Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

A Message for Peace

Posted July 31st, 2014 by Tom

cjp_logoYesterday I received an email from Daryl Byler, Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding (CJP) at Eastern Mennonite University. EMU is a place I have studied and will continue to study issues of trauma, restorative justice, conflict resolution, and other subjects, with an overall focus on building Peace. Daryl’s message, on behalf of the faculty and staff of the CJP, moved me deeply. Having studied in May with friends and peacebuilders from Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Haiti and elsewhere, Daryl’s message touches my heart, and the hearts of many friends around the world. I share his words here with my friends in the hope that we will all redouble our efforts to build peace… everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to the Table National Gathering

Posted June 5th, 2014 by Tom

IMG_7419The National Gathering of Coming to the Table took place at Eastern Mennonite University during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute May 23-25. An article about the gathering, “Desire to address, heal, traumatic legacy of U.S. slavery sparks growth in Coming to the Table group“, shares the heart of what we hoped participants would experience.

At the 2014 annual meeting of Coming to the Table, two participants read emotionally charged poems that they exchanged after learning they were descended from the same plantation in Missouri. During one discussion, a participant of European origins shared her suspicions that the systematic abuse in her family was a legacy of the psychological impact of owning slaves.

More than 150 years after the end of slavery, the historical trauma of a system that turned people into property remains throughout the nation. It’s a trauma that members of Coming to the Table are trying to address…

My writing partner Sharon Morgan and I both served on the Planning and Facilitation Committee for the Gathering. We were pleased that we were filled to capacity and that participants were deeply engaged and satisfied with the experience.

“Who wouldn’t use torture on this punk?”

Posted April 24th, 2013 by Tom

In the midst of the insanity following the terror attack during the Boston Marathon I noticed a flurry of Tweets from many quarters calling for some pretty gruesome revenge on the surviving suspect. Among the notable, New York State Senator Greg Ball tweeted, “So, scum bag #2 in custody. Who wouldn’t use torture on this punk to save more lives?”

Associated Press

Associated Press

Understandable? Yes. A useful response? No.

Participating in the Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience (STAR) program at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, I understand with certainty that the instinct – in the face of such trauma as was experienced by people in Boston last Monday – is to seek revenge. People may then become caught up in the unending Cycles of Violence; acting out against others or themselves.

True healing begins when we break out of those cycles onto a journey toward truth, justice, mercy, and peace.

Easy? No. A useful response? Yes.


Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia

Posted June 7th, 2012 by Tom

Attention doubters!

Anyone who wonders if there’s anything “out there” watching over us (guardian angels, God, the Universe, or yes, even Santa)… read on…

Three days ago I read my astrological forecast for June at Susan Miller’s Astrology Zone. Though I realize that such things are written in very broad strokes for all people in all signs, I still find them interesting, amusing, and sometimes inspiring and even enlightening. June’s was much the same. Mine began…

The month starts out with a lunar eclipse June 4 in Sagittarius, 14 degrees, a full moon, so things may be busier than you anticipated – keep your bags packed. It may be that you will be asked to get on a plane, rapidly.

Little did I know that this month’s forecast wasn’t written in such broad strokes…

Two days ago I received an email titled “A Last Minute Opportunity.” Someone was forced to cancel their participation in next week’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University and would I be able to take advantage of filling the spot, which came with a scholarship that would cover most of the expenses (without which there is no way I could participate).

Yesterday, after a flurry of emails with folks at EMU, and conversations with my wife Lindi, I accepted. So rather than utilize next week to catch up on all the “to do’s” that have piled up while I was away in May, I’m jetting off to Virginia on Saturday for a week of deep learning.

Today, I’m finishing up as much as I can on my “must do” list. Tomorrow I pack. Saturday I fly.

The class in which I’ll participate is called “Healing the Wounds of History: Peacebuilding through Transformative Theater.” From the class description:

How do cultures emotionally integrate a legacy of perpetration or victimization? How do we prevent the rage, guilt and shame of one generation from haunting a people for generations to come? In this course, participants will learn how to use techniques drawn from drama therapy, psychodrama, sociodrama, improvisation, expressive arts therapy, Theatre of the Oppressed, and Playback Theatre as methods to approach intercultural conflict transformation and collective trauma.

I’ve communicated with the professor, Armand Volkas, director of the Living Arts Playback Theater Ensemble, to obtain the advance reading material. He has “met” me several times through viewings of Traces of the Trade. We both look forward to meeting each other in person. I’m excited to learn his approach to working with historical trauma through theater.

What a surprise! What a gift. My deep gratitude to SPI and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (home of Coming to the Table and STAR) continues to grow. Y’all are wonderful! Okay, gotta run. Lots to do!

And, yes, Santa Claus, there IS a Virginia!

Kony 2012: Social Media and Social Justice

Posted March 8th, 2012 by Tom

If you spend much time on Facebook or Twitter you are likely aware of the “Kony 2012” video that is flying around online. For those who don’t know, the non-profit group Invisible Children has produced a captivating 30-minutes video that has gone viral to the extreme. As I write these words, the YouTube video (uploaded just 3 days ago, on March 5) has been viewed almost 39 million times. When I last looked 13 hours ago, the total views were just over 15 million.

The filmmaker’s goal is to make Joseph Kony notoriously famous in the hope that if his name becomes well enough known, international pressure will result in his capture. Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This Ugandan guerrilla group has forced tens of thousands of children to become armed warriors. Kony’s fighters have been accused of torture, rape, and massacre in northern Uganda, South Sudan, and elsewhere for the past quarter century.

When Sharon (my writing partner for Gather at the Table) and I took our first class together at Eastern Mennonite University in 2008, we encountered a woman from Uganda who was taking a different class than we were. Her children had been kidnapped by the LRA. One of her daughters went missing for years. She was repeatedly raped by her captors and gave birth to three children fathered by her captors before being released. Read the rest of this entry »

Leymah Gbowee: Just your normal, every day Nobel Peace Prize-winning hero

Posted February 27th, 2012 by Tom

I wrote last October about the wisdom the Nobel committee displayed in their selection of three women as recipients of the most recent Peace Prize. One of the three, Leymah Gbowee, carries particular interest for me due to our mutual connection to Eastern Mennonite University. She earned a Masters degree there. I’ve taken several of the same courses she did, and EMU houses the group of which I’m part: Coming to the Table. I encourage my friends, colleagues, and readers to take the time to get to know more about this remarkable woman. Read the rest of this entry »

Nobel Peace Prize 2011 — blessed are the peacemakers!

Posted October 15th, 2011 by Tom

When the Nobel committee in Norway announced that this year’s Peace Prize was being awarded to three women, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, African peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and pro-democracy campaigner Tawakul Karman of Yemen, I was thrilled. Only twelve other women have won the Peace Prize in its 110-year history (what’s wrong with that picture?).

My personal interest is enhanced by the fact that two of the recipients are alumni of schools at which I’ve also had the privilege to study. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School, which also sponsors the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program.

Leymah Gbowee earned a master’s degree at Eastern Mennonite University in conflict transformation. She attended the Summer Peacebuilding Institute and has completed the STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) program.

Congratulations to the Nobel Prize committee for your wisdom. This year’s selection focuses unmistakably on peace.

Are We Born Racist?

Posted August 16th, 2010 by Tom

Much of the research I’ve done (and classes I’ve taken through the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University over the past few years) to help me understand the history, legacy, and present-day impact of slavery and racism has led me to the brain. Understanding historic trauma and how it is passed down from generation to generation requires a better understanding of how trauma impacts, and is incorporated into, the brain.

My publisher, Beacon Press, has recently put out a terrific new book that I highly recommend to everyone who is interested in digging beneath the headlines about Shirley Sherrod, Dr. Laura, and other stories where accusations of  “racism” are tossed about, to understand what’s really at work when it comes to our prejudices.

Are We Born Racist? New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology is written in lay terms and is easy to read. It will increase your understanding about how deeply embedded, and normal, our harmful prejudices are, where they come from, and how significantly they impact our daily lives and harm our health.

The good news is that the scientists, psychologists, and educators who contributed to Are We Born Racist? show that we are not stuck with our prejudices. We can override the hard-wiring in our brains and reduce our harmful impulses. But it takes more than good intentions (and we all know where the roads are paved with good intentions). It requires dedicated effort to understand the root causes and then working together to challenge harmful, systemic, societal stereotypes.

The first step is to learn about the “hows and whys” of prejudice. Reading Are We Born Racist? is a great place to begin.

Peacebuilding in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Posted April 30th, 2010 by Tom

It isn’t often that I become excited enough with a magazine that I want to tell all my friends about it. Today is one of those days. The latest issue of Peacebuilder (Spring/Summer 2010), from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, focuses entirely on peacemaking efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I literally could not put it down. It is available online here.

I suspect that many of you get as frustrated as I do with traditional media outlets and their focus mostly on war and chaos. There is a lot to cover in that regard in this region of the world. The Taliban this! Al-Qaeda that! More suicide bombers over there!

The United States government continues to pour billions of dollars into military efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan and almost nothing into development. And what do we see reported on in the media? Follow the money.

What rarely gets covered are the actions of the blessed peacemakers. An exception to this is the success of Greg Mortenson‘s work as described in his wonderful book, Three Cups of Tea, and now Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was Mortenson and Khaled Hosseini who put a human face on the people of Central Asia for me. But does Mortenson hold sway with the policy-makers in DC as he tries to show how much more successful we would be if we build schools instead of dropping bombs? Hardly.

Almost fifty people based in Afghanistan and Pakistan have studied at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU. Many of them contributed to this issue of Peacebuilder.

Learn about the history of Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the roles that outside forces have played. Read the Ten Steps Toward Ending the Chaos. Learn about the program Greg Mortenson considers one of his favorite charities: Help the Afghan Children (HTAC).

The groups that are behind terror in Afghanistan are more frightened about the thought of millions of Afghan children growing up educated than they are of the U.S. Military.–Suraya Sadeed, Director of HTAC.

The path we presently travel in Central Asia will lead to further chaos, death, and generations of harmed people. Only peace will bring order out of the chaos. I’m proud to be connected with a university dedicated to training peacemakers. I hope you’ll read about them today.

You can also follow the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding on Facebook.

Patriot, activist, and folksinger Pete Seeger penned these words about our soldiers back in 1965. Bruce Sprngsteen continues to sing these words:

If you love this land of the free

Bring ’em home, bring ’em home

Bring ’em back from overseas

Bring ’em home, bring ’em home

Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.



Posted December 27th, 2009 by Tom

Last May I attended the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University for the second year in a row. I hope to attend again this coming summer. On the final evening of classes all students are invited to attend (and participate in) a potluck meal and talent show. With students from more than 40 different countries around the world, the food and talent is exceedingly varied and wonderful.

One young lady from Virginia sang the song Shenandoah… she brought tears to my eyes.

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to hear you,

Away you rolling river,

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to hear you,

Away, I’m bound away

‘Cross the wide Missouri.

The hill above EMU affords an expansive view of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. It is simply breathtaking to watch the sunrise. Listening to this young woman I remembered the old Jimmy Stewart Civil War film of the same name. I have a bit of a connection to the movie. It was filmed near Eugene, Oregon, where I went to college. By the time I moved there the film had been out for close to a decade. I worked for a concrete contractor in college. We built the foundation for a house in Shenandoah Heights, a subdivision built on land where the movie was filmed. Jimmy Stewart has always been one of my favorite actors. I decided it was time to see Shenandoah again.

I find the message of Shenandoah a good companion in peacebuilding work. It tells the story of a widowed Virginia farmer who is opposed to both war and slavery. Thus he chooses to side with neither the Union nor the Confederacy. There are, of course, tragic consequences to war even for those who try not to participate. Shenandoah was released at the height of the Civil Rights movement and when support for, or opposition to, the war in Vietnam was further dividing Americans.

When Charlie Anderson (James Stewart) visits the family graveyard and his long-dead wife is now joined by two sons and a daughter-in-law, he says to her, “There’s nothing much I can tell you about this war. Its like all wars, I suppose. The undertakers are winning it. The politicians will talk a lot about the glory of it and the old men will talk about the need of it. The soldiers, they just want to go home.”

Shenandoah contains a powerful message and a wonderful performance by Jimmy Stewart. It’s definitely one to view again from time to time.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry