How You Can Build a Better Peace

 

 

I thought I would start 2016 with a list of single steps any one of us can take towards building a better peace.

1. Quit watching the news.

Whether you get your news online, from the TV, out of a local newspaper or via NPR on the morning commute, just turn it off. You don’t need to listen to it or watch it. The really big things are beyond your control anyway, and the vast majority of your day really doesn’t need to have an opinion on most of what you get from the news. (Seriously, you already know who you intend to vote for in the next election, and no amount of amazing punditry is going to change your mind.) If you can’t quit cold turkey, I suggest limiting your exposure to “the news” to 1 single source (newspaper, TV station, or online blog) and to only allow yourself two 15 minute sessions with it a day. Try it for 28 days and see whether you feel better or worse. 

2. Pay attention to your metaphors.

If you stop and pay attention to what you both say and hear, you might be surprised to discover how many violent metaphors American English uses: “That doughnut sure hit the spot.” “Our project is right on target.” “I always aim for the highest goal.” “Shoot me an email, and I will tackle it right away.” It might be interesting to simply record the violent images and metaphors you hear during a coffee break. I have also found it to be really challenging to monitor my own speech and intentionally choose away from a violent image or metaphor.

3. Speak up for the humanness of people.

Speak up for the humanness of groups and the humanness behind actions when others refer to them as evil. By acknowledging that those we most fear and whose actions we most abhor are human beings, we admit the depth of our own capacity for wrongdoing.  When the rhetoric is high on your facebook feed, simply remind folks of their shared humanity with the Democrats or Anglicans who drive them crazy.

This practice is particularly important to me, as in my identity as a Christian I find that demonizing other people gives me an excuse to avoid my responsibility to express mercy, offer grace, and expect redemption. It also allows me to live in the illusion that there is no hope for reconciliation. For me, not speaking up for another’s humanness is extremely damaging to both my faith and my soul. 

4. Pray for someone you actually don’t like.

This is great because no one has to know you are doing it. It can be just between you and Divinity. In whatever way it is meaningful to you, pray for a person who gets under your skin a little bit. Don’t focus on an enemy or even try to tell yourself that you want there to be a good relationship with the person. Simply pray for their well-being. 

5. Take someone who scares the hell out of you to lunch.

You remember when Shane L. Windmeyer went to a football game with Dan Cathy? Or remember when Bob Vander Plaats and Donna Red Wing met for coffee in Urbandale? Like that. Meet in a public place. Pay for the meal. Listen more than you talk.

6. Volunteer.

You don’t need the news to encounter violence in your community. All you have to do is slip under the fences surrounding your life.

  • Volunteer as victim advocate for the court system or with your local domestic violence and sexual assault service center.
  • Find out what it would take to be a Stephen Minister for the local police department.
  • Provide some sort of ongoing assistance for a family with a member in prison. Contact Women@the Well to find out how.
  • Deliver care packages to those working in the ER at 2:00 in the morning.
  • Eat one meal a month at a soup kitchen and get to know someone there.

7. Lead a book or movie conversation group.

What are some of the topics which seem to divide people around you? Find a movie or a book which addresses those topics and lead a discussion group. I recommend The Color Purple (Alice Walker), The Milagro Beanfield War (John Nichols), Mi Familia, Fruitvale Station, Indian Killer (Sherman Alexie) and The Faith Club (Ranya Idliby) The United Methodist Church provides many materials to help people lead these kinds of groups:

8. Read Fieldnotes on the Compassionate Life by Marc Ian Barasch.

9. Form an intervention group.

Gather a group of other peacemakers. Get trained in intervention, and attend school events, community meetings, and sports competitions together. Notice the gatherings of people where bullying often occurs, and practice stepping up. Not sure where to start? Look into Soulforce, the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center or contact Alan Feirer at Group Dynamic 

10. Join a singing group.

Not a rock band. Not a talent show. Not a competition like The Voice, or America’s Got Talent. Join a singing group. Singing in a group has significant physical and psychological benefits. Socially, group singing (or drumming, or dancing, or playing instruments) is a great way to play cooperatively with other people. It builds connection, social awareness and cultural competency.

As you enter into 2016, I hope this list gives you one or two ideas for ways you can cultivate peace. If you are already an experienced producer of peace, I would love to hear your best practices.

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Open Letter

I was asked to submit an open letter as part of a media campaign being scheduled by Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (http://www.iowacasa.org/) for Sexual Assault Awareness Month which is observed in April. ImageHere is my submission:

I write this letter for a college roommate who was afraid to ride her bicycle past the football players’ dorm on our campus because of the harassing comments and remarks that would be tossed her way. I write this letter because my response at the time was to think, “If you insist on wearing a skirt when you ride your bike, you can count on men hollering at you.”

I write this letter for a fifteen year-old woman who came to me because she didn’t want to exchange oral sex for friendship anymore, and she was looking for a way out. I write this letter because, at the time, I had no idea that fifteen-year-olds were under that kind of pressure, and I was unprepared to help her.

I write this letter for my small, bird-frail friend who claimed that Julia Child saved her life because she learned how to cook by watching Julia’s show on PBS. I write this letter for my friend whose pastor told her she must try to do better as a wife so that her husband wouldn’t hurt her anymore.

I write this letter for a nation in which women do not have equal representation in government. I write this letter for a nation which allows male elected leaders whose last biology class was in 1965 to set the tone of conversation in matters pertaining to my physiology, anatomy and psychological make-up.

I write this letter for a world in which people can be put in prison for life for having a romantic relationship with a person of the same gender, while juries in this country continue to acquit people who pulled triggers and ended lives without actually demonstrating any kind of threat beyond their own fear.

It is time for us to change, to admit our priorities are mixed up: when a university president can say that sexual assault is “human nature” and thinks that sounds sane; when physical and verbal violence is offered to young men and women, and our only response is to shake our heads and claim those kinds of behavior are acceptable as long as they happen inside “the locker room;” when our response to radio personalities who equate birth control with promiscuous sexual activity is to give them the benefit of the doubt and keep listening, but our response to our next door neighbor who was raped is to ask whether or not she had been drinking and shut the door.

At this time, more people are being bought and sold than at any other time in human history, mostly to satisfy the sexual urges and relational longing of other people. It is time for honest conversations about sex and the character of healthy and life-giving relationships. It is time that sexual assault and domestic violence stop being part of our everyday experience. It is time for us to stop blaming female bodies for our collective inability to exercise self-control, and it is time for us to shine a light into the broken, unlovely reaches of our own hearts where the urge to violence, alienation, cruelty, and fear are born.

So, I am speaking up, and I hope you will to. I hope you will get informed and spread the word. I hope you will get involved in your local community to gather stories, to share burdens, to confront evils, and to name and own a future where our daughters and our sons don’t have to walk down the streets in fear.

Sincerely,

Colleen McRoberts