Peace, Art, Faith and the inspiring Mary Button

September 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sometimes you do something and it inspires someone else to do something great.  Usually we do not get so lucky, but that is because there is only one Mary Button.

I posted in the blog before about the youth peace summit I organized in Kenya last year in response to the post election violence in 2008, and what a powerful experience it was.   Well artist Mary Button (and theology student) was an important part of that summit, and she created art about the experience.  An interview was published about it today in Religion Dispatches.  I am posting a big chunk of the interview cause I love it.  You can see the entire series  from Kenya here and read about the peace summit in a previous post I wrote here.

JS: How did your faith or the faith of other people play a role in this series?

MB: During The Peace Summit, interfaith dialog was a real priority and so the youth participants were not only from a number of different countries—Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Kenya—they also came from a wide variety of faith backgrounds.

One of the things that I became very quickly aware of was how unsure and self-conscious I was about talking about my own faith. I was totally blown away by the openness and ease with which so many of these young people talked about what their faith meant to them. Bear in mind, now, that I am a thoroughly churched woman. Daughter of a Lutheran minister. Sunday School teacher. And about to enter my first year of seminary. And suddenly I felt like I had never really considered what my faith meant to me.

The Hymnbook Project focused on cultures [in the Southern US] with which you are intimately familiar. What challenges did working in Kenya bring?

It was a real challenge. My friend Maria Murewa, who’s an artist from Rwanda, and I volunteered to lead the workshop where we made banners and signs with the youth for the peace march planned for the last day of the summit. We ended up camping out with a revolving group of youth, and we all made really beautiful signs. We cut out doves and painted them really bright colors. We had some neon green cardboard and made signs in the shape of Africa. And we ran through hundreds of pieces of pastel poster board. There was such a feeling of urgency, and it was so tied up in their faith.

Earlier in the summit, the youth drew these really amazing life maps where they drew out these circuitous paths dotted with people and churches and told these amazing stories about how they came to be at the peace summit. And when we sat down to write out messages for our peace march, the messages they wrote overwhelming were about God’s love. Continue Reading Peace, Art, Faith and the inspiring Mary Button…

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the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello

January 19, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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You can’t wait so long between blog posts! I know, I’m sorry.

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Over Christmas I read the recent biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, Chasing the Flame by Samantha Power. A life-long UN staffer, Sergio was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when he was killed in a bombing of the UN in Baghdad in August 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq.  Born in 1942 and working for the UN since 1969, he lived through the peacekeeping milestones that have created the UN today.   His first major post was spent in Cambodia repatriating refugees, where he began his trademark of negotiating with all sides, including heading off into the jungle to negotiate with the  Khmer Rouge.  Jobs took him to Lebanon, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Kosovo and Sarajevo.  His biggest achievement was as the UN Special Representative for East Timor, literally charged with rebuilding the country.   Much of his life is harrowing, you read the book with your teeth clenched – hoping the international community will be able to help the people in this war-torn countries, and they make so many mistakes. By the end of the book, the weight of the UN’s bureaucracy — a place no greater than the member states themselves, crushes you.

Sergio is not a saint, he neglects his family and as a diplomat, there are times when he puts too much faith in the UN Security Council and not enough in the local country.   He values personal relationships highly; he was known for writing thank you notes to encourage his staff, or make up medals to give to peacekeepers when there is no other encouragement for their work.   Power sums up one of his life lessons as “Dignity is the corner stone of order”.

If you are interested in peace and conflict, security, humanitarianism, refugees, the United Nations, development — this book ties fifty years together, marking the progress and follies of a world that intervenes in state and regional conflicts.  For the world, the loss of Sergio is tremendous, and the very reasons he was sent to Iraq attest to this.  No one else but him had the expertise as a diplomat in peacekeeping, restoring services, setting up elections.  He was slated to be next Secretary General of the UN, and the world lost a leader many years in the making.  He died because while the US brought an army of 250,000 to invade Iraq, they did not bring emergency equipment to deal with collapsed buildings . The U.S. had no plans anticipating any insurgency, and when Iraq was looted the lifesaving equipment was stolen from the fire trucks.   Sergio’s life ended crushed between two floors, slowly bleeding to death, as the U.S. military scurried around incompetently.

With over 400 interviews and access to classified and personal documents, Power has created a masterpiece.  It is a gift to our world leaders and citizens, I hope they will read it.

some closing reflections on the Rwanda youth gathering and the digital divide

April 7, 2008 at 1:43 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I am back in the US and missing Africa, what an amazing experience. This was my trip across the digital divide, which really ended up reinforcing how strong it still is.

I came back with one less suitcase, leaving behind a used lap top, a flash drive, two Flip videos, two digital recorders and a printer/scanner/copier. I am convinced that technology is what we rich country folks should lug over in our suitcases. I would have brought a bluetooth headset for Pastor John if I had known how much work he does on the phone while driving around the country in his green truck. His office is in his cell phone.

I shared my hotel with a bunch of Americans from Rick Warren’s Saddle Back Church, an evangelical mega-church in Southern California. After training 300 pastors, they were in town to officially certify that Rwanda is a “Purpose-driven Country”. Warren’s best-seller, A Purpose Driven Life is translated into Kinyarwandan and a lot of Rwandans have read the book. Anyhow, all the gung-ho Saddlebackers had brought a ton of soccer balls and Christian books.

The conference youth media team was earnest, an but as genius as they were, they faced a lot of obstacles. They watched me take notes on my lap top with amazement as my fingers flew over the keys… most of them type one finger at a time. I watched two of them work for thirty minutes on a paragraph for their blog to see the internet connection reload and lose their content. But they have made a cool photo diary.

A journalist from New Times, the Rwandan English paper, came to see what we were up to. He did several interviews, then went on his way. I asked him if he had an email address so we could send him our press updates, and he said he didn’t have one.

Finally on my last day in Kenya, I showed George, our media team leader this blog, and it literally took his computer 10 minutes to load it! This makes me really sad, because George is so tech-savvy, and he is going to edit all our video, but how can he do this with such a slow internet speed? He says he has a faster connection at home, especially at night when people are not using it. I have not posted pictures yet because even though the internet seemed pretty quick, uploading photos in Africa overwhelmed the internet connection even at my muzungu guest house.

So, my conclusion about communication for development is that it still must happen face to face. The Rwandan youth conference was a success because when you bring young people together, they have a good time. And what better way to build bridges across ethnic, geographic, economic and other divisions, then by spending a few days together singing, praying, talking about your country and learning from each other?

After spending a few days in Kenya before flying back, I have become convinced the young people of Kenya need their own summit. Like the rest of Kenya, I am afraid the power share of President Kibaki and Odinga is just too fragile — and there is so much at stake for this nation of 40 million people. The post-election violence in Kenya after Christmas was done largely by young men and broke along tribal lines. Now when I talk to Kenyans they mention their tribes in a way like I never heard before. These divisions are dangerous if they are allowed to settle. If I can round up $25,000 USD I will be planning a Kenyan youth peace summit and we will invite youth from across the country from different tribes…

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