Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Holy Land: A Transformative Path

By Jorge Vielman

In this country, conflict around the issue of immigration has been raging for many years. To immigrate to USA in the late 70’s and 80’s was an adventure; today it can be a death sentence.

In late May and early June of 2010 I had the opportunity, with other MCC co-workers, to participate in a walk through the Arizona desert (The Walk of the Immigrant). For 7 days, we walked 75 miles from Agua Prieta Mexico to Tucson AZ. Our main goal was to educate people about the challenges and to the deaths of people who attempt to migrate to the United States through the Arizona desert.

For me, the walk was a transformative experience. By walking in the desert I felt like I was on holy land; holy because it reminded me that the desert was where Jesus spent a challenging 40 days. Although I was in the desert for only seven days, I was confronted with mixed feelings about the immigrants’ experiences and hardships on such a journey. In the desert a person is vulnerable to the danger of being abused by those who bring them, being abandoned by their companions and even death. In the desert they find their faith, and some, discover their dependency in God.

As part of our walk we stopped at the Home of the Immigrant Women in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Here I met Artemia and her 15 year old daughter. Many years earlier, Artemia fled their home in Mexico because of the poor living conditions and lack of employment. Artemia resided in Indiana where she had two boys. When Artemia found out that her mother was dying, she travelled to Mexico to say good bye. After her mother died, she started her return journey. She also brought along her older daughter, who was raise by Artemia’s mother, to live in the US with her and her other children.

Much of the Bible is about people who could be described as immigrant(s)- legal/illegal or documented/undocumented. In fact Jesus, our main example, and his family had to immigrate for political reasons and later for religious persecution.

Artemia and her daughter asked us to pray for their safety and for God to take care of them during their journey. Our immigrant brothers and sisters are told that crossing the border is illegal and wrong and that they are breaking the law Our immigrant brothers and sisters would like to be welcomed and helped so they can find solace in the new land.

I was transformed by the faith of my immigrant brothers and sisters and their commitment to keep their families together, safe and their pursuit of a better life for all their loved ones.

The Arizona desert became my holy land- the path that transformed my thinking, increased my faith and renewed my passion for justice for those families whose loved ones have been lost in the desert. It has also increased my desire to advocate for those who live in the shadows and are suffering but are afraid to talk or look for help.

Friday, July 1, 2011

To Intervene or not to Intervene, That is the Question

by Michelle E. Armster

The panoply of peacebuilding provides a plethora of ways to intervene in conflicted or harmful situations. Depending on the conflict or harm, the peacebuilder is challenged to develop a process or activity to address the issue, conflict or harm. The ultimate goal of the process or activity is to provide a space and way that some semblance of resolution- such as reconciliation, understanding or a commitment to changing harmful behavior- could occur.
As a practitioner, I am invited to this role through referrals. Churches, agencies, organizations and individuals will contact me and I then embark on the path of assessing the situation, recommending a process and providing the services. Oftentimes, I am not involved and that makes my role as an impartial facilitator desirable. But the key to these interventions is an invitation.
This past month, I have been challenged by circumstances in my personal life. The first situation involved a runaway child who found refuge in my home and my attempts to assist her and her mother in reconciling their relationship. Secondly, a neighbor, with profound mental health issues, believes her son and live-in girlfriend are trying to kick her out of “her” house. Last, a very good friend was found dead and many of her family and friends are having difficulty with her untimely, sudden and mysterious death.
In each situation, I contemplated my place and role. As somewhat of an insider in each situation, how can I and when do I speak into each? As I observe and assess each situation, what process would I suggest and who would facilitate? And, if the truth be told, do I have the time and energy to invest?
It is not that I do not care. I found myself empathizing with each tear of betrayal, fear, grief, and anger. But, I have found, the peacebuilding opportunities that appear in my personal life are the most difficult. Why? Well, because I am a stakeholder. My desire is, in each circumstance, to have healthy relationships and encourage wholeness. However, my fear is that I will be or get it wrong and I would do damage to relationships that are dear to me. Secondly, because I am part of the milieu of in each situation, I want to move to solutions quicker. The discomfort of the present space is painful. Watching others pain is uncomfortable. Yet, I am keenly aware of the complicated nuances of each conflict/harm/issue and know that a quick and easy solution or resolution or whatever- is not possible.
And so, I stay in there. I stay by looking for opportunities to say a word or two of encouragement. I allow myself to be a present and active listener. I imagine myself as an impartial outsider analyzing each situation, developing a process, making recommendations and deciding what services I could provide and who i would recommend.
For me, the question of when to intervene or not is the most difficult in my personal life. Yet I am committed to these moments of liminality and believe that, if I stay open, I may help to bring peace.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What will happen to me?

By Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz

In January the book “What will happen to me?” by Howard Zehr and I was released. This book was something we’ve talked about for a number of years. For my Master’s thesis over 10 years ago I conducted interviews with children of incarcerated mothers and their voices have stayed with me.
We started this project with an exhibit of photos and stories of the children, and were excited when the opportunity came to expand those stories into a book.
Our hope was not only to have them tell their story but also to highlight the needs of the almost 3 million children who go to bed each night with a parent in prison. Through no fault of their own they are forced to try and make sense of a situation that often leaves them feeling traumatized. They may or may not be told where their parent is at, when they will be coming home or why they are in prison. One incarcerated father had these words to stay after reading the book. “Your book…has had a profound effect on me and each time I pick it up to read another story I am humbled and saddened, as well as even more motivated to be a better father to my daughter. I cannot read more than 4 or 5 stories before my eyes began to well up and in each of these amazing children I see a piece of my own child. I know she feels many of the same feelings…your book is a constant reminder that I cannot let some discussions go too long without providing her the opportunity to talk about these topics…the stories of these children, my own included, are painful reminders that the destruction I have caused is real and that I must never forget the pain I have caused”.
What caregivers can provide is a way to assist children who are navigating this reality. They need to have a safe space to talk about their grief and loss and to know that their feelings of shame and guilt are normal under the circumstances. Caregivers should also be familiar with the “Bill of Rights” for children of incarcerated parents. It is a critical rallying point to help raise awareness that will assist in addressing the needs of the children. As Nell Berstein says in her book All Alone in the World, “the dissolution of families, the harm to children – and the resultant perpetuation of the cycle of crime and incarceration from one generation to the next – may be the most profound and damaging effect of our current penal structure”.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Calm and the Storm

By Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz

This past weekend was a long anticipated gathering at a beach house with five of my sisters, my sister-in-law and my mother. We didn’t really care about the weather but it turned out to be one that showed us the beauty of both the calm and the storm. We watched as Rehoboth Bay turned into an uncharacteristic frenzy of wild waves that careened into the retaining wall, splashing sea water up onto the dock and walkway of the beach house where we were staying. We kept our eye on the weather channel to monitor the tornado watches on the east coast but mostly we were in awe of the storm as we sat in front of the wall of glass looking out onto the water about 50 feet away. As darkness came we left our card game and turned off the lights so we could watch the lightning streak across the sky and water. We thought it was wild and beautiful.

The next morning we awoke to sunny blue skies and a calm, peaceful body of water in front of us. We remarked that it was difficult to imagine this same body of water was what we had watched the night before. Today it was comforting and inviting…providing a space to sit on the dock and meditate as the sun glistened off the velvety smooth surface.

Talking about the water during the “calm” and the “storm” reminded me of the way I talk about conflict in different settings in my MCC work. It’s important for each of us to know that there are different styles of conflict and that while we may have a “preferred” style we often respond differently depending on how we feel about the issue presenting itself, how important the issue is to us as well as how significant the relationship with the other person(s) is to us. So we use language of the calm and the storm.

The calm obviously describes how we respond when we first experience a conflict that hasn’t escalated beyond what we might consider a disagreement. The storm responses indicate how we may respond when things are very tense and our emotions are much stronger than at the earlier stage of the disagreement. It may also depend on how engaged we are in the issue presented or how invested we are in the relationship with the other person. The higher the scores in any given style (which includes compromising, avoiding, forcing, accommodating and collaborating), the more likely you are to use this style when responding to conflict.

Knowing how you respond to conflict helps all of us make conscious choices about how we respond in certain situations and to have an understanding of how and why others may be responding to us (or to situations of conflict). The more we understand about ourselves and others the greater chance we have of working through conflict in helpful, healthy ways.

We make certain assumptions about someone if we only see them in situations of conflict where they are responding with a “storm” response rather than a “calm” response. The reality is that we need to keep in mind that they are one and the same person…just as we are in our different responses. Understanding those differences will hopefully help us to respond rather than react in any situation we also find ourselves.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A year with less fear...

by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz

January 1, 2011

It was still dark when I got up this morning to sit on the couch with the Christmas tree lit and the water fountain Jim bought me for Christmas (best gift ever) babbling like a brook on the shelf, sipping a cup of tea to try and clear my head of this miserable cold. I tried to imagine myself by the ocean as I listened to the water (ok, that was a stretch but worth a try), and thinking about how I wanted to start the new year. I glanced around the house that looks well lived-in with our 3 almost-adult children home and the dozens of friends who have been in and out over the past two weeks and here’s what popped into my head: I’d like to start the new year with a clean house and a pure heart. I’m not sure either of them will be that easy to achieve at the moment but that’s what came to me.

Then I picked up the devotional book Seasoned with Peace we received from our Exec. Director and the title for January 1 was “A year with less fear”. I think that might be a way to work at the pure heart (the clean house will have to wait). As I think not only about my own life but also about the work I do in crime and justice…I recognize the feeling of fear instantly and how easy it is to feel paralyzed, exhausted and sapped of all energy by it. According to Yoda from Star Wars (yes, I love those movies) “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

One example of the fear that comes to mind is a current dialogue case where the victim wants to meet with the person (a relative) who murdered her loved one. There have been many stumbling blocks along the way, primarily by the legal system and I find myself continuing to seek ways to use them as stepping stones. Sometimes it works and sometimes I stumble over them. The question I find myself asking is “what are they afraid of?” The answers come quickly. Fear of something going wrong when these two people face one another. Fear that someone will be further harmed by this process…not necessarily physically but emotionally/mentally. Fear that the system set up to keep these two people apart (often for good reason) is being threatened. Fear of the loss of control. The list goes on.

The reality in this case is that after meeting a number of times with both the victim and offender I have no doubt they are both entering this process as way to come to grips with the hardness of their heart, as a way to cleanse themselves – to seek a pure heart. Not every person comes to dialogue with the same motivation, it’s whatever they need at that time. But in this case they simply want to let go of the fear that has kept them apart for over 20 years so that they can move forward.

I admire the courage the strength it has taken them to get to this point in their journey. It makes me think about the fear I hold onto that keeps me bound. Fear of the unknown, fear of another person’s motivation, fear of not being heard and understood. Fear of those who annoy and frustrate me. This list could go on as well.

May this year start for me with the recognition that fear is something I need to let go of in order to develop that pure heart. And, about that clean house…well, the year is still young!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Latinos Engaged in Restorative Justice

by Charito Calvachi-Mateyko

Latinos are highly represented among the incarcerated population, but they are not just standing by while this happens. Their efforts to implement restorative justice to bring healing to their communities are being noticed and being supported by promoters in this field.

Statistics show the impact that mandatory sentences, three-strikes-you’re-out, zero tolerance and the criminalization of undocumented immigrants have in this population. Lives, families and communities are being hurt forever with this situation. In Georgetown, Delaware, a family of five still is haunted by the memories of their hard-working-father being chained, detained and deported two years ago. Hope, represented in justice that heals, is brought to this communities thought.

The voices of those who learned to deal with crime and conflict in a non-violent way are also being heard to show new ways. Radio Centro, WLCH 91.3 FM, the Latino Public Radio in Lancaster, PA broadcasts in Spanish For A Culture of Peace, a 30 minute-program that tells the story of young people who have acknowledged their wrongdoing, have taken responsibility for it and have made amendments to right the wrong. Miguel Rosado is one of them. The manager of the store in which Miguel committed a crime, returned the money paid to him by Miguel as reparation, so Miguel could pay for his college tuition. Miquel is now on his way to complete his PhD so he can teach criminal justice. Miguel’s right actions inspired his victim to see him as a human with great potential.

Spaces for restorative dialogue are also being created. The Latino Initiative on Restorative Justice, a not-for-profit organization, is promoting the dissemination of restorative justice in Delaware, Pennsylvania and even Latin America. Their first conference on April 14, 2010, was attended by 100 participants from diverse fields and counted with internationally known restorative justice theorists and practitioners such as Howard Zehr, Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, Kay Pranis, Barbara Toews, Nancy Reistenberg and Patty Noss.

Listening to the radio and discussing new ways to deal with crime among interdisciplinary groups is a small but significant way to redirect our punitive system to possibilities to heal the wounds of crime effectively.

Charito Calvachi-Mateyko has spent her professional career studying, mastering and implementing established methods to promote peace and justice within society. She is a restorative justice practitioner and a passionate promoter of racial justice and the Latino culture. We are grateful for the work Charito has been doing in the field and thank her for writing the piece below for our blog.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Safe space? No. Sacred space? I wish.

Used by permission from Tammerie Day. http://tam121.wordpress.com/

To the white dudes who needily “asked” for (read: insisted on) safe space today?


Note: There is no safe space. Just ask any woman of color. Or queer person. Or poor person. You can imagine who else I might mention, I hope. (Disclaimer: This is a merlot-infused post. Perhaps not as polite as I usually am. Certainly not comprehensive or complete. Just passionate and willing to be provisional and conjectural.)

As a former pastor, sometime adjunct instructor, white person instructed by the esteemed and brilliant emilie townes, let me share with you what I have been told and learned to be true: There is no safe space. There can be, however, sacred space. And that’s true whether we are talking about the classroom, the church, or I would reckon the synagogue or the mosque. Perhaps any gathering of people where things of the heart or soul or spirit have any valence.

Sacred space is first created by the intent to have it: to name that desire, that expectation, and engage in dialogue as to its desirability and what it might take to create it. Ground rules help to establish sacred space: at a minimum, that all persons are treated with the respect due a human being. This might include such logistical considerations as facilitation approaches that enable all to speak, with shared and unhogged air-time, and that support persons for whom speaking is not the same as thinking. No name-calling. No tokenizing. No speaking for your entire (insert social location category here).

At the other end of the spectrum, sacred space might include beginning with prayer, considering the work as worship, attuning to the presence of the Spirit in all things, the use of ritual to mark and sacralize the work or play. I’d say more, but it is for the people gathered to define for themselves what it will mean to create sacred space. Together.

The main difference between sacred space and safe space is the recognition that what we are about — as always and in all times and places — is the work of love, which entails risk: the risk of woundedness, misunderstanding, rupture, loss. Of course, it also entails the possibility of gain: understanding, connection, companionship, richer and more abundant life, justice, accountability, mutuality, perhaps even solidarity.

That, I’m sorry to say, is not where we were today, for the most part.

To ask for safe space is to ask for a continuation in the learning and working space of what you perhaps experience in an overly protected world: the privilege of not being hurt, or accosted by painful realities, or challenged in your worldview.

Get over yourself. That in itself is a big part of the work. And a good place to start.