Monday, August 15, 2011

Building Peoplehood and Peace

From 4, Debre Zeyit, Ethiopia
Footwashing: Peacebuilding disguised as worship practice;
Photo from the last day of class
Sometimes God can and will work through the seemingly incidental or mundane aspects in the academic endeavors of higher education, such as the sequencing of classes. This was the case for me this summer in the months leading up to our trip to Ethiopia for my teaching practicum. One of my two wonderful summer courses was "Biblical Foundations of Peace and Justice," which I briefly alluded to back in June. The last paper assigned for this class was due on July 11th, my first day of teaching. Thankfully my professor, Mark Thiessen Nation, granted me an extension until the beginning of August, just after the conclusion of my class.

Writing this paper not only provided the occasion for me to reflect theologically on my first teaching experience but it also represents my deepest academic integration of theology and peacebuilding thus far. In it, I take a narrative approach, essentially telling the intellectual story of the class. I wrote most of the paper the weekend before the third and final week of class and finished it up the day after we got back to the States, August 1st. So I was in the thick of things as it was being written.

Part of what I taught in the class included conflict analysis tools, which I had been taught at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. One of the more novel aspects of this paper is documenting my creation (with help from my class) of an analysis tool which puts the thinking I've absorbed of Yoder, Hauerwas, and MacIntyre to work in a way critiques yet supplements the conflict analysis tools from my secular peacebuilding program. I called it the Peoplehood Analysis Tool (boring name, I know)...

The Peoplehood Analysis Tool

This is a tool which is intended to help peacebuilders pick apart the various "storied traditions" which shape the people in the situations in which they're working, but also the forces which have shaped them. I likened this process in the latter sense to helping us "take the logs/planks out of our eyes" (Luke 6:41-42). My assumption is that any one of us, in the groups to which we belong, have been shaped by those groups' traditions, which I sort out into the six overlapping categories: Story, Practices, Teachings, Identity, and Experience. These take place across time and space/place (Land, in the diagram). The three "below the ground" are placed there deliberately because they are the aspects of membership in a "storied tradition" or "storied body" which are harder to spot in plain sight. The others take place mostly before a watching world, so are easier to spot. Without a strong sense of these what these traditions are and how they shape us and form our thinking and action, we are unable to see more clearly the "speck of dust" in the eyes of those we are trying to help in our peacebuilding work.

Part of what I tried to do in class is help the students see that we actually belong to multiple storied traditions. This is especially important for Christians, who need to learn to see how life in the body of Christ is or isn't compatible with their lives/membership in other "bodies" or traditions: national, political, professional, academic, ideological, tribal, etc. So this tool would actually be used multiple times to help people sort out the various streams in which they stand and have been shaped.

I also used this tool to analyze biblical stories from the Old Testament, particularly the story of Ruth and Boaz, which I laid out like so according to the tool:
Practice: Boaz commanding his workers that Naomi (a Moabite) be allowed to glean among the sheaves behind the harvesters (Ruth ch. 2). Teaching: “When you are harvesting in your field and overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 24:19-20).
Memory: “Remember...” (Deut. 24:22)
Experience: “ were once slaves in Egypt.” (Deut. 24:22)
Story: “Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous signs and wonders – great and terrible – upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers.” (Deut. 6:22-23)
Identity: What it means to be Israel, God's chosen people. Answering the question, “In the future, when your son asks you, 'What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” (Deut. 6:20)
Land: The promised land
This was the major innovation from near the end of the first week of class, and it helped us proceed with more sensitivity to our own and others' place in such traditions and how that can help us be more sensitive in our peacebuilding work in/for/from the church. More on this tool - including how my students put it to use in one of their papers - and the other topics I cover in my reflections can be found in...

Building Peoplehood and Peace

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