Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Author: Mary Gray-Reeves

Looking For Hermeneutic Windows

This was a line from Joe Bock’s lecture on “The Positive Role of Religion in Peacebuilding”. Joe shared with us his experiences working in conflict zones, refugee camps and for Catholic Services in Israel/Palestine. He noted that religious conflict is often not about theology or belief systems but identity. Religious groups are places of belonging. They can bring out the best in humanity, and they can bring out the worst. When in conflict, we are at our best if we can peer through windows of interpretation together, seeing a way forward for healing. Communities able to peer together across difference will ultimately be the most important solution for the brokenness in which they find themselves.

Joe spoke of religion as “the two-edged sword of love that is like butter on the one hand and sharpness like hate on the other.” Surely this is true. Hate makes the news more than love. It can excite us positively and negatively. How strange that the quality of the universe we say we most long for is the one we least publicize. To kill, to rape, to slaughter with words or weapon, a signature implementing an unjust policy for the already disadvantaged takes moments and does irreparable damage. Patterns of love – that cut smooth like butter – takes a lifetime. This work is never done. There will always be millions more in need of it.

To find mutuality amidst difference, to look for windows of interpretation and understanding through which people of diverse groups can together peer, is to build relationships across difference. Deepening relationships, humanizing the other, can create common ground for Peacebuilding.

Religion is often the cause or at least exacerbates the world’s problems, but also hold tools and remedies for solutions. Elizabeth Cole picked up in her lectures Wednesday and Thursday on Reconciliation. Although not owned by the world of religion, religion was a perfect follow-on to Joe’s offering.

We have spoken much in our course about the systemic realities of violence, the long-term, destructive implications of conflict, and tools for implementing peace at various stages of conflict. Real reconciliation- the change-of-heart-kind – where all parties end up moving to a new place, disciplining themselves to love and respect in word and deed; this is elusive for many around the globe. We often fail, post-war, managing at best to get to tolerance. Peace is always fragile and requires tending. In my world of faith, reconciliation, where one seeks to live deeply into the butter side of the sword, is always the goal, even if it is not attained.

In The Hebrew Bible, the iconic story of Jews (and the budding nation of Israel) leaving slavery in Egypt and journeying to “The Promised Land” is a core, paradigmatic story of what it is to always be in process of reaching this land of perfection and harmony. Moses dies after a lifetime of leading a people to it, seeing it – just off in the distance. Hebrew Bible scholars will say that it is in the journey that we find our deepest peace, our deepest communion with God and with one another. The minute we think we reach it, is when we lose it. Peace is always fragile but no more so than when we think we have perfected it.

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Monday was a full day revolving around the topic of gender. We explored gender, sex, identity and cultural roles. Dr. Sujeta Moorti was thorough and careful in exploring the topic, helping each of us consider it through our own experience and cultural lens. In the United States we experience this as an emerging conversation. Julia Mosse, author of “What is Gender?” suggests we think of gender as we think about the development of language; something that is dynamic, fluid, on a continuum, and as a spectrum.

Of course, this is not a cultural conversation for most women on the planet. To even be recognized as fully human is a daily concern. Human rights (eg., the right not be tortured, to have food and shelter – those things for which the state is responsible to the individual) and human security (more communal concerns such as sustainable food supply for a village) are on a given day how many women spend their energy.

Not until the Arusha Peace Agreement (1993), which among other things ended the three year civil war in Rwanda, were women’s rights were provided for in any peace agreement in the world. This was especially important as women returned to Burundi from refugee host countries. While little has been instituted toward the equal rights outlined in the agreement, ground was made in the articulation of the basic human rights of women. It is important to note that no women were included at the table in forging the conditions of the Peace accord. There is so far to go.

Dr. Moorti encouraged us to look toward Liberia and Rwanda as current leaders in making progress toward more inclusion of women in positions of power. Notably, the US is lagging in terms of women in political positions of power, and still is one of the six countries in the world who has not signed onto CEDAW, The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. We join Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga in this distinction.


Think Before You Act #2

As we begin our third and final week, we are focused on our final projects. I am part of the group that must create a mediation process between the Afar people of Ethiopia on the Horn of Africa and the International Financial Corporation of the World Bank. The latter is funding a pipeline in Ethiopia for which the Afar feel they have not been properly consulted or compensated. We are to use the Compliance Advisory Ombudsman guidelines of The World Bank as well as traditional justice practices of the Afar people and other African and Asian contexts.

In preparation for constructing a mediation process, we are creating specific questions to ask the parties, as well as glean background information for our own use.

Questions to consider for strategic discernment and proposal of a mediation process:

For the Mediator and all parties:

What is the relevant cultural and historical information related to the context?

What is the nature of the conflict?

Who are the parties involved?

Who should be at the table?

What questions do each of the parties need to address to inform all at the table, including the Mediator?
Are there laws, policies, relevant guidelines or development strategies that must be considered by all parties?

What outcomes are sought?

Who settles what with whom?

For the mediator:

What biases do I, as the Mediator, bring to the process?

What are my strategies for managing my biases? Can I hold to “equidistance” and “impartiality” between parties while conveying necessary information?

Are there stories to be shared by each party?

Are there rituals of each group that might be helpful or need to be respected?

Where would the meeting be held? What aspects of the space need to be considered?

What do the words e.g., mediation, negotiation, etc., mean in each context?

Is there just, common ground between the justice practices of the parties involved?

Is there sufficient trust to begin to build an agreement? If not, have the two groups engaged in any activities that would build trust? What is the prognosis for reaching a sufficient level of trust? How will everyone know?

In my current repertoire what tools are most appropriate to helping the parties vet the issues and reach a resolution?



Today we transition from the MIIS Monterey campus to Mt. Madonna Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Watsonville. For this final blog of the second week, I pause to give thanks for the days now past that have left an indelible mark. Our sessions have not been without their challenges but each has been guided by someone with academic or practitioner expertise that has enlightened, taught and formed us. Dr. Iyer has masterfully brought the right people in the room, building session upon session for our comprehensive learning of the content of Conflict Studies. Likewise our sessions yesterday gave us some space to process the emotions and inner response that comes along with the intensity of this experience, which can be, at times, quite traumatic. Even as observers, students of conflict and Peacebuilding, one cannot be completely separate or objective from the pain, trauma and human toll being explored. The whole human experience is precisely the reason for engaging the topic. As we seek to work for peace we must also find it within ourselves.

I am grateful for Prabha Sankaranarayan who yesterday brilliantly taught by example how one can lead a small group, using our personal experiences to teach “People Centered Peace” and mediation techniques. After a week of an intense look at the criminal justice system, the sacred space created was a blessing.

Joan Blades of Living Room Conversations added to our learning of how to communicate across sensitive and polarizing topics. We were reminded of the power of grassroots conversations to mobilize the average citizen for daily Peacebuilding that can contribute to important social change.

Finally, my deepest gratitude is for my colleagues, an exceptionally bright and capable group of people committed to working in this field. Each comes with a powerful personal story, insights and experiences that has offered me so much already. I am grateful for their roll in my own formation these past two weeks.

We begin now our final week of the course, but reflection on the enormous amount of content will go on for a long time!








Reconnecting With the Community – Drawing Toward Rather Than Moving Away From”


Today’s blog title is a quote from Susie Brusa’s presentation yesterday. She is Executive Director of Rancho Cielo and Parishioner at Good Shepherd in Salinas. Photos are of Susie and our MIIS group, and me with Adele Frese, new Police Chief of Salinas.

From Monday through Wednesday our content has included learning about our local California gang context and it’s prison to street connection. This included visits to Salinas Valley State Prison and The California Training Facility. We visited all segments of the SVSP, experiencing the difference between housing and yard life governed by race and gang affiliation to those with special needs, to the suicide watch facility. Julie Reynolds (one of our speakers on Monday) accompanied us and helped us understand the gang ‘street to prison’ connection which maintains strong cultural and drug-business ties.

We visited the CTR and experienced a wonderful presentation by prisoners that educated the gathered (our class and other inmates) on social statistics of the current population and how the lives of presenters related to data such as upbringing, family values and substance abuse. We were privileged to join small group conversation for further personal sharing about our hopes and intentions for the future.

The realities of gang life and addiction are complex on every level. Having lived in this area for 10 years and arriving with some experience of prison reform in Florida, I have remained puzzled by the lack of capacity for the powers that be – including that of gangs – to move toward greater commitment even to non-violence, not to mention a more healthy approach to reintegration into society. The structural violence of both gangs and the system is entrenched, invested in high recidivism, resisting reforms that could bring change. The use of relational and political power, both legitimate and illegitimate, seems immovable. Julie’s research and insights were helpful in further understanding the dynamics of the reality. It renewed my interest and hope in becoming more involved in seeking solutions; especially in light of legal changes that now encourage greater commitment to rehabilitation.

Wednesday’s visits to Rancho Cielo and the Salinas Police Department (and for the locals the new Police Chief, Adele Frese is fabulous!) deepened our knowledge of local policing and the commitment required when supporting long term transformation, both for the individual and society. I have always been impressed with Rancho Cielo, a school and vocational program for juvenile offenders. It is a comprehensive development project that garners support from the breadth of the Salinas community. They offer an alternative to gang life, offering a more sustainable and healthy reality for their students. They offer hope for a fruitful life ahead instead of prison, addiction and the destructive force of gang membership.

While the structural, physical and emotional realities of violence were heavy and strong in these days, so was hope. One of the principles of Jesus’ teachings (such as in the Parable of the Mustard Seed) is that very small things, like hope, can grow very large and become very fruitful. May we work to make it so.

“We Started This War, How Can There Be Peace?”


The title of this blog is a quote from Willie Stokes referencing gang members wondering how they can stop the violence in which they participate.

The presentations on the theory, history and scope of Peacebuilding shared during the first week shifted in Monday’s session to the real life scenarios where conflict studies may be applied. The presentations were “The Impact of Conflict and Violence” by Ed Laurence, Julie Reynolds on the “Prisons to Streets Connection” and “Redemption”, the witness of Willie Stokes. The presentations focused on how to solve the problem of violence in their respective contexts, including civil war as well as gang violence. The latter is a local and persistent challenge, but also a global reality since the end of the Cold War gave rise to substantial increase in civil wars around the world.

The processes used to stop violence and rebuild a society are challenging. Success rates are hard won in all phases of Peacemaking and Peacebuilding. The long-term transition to a significantly more peaceful society requires trust building, sincere intention and strategy at every turn. It is a generational task as changes in behavior and social attitudes take hold. Practitioners must work with local resources and contexts to design processes. There is no ‘one size fits all’ to be applied to the variety of violent contexts in the world today. From gangs in America to post civil wars in Africa, ideas may be shared across the globe but must be locally tested.

Professor Laurence shared his lifelong journey of first being committed to the ‘tools of war’ as a member of the military, and then making the major career shift to working with the ‘tools of peace’. I appreciated a specific comment he made about his work with countries seeking “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration”, the first steps in ending active violence. A process question he uses when seeking to implement these initial three steps to peacemaking is, “While doing something good is important, the first concern is, does the strategy have “utility” toward helping a country resist sliding back into violence?” It was a good reminder that there will be times when the non-negotiable need for less violence will subordinate other important matters. Diminishing violence is the critical first step to initiating stability in a post-war society. Development cannot begin to take hold until this is achieved.

Finally, with all our speakers on Monday of this week, I was humbled and inspired by the hope and commitment so apparent in their sharing. Each in their own way expressed a moral conviction and commitment to their work that undergirded their ability to offer valuable years of work to Peacebuilding.

Healing Is A Very Long Work

This week has been full. There remains much to process. A clear theme, however, is that there is very little in this work of conflict resolution, justice, reconciliation and healing that is concrete or certain. There is data, knowledge and information to be sure. Ultimately, though, engagement in the deepest rifts of this world means, that as practitioners, we will be part of something greater than ourselves. It is probable we will not be present for a particular conflict from its start to its finish. As a practitioner, I know this work to include lifelong learning. I find that wisdom comes as gift and miracle, and that discernment is a critical practice. Whether personal or professional, one is formed from the inside out to be present in the brokenness and the healing.

My own experience with trauma, and in the privilege of knowing the stories of suffering of many because of my work as a Christian minister, the reality is that conflict resolution, reconciliation, justice and healing do not work on a set timeline. When my husband was killed, many widows offered me “widow-wisdom”. One of the pithy phrases which was an encouragement to me was, “It takes the time it takes.” When I felt I was not ready to deal with something – a feeling, memory, an intense legal matter, or even a mundane daily task – I would remember this phrase and forgive myself for not having gotten on with life according to someone else’s timeline. Since one cannot “un-know” the experience of trauma, life is forever changed. Healing, I think includes integrating into one’s reality what one cannot un-know. Hopefully giving and receiving forgiveness can become part of one’s story. Hopefully empowerment can be integrated with the suffering. Healing peels back like the proverbial onion. And that is okay.

I experienced yesterday’s session on story telling with Amy Hill of Story Center (Based in Berkeley – check out the website at as synthesizing. Writing ( or in some other form telling) and deeply hearing our stories is a communion of sorts. While she did not use the word, “sacred” came to mind. Everyone has a story and each one is holy. Our stories are sacred because they connect us to mystery, something bigger than ourselves. We reverence the transformation (both pleasurable and horrific) that comes through events. Everyone’s story should be handled with care.

I was reminded of Rupi Kaur’s work. She is a poet, writer and story teller. Google her YouTube on taking her body back after being raped. I have enjoyed her book of poems, Milk and Honey. One poem is this:

the thing about writing is I can’t tell if it is healing me or destroying me”.

Writing (Dr. Iyer reminded us of the power of journaling) helps us move through death and new life; a natural way embedded in the creation that helps us come to new places. It is a process that supports our reconciliation, healing and justice. We are being healed even as we are destroyed. No doubt the process itself can be traumatic!

I close with this screen shot of another of Kaur’s poems and drawings from Milk and Honey.

Think Before You Act


Over the past four days there has been a clear message that Peacebuilding work is anything but concrete. This work involves dynamic and diverse scenarios, and, of course, people who have varying interests and needs. Situations in need of conflict resolution and/or development are, therefore, fluid and require regular reassessment. This includes monitoring one’s own awareness of learnings, attitudes and actions.

In this blog I created a list of questions that will certainly expand throughout the course. This first iteration is helpful to me in considering how I would assess a situation before creating a strategy. As our course progresses, I hope a list of questions will also emerge that is helpful to discerning strategy. Instructor’s names are included to make a connection with specific session content, recognizing that some questions (e.g., those about personal attitude and bias) run through every stage of this work.

What is my emotional response to the situation (Stoffers, Iyer)?

What are my current attitudes and behaviors about the matter?

What assumptions need to be questioned?

Who is driving the conversation generally?

If there is funding, where is it coming from and what are the interests and needs of that group (Iyer)?

Does the objective need to be reconsidered (Glenzer, on double loop thinking)?

What are the needs and the interests of all parties and is this a matter of dispute or conflict (Iyer and Rubenstein)?

What is the potential for violence?

What is the bias in the system and how is it violently expressed (or as said by Professor Rubenstein, “Is there a system producing a conflict and can that be changed?”)?

What is the context?

What are the critical points of historical memory (Glenzer)?

What is the environmental involvement or impact (Matthews)?

What is the human toll in this situation?

What is current praxis; ie., what is the intersection of theory and practice (Glenzer)?

If doing structural change, how much change may be possible given the reality of hegemony (Glenzer)?

Where is the best sphere of influence if wanting/needing to transform the structure?

Is there mutual recognition and respect for identity and existence among parties?

What conflict resolution and development efforts have already occurred?

What is the capacity to develop the local ingenuity (Matthews)?

What is the time frame involved?

I include a photo of this ropes course at Mt. Hermon Conference in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It seems an apt metaphor for the complexity of the world’s problems and the processes required for discerning just and workable solutions. Indeed, the human community must work together with cooperation and collaboration, truly caring for one another and the planet.

“Does Someone’s Truth Make More Violence or Less?”

Does someone’s truth make more violence or less?

I appreciated this question today from Father Prakash (Jesuit Priest living in Lebanon and speaking to our class via Skype) as he shared with us about the current refugee crisis (an all time high of 65 million worldwide of internally displaced persons and refugees). As I seek to learn about Peacebuilding, I must personally ask myself this question: Does my truth make more violence or less?

The question is multi-layered, and so shall the answer be each time I have the courage to ask it.

I am helped by systematically considering this question in light of the “Framework for Peacebuilding”. This was presented to us yesterday in Dr. Iyer’s introductory session. The layers of the framework are: the system (the culture paradigm or ideology of an issue), the sub-system (the institutions that carry the cultural system), relationships (the conflict between persons or communities) and the issue (the current specific concern). To consider truth from each layer helps one reflect on  personal responsibility, awareness of the dynamics of a specific reality (gender violence or racism for example), and the intended or unintended consequences of particular behavior.

Am I supporting the creation of a more peaceful and just society as I engage at each level? How could truth-telling set me free to change? I was naturally mindful of Jesus words, “the truth shall set you free”. Even when the truth is difficult and acceptance is painful, we can be free to rest alongside it. We can be  free to act in new ways. I was reminded too of The Serenity Prayer, which I pray regularly each day.

Our speaker this evening, Phil Butler representing Veterans for Peace. He was a wonderful example of the power of truth to liberate us to serve peace in the world. He spoke of his ‘three lives’, describing his early life, his years as a warrior and as a prisoner of war in Vietnam Nam, and now as a peace activist. It was clear that his mind and spirit were freed by his choice to tell the truth about his understanding of our violent and militaristic culture. He was free to use his energy, time and resources in support of peace instead.

Finally, I was inspired by the several speakers we heard today, listening to the incredibly challenging circumstances in which each serves in the world. Over years, trauma, brokenness, failure – but also success – they take one day at a time serving the effort of peace in all its complexity, through all its layers.


Reconciled, One to Another

My name is Mary Gray-Reeves. I look forward to meeting each of you! I come to this course as one who works full time in an established career. The SPP course is part of my sabbatical study this summer. I look forward to an intense experience of learning and transformation with all those who are participating in this course.
I am the Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, a geographical region stretching along our coast between Arroyo Grande in the south and Palo Alto in the north. We are 45 churches, several schools and service organizations. We are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. I am one of approximately 50 women bishops (out of 850 or so bishops) in the world. I have served in this position for ten years and continue to be blessed by the diverse, challenging and rich experience of this work.
As a Christian Minister reconciliation is central to my values, theology and work. Each of our congregations, schools or organizations is set in a local context with particular social concerns and challenges. As a bishop, my role is one of pastoral and strategic oversight, supporting congregations in their local ministries and in helping them to connect to the wider world. Sometimes church groups find themselves in conflict internally even as they seek to be a presence of reconciliation in their community. The conflicts can range from inter-personal estrangement to differences between deeply held theological or moral beliefs. Part of my work is to support a congregation through their work of healing and reconciliation so they may move forward in their call to love and serve in the wider world.
As a global church, the work of reconciliation includes relationships with people in other countries. An example of this global work, and one that has been an important context for my learning about Peacebuilding is a partnership our diocese shares with The Diocese of Western Tanganyika in western Tanzania and the Diocese of Gloucester in England. We have been in conversation and active in mission together since 2009. It has been for me personally (and I can say also for our whole diocese) an important context for reflection and the practice of peacebuilding, peacemaking and reconciliation.
In brief, the three dioceses came together initially to dialogue about human sexuality, since The Episcopal Church (made up of 11 countries but largely represented by the United States) ordained an openly gay, partnered man (Gene Robinson, 2003) to be a bishop. This remains highly controversial in the worldwide church and in the world of religion in general. Our more liberal stance on human sexuality is perceived as a source of division and brokenness by many – and conversely a source of liberation by others.
Our partnership engaged over several years in deep and honest conversation about our differences and where we could seek commonality. We continue now to build relationships and support our local contexts in mission, while authentically and respectfully owning our differences. Our efforts require our constant discipline and intention. It is not easy work.

Finally, I include a picture from my first visit to Western Tanganyika of myself and a Burundi refugee woman living there. Certainly, a new world opened for me on that journey. I never learned this woman’s name, but the photo reminds me that in whatever way we can reach toward one another, something can be offered for the healing of the world. The joy we shared that day remains inspirational for me.
The skills I have learned from both local and overseas efforts have taught me much about Peacemaking, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation. And there is so much more to learn. Through this course I seek to deepen my knowledge and practice for this important work. I look forward to learning with you!

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