PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


GENE STOLTZFUS, PRESENTE!!! LIVING MEMORIAL by accessphilippines
April 8, 2010, 10:41 am
Filed under: Christian Peacemaker Teams, Nonviolence

GENE STOLTZFUS, PRESENTE!!! LIVING MEMORIAL

Dear Peace Probe Blog Readers and Friends and Relatives of Gene Stoltzfus (February 1, 1940 – March 10, 2010)

Some of you have attended or organized a memorial or a mass or some kind of sharing for Gene over the past months in March and April, 2010. Thank you. When we act and speak from our hearts we are contributing to the larger healing of our world. Gene seemed to know that from the get-go. An example I am acutely aware of right now are the words Gene wrote 35 years ago, as part of the welcome at our marriage ceremony on April 4, 1975.

Our celebration… with one another and before God will have integrity if we acknowledge at the outset the brokenness that exists in so many places where a community of justice has not yet been achieved…. Let us remember these visible objective wounds… Let us acknowledge …. that much of this brokenness begins and is nourished in our own lives. But let us recall that God’s grace is most visible in the presence of such brokenness.

May this time together be a celebration of our faith and hope for the future because we know that the reality of new life, tenderness, truth and love is struggling at this moment to be freed and to be made real.

Gene riding by corn fields on motor-assisted bicycle.


In that spirit, I believe that one clear way to honour Gene’s life is to engage in our own lives from our core, knowing that when we touch into the deepest streams of living water within us, we are drawing from that river of life that nourishes and sustains everything and everyone. Action springing from that Source continues to flow. It could be as a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams or other collective efforts. It could the way we relate to our children or grandchildren or co-workers or careers. It could be funding a healing work of some sort. The possibilities to reduce violence and create space for people, communities and nature to blossom are as infinite as our open hearts.

I invite those who wish to participate in a Living Memorial for Gene to describe your own heart commitments in the Comments section under the Gene Stoltzfus Presente! entry on Gene’s blogsite: peaceprobe.wordpress.com

Dorothy Friesen, Gene’s wife
with help from Phil Stoltzfus, Gene’s nephew
and Kryss Chupp, Gene’s long time co-worker and friend.

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Afghanistan: The Right to Life by peaceprobe

In the heart of Kandahar, Afghanistan (population 450,000) a bomb went off last week killing 43 people.  “Anything can happen to ordinary Afghans. We are not safe. We are without value. We have no right to life,” said one victim whose family is among the living wounded.  Who does he turn to?  Who will speak for his family?

In 2002 I was in Afghanistan with Christian Peacemaker Teams.  It was a time of change.  Our peacemaking mission was welcomed.  People allowed themselves to dream that the 20 years of war that began when the Soviets invaded might be ending. I returned home hoping that we could place peacemakers there because I saw signs that suggested unarmed violence reduction could augment what villages, groups, and individuals already had, based upon their own patterns of peacebuilding developed over generations.

I listened to village elders describe how they deal with violence, murder and injustice.  I heard people describe the bombs that fell near or on their homes after 9/11.  I was surprised by people’s candour, their hospitality and their confident formulas for conflict resolution.  I am old enough to know that hospitality may be a means of masking the truth, but I also know that by accepting their generosity we each became surer of one another’s sincerity.

I saw rubble and rusting hulks from the Soviet period, the acres and hectares of destroyed city where warlords once fought for spoils.  On the road to Bagram Air Force Base I witnessed deserted fields, irrigation systems and villages where crops of wheat and vegetables once fed people of Kabul.  “Where have you been all these years?”  asked an Afghan when he heard we were sent from the people working for peace.  Similar sentiments came from others too, in small gestures of kindness and big dreams shared privately over tea.

I learned from seasoned Afghans that armed and uniformed soldiers would have great difficulty creating the conditions for reconciliation.  Even as a civilian I was not convinced that I had a secret instrument for peace.  I wanted to be honest but worried that Taliban and the war lords would ignore my fumbling peace probes.  Being a foreigner particularly an American didn’t help.  After decades of work in conflict situations I had learned to live with my uncertainty.   My instinct told me to test and try various words, actions, suggestions in conditions where violent conflict resolution had become routine.   Surprise!  Something usually works even when society seems to be coming apart .

The signs of the futility of foreign military intervention have been there for at least eight years, and for centuries for those of us who take the time to read the pointers in Afghan history.  When a nation is submerged in the political economy of war, turning the dial towards a peaceful direction is more difficult than juggling American citizens to consensus for health care reform.  The promise of more foreign troops erects an even higher threshold.

Neither drones, nor F-15s nor brilliantly trained marines can find the path to harvest a new political economy where the things that make for peace sprout and blossom.  If the dominant threads of development, crop improvement and infrastructure, are combat-clothed, security is lost for everyone.   Suspicion, and opportunism always win in conditions of war.  We should not be surprised by the daily rants from the foreign press describing corruption and opportunism. War and development don’t mix.  Even the recent elections are exercises in political entertainment, devoid of trust.  Our huge social-cultural mind set that violence can be redemptive does not work.

As American or Canadian or British soldiers continue to depart for the conflicted front I hope someone tells them about the kindness of the Afghan people.  I hope the soldiers can listen in ways that generations before them would not or could not.

If they do listen they may come home early, not because of bullet wounds or truck bombs, but because they learned that they were sent into a conundrum of the impossible.  They will remember the wise voices in the villages where they took extra time to listen.  For some foreign soldiers those voices will resonate within because their hearts have been prepared.  For them this will launch a new vision that includes all of humanity.  I want to support them.

The US and its NATO partners are tired.  The people of Kandahar are tired.  Everyone is less secure.  The 2500 Canadian soldiers in Kandahar, like their partner to the south are stuck.  The government of Canada, its people and its soldiers anxiously await 2011 when the government has promised to end the military “mission”.  Meantime the United States is preparing to send 20,000 additional soldiers.  Without a “right to life” where is the hope?  The way we invest in Afghanistan is more costly and treacherous than security swaps on Wall Street.  Must we wait until all sides are exhausted to end it?

For the past 8 years I have been thinking about what we can do for Afghans who ask, “Where have you been”?  Peace people, let us find our voices. Here are three suggestions.

1.  Listening delegations can be organized to spend time in Afghanistan to learn and feel the void of meaning in the violence.  Their experience will rev up all of us to engage.

2.  Local efforts of listening to returning soldiers will help them sort out their story and complete at least a piece of our own.  What have they learned from the Afghan people?  about war?  about this war?  about themselves?  about what is worth living for or dying for?

3.  When the town meetings happen or the legislative telephones wait to ring, how about a simple message, “The Afghan War is bad for my health”.

Find the local and national organizations who are already working on these items.

For people of faith there must be a response for the words from Kandahar, “We have no right to life.”  When I came back from Afghanistan in 2002 despite my best efforts I could not find the people and financial support to place teams in the field there.  A whole team of peacemakers could have been placed there for the cost of just one foreign soldier.  And for the cost of another soldier several local teams could have been trained and put to work.  Those bold words are still calling out to me.  “Where have you been all these years?”  And, where are we now?



THE END OF PACIFISM AS WE KNOW IT by peaceprobe

 

THE END OF PACIFISM AS WE KNOW IT
In theatres of war where I have worked I have met people who don’t want to participate any longer.  In Colombia I talked with paramilitary soldiers seeking ways out of their previous commitments because the killing they have seen is so distasteful.  Israeli soldiers have built a succession of organizations and support groups for persons not wishing to participate in specific wars.  In Iraq I met former Iraqi soldiers who opted out of military service with great difficulty.  
For these people their own participation in war was the trigger that unleashed a flood of personal questions about war making in general and witnessing against the sources of war.  For some the flood of questions leading to new vision was set off by spiritual conversion.  Despite the modern tendency among popular Christianity to link religious life with national purpose and militarism, people find a peace position often from their own study of the Bible.  
Twenty years ago I was contacted by a person who was curious about Christian Peacemaker Teams. He wished to become involved and support the work.  He had just resigned from a job in a corporation that was heavily involved in military contracts and he wanted to do something “positive”.  We talked several times and eventually he helped to develop our internet based work.  From time to time I had to call him at very inconvenient times of the day and night so he could make critical information available on the internet regarding a crisis event.  He never once complained about my disruptive calls despite his own work and family obligations.  He always wanted to do more and made me feel like I was doing him a favour by providing a route for him to effectively make use of the energy that was released within him when he made his decision to take pacifism to a new level in his personal life and career.
Another friend, a pastor told me of a dilemma that entered his life.  He had been a supervisor for fuelling airlanes at a regional airport.  His job included providing fuel for private planes of companies who stored their executive aircraft at a regional airport.  Over time he realized he was providing gasoline to fuel a US military contractor whose work was shrouded in mystery.  He needed work. One day the contractor demanded that he put more fuel in the airplane than regulations allowed.  He refused to do so but was ordered to comply by his superior because the contract was very important to the small airport.  He complied but over the next year and a half he continued to ponder his dilemma, being a peacemaker who fuelled jets that managed the delivery of modern weapons.  Eventually he resigned.
People often approach me when I travel to discuss a career dilemma where family income depends upon design, development or fabricating the instruments of violence.  Sometimes the discussion is not ready for decision.  At other times it is.  Those decisions always intersect with questions of economic survival, ethics, and peacemaking.  Pacifist churches, meetings and associations are not exempt from these emotional and  life changing opportunities for taking a decisive stand.  People who are facing hard decisions know very well that any decisions they make will affect all their relationships for good and bad.  What they don’t know and what I can only vaguely explain is that wide margins of new energy and creativity often follow decisions of dissent when the voice of conscience is acknowledged and acted upon.
Pacifism is not a static condition or position. I have recently learned that the word pacifism comes from two Latin root words through the French word pacifisme.  Pac is traced back to the Latin word, Pax that means peace or harmony.  Fism derives from the suffix ficus which comes from the Latin ficere that means to act or take action.  In the Bible the Greek word eirenopoios (peacemakers, Matthew 5:9) is translated into Latin as pacifici, which means those who work for peace.  Though in our day we tend to abstract ideas from actual living, the original meaning of pacifist was to be an active peacemaker.  A pacifist inherently takes action.  
Pacifism rejects the use of violent means despite the fact that the tree of violence reaches through contract and contractor into the main streets of most of our communities.  The contradiction inherent in modern economy brings the production, ideological formation and general culture of violence inside our homes and work life.  At one time it may have been possible to be a wedge into the organized violent suppression of violence by simply refusing military service. For most of us that expression of pacifism, refusal to join the military, is no longer the only critical boundary for a life of peacemaking. However, in some countries, like Israel, Colombia and Iraq the decision not to participate in the military is still the flashpoint.  In systems where there is no longer a draft the decision by active duty soldiers to get out because of moral convictions  is often transforming and costly.  
There are three possible responses to violence to which we are connected in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cleveland, violent opposition, passivity, or militant nonviolence.  The active even militant nonviolence inherent in pacifism transforms life from static hum drum and rules, to dynamic engagement with the power of active living. In the Bible peacemakers (the Latin translation used the term pacifist) are called Blessed.   
To be Blessed according to Roman Catholic tradition is to be beatified and worthy of veneration.  Perhaps not everyone who does peacemaking wants to be beatified by the Roman Church or venerated.  However the root meaning of pacifism, peacemaking with all the release of energy that it implies, still holds.  Being pacifist is not a rigid formula for action.  Pacifism is the awakened conscience and the willingness to act on it sometimes alone, but preferably with some support.  The blessing is inherent in the action itself, and the surprise that follows.   
 

In theatres of war where I have worked I have met people who don’t want to participate any longer.  In Colombia I talked with paramilitary soldiers seeking ways out of their previous commitments because the killing they have seen is so distasteful.  Israeli soldiers have built a succession of organizations and support groups for persons not wishing to participate in specific wars.  In Iraq I met former Iraqi soldiers who opted out of military service with great difficulty.  

For these people their own participation in war was the trigger that unleashed a flood of personal questions about war making in general and witnessing against the sources of war.  For some the flood of questions leading to new vision was set off by spiritual conversion.  Despite the modern tendency among popular Christianity to link religious life with national purpose and militarism, people find a peace position often from their own study of the Bible.  

Twenty years ago I was contacted by a person who was curious about Christian Peacemaker Teams. He wished to become involved and support the work.  He had just resigned from a job in a corporation that was heavily involved in military contracts and he wanted to do something “positive”.  We talked several times and eventually he helped to develop our internet based work.  From time to time I had to call him at very inconvenient times of the day and night so he could make critical information available on the internet regarding a crisis event.  He never once complained about my disruptive calls despite his own work and family obligations.  He always wanted to do more and made me feel like I was doing him a favour by providing a route for him to effectively make use of the energy that was released within him when he made his decision to take pacifism to a new level in his personal life and career.

Another friend, a pastor told me of a dilemma that entered his life.  He had been a supervisor for fuelling airlanes at a regional airport.  His job included providing fuel for private planes of companies who stored their executive aircraft at a regional airport.  Over time he realized he was providing gasoline to fuel a US military contractor whose work was shrouded in mystery.  He needed work. One day the contractor demanded that he put more fuel in the airplane than regulations allowed.  He refused to do so but was ordered to comply by his superior because the contract was very important to the small airport.  He complied but over the next year and a half he continued to ponder his dilemma, being a peacemaker who fuelled jets that managed the delivery of modern weapons.  Eventually he resigned.

People often approach me when I travel to discuss a career dilemma where family income depends upon design, development or fabricating the instruments of violence.  Sometimes the discussion is not ready for decision.  At other times it is.  Those decisions always intersect with questions of economic survival, ethics, and peacemaking.  Pacifist churches, meetings and associations are not exempt from these emotional and  life changing opportunities for taking a decisive stand.  People who are facing hard decisions know very well that any decisions they make will affect all their relationships for good and bad.  What they don’t know and what I can only vaguely explain is that wide margins of new energy and creativity often follow decisions of dissent when the voice of conscience is acknowledged and acted upon.

Pacifism is not a static condition or position. I have recently learned that the word pacifism comes from two Latin root words through the French word pacifisme.  Pac is traced back to the Latin word, Pax that means peace or harmony.  Fism derives from the suffix ficus which comes from the Latin ficere that means to act or take action.  In the Bible the Greek word eirenopoios (peacemakers, Matthew 5:9) is translated into Latin as pacifici, which means those who work for peace.  Though in our day we tend to abstract ideas from actual living, the original meaning of pacifist was to be an active peacemaker.  A pacifist inherently takes action.  

Pacifism rejects the use of violent means despite the fact that the tree of violence reaches through contract and contractor into the main streets of most of our communities.  The contradiction inherent in modern economy brings the production, ideological formation and general culture of violence inside our homes and work life.  At one time it may have been possible to be a wedge into the organized violent suppression of violence by simply refusing military service. For most of us that expression of pacifism, refusal to join the military, is no longer the only critical boundary for a life of peacemaking. However, in some countries, like Israel, Colombia and Iraq the decision not to participate in the military is still the flashpoint.  In systems where there is no longer a draft the decision by active duty soldiers to get out because of moral convictions  is often transforming and costly. 

There are three possible responses to violence to which we are connected in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cleveland, violent opposition, passivity, or militant nonviolence.  The active even militant nonviolence inherent in pacifism transforms life from static hum drum and rules, to dynamic engagement with the power of active living. In the Bible peacemakers (the Latin translation used the term pacifist) are called Blessed.   

To be Blessed according to Roman Catholic tradition is to be beatified and worthy of veneration.  Perhaps not everyone who does peacemaking wants to be beatified by the Roman Church or venerated.  However the root meaning of pacifism, peacemaking with all the release of energy that it implies, still holds.  Being pacifist is not a rigid formula for action.  Pacifism is the awakened conscience and the willingness to act on it sometimes alone, but preferably with some support.  The blessing is inherent in the action itself, and the surprise that follows.



Setting the Tone: Communication in Conflict by peaceprobe
November 11, 2008, 1:52 pm
Filed under: Christian Peacemaker Teams, Connecting Across Borders, Iraq, Nonviolence

The tone we set in peacemaking is everything.  Without an approach of curiosity, candour, and honesty we can be assured that progress will stop.  In a peacemaking conversation there is always more to communicate than the content of the contentious issue.  The tiny symbols of timing, dress, place and body language all make a difference and may open or close doors.  Appropriate gift giving may be a critical part of this language in some cultures.  This is true in the global tangle of conflicts but it is also true at the community and institutional levels.  

Listening takes into account deeper nuanced messages that are closer to the heart.  This path of interested, curious,  listening comes about when we trust the preconscious and semi conscious levels of our lives.  We can assume other peoples have found their own ways to be at home with those inner messages.  Peacemaking, sometimes called diplomacy, is possible when there is a road.  Roads are built between us by adventures of nonverbal and verbal communication over a longer period of time.  Nations do this on a grand scale, the rest of us do it one on one.  

During a trip to Iraq I joined a CPT team member in a visit to a family in a hard to find neighbourhood on the outskirts of Baghdad.  The family had contacted our team some weeks earlier because one of their sons had disappeared early in the occupation, and they were desperate to find him.  The taxi driver who took us was hesitant because he was not familiar with the community. Nevertheless, we set out on our search.  

After an hour’s drive we reached the neighbourhood where we repeatedly asked for more specific directions.  People were cautious.  After many turns on deteriorating side roads we finally reached the street where local people pointed us to the house.  The family invited us in and recalled their request for help and inquired about our work.  The discussion seemed stalled for a time as tea was served.  Suddenly the man of the house announced that the son had been released three weeks earlier.  We were relieved but there seemed to be a continuing pall over the room as more tea arrived.  Then we asked if the son was available so that he could tell us his story.  They said someone would go find him.  We waited.  

Suddenly the former detainee burst into the room.  He began shouting at us.  In his shouts he appealed to a situation in Egypt where people like him are mistreated and the Americans support the government.  His voice was loud and animated. We listened in confused silence.  After a time we asked if he could tell us about his recent detention and what transpired.  He replied with another diatribe on how awful things were, then paced back and forth in the room as his elders tried to quiet him down.  A third time he lashed out at us whereupon his parents prevailed upon a relative to take him from the room. They told us that he had been inclined to these kinds of emotional responses since his release.  He was not like that before, they said.  

After a few more polite exchanges we left and then began the task of decoding the contrasting tones of our exchange.  Had the former detainee been severely mistreated or even shamed and was his behaviour, as suggested by the parents, the result of traumatic interrogation?  Or was he communicating a rising anger and bitterness of one Baghdad community in the early stages of occupation?  In dozens of meetings with Middle East families I had only once encountered an outburst like this.  In Middle East society this kind of behaviour is rare in early get acquainted meetings.  However expressions of anger may occur later as a part of a larger process of negotiations.  

On reflection later I believe that the son’s behaviour probably reflected all of the above and more.  The fact that the family presented the son to us after a time of ambivalence suggests that they thought it would be safe for them if we met the son despite the unsettling nature of what was to come.  The son’s message included revenge, fear, and hatred.  My mistaken inclination at the time was to simply see his diatribes as the expression of anger over detainment.  I was wrong.  Although he may have carried conscious and subconscious pain, that pain had a real source in the unfolding events and deserved an interpretation by me that reached beyond the psychological.  I failed to read the loud tones, and preferred to confine my interpretation of events to polite Middle Eastern coffee and tea hospitality.  Had I listened more deeply I could have anticipated the enormous outbreak of violence and revenge in communities like his in the coming two years.  

In real listening we don’t necessarily learn so much that is new.  Actually we simply recognize much of what we already know.  The catch is that we all have highly-developed systems of sorting, judging and eliminating information  that either doesn’t fit or makes us uncomfortable.  We train ourselves to do that.  By listening more deeply to outbursts, to body language and the choice of words we get hints that can move peacemaking along because we know where to get started with warnings, activism and interpretation.  In real listening my impatience, prejudice, and need to analyse is overcome.  I let the messenger’s total communication affect me.  

In my experience I know when I have listened because my energy becomes more animated with a sense of connection to the person and the larger context.  Compassion and concern are awakened. I am allowed at least for a moment to hear not just words but the intent of the person and this gives me a sense of connection to the person and also to the universal.  I know that the analytical have its place and will come later.  In the moment of connection my whole bodies including all five senses are listening.  

Over the years I have had many opportunities to introduce learning tour participants and leaders to difficult situations where justice was broken and people were angry.  I joined my colleagues from the West often with our trusty notebooks where I would jot down words and names that were spoken, copiously attempting to keep a perfect record only to discover later that my notes failed miserably to capture the power of the exchange that I remembered.  Only rarely did our local colleagues have notebooks but often I found their memory of the encounter more reliable.  Eventually I learned that my notebook was a filter that I mistakenly hoped could catch the truth.  

We live in a time when the fabric of the community of nations could be thoroughly tested.  We are tempted to rush in with analyses that lead to solutions of threat and force especially when we have power.  When we do that we may get lucky for a time.  But our luck will inevitably run out and no amount of power or threat will force the peace. 

We can set a different tone by listening deeply from the heart.  The time has come to bring compassionate listening to fragile relationships from the community level to the palaces of the world.



Is Neutrality Ever A Good Thing? by peaceprobe

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”                                                   – Bishop Desmond Tutu 

When I left Viet Nam in October 1967 to work against the war in the U.S. I thought it would be a fairly simply matter of getting the word out that the war was wrong.  No sooner did I start the work in North America than I discovered that some co-workers subscribed to the notion of neutrality, a new concept to me at the time. They insisted that as a person of peace I should propose a way for the various sides in Viet Nam to get along and the person of peace, by definition, stood in the middle and got them to talk long enough to agree on a solution.  I couldn’t understand how someone who respected peace could be neutral when the overwhelming source of the big foot in Viet Nam was US policy.  The prickliness of my responses when confronted with this position were apparent.  Over the years I have learned that the notion of neutrality can be used to avoid taking risks.  I have also learned that in selected situations neutrality has a place.   

History in the Bible points to sacred neutrality, the sanctuary.  According to Scripture persons who fled the law found asylum in the sanctuary where God was nearest.  The tradition continued among Christian churches and was never completely lost even in modern times.   Beginning in fourth century English law, a person could be safe from arrest in the sanctuary.  Out of office royalty may have benefited from these practices more than common folks but we don’t know very much of grass roots history.  In the 1980s, 440 churches in the U.S. provided sanctuary asylum for persons seeking safety from the wars in Central America.  In this ancient practice the neutral sacred place was the safe refuge of last resort.  It worked because of an acknowledgement of the sacred more than because of legislation.  This power and principal of sacred space should not be overlooked in the work of faith based peacemaking.

Switzerland, the home of some of my ancestors is held up among the nations for its neutrality because it does not take sides in war.  This policy has survived through several centuries.  However, Swiss neutrality in war time has not been applied to its economic life.  Swiss neutrality provides asylum for money, and perhaps in only limited ways, for people.  Swiss financial institutions provide safe and secret hiding places to political misfits and opportunists, Nazis, disenfranchised communists, shady capitalists, dictators, and crooks to stash billions of dollars.  The Swiss experience is a vivid example of how the principle of neutrality can be turned into  profit, far removed from the sacred heights of a nobler neutrality that creates space for the victim.

Very early in the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams we were challenged by some casual supporters not to enter selected situations where we could not practice neutrality because, our challengers said, it would undermine our ability to function from a nonpartisan perspective and destroy our good reputation.  I suspect that CPT continues to receive such warnings despite the fact that from the beginning it has deliberately identified itself as standing with victims in situations where the plumb line of justice is violated. 

That kind of simple guideline does invite differences of interpretation and can be used or misused depending upon the convictions and analysis of participants.  Over time we also learned that we may be called upon for help in high tension situations where a degree of neutrality (perhaps more correctly termed independence) was exactly what was needed.  For example, CPT was asked to be present in a special action organized by Sioux people in South Dakota who resisted the take over their land through federal legislation.  

The goal of a team presence was very specific, to help monitor, document and resist vigilante type attacks from the surrounding community and keep watch against pressures from law enforcement agencies.  In this case and others like it, CPT was able to promote the peace because of its independence.  In this situation a neutral participant would not have entered without the consent of political leadership and law enforcement.  CPT did not seek their consent.  The invitation from the Sioux people came because CPT was independent and trusted not to meddle in internal tribal affairs while we worked to create space for grievances to become visible.  

I have come to see that my choosing to be neutral at times may simply reflect more of my own personal needs and fears than a strategy for change.  I have learned to recognize what for me are negative para messages inherent in the language of neutrality.  There are risks in taking a position and personal benefits to being neutral.  Taking a position may lead to trouble, loss of job, respect, all kinds of misunderstanding and even hostility.  Neutrality is safer. Most of us have highly developed ways of not taking sides in controversial matters.  When I feel this kind of neutrality coming on I know it is arising from my weakness. I have learned that the skills of conflict avoidance are deeply rooted within me.   To be fair, sometimes I do not take positions because I just can’t carry one more divisive concern.  

People inclined not to take sides during the war in Viet Nam deepened their orientation towards neutrality, sometimes with the language of impartiality.  By becoming specialists in the processes of mediation, practitioners felt the neutrality of the facilitator was essential in order to reach towards reconciliation between individuals and some groups.   Conflicts could be resolved if people would just talk to each other.   In the context of war, injustice and oppression I felt that neutrality was morally suspect.  Professional conflict resolution people remained more open to both sides.  Occasionally these differences have erupted into disputes with each position marshalling arguments of efficacy, practicality and morality.  Now after all these years and more wars we have generally just gone our separate ways and probably talk to each other too rarely.  

Differences between mediators and activists arose from the need for language to work for peace in very different contexts. Our separate positions arise from a moral or philosophical base and also from practical goals. The mediator works to create a fair framework often between individuals, for example, a difficult divorce or the resolution to staff conflicts. The mediator tries not to force a solution between people because she or he believes that forced solutions won’t last.  A mediator tries not to judge, threaten or leverage the solution in the media or take sides.  By prodding, encouraging and helping to create a safe confidential framework, the mediator believes that a way can be found that works.  

The social activist organizes to make hidden disparities visible. The activist is not primarily focussed on a balanced middle ground solution between individuals.  The activist works with at least two populations one of which has more military or police power, property, money, lawyers and a supporting political establishment. For the activist, neutrality is acceptable only when both sides have equal power and a midpoint compromise is possible. In any other case neutrality is morally unacceptable.  Dante Alighieri author of The Divine Comedy said it succinctly, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

The activist also understands that the victim lacks social, political and economic power and tries to create the context for a fair solution out of a different set of instruments, instruments that move in the direction of levelling the field so that fair talk can happen.    The instruments of the activist – marches, campaigns, voter registration drives, nonviolent actions, press releases – might be a little ridiculous in some of the settings where mediation is practised.  The mediator practices some of the arts of powerlessness.  He or she only has power that is given from the consent of the disputants.  

A good activist knows that a solution will require negotiations at various points along the way.  Authorities are contacted to put them on notice that grievances exist. Military and police personnel are engaged to seek quick release of people who may have been arrested, clear roads and to provide equal protection for civilians, particularly in war situations.  Public actions are supported.  Religious communities are engaged and invited to join.  The media is invited and work is done to encourage healthy life giving interpretations.  All of this requires negotiation, communication skills, imagination and awareness of when the skills of mediation might be called upon.   



Laughing on the Way to Peacemaking by peaceprobe
June 25, 2008, 6:01 pm
Filed under: Christian Peacemaker Teams, Nonviolence, Peacemaker spirit

Peacemaking work can get heavy especially when one always has to be right.  Hard nosed politically correct peacemaking is related to its cousin, hard nosed religiously correct spirituality.  Both communities have had some impact upon my life and I have learned that I apparently close down in both environments.  In closing down I erect my own borders because of my fear of rigidity.  When they come together the two can reenforce each other and get lost in the thicket of oughts, have tos, and shoulds.  Closing down means that my mind turns fuzzy, uncreative, and sleepy.  When it catches me by surprise I suddenly find myself detached from the world, alone, so alone that I can’t even think of good pun or joke.  

Religious faith can be morbid and heavy when there is too little joy.  I have come to see that true spirituality lives in the uncharted territory between the sacred and the profane.  Laughing allows me to go into the unknown.  By sidestepping my fear I enter into that place where the walls designed to protect me either dissolve or cease to inhibit me.  This is the place where creativity can find a home and new possibilities become visible.  Humour shifts my perspective and allows my body and mind to imagine.  

Laughter experts tell us that humour is a very good medicine because it allows our bodies to release a fresh set of chemicals that affect our mood and our outlook.  Over the years I noticed that peacemaking work can be like a harmonious eco system when there is a little lightness and laughter.  I also noticed that teams and work groups can stagnate when the walls of fear are erected.  Often this can happen when just one person insists on their vision.  That person may be the “leader” but it might be anyone. In some groups that person is called a blocker.  These moments of immobility are not expunged by a bristling discussion of the evils of authoritarianism although it might feel good for a time and the analysis may even be correct.  

I grew up in a home where there were frequent visitors.  Some of those visitors were from the Amish community who lived 20 miles north of our Ohio home.  Occasionally the visits were characterized by incredible story telling, spats of laughter and general levity, not the popular understanding of Amish people but nevertheless true.  Amish who have a firm belief system often have a joyful life together full of laughter, tricks and teasing.  At other times those visits from the Amish were morbid and heavy.  

Often my father would take the guests into the living room, shut the door and tell me to go somewhere else.  Of course that was the signal to me that something interesting was about to happen, a time that the boundaries of confidentiality needed to be tested.  So I would listen at the door, trying not to get caught and thereby get a handle on the unfolding mystery.  Usually I got bored with the long sad sentences and weight of a conversation full of blame and guilt.  After a time I just went away.  As I child I thought that I was banished because I would get in the way of heaviness.  I believed that truly spiritual people were heavy.  But now, as I remember those events I suspect that my father was protecting me from a moment of spiritual and personal heaviness. 

In recent years the study of laughter has been  baptized with a really tantalising combination of a Greek words, gelotology, the study of humour and its physical affect, laughter, as well as the psychological and physiological effects on the human body.  I don’t think that word got used in our home, however occasional bouts of humour were a part of my formation.  Laughter is not always ignited by jokes especially the type that are not funny or worse still, manipulative.  Humour invites us to carry our belief systems with the kind of respect that prevents us from placing burdens or guilt upon others.  Laughter may signal to others that we want to be part of the group and turn interactions in a positive direction.  

Laughter can bring clarification to hard questions that require the invention of new thoughts and more creative ways to communicate those thoughts.  Often laughter is contagious and occasionally brings tears although the geolotolgists (if that is what laughter theorists or therapists are called) remind us that the chemical make up of tears of laughter are different from sad tears.  Some comedians are our best prophets because they live in that place beyond fear and they get us to laugh at our walls of separation.  Laughter comes from that place beyond, where space is providede for the transforming power of kindness, truth telling, sympathy, and compassion. 

Just in case you want to learn a little more about the tantalising effects of laughter you may want to check out How Laughter Works by Marshall Brain even though it does not promise complete bliss.



“Responsibility to Protect” How Do We Do It by peaceprobe

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine gives international support to a new standard for intervention and protection for civilians when a state cannot or will not protect its people.  The standard calls for an armed and trained UN  peacekeeping force of thousands but emphasizes humanitarian intervention as well.  The plan that grew out of millennium goals in 2001 would place soldiers under international command in nasty situations like Rwanda, Darfur, Burna, Zimbabwe, Palestine, civic and police violence often in cities, and perhaps in places aboriginal people are under attack.  The doctrine has received ecumenical church support but is at least one step removed from direct involvement, personal risk or engagement by churches.   Ecclesiastical support implies armed soldiers put in place to force greater justice, human rights and political order.  

In a time when world wide initiatives in peacemaker teams and conflict resolution enjoy exceptional success this proposal stretches us because it returns again to the possibility of military intervention.  Filipino, Waldon Bello, with a long view of globalization reminds us that the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect adopted by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1674 April 28, 2006 may be a sanitized version of modern imperialism.  The doctrine challenges the often overlooked covenant in place for centuries to respect the sovereignty of states.  However, in order for there to be a credible critique of armed intervention, non-violent conflict resolution and peacemaker teams work must grow many times over.

Some years ago I visited our Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Colombia.  On the day before my arrival the team received an emergency call for help from a remote villagers where armed conflict had broken out between groups allied to the government and underground forces.  The people urgently requested a presence of protection and I travelled to the village with Scott Kerr an experienced CPT member.  By the time we reached the village more than half the people had fled and the fire fight was over.  Those who remained were terrorized because they knew that both sides of the belligerent forces would return and charge individuals in the community with collaboration which may lead to execution or capture.  

Two hours after we arrived one armed group entered to the village and began going house to house while their commander sat down to visit.  My experienced partner talked to him softly and firmly, requesting that his soldiers not enter houses.  He explained that visiting homes would make the occupants targets of his enemy. Within minutes the commander ordered soldiers not to enter houses and within an hour he called his thirty soldier unit together and they moved out.  Later in the day representatives from a competing armed group arrived and were similarly encouraged to respect the local people.  I believe our presence may have saved lives, property and affected the future of the community.   

This story illustrates in the short term how an unarmed presence is effective where a presence of protection with arms may have been less effective.  Additionally in the long term the unarmed presence creates space for people to make decisions about their own life, whereas an armed presences forces compliance and may awaken fear.  Persons advocating armed international intervention point to success in Bosnia and contrast it to the failure to intervene in Rwanda where many died in a genocidal outrage.  

Christians and people of many religious faith would most likely agree that they have responsibility to protect and assist vulnerable victims.   The Responsibility to Protect initiative is built in part on the now largely abandoned, but nevertheless important, fifty years of armed Canadian peacekeeping experience where soldiers were used.  

Christian support for the proposal builds on a millennium long reflection and negotiation with the New Testament themes of enemy loving that culminated  in a compromised doctrine of just war variously applied since its inception in the 4th century.  My experience is that an unarmed nonviolent presence of protection is sound scripturally and works better.  My hunch is that unarmed peacemakers are also less at risk. 

At the root of this discussion is our understanding that what is necessary is a basic shift in how violence is overcome.  The habits of making things come out right by means of armed intervention reach back to the founding of organized warfare in the land of Iraq 5000 years ago.  In fact the premier symbol of nationhood and empire is its military.  Nations and empires turn to their soldiers because there is nothing else available that they think works. And, they are pushed to do something. Nations generally resist change and think short term.  Breaking the habits of armed soldiering in the way we organize ourselves will require generations of effort and experiments.  

An armed international peacekeeping force is not the answer.  However, active rejection may not be the answer either.  Enemy loving is a real way for humankind to do better.  When our scripture cheers us on to enemy loving (Blessed are the Peacemakers…)  it reflects a vision of how things might be different.  But that difference requires organization, moral fortitude, training and willingness to assume risk.  

The problem of violence is on the mind of villagers, urban dwellers and governments around the world.  The thought that violence can be held in check and perhaps melted by nonviolent means is good news to a lot of people.  It is bad news for those who are stuck in old ways.  The growth and success of conflict resolution initiatives should not surprise us.  But it does.  In our darker moments all of us are tempted to submit to the superstitions that surround us about the effectiveness of armed intervention.

Christians around the world reflected more unity of opposition to the threat of war in Iraq than we have seen in many centuries of wars. The exceptions were some Christians in the US.  Some of the opposition to the war resulted from serious engagement with the Bible. Some resulted from practical local experience with war and violence in the last century.  Some motivation came from local political culture.  Some opposition arose from a world wide renaissance of interest in the Gospel of Peace.  This renewed interest is a sign of enormous opportunity to deepen our faith in the Good News of Peace and organize ourselves to turn back violence in places where people are not protected.  This is not the time to negotiate away pacifism and the ongoing experiment to develop methods of nonviolent intervention.  

But in our enthusiasm a thread of humility helps as well.  None of us has invented the perfect path to overcoming violence with love.  All of us who strive to create official or private initiatives of violence reduction at some point cooperate with armed groups and police, sometimes with some success – often with disappointing results.  I have yet to meet an armed group that doesn’t at some point abuse its power, or become destructive in the pursuit of “just” goals.  

“What if Hitler had not been stopped?” is the first question I will be asked when presenting these convictions.  My response, “What if Christians had taken the generic New Testament teachings of peacemaking literally and refused to join Hitler’s armies?”  “What if Christians had refused to participate in the plantation system before the American civil war?”  

Is there a future if we don’t do better?  Can our world overcome its superstitious embrace of arms without the gentle, persistent reminders of people who only use the strength of words, body language, honest negotiations and organized truth telling?  If Christians can’t figure out a way to do better we must admit that an armed interventionist group is the answer and we may have to get behind it with money people, and organization.   

What if Christians and others would break from the addiction to the force of arms to get things to come out right?  What if this century would build on the successful experiments in nonviolent enemy loving arising out of the horrible conflicts of the last century?