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Creating Peace In Our Community

 I was asked to contribute to this year’s essays as a member of the AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) interest group that seeks to enlarge dialogue and create trust among all the races and social classes in our midst. AMOS develops its agenda when citizens identify problems in their lives, and then, through various research teams, gathers information about areas of interest to find concrete, actionable steps toward solving the identified problems. Our research team is concerned with heightened friction along racial, ethnic, and social class lines. The quest to reduce such frictions must include, I believe, peace-making skills and activities that apply on a wider stage than just our local community. My position is stated succinctly in the recently adopted “Statement of Conscience: Creating Peace” of the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly:

…. all people share a moral responsibility to create peace, and … we can achieve a culture of peace through a transformation of public policies, religious consciousness, and individual lifestyles…. all human beings have the right to a meaningful and fulfilling life, including physical safety and economic and social wellbeing, and … all have the responsibility to work on behalf of the dignity of others.

Practicing these moral responsibilities consistently and at all levels, from the personal (internal) to the family setting, in our local community, in the wider society, and finally internationally, can feel like a daunting – maybe even impossible – task. But I see this the same as any other moral imperative: you do the best you can to live according to these precepts, and when you find yourself straying from the path you aspire to – say, you find yourself tolerating a neighbor’s comments that demean a particular racial or ethnic group, for instance — you do your best to amend your behavior. Speaking up in defense of tolerance and understanding is an act of peace-making.

Listening carefully to political candidates who seek to represent you in local, state, or national offices and choosing those committed to seeking the safety and economic and social well-being of all their constituents (whether voters or contributors or not) is an act of peace. Supporting non-governmental organizations whose goals promote dignity and economic and social justice for all people regardless of ethnicity, nationality, or residence is international peace making.

Examining your own private thoughts and acknowledging attitudes of prejudice and unfairness, then consciously understanding those attitudes while reassessing and reforming your behaviors and beliefs according to your new insights is an incredibly difficult but incredibly rewarding act of peace.

And actively seeking to promote dialog and understanding among the varied racial, ethnic, religious, and social class groups by which we are identified in our community also creates peace. Dialog and understanding will inevitably lead to improving the well-being of all groups, toward “justice for all”, as we pledge each time the flag is presented. When given a chance to participate in such community peace-making, say yes! Each small effort makes us stronger as a group, and happier as individuals.

Mary Richards has been a resident of Story County for more than 40 years, and through her faith congregation (Unitarian Universalist Fellowship) has been active in the grassroots community organization AMOS since its inception in Story County. Now retired, she served as Story County Attorney for twenty years beginning in 1979.

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The art of sharing peace

Creating art is often a solitary practice, so it may seem strange to think of it as being community-building and peace-making. Thankfully, it can be just that. I am perpetually surrounded with positive projects, people, and inspiration. Instead of lamenting my isolation as an artist and living the starving artist lifestyle, I’ve been able to extend my work beyond my solitary studio. I use my skills and time to help inspire, change, and build community through Ames Collaborative Art (Ames C.Art) with workshops, meet-ups (meetings) and large-scale community art projects.

Sharing something as simple as the best way to tie off an end while sewing or how to make a straight line with a brush builds understanding. And it’s this understanding, this foundation of future friendships, that builds peace, one stitch at a time, one person at a time. Through art classes and community art projects, we begin to see each other not as strangers, but as “the lady who showed me how to clean my brush” or “the guy who taught me to knit”.

The possibilities for community building are endless. Currently I’m focusing on sharing my time and skills to empower and enrich others’ lives. The projects we master in workshops help participants build confidence to share their own talents. Whether we realize it or not, we each have our own unique artistic talents to share. We can each inspire others. While it’s just one small piece of the community puzzle, each time we invite everyone to participate and share what they know, we are building confidence, opportunities, and friendships. It starts with you and me and grows to “we”.

The more we focus on art projects that include people, the more we will encourage respect for each other. Art can help heal old wounds by offering an outlet for that wordless pain we all carry. By healing ourselves and sharing our new strength, we help build a better foundation for our community.

This past year I designed and coordinated a community mural on the corner of Chamberlain and Welch in Ames. This collaborative mural project was an entirely volunteer-driven effort intended to bring different populations of the Ames community together: school age children, college students, university staff, city residents, and local artists. We mobilized residents from throughout the community to make this mural a reality, and now everyone can enjoy it.

Bringing people together around a large art project allows them the opportunity to meet others, participate in something larger than themselves, learn new skills, and be inspired and empowered by the experience. There is nothing better than seeing people who have never met working side-by-side to create art.

By fostering the joining together of diverse members of the community, we created a piece of public art which everyone can enjoy and which will encourage pride in and celebration of the Ames community. I’m excited for our next large public project in two years. For now, our monthly workshops and meetups are all geared towards fostering creative growth, community, and by extension, peace. I hope you will join in!

Kristin Roach graduated with a BFA in painting in 2008 and is currently teaching art classes, organizing community art programs, and inspiring others to live life creatively through her website CraftLeftovers.com and local art organization Ames C.Art (http://amescart.org). She has been published in Interweave Knits, KnitScene, Craft, Button it Up by Susan Beal, and is currently working on her first book Creative Mending to be published by Storey Publishing and due out 2011.

Envisioning Peace through Different Faith Perspectives

Atheist
As an atheist, I believe in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” As a teacher and parent, I believe in the power of education, beginning in early childhood, emphasizing this “network of mutuality” and this “single garment of destiny,” fostering empathy, stressing that different does not mean deficient. I believe in King’s words, “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.” Thus, I believe that individual inaction is unacceptable; we must overcome complacency; we must not wait for the “inevitability” of world peace.
Elizabeth Schabel is a retired ISU Senior Lecturer and currently volunteers as a teacher at an Iowa prison.

Baha’i’
For members of the Bahá’í faith, peace is evolutionary. The peace process takes place at all levels of human endeavor: individual, family, community, nation and world, from personal initiatives to organized global plans. As a Bahá’í my role is to foster Bahá’í principles with family, friends, neighbors and coworkers that assist the development of peace, principles such as the oneness of humanity, equality of the sexes, understanding among religions, elimination of prejudices, harmony of science and religion, investigation of truth, and education for all. All actions that encourage these principles change the discourse, promote a culture of learning and promote peace.
Bryce C. Abel is a member of the Bahá’í community of Ames.

Buddhist
Peace in this world is not a group effort but the effort by one, then another and another; collectively, this is the power of one to many, from many to one. Buddhism has two schools: Theravada which focuses on reaching the level of an Arhat who is free of suffering by becoming a monk, staying in forests and meditating, and the Mahayana whose monks and nuns go out in the world practicing the bodhisattva path, enlightening themselves as well as others. Practice, study, and generosity keeps a peaceful community.
Venerable Hong Yang is a Buddhist Bhikshuni.

Hindu
Each person has four parts: a physical body, the mental faculties (mind), the life energies (heart) and the presence of Divine within (soul). Peace must be stabilized in all parts. In the body, peace is represented as health. A peaceful mind is free from worry and fear. A loving heart is peaceful. A soul that constantly remembers God is the source of peace. Personal peace, however, is only the beginning. Then, one must contribute to peace in the family, the community and the world, with service. The best way to serve world peace is to work towards removing hunger.
Manjit Misra is Dean’s Chair of Distinction in Agriculture & Life Sciences, Director of the Seed Science Center at Iowa State University.

Native American follower of Jesus
Raised white and Christian by parents who meant well, but were, perhaps, fearful of acknowledging Dad’s Native American roots, I did not know my native spiritual heritage. I am still a beginner and a learner. But this I have discovered: embracing a “beginner’s mind and heart” opens me to the wisdom and hospitality of people of peace and to the Great Spirit who moves the universe in loving ways to bless those who sincerely seek and follow. First learning to drum, and lately with the flute, I have learned to open myself to the wisdom and hospitality of all traditions, and to pray.
Rev. Dr. William B. Daylong is the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Jefferson, IA.

Turning conflict into opportunity through sharing peace as an elected city official
By Thomas Wacha, Ames City Council First Ward Representative

As an Ames City Council member I share a special responsibility to represent the people of our community, but what does that really mean? For me it boils down to making the quality of life as high as possible for as many people in our community as possible. I define quality of life as those items that contribute to the ability to be happy and for me happiness means being at peace. Sharing peace is at the very core of my duties as a city council member.

So how do we work to increase quality of life and share peace? Obviously the city council cannot pass a magic ordinance that would make everyone happy all of the time; nor can it resolve international issues, but we can work to ensure people in our community are safe while also promoting those things that contribute to high quality of life. This is a constant challenge because many things contribute to quality of life, each of us has a different idea of what increases or decreases quality of life and many quality of life issues are outside of the control of government.

As a community leader I practice and share peace by striving to be tolerant, to listen and reserve judgment, to build consensus, to be honest and to find middle ground. This certainly isn’t easy, especially when dealing with complicated issues that often give way to conflict within our community.

At the same time one must be realistic. While I strive to share peace through the above mentioned actions, I realize that peace is not easily achieved and that conflict is a part of life. Peace does not mean ignoring conflict, it means finding ways to resolve it for the good of everyone.

In Korean, the word for crisis is made from characters meaning danger and opportunity. This is because crisis (conflict) can be positive or negative, depending on how we look at it. The key to turning conflict from danger to opportunity is equanimity – having peace of mind and remaining calm, especially under stress. Achieving equanimity requires peace. 

Most of us can agree that things are constantly changing, yet when conflict arises we become so attached to our views that change can become unthinkable. We also tend to blame those we disagree with without looking inside ourselves and without examining our own position objectively. Imagine if each of us could improve in this area! The effects would be great for us, our friends, our family, our neighborhood and our community.

The next time a conflict arises; work on achieving peace where it must start – within you. Ask yourself what you can do to help resolve the conflict. In the truest sense, peace is ultimately not in the hands of any group of elected officials but in yours… share it!

Wealth Re-examined

“I think the Earth itself is going to tell us we have to live simple lives, we have to live reverent lives and we have to live together.” -Richard Rohr

“When I fled Guazapa Mountain in 1981 I was a poor man. I literally had only shoes and clothes on my back. Now look at me. I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in and food to eat for my family. I am indeed a rich man. What more could a man want?” -Ephrain Rivas, Salvadoran farmer talking about receiving assistance from the Mennonite Central Committee during El Salvador’s twelve-year civil war.

I believe we need to re-examine what our definition of what wealth is. Like Ephrain, what would it mean for our world if we looked at our needs through the eyes of a Salvadoran farmer? What does it mean to live with enough? I have seen protein mal-nutrition in Bolivia and caloric mal-nutrition in El Salvador.  In Bolivia, it was a case of abject poverty where the family could not afford to purchase a cow to milk. In El Salvador the woman was so poor she barely had resources to put enough corn and beans on the table for her and her child. I believe there is no real peace where there is hunger.

So how will we live together? Who will be feeding us in the year 2050 when it is estimated that the world population will be 9.9 billion? Will it be the industrial food chain or the peasant food web? A recent study put out by the Canadian-based Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) claims that 70% of the world’s population is fed by the peasant food web. If we are to live together in peace, then we need to focus on developing more resilient local food webs that give life to all, honor farmers with just wages and protect the most important natural resource, the Earth’s soil. Without healthy sustainable soil there is no food. In 2009, the 1.6 acres I cultivated for vegetables produced over 21,000 pounds of produce! Imagine a world populated by a web of millions of small farms producing enough food for everyone.

This web of farms would stabilize democracies because many people would not have to leave their land to look for work in the cities or cross borders to look for work. The food system would be more resilient because small farms grow more diversified crops.

We, as a world, are entering the age of limited resources, limited fresh water, limited phosphorus, limited oil, etc. How we approach and respond to those limits will determine if there will be peace. That is why I believe Rohr’s statement. The Earth is teaching us now that we do have limits. How will we respond?

Let’s protect our precious resources. Let’s live reverent, simple lives so that, like Ephrain, we might experience the joy of being rich.

Gary T. Guthrie is a Community Supported Agriculture farmer in Nevada, Iowa.

Financial literacy and peace

I grew up in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. As a young child, I saw images of poverty that would take your breath away. Unlike the majority of the people in Bangladesh, my family was well off — at least initially. My father inherited a significant amount of money from my grandparents, and, as a result, we were spared from financial hardship. But my father struggled when it came to managing money, and, in what seems now like the blink of an eye, we lost the money and joined my fellow countrymen in desperate circumstances. It was a difficult time for my family, and many of my attitudes about economic justice were shaped by that time.

My story can serve as a prologue to my belief that financial literacy — the personal understanding of how money and credit impacts our lives — is one of the driving forces on the path to economic justice.

I took charge of my life and learned firsthand of the empowering nature of financial literacy. Coupled with a strong dose of self discipline and entrepreneurship, I started my own businesses in my native land. Before I knew it, began to dream of higher education in the United States.

Many people are confounded by poverty and blame poor people for their own predicament. There is a tendency to paint poor people with a pretty broad brush.

To those of us who have studied the question, we fully understand that the roots of poverty are numerous and complex. Yes, individual responsibility is part of the equation. So is governmental policy. But at the root of it all is the systemic lack of financial literacy among many people of the world.  I personally benefited from understanding how money works, how credit can be used responsibly. Most of all I now understand how empowering these insights can be.

In our country, we’ve seen an unprecedented rise of predatory lenders: payday lenders, check cashing outlets, fringe bankers, auto title joints and sub-prime lenders.  There are more predatory lenders in our country than there are Starbucks, and their constituency is often the poor among us: the single mothers, low-income wage earners, immigrants and military families. I’ve personally worked with a woman who started out needing a $75 loan and ended up owing $11,000 to a series of predatory lenders. Where is the justice in that?

We will not have true economic justice until we have empowered people through financial literacy, thus allowing them to dream the dream of all people — to eat well, to educate their children, to afford healthy shelter, to work or own a business, to participate actively in society.

This is why as a credit union veteran I have taken an active stance against economic injustice.  Credit unions have strengthened their efforts to promote wide-scale financial literacy initiatives.

How can you envision true peace without economic justice? And how can you have economic justice without financial literacy? In point of fact, you can’t.

BIO

Shazia Manus is the President/CEO of Greater Iowa Credit Union, a $250 million-dollar credit union. Manus holds a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from Iowa State University; most recently, she graduated from Credit Union Executive Society’s CEO Institute and received the prestigious designation of Certified Chief Executive (CCE).

A Canoe Lacuna

The Upper Iowa River is cold
in early October, but autumn ways
attract rather than deter young campers
barely getting past summer this morning.
The night before – while old constellations
slowly, quietly turned above our Earth,
above invisibly migrating geese –
dreams of departure arose in our sleep.
With dew on our faces and hot cocoa
warming our senses, we gladly enter,
sliding our canoes into the river.
Starting out, we’re talkative, questioning
signs written by rocks in rippling water.
Which ripples indicate smooth transitions?
Which indicate that we should go around?
It’s easy to get stuck in shallow streams.
Adventurers do well to remember.

But soon the sights swallow up our sounds,
and silence prevails as we cease to speak –
for we see the hues of autumn displayed
on the riverbank tilted towards us
with yellow maples hanging overhead
releasing leaves even one of which holds
our attention as it slowly drifts down
finally floating on the same river
which urges us to follow the same way,
led downstream by leaf after yellow leaf.

Sweatshirts off by noon, we find a sandbar
to warm our bare, soaked feet and to eat lunch.
Styrofoam coolers, plastic containers
litter the beach casting shadows over
clumps of sedge.  Settled among them we spy
a dragonfly with broken wings, bloated
with age and dying – a would-be dragon! –
gleaming with bright sea-green, but disheartened
with crippling spasms, eyes compound yet blind.
We carefully unwrap our sandwiches,
and slowly bite down as we bravely gaze.

After lunch, downriver, trees are replaced
by rising walls of stone – unlivable
save by cliff swallows whose nests of dried mud,
like wheel-thrown pottery, hang on the walls.
The swallows are not home now having flown
south on sky-rivers to surviving woods.
The great blue heron and the kingfisher
still fear our capacity to intrude,
but it’s the outsiders who kill their trees.

No, in conjunction we still dream their dreams.
We dream of a huge bluff ablaze with fall –
crimson gold spectrums mixed with evergreens
overseen by those wise, dusky-red oaks.
Though paddling alongside we see lofty
limestone cliffs, better is the source of all:
Malanaphy Springs.
We will climb her rocks,
clinging like the moss and fiddlehead ferns,
standing uprightly and inwardly turned.

Lee Sterling Enslow is a founding member of Third Stanza, a society of Ames area poets.  He has worked as a custodian at Iowa State University for 24 years.  His forthcoming book, Driftrock: Poems for Iowa, explores the rivers and wilder areas of Iowa’s parks and wildlife refuges.  This particular poem, “A Canoe Lacuna”, was written in syllabic-count blank verse. Lee will appear in a Third Stanza Reading as part of 11 Days of Global Unity at Café Diem Monday, September 13 at 6:00pm.

The Mayor and The Mayor on sharing peace

We have been asked to coauthor thoughts for 11 Days of Global Unity. The request comes simply as a result of our sharing the label “mayor.” One of us acquired the title via the election process; the other by way of enthusiastic supporters at Hilton Coliseum. Nonetheless, we both proudly, and humbly, embrace the name and the responsibility that entails.

We are keenly aware that the tone set, whether at the microphone in the city council chambers, or the most visible seat on the basketball floor, should make a statement to the entire community. And it is our hope that both of those very public roles can help set a standard worthy of the name “mayor.”

ANN: I am convinced that the atmosphere in the council chambers needs to show respect for differing ideas and thoughts that find the public venue as a forum for the diverse opinions that make Ames a vibrant community. All public discourse needs to take place in an atmosphere of civility and absent personal attacks. We are all in the business of finding the common good.

FRED: A respectful tone and discourse is equally important on the basketball court — or any athletic venue. Sport has evolved into a highly visible and relatively influential part of our society – especially in a town like Ames. Kids follow with great interest what we do on the court. Often they emulate the actions of players on the court. Athletic excellence rooted in respect for the game and fellow competitors is as fundamental as a crisp bounce pass.

ANN: Racial diversity has taken on new meaning in the last few years in Ames. We have seen new residents relocating here for a variety of reasons. Many come from backgrounds far different from those traditional to Ames, Iowa. For some of us, our comfort zone has been challenged.  It takes effort on all our parts – new residents and long-term residents alike —  to make our changing Ames work.

FRED: Diversity is one of the fantastic elements of sports. I have played with, and now have the privilege to coach, individuals from virtually every imaginable background. To win, it is absolutely essential that the entire team works as a fluid unit – both on and off the court. The first step is to understand and respect the varied backgrounds of every individual on the team. We establish lines of communication and dialogue, which build trust – which in turn melds into the chemistry of a winning team.

Increasingly we have come to appreciate the interconnectedness of us all. No mayor, police chief, school teacher, basketball coach, or university president can operate in a vacuum. We all have our niches and need to share and collaborate with one another. Protecting turf doesn’t work. We are proud we have a community whose lifeblood is welcoming thousands of new students, visitors and sports fans each year. Ames can be a showcase. We all need to work to make it just that.

Ann Campbell is the Mayor of Ames.

Fred Hoiberg is known as “The Mayor” by Iowa State University fans. He is the ISU Men’s Basketball Coach.

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