Reflections on United States Institute of Peace and Completion of Trail of Dreams World Peace Walk

18 May 2009

Dear Friends,

Greetings of love and peace.

As I write this leaders of the URI in North America are preparing to travel to Asheville, North Carolina for a URI North America Assembly, 7-10 May. In keeping with the UN’s Year of Reconciliation, the theme of the Assembly is “The Year of Reconciliation with Self, Others, and the World.” I invite you to hold those who will gather in your prayers and meditation for an inspiring, energizing, productive assembly.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of representing URI at two remarkable events.

The first was a roundtable convened on 17 April by the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC to explore the state of the emerging field of religiously-based peacebuilding. Thirty people from a wide variety of organizations spent the day sharing examples of their work, reflecting on successes and challenges, and exploring how we might continue a collaborative effort to develop this field.

Among others, we heard from:

Doug Johnston, of the International Center for Religion and Democracy, about his remarkable work creating new educational models with madrassa leaders in Pakistan.
Mohammed Abu Nimer, of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at American University and a longtime URI ally, about his work with an evangelical Christian seminary and of his ongoing development of models for systematic evaluation of the output and impact of interreligious peacebuilding work.
Reina Neufeldt, of Catholic Relief Services, about the Bishop/Ulama work in Mindanao.
David Smock, of USIP, about the work of a pastor and imam in Nigeria that is now having an impact on religious leaders in Iraq.

Among the issues that emerged:

How to address the reality that this gathering was largely US-based and the emerging field is global.
How to balance valuing the spiritual and intangible with the call to develop sound processes for evaluation and measuring outcomes.
How to make this work more visible so it attracts more energy and attention, and creates a bigger impact.
How to divert some of the enormous funding that fuels war into research and development for just peace.

I was impressed by the range and creativity of the work different organizations are engaged in; and the depth of commitment and expertise of those involved. I’m happy to say that URI is well regarded as a leader in this work.

We ended the day with a commitment to remain connected through a list serve USIP will sponsor, to consider an annual gathering to continue to develop possibilities for collaboration, and with a decision to jointly address a letter to the Obama administration informing them of the resources for peace represented in this emerging field.

The other event was the concluding celebration of the Trail of Dreams Peace Walk on 19 April at the historic Martin Luther King Chapel of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. While the gathering at USIP was a very intellectual one, this celebration was heart centered and spirit filled, overflowing with song and dance and upwelling with deep inspiration in celebration of the remarkable 3-1/2 year global pilgrimage for peace by Audri Scott Williams and her colleagues in the Trail of Dreams CC, winner of the Bowes Award for the Multi-Region.

Over 3-1/2 years, the pilgrims walked about 18,000 miles, and journeyed through Mexico, Guatemala, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, India, Pakistan, Morocco, Greece, Spain, Holland, the Caribbean and up and down the West and East coasts of the United States, all the while carrying a message of an inclusive peace that embraces all people and invites all people to participate in its creation.

I wish my words could sing with the melody of the Harmony International Youth Chorus; or flow with the beauty of the dance of Three Buffalos Woman; or ignite the fire of the preaching/poetizing of Rev. Deborah Johnson; or touch your soul like the Karen Watson’s soaring voice; or move your heart like Queen Mother Dr. Blakely, ancestral representative of the Africans taken into the slave trade on the Atlantic Middle Passage, as she commissioned Audri to continue this pilgrimage as a journey of redemption and freedom.

I wish you could all have been with me at both events…and, yet, in a very real way you were; because I always carry the URI community in my heart.

I pray this finds all of you well.