Wednesday, June 10, 2009


One of my favorite scenes in a movie that I have found to be so relevant to matters of conflict and peace is from the Harrison Ford movie Witness. The premiss of the movie is that an Amish child has witnessed a murder and Harrison is assigned to go under cover and live with the Amish and protect the child from the murders who are after the witness.

The Amish are peaceful and choose to avoid violence. They don't have any physical training in fighting and they do not keep firearms in their community. Some would call them pacifists. For whatever reason that title has been given a negative connotation: Pacifists let the world pass them by and are to scared and weak to stand up to any one imposing violence. (something like that).

At the climax of the movie the "bad guys" have broke into the Amish community while most of the men are out in the fields doing manual labor. The boy is captured by the antagonist but just after he was able to ring the bell and single the men back from the fields. The scene is that the bad guy has the gun to the boys head while Harrison and a few others are standing there trying to talk him out of killing him. As the men appear over the hillside they approach the scene without a word, without force, and with really nothing other than their presence. They merely stand and witness the scene unfolding. The antagonist realizes that there is no way out of the situation. He has so many people watching him that he will easily be convicted for anyone he kills in an attempt to escape. Reality also strikes him that he only has a few bullets left in his gun, not nearly enough to kill all the witnesses. He lays down his gun and allows him self to be arrested, their presence was the power that disarmed him and brought about justice.

Yesterday, I was walking through the neighborhood with Josh Kupkee (neighborhood resident and also an intern at Broadway) and also Jeffery Perkins (neighborhood resident and staff member). On our way heading back to the church after a stroll through the neighborhood we heard screaming and yelling from the street over. We nearly walked on but it didn't stop and it became clear that a women was being hurt by someone else. I would have probably continued on minding my own business but Josh immediately turned and began to walk towards where the noise was coming from. As we walked by the scene it dissolved. We didn't say a word or act physically towards them in anyway, we merely were witnesses to the violence and our presence was enough to stop it.

Now is the conflict over? Is the women in this situation free of the physical abuse she may have received?
Heck no, but I do know that she knows that somebody cares enough to walk by and we dissolved the situation that was violent.

I was also reassured that peace is not only possible it is effective and a moral choice that has ten times better chance resulting in peace than using violence to resolve a situation does.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

20 Years From Now

20 years from now we pray, hope, and work that the neighborhood of Mapleton Fall Creek will be different. Often I do not know what that will look like. I think many of us have dreams and visions of what it will look like: maybe a community center for youth to play sports and do art, a post office, a walking and biking path, a grocery store in walking distance, for crime to be diminished, for poverty to disappear, for prostitution to be eradicated, we wish for neighbors to be their brothers and sisters keeper, etc etc.

We want it to be different, more of a community, and "better" (however you want to say it) but we also want the same people that are living here now to be present 20 years from now. I am seeing now that it is much more important to empower the community members to transform their own community, rather than creating programs, youth centers, and donating money so that the neighborhood can become more appealing.

Communities needs to be transformed indigenously, change needs to rise up. Not come from the outside by any sort of institution or person with power and influence.

What we must be weary of is what happened in this community and every other city in the United States, that the area will become appealing again because of the affordable rehabed homes, the new businesses, or the new art center that is erected to save the neighborhood, so appealing that the cost of living is to much for the current community members and more and more people move into this neighborhood displacing the neighbors of Mapleton Fall Creek.

Indeed, how to go about working within the confines on this neighborhood to create community, economy, opportunity, and mutual delight is hard, but even more so when there is a need go about it in away that we preserve what makes this community a real community. What makes this community what it is is not its location, streets, house, businesses, or community centers but the people who make a living here and raise their children here.

20 years from now I pray for a beautiful transformed neighborhood that has taken the good now brewing and allowed it to grab hold and contagiously go from neighbor to neighbor creating a new community, a new community not because of the new grocery store and schools for children to grow up in but because of the people that have transformed individually and all these individuals put together equal a new community.

If the members of this community are not willing to stand tall in the face of blight, institutions, the city, the church, developers, and everyone else trying to hussle for more, the cycle of gentrification will continue.