Jerusalem at night
From May 22 to June 4, 2012, my colleague Steve Iliff and I will be journeying to Palestine to work with a Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT). This is an organization (www.cpt.org
) of individuals interested in observing, witnessing, and participating in peacemaking and peacemaking activities - practicing non-violent resistance across the globe. Some CPTers live and work in Palestine/Israel 24/7 and others, like Steve and I, are coming to learn and participate for a two-week stint. Steve and I team-teach a Peace Studies course at Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri. The university was created by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJs) in 1916. The CSJs and related St. Joseph's congregations are avid practitioners of social justice throughout the globe. Their history, mission, and values help define and inform the course and we hope our commitment to teaching about peace will encourage students to understand the long history of peace, both theoretically and practically, in both its religious and secular manifestations. Not just about the work of Gandhi or King, the course crosses time, place, and scenarios, the most recent manifestation of non-violent resistance being last year's Arab Spring. As we know from historical and contemporary examples, peace is often hard to define. Is it strictly the absence of war? Does everyone have to be "happy" to achieve peace? Why is "peace" only a noun and not a verb? We can "war" with someone but we can't "peace" with them. Does time, place, context make a difference in whether it exists or how it is defined? Peace can be short, long, intermittent, successful, unsuccessful or something in between. What is consistent is that regardless of its lack of success or continuity, peace making is as old as history and present in all world religions and in all recorded history. Consequently, contemporary Palestine provides yet another opportunity to explore the possibilities of peaceful human interaction in an ancient, volatile part of the globe.
Depending on the situation at the various sites we'll visit in Israel, Palestine or the Occupied Territories, I hope to write often, but not daily, about our experiences. I have never been to Israel/Palestine or the Middle East, although I have traveled throughout Europe, as well as Japan and Peru. I've been the quintessential tourist for the most part. In Europe I traveled to eight countries performing with the Kansas State University Concert Choir. In Japan, I visited family members in the U.S. military and in Peru I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu for the Millennium. My professional responsibilities have taken me to Ireland to consultant with a Catholic women's religious community and to Mexico to participate in building a home for a needy family. The Palestine/Israel journey is a very different trip - not only because I'm in a part of the world unfamiliar to me - but because my purpose is very different. One of the most important understandings that Peace Studies students seem to take with them is that one person can make a difference. Not the glib, bumper sticker version of reality, but a real understanding of what works and the importance of grassroots movements and individual initiative to achieve peace and social justice. Most of us are not called to national leadership, Nobel peace prizes, or martyrdom (thankfully), but we do touch others' lives in both small and large ways. Hopefully, this will be a moment in time that will simply give me an opportunity to be present, witness, and be there if needed.
Besides the home page, I have provided a "Background" link for information on Palestine and my experiences and reflections will be found under the "Activities and Reflections" link in the left sidebar column. Simply click on these to open.
Carol K. Coburn, Ph.D.
Professor of Religious Studies and Women & Gender Studies