell. It was made to hold one book, but this one is holding the Bible and the Koran. It is a symbol of dialogue.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reflecting On Peace Practices

I am now back in Davao. For the next 2 weeks I will be working with colleague Myla Leguro on a project for CDA Collaborative Learning Projects called Reflecting on Peace Practices. We will be traveling around Mindanao meeting peace stakeholders to try to surface what peace practices have worked. The results of our work will be a case study paper posted on the CDA site.

For more information on this project and previous case studies go to: CDA RPP

Monday, August 17, 2009

Loosing Your Head on an F-12

My dad, Carl, suggested that Sol, David and I go to the Rough and Tumble antique tractor/steam show in Kinsers, Pennsylvania last Friday. What a calliope of steam whistles, huffing diesels and slow put puts of ancient stationary engines. In the midst of hundreds of old restored tractors, dad told us of the time he nearly lost his head (literally) in a farming accident as a young man.

He was driving the family International F-12 tractor, pulling 2 heavily loaded hay wagons down a hill. As he looked back, he noticed the tongue of the first hay wagon starting to bend under the pressure. Keeping a cool head (figuratively) he quickly turned right as the pin sheared off and the wagons careened down the hill. The tractor stayed upright and all was well. He told us that, if he would have taken no action, the wagons would have run up over the back wheels and pinned him against the steering wheel.

If that would have happened, I would not be writing this today.
Dad with the International F-12

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Passing of an Icon

Cory Aquino, former president and icon of the EDSA revolution in 1986, succumbed to her bout with cancer while I was here in the Philippines. Beloved by many, she was mourned continuously in many parts of the country from the time of her death last early Saturday morning to the funeral today (Wednesday). The Manila Cathedral was packed and the streets where her casket passed were pressed with people waiting to say good-by. The television stations had nonstop coverage of the events of her life, emotional comments from grieving family and friends and reflections on her presidency. Today was declared a non-working holiday. While out on the streets today many a small vendor had a TV tucked into the corner of their shop, each tuned into the funeral as a majority of the country collectively stopped for a moment in time.

Not everyone has been equally affected by this outpouring of national grief. When Ms. Aquino died I was in Western Mindanao, which has a high population of Bangsamoro people. No one bothered to tell me of Cory's passing and the coverage was more subdued. The recently jumpstarted peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will take a hiatus today. As one Muslim friend told me, “today is an emotional day…. A day for condolences…tomorrow we begin politics again.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Paradise Lost?

Pristine white beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze, sipping exotic fruit drinks. These are the images of tropical paradise.

But the Philippines, with it’s 7107 Islands (at low tide) has literally of thousands of miles of beach front property. In urban areas this property has often been relegated to the poorest areas. Note on the picture the densely populated waterfront compared to the rest of the city. While the open bays, gulf or sea offers a twice a day flush for raw sewage poured into it (the tide) the drawbacks of this kind of population density are far greater than the benefits. Disasters such as tsunamis, typhoons and epidemics sweep through these areas with devastating impact.

Yet these areas offer some of the finest in Philippine life too. People live in communities, know their neighbors and come to each other assistance when needed. What they lack in basic services is made up with tenacity of survival and sheer force of determination to make the best of it.

By all means, I do not want to glorify poverty. But I wonder if living so close to ones neighbor brings out the best in humanity that the folks, in the internet isolated affluent areas, have lost.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Juxtapostions

I arrived in Davao City, Mindanao having been scanned numerous times by infrared cameras seeking out anyone who might possibly be suffering from H1N1 virus, swine flu. People are wearing masks to protect them from an invisible enemy. The whole building where we normally hold the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute has been closed, only running on a skeleton crew, the bulk of the staff sent home. All because of one case of the flu among the students who normally inhabit the compound which includes a medical school. The remaining staff are cleaning walls with Clorox in order to 'disinfect' the whole place, a seeming quixotic goal in this fetid tropical air.

A government report in mid July states that over 745,000 people are displaced in Central Mindanao due to the fighting between the government (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). School compounds, safe havens for families who have no where else to go, displace students wanting to study. Now the Philippine military states that they view these displaced persons as host communities for enemy combatants. Indeed, the military has bombed areas close to where these displaced persons have huddled to escape areas of intense fighting. Children have been traumatized and hurt.

I juxtapose a world held captive by the latest news of a microscopic virus and three-quarters of a million people hostage to a military chasing 2 or 3 people that doesn't even make national headlines. Something in the scheme of human priorities seem wrong to me. Does it to you?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Philippines Once Again

I am off to Mindanao, Philippines once again. I have been hired as a facilitator for the CDA Collaborative Learning Projects Mindanao Listening Project. This is a project that solicits the experiences of recipients of international relief and development help. Through a dialogue process with a multitude of people impacted by this assistance lessons learned and best practice as well as gaps and challenges can be documented in an attempt to better the delivery of aid.

For a more complete picture of CDA Collaborative Learning Projects visit: http://www.cdainc.com/cdawww/default.php

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Peace Contributions

I have been thinking a lot lately about how much a person can contribute toward world harmony if there is not total peace in his/her heart. Can angry anti-war protesters contribute toward ceasefire? Can a strong leader in peacemaking who has a violent temper really make a difference? Can someone who harbors a bitter quest for revenge call for justice?

These questions are sharpened by a comment from my brother. “Resisting a thing only causes it to push back with equal strength…” or something like that. It’s a logical statement first summed up by Newton (his 3rd law of motion). The chair only pushes up on us when we push down on it. There is equilibrium in the pushing. Or at least until I am more weight than the chair can bear and then it collapses.

If I am calling for justice, peace and shalom, does it matter how much integrity I have in my life in these areas? Do I sit down and wait for true inner balance and harmony with these values before I act, speak or give witness? Perhaps it is the direction I am headed and not necessarily the progress on the path that is key here. Perhaps it is the quest of balance, inner and outer peace, which actually brings about true peace. If this is so, essential to the pursuit are humility and courage.