PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


Philippines: Focusing In by peaceprobe
January 10, 2007, 8:56 am
Filed under: Nonviolence, Philippines

When I began taking photos several decades ago I noticed that when I relaxed, my eye went immediately to the subject almost without being told to do so. Over time as I took pictures for specific purposes, an argument sometimes broke out in my mind between the intuitive focus and the specific and limited intent of that single photo. This led to all kinds of negotiations within my brain. Some of those negotiations led to distortions, and bad pictures. My best photos happened when I allowed my focus to go on automatic after my brain agreed to the larger objective. I also noticed that each of us has a unique and special gift of focus. Five persons with the same general objective will come up with very different pictures. We learn something about reality from each of the five photos.

My experience with the camera is a metaphor for the new settings in communities or nations that I enter. My brain needs to be soft, flexible and ready for what is fresh and new. I learned that I don’t even get to see that which is new if I try too hard and too quickly to force everything into logical preexistent categories in this brain I carry around. I have learned that the configuration of image, sound, smell, and even taste in early encounters create the preconscious scaffolding for the more rational and verbal explanations that will follow. Even though I have learned this I notice little arguments inside my brain pushing and pulling me to evaluate, judge, and catagorize and thereby turn off my senses and the power of freshness that they bring. I am not proud that it has taken me so many years to see how this works. For the past week here in the Philippines, I have watched this process unfold in my brain. I hear the angel of reason whispering that the time for intuitive focus is over. “You need to make order out of this,” shouts a voice within

The little lesson from the camera which took me so long to learn at least helps me sort things out. I know that the violence I see here with a fresh focus will help me see the whole of our violent condition everywhere, which has been the focus of my years in peacemaking work. Being in the Philippines allows me to hear with fresh ears the announcement to send more troops to Iraq, new strategies for terrorism and glowing reports of rooting out guerillas activity. Because I have a fresh place to take a picture, I can see without the gnashing of arguments inside my brain, the heavy burden that state violence in Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, and the Philippines has on people and trees. But the insight comes to me as flashing episodes in picture form instead of the heavy hand of ideology or theology so weighted down with “should’s” and “oughts”. It shows me how things are before the parties announce “the right of governments” or “the right of the people” to defend themselves by any means available. The episodes come to me in flashes before anyone can explain or teach me correct thinking about fallen heroes or victims of terror rooted in smart bombs, road side devices or people’s war.

I hold these fleeting images under the light in the expectation of hope and blessing for the journey. I know that the softness of these moments of experience will become hardened in conversations and the miles of journey ahead. I pray that this softness might give light to every specific pain, each disappointed heart, every harsh word I encounter. I know in this imperfect world the simplicity and wholeness of a new encounter may even be betrayed or muted as the way is opened. I know that there will be 1000 definitions of peace as the cameras flash and that I must acknowledge and embrace my own photograph because it has been given specifically to me.

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