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Archive for the ‘Forgiveness and Reconciliation Course USA’ Category

On the course this week, we have been exploring what reconciliation might mean. Terminology is important as words mean different things to different people – so we needed to deconstruct this word a bit in order to understand its complexities. This was done by looking at reconciliation with – God/or spirituality, self, others, internationally and lastly with nature.
Our professor asked us as we approached the weekend to think about reconciliation in our lives and what that might involve. With a 2 day break, I took off to the mountains (Blue Ridge) and Shenandoah National Park – beautiful places.
Being reconciled with the natural world is important to our connectivity with creation as modern lifestyles despoil so much of it. We are in the habit of using what is available without taking the time to stop and explore creation and what it is saying to us. So for me,being in the mountains, walking in the woods with trees and being near to flowing water, including breathtaking waterfalls was a delight to behold. All of this did my soul good.
Not all of nature is easy to reconcile with though? On my way back up the hill, I almost stepped on a snake. This wasn’t a small garden snake, but a few inches thick and about 3 feet long. Yes,like a fisherman who has lost a big catch and tells the story,”it was that big!” When approaching it the snake looked like it wanted to be ‘reconciled’ with me, but I wasn’t so keen. I stepped by hoping it wouldn’t attack, which it didn’t, thankfully. However, on returning to it in the hope I might get a photo of it, the snake clearly took offense, felt rejected and wouldn’t co-operate.
Undeterred, I continued the climb and about 15 minutes later, turned a corner on the path and found a bear standing there starting at me – yes I have the picture, this time! After the picture taking, I followed the park instructions and walked backwards slowly in order not to be a threat to it. The bear soon walked in to the forest and I returned to the climb, grateful for this wonderful encounter – although I am not sure how reconciliation took place between us?
Today has been a lesson in that reconciliation with nature can be fun, but not as easy as might be expected. However,my soul was ‘settled’ or centred by 2 lovely days in ‘the wild’. It should be, for me, a regular experience and built into my weekly timetable; although I am unsure where reconciliation is more challenging, with nature or humans?!

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What kind of mind?
What kind of mind do I have? It is an interesting question to ask, at least I think so because I don’t think about that very much. One thing I do know is that my mind is always on the go and doesn’t give me much time for a rest. The moment I stop for some form of quiet, which I try most days, my mind becomes like a banana tree with a family of starving monkeys ransacking it.
In the course I am doing we have been discussing reconciliation and the process of entering into the world’s of those we might support in conflict situations. In order to be open to the perspectives of others, indeed this is crucial in all human relating, what was being called for inclass was an ’empty mind’. We were comparing the Zen Buddhist teaching about emptying the mind with the kenosis (self emptying) of Jesus of Nazareth from the Christian perspective.
The problem with the word ’empty’ is that it has negative connotations – so maybe it is more useful to say ‘open’ instead? Open to receive, having the capacity to stand back and see a situation from different perspectives, not just my immediate one. Its a difficult thing to do, as it is a costly to open up to the views, values and opinions of others.Openness to see things as they are, not only the way I want to see it. Maybe another word could be ‘soft’? Having a soft mind, that is flexible, responsive compared to being ‘solid’ – immoveable, unchanging?
What kind of mind do I have?
The temptation is to freeze reality and keep things as they are, but reality isn’t like that, it cannot be frozen and is constanty changing.
Do we see/hear what is there or what we want to see? Do I see life as it is or life as I want it to be?
From this line of inquiry, I suppose conflict could be viewed as a ‘clash of perspectives’, when the way I want to view reality is different from yours and we cannot find agreement. I think we see this very much in the international arena, but also in the church and even in our homes. When we think we have the right perspective, we can do a lot of good, but also a lot of bad in seeking to act on that perspective. It is easy to be arrogant about your truth, while forgetting that life is bigger than my own mind and so there is a need for the dialogue to begin closer to home.
The odd thing is, the need is really to start with ‘self’. Because the one I am usually most at war with is me! The one whose perspectives I most challenge are mine. Maybe the conflict I get into are projections from my own inner dialogue?
What is challenging about the notion of an empty mind is that maybe that it makes me feel vulnerable? We crave security and create a life that supports that. It is risky to become vulnerable, to be open to the perspectives of the ‘other’. I open to their life with its history, values, emotions and all that makes for their common humanity to mine. It is effortful.
An empty mind may be about choosing to live without that protection and open to the possibilities that come from seeing life as it is and the other for who they are – whoever they are. What kind of mind might that be?

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Today has been about remembering. I was completely unaware when booking the visit to Washington that it would be the Veteran’s Memorial Weekend and the 25th Anniversary at that. Thousands of people are in the city and it is estimated that about 600,000 bikers, all Veterans, with the motorbikes, would be in the city and the bikes would be processing around a central route during the day. The temperature was high, in the 90’sF and the mood among the people was extremely good natured.
As a pilgrim on the Camino, it was common experience to visit a village,town or city and discover that some form of religious celebration was taking place involving a procession through the centre with big crowds. It happened in two towns this year and also in Washington. However this was not a religious event, although the number of public prayers offered at various places was interesting. I would describe today’s festival more as political, for there seemed to be a strong political agenda regarding the release of prisoners of war (POW’s) and a call to investigate more the plight of those missing in action (MIA’s).
The city, especially the roads near to the White House and Congress, appeared to be completely taken over by the bikes, the procession lasting most of the afternoon. The noise of the bikes was close to deafening, as most were of the ‘custom-made’ variety. Indeed, it seemed that the whole 2nd hand market in Harley Davidson’s was present and correct together with their riders in leathers with Vet’s crests on them – quite a sight. As the procession continued it was interesting to see so many people there to cheer them on. They hold much public support.
In the midst of this I visited the Lincoln and Martin Luther King Memorials, 2 people who feature in my ‘heroes’ list. While at the MLK memorial, I took the opportunity to listen again to some of his speeches from my IPod and in reading some of Abe’s famous quotes in his memorial, I wondered where the vision was for this country at present? Both men had ideals and were able to articulate them and endeavour to work them out. I wondered how those ideals, which are still universal, are doing now? To what extent, if I agree with many of them, do I put into practice? I also wondered what I would go public with regarding my values and ideals?
By the way, no memorials for any women! No Rosa Parks statue, or will Hilary Clinton get a garden hut somewhere under a tree in The Mall one day? We can but hope.
Remembering – I am not one who loves such displays of raw power such as the bike procession and it reminded me of a military procession. I admit to not being a great lover of much of America’s foreign policy, but my attention was drawn to the individuals, the Veterans there and the price they had paid to go and fight wars for this country. Not having been much of a enthusiastic nationalist, I am not sure I could do that so easily myself, as I am usually too often at odds with my government, even though I love my country. Talking with some Vets, I was amazed at their willingness to respond to their government if it called on them. I respect their ability to do that, especially remembering that these people are the ones who returned, and they are also the physically and mentally able ones too.
Washington is replete with various war memorials. It is sobering to think of the number of conflicts this country has been involved in and the price paid by so many. Just behind the Lincoln Memorial is the Arlington Bridge, built by the command of Ol’ Abe, after the Civil War, to unite the Federal North with the Confederate South. I remembered the need for bridges and building them where there is the need, and of my commitment to build them, at every opportunity between people and communities.
The day ended quite beautifully. After dinner at a local Lebanese restaurant, while walking back to my hotel, I came across the funkiest brass band I have ever heard. They were playing various dance music songs with all the co-ordinated moves thrown in as well. Also of 8 musicians, 3 of them were young people. It was lovely to see the confidence not only to play with such freedom, but also perform to such a degree on the street with passers-by gathered around. We were on a street corner by a roundabout and after a while, it became quite a concert, with us all dancing until the lightning storm made us run away for cover. Wonderful!

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Within or Without?

What are the implications for working for reconciliation? We spent the day talking about mechanisms for handling conflict. These ranged on the one hand to the use of force, into adjudication, arbitration and so on to mediation and reconciliation. Those words are terms that need to be discussed and agreed in every situation as people understand them differently.That was true of our group today – and thats important because the group is one of the most diverse I have ever been in. I grew up in a diverse community, most of my life has been lived in London.As we often hear, all the world is in London. I agree, but all the world does not usually get together in one room.So this course is going to be very interesting.
Our teacher, a Professor named Hizkias Assefa, an Ethiopian is someone I will need to speak with, especially given my visit to his home country in a few weeks time.
Back to terminology, because getting it clear does help the relationship further down the line when meeting with different parties in a conflict situation. What you mean by ‘negotiation’ might be different from me and that will affect our meeting.
We all love being on ‘the top’, lording it over others, whether in more subtle areas such as being in control. However, being ‘top dog’ can be a miserable experience. You need to keep that position at all costs and any show of being willing to negotiate, offers to the other party an advantage you cannot take back. Rivalry goes all the way back Cain and Abel – and is rooted in much of our behaviour. It is a root cause of conflict.
When conflict arises humans tend to try and resolve it by means that do not have a high level of mutual participation, but invest in behaviours that reduce human contact and maintain individual dominance. Why is it there is such huge investment, and greater prestige, in military methods, high investment in legal systems and not in those activities that provide opportunity for greater human interaction and the possibility of more sustainable and enduring peace, and are less prestigious? Activities like mediation and reconciliation.
Total world spending on these differing activities, recorded a few years ago, amounted to: $1.5 trillion on the military, contrasting with $240 million on UN Mediation. It is an illustration that suggests how much the world struggles with dealing with power, rivalry and conflict.
Why is this?
What makes reconciliation a unique approach is that it tries to get to the root of problems.It invites personal investment and therefore, commitment to the longer term solutions. Before I throw up my hands in horror at the priorities of politicians and world leaders, it is worth asking myself; is there a correlation between my own level of confidence and ability to respond to conflict? The locus of the work of reconciliation begins with being reconciled myself,before I think about reconciliation with others and within the world. Wow, we have a lot to do!

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