Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Did I accomplish my goals?

About two weeks ago, with just over a week to go in my project for "Research as Art & Transformation," I had a quick discussion with my professor-adviser, Howard, and asked him for a bit of advice on how to finish out my project, which was still in fairly nebulous shape at that point. In Howard's office, unloading what I had learned so far but was still wondering how to put the finishing touches on, he sat and listened intently, as is his way. Howard's advice is always so simple and common-sense. In some ways, I think restorative justice, the field he helped envision and begin articulating is also a no-nonsense/back-to-basics/common-sense innovation (revolution?). But his advice here was just what I needed to hear: "go back to your initial project goals."

[slapping forehead]

This helped focus me in the final days and get the thing wrapped up and ready to go for the class presentation this past Tuesday in class. But I forgot to include any reflections on goals in my summary post. So here's a little postscript to tie the whole project in a bow, connecting it back to what I envisioned way back in September, which was distilled in this post from early Oct.: A (hopefully) modest proposal.

What I didn't list in that post, though, were these two goals I had for the project:
  • To deepen my understanding of how theology and peacebuilding intersect and interact
  • To facilitate a dialog along these same lines, hopefully building bridges in the process
So did I accomplish these goals with this class project? Read on after the break as I attempt to answer. A note on audience: I'm essentially writing this to anyone with familiarity with EMU and its Seminary and CJP, the two programs I'm studying in.

To facilitate a bridge-building dialogue on the topic of theology and peacebuilding
This goal was met in the sense that I had an opportunity to dialogue with four very interesting, nice, and intelligent professors here on the EMU campus. After the interviews were over, I was able to continue working with the insights gained and questions raised in all the interviews. There was a dialogue going on between that and other classes, this sort of intellectual dialogue that was happening completely in my head. I spend way too much time doing this kind of thing...

But as the videos and blog posts for this project started to roll off of my laptop and into the public online square, I started talking to other people about it. One thing that my inner dialogue had convince me of is that there's a lot of common ground to work from on this topic (theology & peacebuilding) which has created some heat in the past, and not so much light (or salt). So I started letting people know this was what I was seeing, and directing them to the blog. Some people I tipped off to this were the same people who had been frustrated in the past by the way this discussion had played out in the past. The reaction seems to be one of curiosity and hope, and I hope it is that.

The dialogue is by no means over, nor should it be. It's really just continuing on, but hopefully in a positive direction. One of the things I think should happen on this university campus - with its theological bodies and secular peacebuilding programs (run by not-secular people, mind you) - is to stop just talking about the intersections of theology and peacebuilding, and start having a higher level of integration in the respective programs' curricula. Right now, I'm in the dual-degree program between the Seminary and the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding. I'm studying at this university because that program exists. There's plenty of integration to be done, but it all has to be done by me, internally (which is not all's good actually). But I don't see why there shouldn't be ways for this kind of integration to go on without a student going into a dual-degree program (which doesn't happen very often).

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

To deepen my understanding of how theology and peacebuilding intersect and interact
The presupposition to this goal is the word "academic" (or "vocational") placed before "theology" and "peacebuilding." Because there are many ways to "do" theology and practice peacebuilding. But what I'm talking about is the job of teaching these things in a university. And it was also predicated on my brief experience with, and conversations with those who have been around campus longer, about the checkered past the theological departments have had with the peacebuilding department, particularly the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, which has been around since the early 90's. I believe the CJP drew the ire of the theological folks because Mennonites are in the peace church tradition, so they care a lot about it. So, for instance, the art department isn't likely to get the same kind of attention from Mennonite theologians that the peacebuilding department is bound to get (and had received).

So I guess my understanding was deepened in the sense that I understand why there has been some bad blood in the past (I've named one, but there are other factors), but I've also come to see that there is much in common, undergirding the programs in this university: Anabaptist faith tradition. It seems to me that the different programs just don't understand the language the other is speaking, which has led to some fundamental misunderstandings.

Part of my hope with this project was to explore this in such a way that it wasn't a bunch of intellectuals sitting in a room and having an argument, which is what I fear has happened too often in the past. So by taking the one-on-one interview format, and presenting it publicly in a somewhat artistic, audio/visual format, there can be some level of re-evaluation of the other by folks in the university community.

Then, I'll just keep poking at this as I continue to study here for the next two and a half years or so. I have a lunch date next Wednesday with a retired faculty member who has experienced all of this in the past, and seems to be interesting in finding new ways to do our "theologizing" in ways that turn people on, instead of turning people away.

And that's exactly what "restorative theology" is very interested in doing. May it be so.

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