Friday, October 15, 2010

The Energies of Conflict

I was listening to a great talk by James O'Dea on transforming conflict through four sacred skills of peacemaking (see and something struck me about accessing energies to sustain the peacemaker.

James says that in his peacebuilding he is always "aware of the dimensions of the problem but not inside the problem."  Called the cycle of violence, these energies of war are fear, disconnection, destruction and do not, in and of themselves, have the capacity for regeneration. Using negativity, anger and even violence (in our hearts or externally) will lead to more of the same in this cycle. Hope and life do not grow from this path.

James comments that "entropy is inside the problem and the energy is inside the solution." A focus on peace draws on the energies of possibility that are infinitely available for sustaining creativity and innovation.. A vision toward  reconciliation gives access to unlimited potential for transformation.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Conflict Composting: Microbes

In composting our conflict we looked at the refuse, elements of water and air and now the microbes necessary for the composting process. There are three types of microbes that operate in a compost pile at three different temperature ranges. There are those who can operate in the cold and those that operate when the compost pile reaches beyond 110 degrees. The hungriest microbes operate best in 70-90 degrees.  Warm weather composting is the quickest and most effective way to remake the plant refuse into soil-building and strengthening fertilizer.

Microbes are the microscopic miracles that turn a pile of stinking manure and rotting vegetable matter into life giving soil. Like humans and animals these little life forms need air and water as well as food to survive. It is their work at digestion that makes the compost a truly soil enriching

Microbes are analogous in our conflict composting to the spiritual miracles of life that turn our piles of painful memory into something that enriches our lives and others. A warm, aerated and watered soul provides the best conditions for quickly composting the refuse of conflict. The energy that moves the soul to transformation is somewhat of a mystery but we know its work by the results. We have seen many who, having gone through some fire of violence, trauma or loss, bloom into rich inspiration. Time is the ally of the microbes, the mystery of transformation and thus we have hope because we see that is possible to transcend the present stinky mess we have been given.

I hope this series of conflict composting has helped you to think about what needs to be composted in your own situation.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Conflict Composting: Elements

In this blog series I am likening conflict transformation to conflict composting. We have seen that this process of composting is actually taking the dead matter, adding some elements of air and water and finally putting some little critters called microbes into the mix and the result is rich blend that regenerates the soil. I suggested that the dead plant matter we added first might be analogous to the trauma and brokenness that violent conflict leaves in its wake and be seen as an opportunity for new growth.

This week we add air and water which will make the composting a transformative work. They are but two elements of four (earth, air/sky, water, fire) that are sacred to indigenous spiritualities and necessary to all life on earth. They should not be owned by any individual but freely available to all. These two elements of air and water are analogous to the very foundations of our social lives.

The first element air, I suggest, corresponds to the rich tapestry of communications within our relationships. Communicating with those around us happens by pheromone, body language, emotion, oh and yes, voice. Add to that the disembodied means of communicating like the phone, email and social networking. This essential ingredient is a resource for composting conflict. While violence alienates, communicating reconnects. With our compost pile, not enough air pockets throughout means that the microbes charged with breaking down the refuse will not breathe well enough and be stifled in filling their function. If air is analogous to communication, then too little of that element will leave us with unresolved and/or uncomposted residuals from damaging conflict.

The second element necessary for proper composting is water. The right amount of water is crucial for microbe health and makes our compost bind together. This is analogous to our bonds clan or tribe. Understanding our valued place within the more complex social structures surrounding us binds us to that community in healing ways.

Cut off from those elements, we are quickly incapacitated by isolation and eventually cease developing just as our soil composting process would stop. Tending to a balance of these two elements results in a conflict composting process thrives.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Conflict Composting: Refuse

I have always has some discomfort with the term conflict transformation because it is so nondescript and sterile. The word transformation reminds me of transformers (see Schematics for Peace Blog posting in February and March) or worse evokes the image of those awful transformer toy movies in which mechanical things can reassemble themselves into robot war machines. Perhaps likening transformation to composting is a much more organic metaphor including that which is intrinsic to the processes of life, death and regeneration.

To summarize what’s necessary for a good composting enterprise we need:

1. plant refuse/bio trash

2. elements (air and water)

3. microbes (from soil or manure)

Put these three together in proper balance and the outputs are nutrient rich humus and heat.

To start a conflict composting venture we will look at the so called rubbish that destructive conflict can leave in its wake. Individual or community experience with violent conflict leaves trauma, disconnection, fear, and mistrust among other things. These impacts are often seen as bad and to be ‘gotten over’ as quickly as possible with the pat phrases like “moving on” and “turning a new page.” In a post war context the litter of brokenness is often covered up like so much garbage and the open wounds and scars are actively kept out of sight.

This attitude toward the ‘refuse’ is a lost opportunity when left uncomposted. In its organic parallel, uncomposted bio refuse will dry rot losing much of its potential value. Likewise, the unacknowledged pain and brokenness, left uncomposted, will lose its potential for growth unless it is mixed with the elements of air and water as well as microbes.These negative experiences can be cast in a positive light when they are seen as resources for conflict composting.

In coming postings I will make analogies for the elements and microbes. For now, the key to conflict composting is recasting the painful residue of conflict as a necessary part of regeneration, an opportunity for growth and a necessary component of creating life from death.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Conflict Composting: Composting Essentials

Twenty-five years ago I was studying International Development at Bethel College in Kansas. One required course was International Agriculture. This was a practical class with a real garden containing real soil and plants. While the instructors, Paul and Mary McKay, incorporated all the ‘state of the art’ sustainable agriculture practices known in that day, what I remember most was making a compost pile. It has stuck with me all these years that what I would rather do is grow soil than food.

Compost needs a few essential things to work really well. Those include green matter providing the nitrogen (fresh grass clippings work well here), brown matter providing the carbon (leaves, cornstalks, sawdust) and some source of the microbes (either rich soil or manure of some kind). The right amount of moisture is needed as is some air. If conditions are right the microbes start to eat the other matter and can create enormous amounts of heat.

I spent the morning helping my brother-in-law make a compost pile from his years of accumulated yard waste. Grass clippings, wood chips from a downed tree, leaves, vegetable stalks, husks and cobs were all heaped in separate piles. He had gotten a steaming pile of cow manure complete with swarming flies for the composting venture. We layered these materials together in a wire bound bin in the garden. In the center of the compost pile was a chimney to let the center breathe and let heat escape. The picture to the right is the composting 'layer cake' we made.

While laboring to bring these materials together, I began to think of conflict transformation as actually conflict composing. In the next few blog postings I will attempt to spin this metaphor out. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Traditional Conflict Mitigation Systems

Bishop Jun of Tabuk in Kalinga got a letter from one of his parishioners that changed his life. This woman had recently lost her son to tribal violence. She wished to pray for her son’s murderer and to express her desire to publicly forgive him. This radical act of reconciliation was the start of the Bishop’s vision for the Ka-ili-yan Peacebuilding Institute (KPI).

I was invited to facilitate an introductory workshop on Conflict Transformation and Alternative Dispute Resolution earlier this month as part of KPI’s ongoing work at peacebuilding in the mountainous areas of northern Luzon, Philippines. In the workshop were military and police commanders, persons from the church and government, and some elders who are the holders of the traditional peace pacts called Bodong.

The Bodong is a traditional capacity for peace that is often underestimated by outsiders in its ability to address current violence often based on inter-tribal vendettas. In a planning meeting after the KPI, peace pact holders were adamant that where there were tribal peace pacts, there was no problem with ongoing violence.

While these peace pacts take time and resources to negotiate between the numerous tribes in Northern Luzon, they are a durable way to address violence. I was shown a map indicating that there were nearly 200 different pacts between various tribes. As many as 5 carabao (water buffalo) need to be slaughtered to seal the pact, multiplied times the nearly 200 pacts translates to a lot of money. Yet what are the alternatives? What is the cost of one helicopter or feeding one battalion of soldiers both of which are far less effective in “peacekeeping” than an indigenously owned peace pact. Local tradition and wisdom once again proves to be the best resource.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Not the longest wait

Upon arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 1 this morning at 4am, I checked in and prepared to wait the remaining time before boarding my Delta flight after three weeks in the Philippines. Comforted by the sight of the 747-400 aircraft sitting at the gate, I was ready to get home. The first clue that something was wrong came from the stampede of persons up to the airline counter in the waiting area. One of the staff said that the flight was canceled. Disbelieving I waited my turn to get to the counter, and moving at a snail’s pace, finally got to talk to an airline representative. To reinforce what they told me about the flight cancellation until tomorrow due to maintenance problems, the plane was pushed back from the gate. We are being well taken care of by Delta airlines in a 5-star hotel. Breakfast consisted of every kind of Western and Asian food you could possibly eat. However, I would much rather be eating airline food over the Pacific knowing I am headed home, than the grand buffets at this glamorous hotel overlooking Manila Bay.

In twenty-four hours until we leave, or so they say. Seems like a long to time to wait but it is not the longest time I have had to wait for an airplane. Once in Somalia, in the late 1980s, I waited 2½ days for a plane. That time it was out on the desert in a windswept coastal town called Berbera. Having missed the Hargeisa>Mogadishu flight, I took the bus to Berbera 4 hours away to wait for the incoming flight enroute from Jedda to Mogadishu on Somali Airlines. But the president absconded the plane for some state business or shopping trip to Europe and so we sat, waiting under a shade tree for the tardy plane. The airport had no terminal, just a shell of a block building from the Russian era that had its windows and doors ripped out, had a dirt floor and stunk of goat pee. The airline put us up in something they called a hotel but there was no running water, was at least 100 degrees F inside and a legion of mosquitoes had a feast on me during the night. With no internet, or TV or even anything to do in Berbera, which was under curfew, we just sat, waiting.

So, lest I am tempted to scowl at this turn of events, I must remember that it can always be worse.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Interfaith Dialogue

In our Religion: Peacebuilding in Multicultural Societies Course here at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) we examined five different kinds of interactions or dialogues with persons of different cultures or religions.

The first is the dialogue of life where people live as neighbors, primarily concerned with daily interactions, the joys and sorrows that are the ebb and flow of life. Next is the dialogue of action or it is sometimes called the dialogue of hands. Persons of different faiths work together toward a common goal perhaps addressing some kind of social problem. Buddhists and Christians building a house together at Habitat-for-Humanity would be one example. The third interaction is the dialogue of the religious experience where adherents actually experience each others rituals, worship or celebrations. Participation in others sacred spaces bring a deep appreciation and respect for the differences. The fourth type is among experts sometimes called the dialogue of the head. In this dialogue, “experts” interact round philosophy and theology of beliefs. As the only Mennonite in our class I was considered this authority because I could represent my particular brand of faith even though I am far from being a theologian.

When persons have dialogued long enough and respect for the other gains enough ground in the heart, then the fifth type of dialogue might occur, the dialogue of friendship and/or love. It is usually between two individuals who have developed the kind of friendship in which one would lay down the life for the other.

In our class this week we experienced, in some little way, all of these dialogues. Grouping diverse persons together for class tasks, caucusing people in their respective religious groups to present their faith and attending worshiping at a mosque were all part of this task. Through working closely together designing the an co-facilitating the course Alzad, and I made progress toward the fifth dialogue.

Hands Photo by Hai Arap