Our objective was a multifath, multicultural and intergenerational peace project, both creative and created by US. For us, “creative” meant doing something involving art, music, writing and drama. But, we always stressed that these activities were not our goal, but the means to our goal: making peace. Peace, we felt, involves understanding of self and others and these activities were the means we chose to increase such understanding. What project you choose depends on what inspires you. We felt that expression of the self in community is a way to diffuse violence; that such activities promote respect for self and others and that this is a direct alternative to violence, the ultimate act of non-respect. You should have principles like these or similar ones clearly in mind.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME(S) for PARTICIPANTS
We hoped that everyone would learn the blessings of diversity. We approached each other with this attitude: teach me about you and teach me about being ____. We weren’t trying to learn generalizations about being Muslim or Black or white or an immigrant. We were trying to learn about specific individuals and in that process we learned something about what is important to Muslims, Blacks, immigrants, all of us.
WHO CAN BENEFIT
In our multifaith, intergenerational group, group expectations were the same for everyone. This had an amazing leveling effect. Children could be quite “adult” in their attitudes and adults could “play” without becoming self-conscious!
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Specific supplies are relative to the creative project your group chooses.
In our case, we had a desire to want the best for our neighborhood, and because our city is so poor we worked on grant-writing and raising funds to afford expert theater and art people who carried the full responsibility for the artistic learning and artistic results. But we were the ones who kept Peace clearly in the mix. Finding persons who can understand that peace was the goal, not the activity for its own sake, was important and we found exceptional artists in this regard. It took six months to raise our funds.
NUTS & BOLTS
#1 Look around and call people in your community you don’t know but who you believe are similar to you in some way. This is the beginning; you are casting your net and you want to catch a lot of people. So, for example, try calling churches in your neighborhood you have had little contact with. You might try the Y and other associations that share something in common with you.
WHEN THEY ANSWER, WHAT DO YOU SAY? Tell the person who answers that you are calling because you want to increase peace in your community. Be simple and forthright about your desire for peace. Explain that you are calling to see if anyone there wants to work for peace too, that you are forming a grass roots group to organize a special event that will be done by as diverse a group as possible from your community and the surrounding areas. As you find out who is in leadership, ask to meet with them personally. If this is not possible, invite them to the opening meeting for everyone who wants to learn more and discuss possibilities. Identify your congregation when you give your name. Highlight the fact that ANYONE who wants to be a part of the project can help plan; ANYONE who wants to participate in the project can.
#2 Call people in your community you don’t know and who are dissimilar to you. If you are a wealthy church, call the local city housing projects association. If you are a poor church, call a wealthy congregation. Call the synagogue, try the Jewish Community Center, call the Masjid, or the Islamic Center, call the local Interfaith Organization. If you are mostly a white church, call a non-white church. Ask to speak to the person in charge. Ask if someone in the organization is known to be interested in peace or has done peace work. Explain your mission with a can-do enthusiasm.
Note: It takes courage to call total strangers. When I did it, I was surprised at how positive and quick people were to say that they were willing to meet with me and talk about possibilities. I found out that the desire for peace is strong and is shared by a great many people. When you present them with an opportunity to work personally for peace in their community you are going to get positive responses especially if you convey excitement over the phone as well as a deep interest in the other person. Come across with your belief that meeting face to face will be very rewarding. I found that people responded in kind to a “can do” spirit. And remember, whatever happens, you have already raised peoples’ consciousness of peace by your calling. Even if people come to one meeting, you have increased community interaction and that is an important step for peace.
#3 Call people you already know you would like to work with or have heard good things about and invite them.
#4 This is a creative peace project. You, the ones initiating the project, have to give everything you have to it. Many talented people are going to participate but they have to know that the buck stops with you. Get ready to problem solve, trouble shoot and be resourceful. You bring the kernel of an idea, the peace vision and the can-do energy. You have to serve your vision. You have to give your idea away; it is bigger than you. Know that the group that answers your call is going to manifest your vision in a unique way that you can’t control. The kernel of your idea acts as a guide to you and the group but what actually grows out of it is something all of you together discover as you interact. Your group can’t know what the results of the venture will be ahead of time; this unknowing and uncertainty is the essential ingredient whereby a diverse group undergoes an experience of faith. It is a powerful (and sometimes scary) experience. If you are the leader, serve the group and lead by example with honesty. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something and show you are there to learn. If you act committed to peace in everything you do and say, you can’t go wrong.
Set a Timeline:
A timeline establishes a sense of “being on the march.” The work can be intense but set goals that are doable. In our case, the actual project – writing a play, learning how to drum, painting a set, making puppets, rehearsing and performing the play – were all done in about a month’s time. In that month we met for three evenings a week for two and a half hours. Six months prior to this, I had begun to share my idea with people in my church and as I gained determination I began step #1. It was during this time I found our artist leader. Three months prior to the actual arts program, we began to hold regular meetings. Keeping up momentum is a critical factor. So to do that, we established a meeting night and time and kept it no matter how few people could show up that night. Attendance gyrated wildly sometimes but the momentum stayed high. We always made progress because the people who came always had some Action to report. All in all, it took about six months for planning and getting the money; the actual project happened in five weeks in the summer. We worked three evenings a week to the night of our performance. Our project coincided with a larger community event (National Night Out) and this gave us added incentive, excitement and impact on our city.
Run an Efficient Meeting:
Meetings should be no more than 90 minutes. Start very close to the time you appoint and END ON TIME! Ten minutes before you are to end, remind people that the meeting will end on time and focus on wrapping up your plans of action. Have an agenda. Use your feelings. Create momentum. Focus on ACTION. Learn what is important to people. Don’t be afraid to say what is important to you. List ACTIONS needed and ACTIONS taken and identify the RO (The Responsible One) for the action. People will reward you if you do not bore them. They will come back if you do not waste their valuable time. Inspire them with a quote or a brief story from peace history. Do everything to support action. Help people feel confident and valuable. Whatever the final project result, every meeting is an opportunity to make peace by respecting and delighting in those who have joined you for the work of peace.
We adopted OPENNESS as a characteristic way of doing things. No contribution from anyone was too small. We took everything they had to offer. Some people gave a hundred hours to the project, some gave an hour. We saw everyone as equally important to the project and that each one gave what they could. We tapped into people’s goodness, creativity and yearning for peace. If someone said they could only come one night, we said GREAT. Word spread and people would just drop by and join in for one evening. This was true both of our planning meetings and the actual working time on the project. We always worked with what we had and tried not to become fearful if it seemed like little. So, for example, a street person came in one night and made a poster. Even late in the project, young children came in and got parts in the play and were wonderful. It was all considered “community” – the peaceable kingdom.
Establish Norms and Rituals:
On our first night together as an intergenerational, multicultural group we discussed how we would treat each other. We had our norms written on very attractive posters and we put them up. Peace is a spiritual reality and, to keep our purpose of peacemaking clearly articulated, I worried about how we could pray together or what spiritual practice could unite us. I found it by using a poem of Tich Nat Hahn’s. The young people loved it and they wanted a turn to read it at the conclusion of our evening’s work. Adults looked forward to this moment. Parents coming to pick up their children would specifically come to sit in the circle to hear our poem. It was our ritual and it worked wonderfully. You are going to need rituals so do give some thought to developing what you can try. It is all experimentation!
You can get money, you can get people, you can get a plan, you can put on a play. But keep asking yourself the hard question: when do you get peace? I believe peace, understanding, unity, the pleasure of being with people different from yourself are fruits of the Spirit. Peace is a prayerful process and a spiritual reality. When I started, I had no idea of the power I would find in this adventure, or how my experience of faith would change and become an experience of faith as transcendent unity. The power of peace is life changing.
The Rev. Pat Cashman