How can we promote peace?

How can we promote peace?

(Pictured above: A craftswoman in Kasozi, Uganda tells Tanya about how she weaves baskets, dying the rafia to get different colors.)

Why do Americans care about bombings in Paris and seem to dismiss bombings that happen in Kenya? Maybe because it’s easier for people everywhere to connect and empathize with people who look like them, and with cultures that are familiar to them. I can picture myself in Paris. I may even know people who live there. Knowing this tendency, and wanting to work for world peace, I must find more ways to connect with, listen to, and understand people from around the world. Paul K. Chappell, a peace activist who I heard speak last month, calls these “peace literacy” skills.

Chappell has defined seven forms of peace literacy. We know that reading literacy is important; lets not forget that developing tools to navigate peace is important too. Two forms of peace literacy that I am developing through Spirit in Action are literacy in our shared humanity and literacy in the art of listening.

Literacy in our Shared Humanity

“Think about how difficult it would be to dehumanize people if we were all literate in our shared humanity,” muses Chappell. Quakers talk about recognizing that, “there is that of Good, of God, in every person.” A group of peace-building Quakers use this concept in their work in eastern Africa, during which they bring together “enemies” and encourage them to listen to and learn from each other. In one of his fantastic blog posts about the transformative power of the workshops, David Zarembka writes, “participants often express how liberating the concept is when first they realize that their “enemy” also has goodness in him or her and, just as important that, regardless of what they have done or what they have gone through, there is still goodness within them that they can tap into.”

Next time you hear a news story of violence against (or violence perpetrated by) someone of a different culture, take a moment to connect with the Good in them.

mlk quote

Literacy in the Art of Listening

Part of my intention in writing each Spirit in Action blog post is to develop our literacy in the art of listening. I like when I can include words directly from our grant partners, so that we can listen more closely and discover the similarities and differences in our experiences. This listening is more than a shallow hearing of words, says Chappell, “when we listen with empathy we also hear their emotions, hopes, and fears. We hear their humanity.”

When I make trips to visit our SIA partners, most of my time is spent listening. I hear the challenges, the successes, the accomplishments, and the hopes for the future from our grant partners.

When I met Theu at his cafe (which he started with a Small Business Fund grant) in Manyamula, Malawi, I learned that he had recently returned to his home village after working in South Africa for several months. Many laborers in Malawi make the journey to South Africa where they can find temporary (and often illegal) jobs in the construction and service industry. Sound familiar? But life in South Africa as an undocumented worker is hard – you may suffer abuse from your employer and have no one to turn to for relief. The Small Business Fund grant from SIA meant that Theu could stay in Malawi, rather than leaving his family to find work. “I’m free because this is my country,” he told me.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

I encourage you to read more stories of SIA partners:

Turn to Love

Once we recognize the Good in ourselves and in others, and once we truly listen with empathy, then we are creating space for peace.

This group of women meet twice a week to weave mats together under the trees. "People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money]."

This group of women in Kasozi, Uganda meets twice a week to weave mats under the trees. “People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money],” one of them told me during my visit.

Acting our faith – Welcoming the immigrant

Acting our faith – Welcoming the immigrant

This week, with all the news about refugees and migrants running from dangerous situations and lured by hope, we have an extraordinary opportunity to put our spirit into action.

I have been heart-wrenched after hearing about the monumental journey that families are deciding to take, either together or apart, to search for that hope and that peace that is our right. Sadness and death are all around. Fear keeps people from reaching out a hand.

And yet, there are also promising stories of radical acceptance, of people welcoming strangers, giving encouraging words and nourishing food. Churches and secular communities are coming together saying, “We must do something. We must act to make the world better NOW.” And they are finding ways to act, by pressuring governments to accept more refugees and even sponsoring families to come to live in safety.

Welcoming the Stranger

This act of making space for, and welcoming the stranger, is core to my faith. Three years ago I came to appreciate this on a deeper level. (Reposted from my 2013 blog post):

“It surprised me just how much is in the Bible about the stranger. For example, “When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Over and over again, the Bible makes it pretty clear: treat people fairly, no matter where they come from; welcome them, because you never know when you might find yourself in need of hospitality.

Hospitality builds community, in part, because it is a gift to both the giver and receiver. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). Both the host and the hosted have the opportunity to meet angels. [blog link]. Eight months ago I came to Canada – an immigrant – and I’ve received so much of the generous hospitality to newcomers. But just last week I was able to help a woman in the grocery store find what she needed, “I’m new in town,” she said by way of explanation. And so, I helped her, because I once was the newest newcomer. Plus, who knows, she might be an angel.”

“respect myself and my brothers and my sisters
”

In the coming weeks may we get down to pray and then get up off our knees and act to show our true respect for those members of our global family who are courageous enough to leave what they know to seek a better future.

Am I young enough to believe in revolution
Am I strong enough to get on my knees and pray
Am I high enough on the chain of evolution
To respect myself and my brothers and my sisters
And perfect myself in my own peculiar way.
~Kris Kristoferson, from Pilgrim’s Progress

Why give internationally?

Why give internationally?

When I put out a call for blog posts that people would like me to write, I got this suggestion:

Q: “I would like a post about “Why Africa?” So many of my friends say they want to support causes close to home, so are less inclined to support causes around the globe. Can you speak to that? I know you have insight about this.”

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A: Thanks for the great question! My reasons for giving internationally fall around five key considerations:

  1. Your money can have a much larger impact internationally.

SIA’s Small Business Grants of $150 can help a family in Malawi or Kenya start a small enterprise. In order to start any business in the U.S. you’d need a much larger investment. Similarly, a small amount spent internationally on de-worming pills can significantly improve a child’s life, whereas the same amount wouldn’t have the same affect on long-term quality of life in the U.S.. Our dollar has much greater purchasing power in so many African countries.

 

  1. Simply greater need internationally.

Many developing countries have much less government and social support available. There is a lot of infrastructure and also individual rights that we can take for granted in the U.S.. Most people in the U.S. don’t face the same barriers to accessing basic financial services or medical care that are the norm for a majority of people in Uganda. Many parts of Malawi do not have running water or electricity. Those are basic things that are so well-established in the U.S. that we can forget that they are there. Giving internationally can help people access things that we don’t even realize we already have.

 

  1. Expanding my community and connecting with the larger world.

While giving locally can help people I see around me, I think it is also important to give to those who are beyond my scope of vision and who still need help. There are levels of poverty and violence that are so much greater than anything I see in the U.S. and it is important to remember them even when I can’t see them. Giving internationally, and learning about international issues, helps me to connect with the global community and form a greater understanding of the varied experiences of living on earth that are so different from my own.

 

  1. To right historic wrongs.

This might be a more controversial consideration but I do think it is important to recall that British, American, and other colonial projects have had massive, lasting, negative impacts on the lives of people in the colonized countries. The U.S. benefited greatly over many generations on the backs of slaves from Africa, as well as minerals and natural resources taken from African countries. Giving internationally can be a way to recognize that history and privilege, and to work for a better future.

 

  1. Finally, in seeking a balance between local and international giving, consider how you can give differently for each need.

It is much more effective to volunteer and give goods locally than internationally. Travel expenses and shipping costs can add up to significant amounts of money without helping those in need. Similarly, you can be a greater advocate to your local government or for societal change in your own community than attempting those same tasks in a culture where you are an outsider. Consider the old adage “think globally, act locally.” I’d add that while thinking globally, also give globally! Money travels easily around the globe and (see #1) can have an enormous impact in countries where people are living off only $1-5 dollars a day.

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Ultimately, I hope that you will all find both local and international causes that inspire you to give.

If you have other questions or topics on which you’d like me to reflect, let me know in the comments or in an email!

Give to SIA’s international programs now!

Embracing Diversity

Embracing Diversity

*In this moment of embracing diversity, I am reposting my words from March 2012, about the power of coming together in love.*

Building peace means sometimes being uncomfortable. It requires listening to the other side with respect and being civil when telling others about your beliefs. Peace often means compromise, allowing differences to exist side by side. This can be uncomfortable and it can also be freeing and expansive.

Agree with Me

City of Toronto's Coat of Arms and MottoMany proverbs tell us that it is worthwhile to come together with each our unique perspectives: “united we stand, divided we fall” (Aesop); “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” (Helen Keller); and “diversity our strength,” the motto of the City of Toronto (my home of three years now).

I was recently shaken by a discussion with someone about interdenominational Christian nonprofits. He works for a non-denominational organization but was concerned about working with Spirit in Action because I didn’t agree with his interpretation of a particular bible verse. That he wanted to limit his interactions based on beliefs, albeit sharing the foundation of our mutual Christian faith, shocked me.

I understood that for him, to “agree to disagree” on a point of faith would necessarily mean compromise and, therefore, loss; that this compromise of beliefs would make a group weaker. However, I have found that requiring everyone to agree on specific, narrow rules does not bring strength. Welcoming multiple views breeds flexibility and trust, rather than shutting conversation down with only one way to view things.

Diversity our Strength

Women from many walks of life lead the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members in song at the beginning of our meeting. (Malawi, 2014)

Women from many walks of life lead the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members in song at the beginning of our meeting. (Malawi, 2014)

The strength of Spirit in Action is bringing people together from many different traditions for a higher good overall rather than separating people along dogmatic lines.

In fact, our missions of compassion and social justice require us to see God in all people and to serve our neighbor as we serve God. This also frees us all to do our work of fostering prosperity, rather than spend energy forcing people to believe a specific doctrine. This openness then actively encourages personal exploration of each person’s relationship and path with the Divine.

When I visited SIA partners in Malawi in 2011, I asked about the variety of denominations represented in the group. “SIA is the one place where Catholics and Protestants come together,” was the answer I got from Canaan Gondwe, the local Small Business Fund Coordinator. This response brought a sense of pride. Inter-denominational collaboration allows each person to respond to the call to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God, rather than the call to shun those who are different.

Spirit in Action local coordinators; building peace

SIA Small Business Fund Conference, Kenya 2011

Similarly, Benoit Malenge, a former Small Business Fund Coordinator in Rwanda, reported that people of many beliefs came together, “sharing a meal, without discrimination since they are all members of Spirit in Action, who came to share the gifts.” This place of openness brought a community together, beginning to build peace after years of war in the area. 

In the words of Thomas Merton, the great Christian mystic, “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.” Can we embrace people who are different – who live and express themselves in different ways – and proceed as the peacemakers we were called to be?

Peace and “Soul Force”

Peace and “Soul Force”

In the swirling midst of on-going protest and the struggle for justice, I am reposting an essay I wrote for Memorial Day in 2010 about the power of nonviolent peace-building. I still believe peace is possible and worth striving for.

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I have long been intrigued by the connection between peace and prosperity. When people are safe and free I believe they are better able to participate in their local communities and economies. As they become involved, they create prosperity and security for themselves and those around them. It all starts with peace.

Del Anderson, Spirit in Action’s founder, wrote often about finding peace within oneself and sharing it with others. In 2002 Del wrote, “Being and expressing this peace and participating with God in bringing peace here on earth as it is in heaven is an activity of being a co-creator with GodBringing peace on earth is being in God’s grace activity and also brings forth a flow of health to mind and body.” In other words peace brings empowerment.

How do we begin to think about peace in a world so full of conflict? Mark Kurlansky’s book, Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea starts by exploring the concept of nonviolence – choosing to explain nonviolence as not merely opposition to violence but also as a positive action towards social change and equality. This is similar to what Martin Luther King, Jr. is advocating for when he says in his “I Have a Dream” speech“Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” Oftentimes a violent person expects the victim to react with violence, however, if one can react by standing firm in love and peace it catches the aggressor off-guard, creating space for social progress.

I know this all sounds like a far-fetched dream but Kurlansky makes a great case for the possibility of nonviolent revolution. Also, The Friends Committee on National Legislation provides some great information about the effectiveness of diplomacy and development for the “peaceful prevention of deadly conflict”. Similarly, I am encouraged when I read about the work of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, which sends trained peacekeepers into conflict areas to encourage productive discussion and protect citizens. They point out that peace and diplomacy are much cheaper than war and armies.

Creating peace is a difficult and important job! At Spirit in Action we pray and act for peace with this thing Martin Luther King, Jr. calls “soul force”. We call on the spirit inside each of us to be put to action, which creates a positive force toward understanding, support, and empowerment. On this Memorial Day I hope you will join me in celebrating those brave souls who have stood up for a better world through nonviolence and the promotion of peace.

I will end with a blessing my Grandma Barbara often says: “May peace prevail on earth and in your heart.”

[Pictured above: We met this girl at a local water borehole in Kasozi Village, Uganda. She was pumping water as our group of SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators – on our tour of local SIA groups – passed by her. We paused, and Ofonime Nkoko from Nigeria helped her pump the water.]

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