Widening the Circle: Beyond the Literature Table


IEPC conference Jamaica 036In May, Undoing Racism Coordinator Sylvia Morrison represented CPT at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) in Kingston, Jamaica – an eight-day gathering sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) as a “harvest festival celebrating the achievements of the United Nations’ Decade To Overcome Violence” which began in 2001.  She presented a workshop, set up an information table, and engaged conference participants in many conversations about CPT’s peacemaking work.  Following are some of her reflections from that experience.

During our time together I kept hearing the question, “How do you practically make peace?”  The WCC had a decade to overcome violence and there was a lot of time to talk.  They did listening projects and storytelling.  So the question that kept coming up was, “What is the praxis?”

I see CPT answering that question with this strategy:
 As CPTers we look at who we are, where we come from and how we are implicated in the violence.
 We take others with us to see some of the evidence of the violence locally. 
 Together we talk about how we have contributed to this, how we can bear witness to it, how we can be advocates.  We take on the responsibility of finding creative ways to address the violence. 

I think that’s what CPT does.  Are we doing it perfectly?  No, but we’re doing it.  It will never be perfect till God comes.

I found the IEPC to be a fruitful space to share this vision with others.  This happened through the workshop I presented, but also through many individual conversations.

The title of CPT’s workshop was: “Peacemaking, Solidarity and Undoing Racism: A Journey Towards Listening.”  I spoke about the ways CPT weaves undoing oppressions through all of our work – from our orientation of delegation members to the way we tell the stories of our partners. 

As we accompany communities, we are witnessing, and our work is to magnify what we witness.  Our role is to bring that witness to the wider world through the media vehicles we have access to.  So we ask ourselves questions like, “Who is the hero in the story?”  “Whose story are we telling – CPT’s or the story of the Palestinians, Colombians, etc.?  How do we make space for the story of the shepherd’s peaceful, nonviolent resistance?  We’ve learned how to look at photographs and ask each other, “Whose story is this picture telling?”

I explained that in our organization we are creating a culture of openness to critique.  When someone perceives something to be wrong in CPT and says, “This is racist” or “This is oppressive,” we welcome the feedback because we are always looking for ways to grow and change. 

As I spoke, I could see people getting excited and thinking “Wow!  There’s really an organization that has managed to do it all.”  But of course we are still on the journey.

It is a difficult journey.  It is painful for us because each of us has privilege in one way or another.  It is painful to be talking about places of oppression when I have to deal with memories of my own experiences.  When I am talking about an area where I have privilege, it is also painful because of the guilt of knowing I am benefiting from another’s oppression.  The challenge is not getting stuck in guilt.  Rather, I work with that feeling of guilt to propel myself into action, to becoming an ally.

A good mix of people attended the workshop, including some who are giving leadership to undoing oppressions in their organizations.  They shared stories about some of the places they get stuck, about the complexities and intersections of oppression, and about how hard it is for folks in their organizations to even make headway.  They wove together questions about undoing oppressions with questions about peacemaking work, clearly understanding that the two go hand in hand.

Person to Person Outreach

Each day of the conference began with worship and small group bible study.  I took every opportunity to talk about what CPT does, making connections with the day’s scripture and sharing a CPT story that piqued people’s interest.  (If I wasn’t careful, I could derail the bible study.)

I always carried CPT materials with me.  At the bible studies, during break-out sessions, and after each plenary session I would hand interested individuals a packet with a brochure, a Year in Review and a newsletter.  People wanted the literature.  By the end I was apologizing because there wasn’t enough.

All of us – CPTers and supporters – can help with outreach whether at specific events or in our everyday lives.  Carry CPT literature in your purse or back pack wherever you go.  Make a commitment to talk to 3 people each day and hand them CPT information.  Together we can widen the circle of engagement with peacemaking work.

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