3 Days and Counting – Less

With just 3 days left before our peace mission team leaves for Africa and as we are thinking about more and more we have to do, simple acts like “practice-packing” inspire us to think in terms of less.

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I’ve been putting off my practice-packing. I haven’t polled the rest of the group, although I suspect that Allison has had several sessions. Several successful sessions. Or perhaps she packed 3 weeks ago and she and Dan just have to remember not to trip over that roller-board bag in the middle of the room. But, more likely, if Allison is already packed, then she also found a place to stow her luggage. Allison is our champion of packing theory and getting things done. That’s one of the reasons why she’s going to have her own action figure some day.

As I’ve taken several looks at my carry-on bag, I’ve tried to imagine what might actually fit inside. Sometime in the next 48 hours, I’m going to have to start moving from imagination to reality. I dread that moment. For, I’m anticipating that not only will I have to think in terms of less, I will have to do with less.

It seems if I take 10-12 days of anything, that there will be entire categories of things I can’t take. It’s true that we will have laundry facilities available to us. So, sufficient supplies of clothes and underclothes and socks can be calculated by simple math. Number of days divided by 2. That is, of course, only viable if I can actually get 5-6 days of things in my bag.

I’ve already chosen shoes that double as kind-of nice dress shoes and kind-of durable trekking/safari shoes. Since I’ll be wearing them on the plane I don’t have to pack them. Or anything else I wear on the plane. So, if I can wear two days worth of clothes on the plane, then I’m down to 3-4 days of things to pack.

Regardless, I know it will work out. I’ve had dozens of people tell me how they spent weeks and weeks living out of a single bag. Those people don’t really make me feel better, either about them or packing. Yet, I do have some hope.

On a more serious note, our team is about to travel to a part of the world where a majority of the people live with less than we think is humanly possible. These are men, women, and children who would consider themselves rich to have the things that could be packed into a 21-inch piece of luggage. Although we will see much need and poverty and hurt, we anticipate that we will also come to know many, many people who exude joy and contentment. In particular, we are already thinking about our time among refugees and the displaced kids from the streets of Nairobi. We will learn much about living with an abundant spirit in the days to come.

For you see, one of the great things about this trip is our opportunity to deal with the concept of less.

Every member of our team is grateful for the many material blessings we have. Yet, within each of my beloved sojourners, I have seen an incredible desire to give, to share, and to walk side-by-side with the folks Jesus would have referred to as “the least of these.” And give and share and walk they will.

There is a beauty to simplicity. An ambience to less. A restful peace. All from letting go of more and embracing less.

Less of stuff. Less of self.

More of God’s children. More of God. More of peace.

4 Days and Counting – More

During every waking moment, each of our Africa team members is bombarded with thoughts and reminders of things that must be done and items that should be packed. No matter what we accomplish, there is always a little bit more to do, more calls to make, more errands to run. Always more.

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Those of you not making the trip are probably thinking, “Big deal. How is that any different from my life?” And, of course, you would be right.

There is always something more. New conversations. New information. Things forgotten. Things that became undone and must be redone.

More is what moves us forward. The promise of “something yet” keeps us awake and alert. The hope that at some time in the future the demand for more can be answered with “enough” drives us on. But life demands that there always be more.

Even today, just 4 days before we leave, Aaron, Robyn, Malcolm, Allison, Dan, Betty, and I are checking lists and making new lists. We are looking at curriculum and itineraries. And, as things invariably change, we are making adjustments.

Next Friday, when the plane door closes in Dallas, we will have a welcome respite from our tasks. We will have a moment when we feel the release from thinking about what needs to be done. (That feeling will, within hours, evaporate as we begin to mentally prepare for our training sessions and make those inevitable adjustments that can only be imagined at the eleventh hour.)

Lest this post sounds like we are beleaguered and overwhelmed — which we are — please hear us when we say that we are thankful there is more.

Our more is:

  • A trip to the continent of Africa and the intriguing countries of Rwanda and Kenya.
  • Beautiful landscapes and, to us, exotic plants and animals.
  • Different and untried foods . . . and bottled water.
  • An incredible opportunity to make new friends.
  • New partners in peacemaking like African Leadership And Reconciiation Ministries and Made In The Streets Ministry.
  • An adventure with teammates who we will never forget and who will be our life-long friends.
  • A first-hand view of the aftermath of violence and the resilience of people.
  • A too close view of ongoing violence and oppression.
  • An image of smiling faces in the midst of challenge.
  • The generous outpouring from so many who have provided us with art supplies, soccer balls, medical kits, and untold acts of kindness.
  • Employers who allowed us time to make this journey.
  • Teammates who took vacation days and leave without pay to make this journey.
  • The vision and leadership of Betty who pursues purposeful experience for her students — and lets me come along.
  • Our opportunity to join God in His mission of bringing peace.

Who could ask for anything more? Except maybe for rhythm.

(And with that, perhaps we should break into song.)

 

5 Days and Counting – Sundays

The next two Sundays will be special ones for our team. While in Rwanda and Kenya, we will have the opportunity to join our new African friends in worship. Spirituality comes in many different flavors. We can’t wait to share in this time of faith stories and common belief.

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Well, “can’t wait” may be a little overly exuberant for some of our group. A few have expressed a little anxiety over what shape we’ll be in after flying halfway around the world, arriving on Saturday evening, and attempting to adjust our sleep cycles to the time. I have a feeling that the exhilaration of that experience will far outweigh any latent anxiety.

We are eager to share in yet another bit of tradition and culture that involves our spiritual nature. Communion among new friends, acquaintances, and strangers gives us insight to the essence of God and of his far-reaching love for every creature and, especially, all individuals.

This Sunday — today — is a little different for me. In one of my teaching roles, I find myself in Little Rock, Arkansas conducting a weekend class. Not my favorite arrangement because I lose the opportunity to attend a house of worship, but it’s still a Sunday and special.

For almost 5 years — 4 times a year, I’ve made this trek north to teach this course. And, almost every Sunday my church has been the downtown Starbucks where I find myself now, writing this post. Although there is no liturgy or order of worship, no singing or preaching, no designated deacons or elders, there is community — and thus a form of communion.

As I scan the busy coffee store, I see two people who have been here almost every Sunday I’ve visited. Two other “old friends” were here a little earlier. The rest of the customers passing through seem to represent a wide spectrum of backgrounds and pursuits. Some will linger for a while, talk with friends, read their papers, or browse the internet. Others will place their orders, grab their brews and head back into life just a bit better prepared — or at least caffeinated.

Not my typical Sunday experience, but in many ways, a routine that brings comfort and helps me reset my life.

Sundays hold special meaning for most of us. A good number have the memories around attending local churches. Others have not participated in that way, but our Sundays have been special days of rest and recreation. Sundays have been that quiet place to reflect and restore and prepare for the coming week.

On this Sunday, just before our trip to Africa, I hope that each and every one of our team have that opportunity to reflect and restore and prepare. All Sundays are filled with promise. But the next two are going to be awesome!

We will be far away soon. But we will be close to all of you. Enjoy your Sundays!

6 Days and Counting – Betty

Less than a week to go. In 6 days, Dr. Betty Gilmore will be leading our intrepid band of peacemakers into Africa to teach, to share, and to learn. Leaders get to lead for a variety of reasons. But the best type of leader is the one who people choose to follow. Betty was our choice.

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I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have signed on for this adventure had it not been for Betty, but her invitation made it pretty easy. You see, Betty is a phenomenal organizer of programs and educational trips. I knew that I could count on Betty to plan and lead in a way that ensured the success of this venture. And besides all that, Betty is just an extraordinary individual — and a lot of fun.

photo 2Betty is the director for the Center for Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management at Southern Methodist University. A licensed clinical psychologist, she teaches courses in both the dispute resolution and masters in counseling programs. Always searching for ways to introduce her students to the wide world of peacemaking, Betty is constantly alert to opportunities for immersion in rich contextual environments. And so it was that she researched and initiated our trip to Africa.

Betty is the former training program director for the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution at the University of Texas School of Law. Her work there provided a variety of alternative dispute resolution services including mediation, training, assessment and consultation to governmental agencies, policymakers and others involved in public disputes. She continues to provide consultation, training and crisis management services to private and governmental entities.

Gilmore is an online-lecturer for the Werner Institute for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution at Creighton University and will be teaching as an adjunct professor at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law. In addition, she has served as a visiting faculty member at Hiroshima University where she co-taught an international negotiation course. Betty currently serves as  co-chair for the Texas Mediation Trainers Roundtable.

As a licensed clinical psychologist, she has worked in clinical, teaching, training, supervisory and consulting roles in a wide variety of settings including academic, workplace, private practice, community and health care. Her areas of specialization include trauma, crisis management, conflict-resolution and cross-cultural issues.

She is also the author of The Darkest Hour: Shedding light on the impact of isolation and death row.

Gilmore earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Southern Methodist University. In addition, she received her Master’s and Doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles, California.  She has received extensive training in dispute resolution through Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, Pepperdine’s Straus Institute, CDR Associates, and the American Institute of Mediation.

photo 5Those are all of the official reasons we would choose Betty to be our leader. But there is so much more. As I have watched the team on our work days in Dallas, I have seen the way that they look up to Betty. Their respect has been earned by Betty’s dedication to people and to their personal development. From an abundance of applications, Betty chose these people to be part of this peace mission.

Here are some of the other reasons we chose Betty . . .

Betty is unbelievably smart. Not in a brainiac sort of way. No, Betty uses her intelligence in a way that builds other people up and brings them along. She honors their gifts and appreciates their intellect. She is the mastermind behind the trainings we have prepared for Africa.

photo 3Betty is inclusive. She sees opportunity in interacting with people in diverse settings and circumstances. She wants to make time for others. From our very first conversation about this trip, Betty shared that one of her intense desires was for the group to have time with refugees — and especially the children.

Betty has a soft heart for little ones and furry creatures. And, you might like to know that extends to tortoises. Betty loves life. She makes certain that all of us recognize the great treasure that life holds. She leads us in celebration of life.

Betty is a detail person. Putting together a trip to Rwanda and Kenya for 7 people is a challenge. Yet she has relentlessly pursued the information necessary and provided counsel on the practical things we need to know. And, she also blessed us by choosing Allison and Robyn who have stepped up with additional tips for travel and their love for language and peace. And she chose Aaron with his extensive experience in motivating groups of people. And Malcolm with his great love for others and his vast experience in training. And Dan with his passion for making the world better, one person at a time.

Betty has our respect. Sure, she is a trusted professional. But she’s also a friend who cares deeply for each one of us. Just in case you read past that too fast – Betty is our friend.

Betty Gilmore. Professor. Mentor. Leader. Trusted professional. Friend.

Who else would we follow?

7 Days and Counting – Pieces

On occasion, random pieces come together to form a more substantial whole. I’ve been watching a number of pieces of our lives float around and then slowly combine in a grand mosaic. And all of this happens as the calendar moves past us. Just 7 days before our team leaves for Africa, the pieces are slowly beginning to weave themselves into a landscape, with many details in the foreground drifting into the vanishing horizon.

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So many pieces.

darkesthour-e1360037094799For example, the work of Robyn Short, Betty Gilmore, and Nanon Williams that culminated just Wednesday night in the release of Betty and Nanon’s new book, The Darkest Hour, and Robyn’s documentary film by the same name — all exposing the tragedy of our national experiment in mass incarceration and the inhumane use of solitary confinement. As I sat with team members, Dan and Allison, hearing and seeing the results of the investment made by Robyn and Betty, I had to think that this was part of something much larger. Just one piece.

That led me to think of the diversity of our team and how we have all been blessed by the gifts and even the idiosyncrasies we find in each other.

Betty’s work as director of Southern Methodist University’s Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program brings an additional depth to all that we do as a team. Her care and concern for students is reflected in the way our team members respond to her. More about Betty in a later post. Betty’s love for each and every one of us and her daily attention to the team and the larger mission of peacebuilding are . . . just one piece.

Robyn is a woman with a cause — actually, several. As she has slowly revealed her story to us over the last few months, we have come to see an individual who is determined to make progress on a number of fronts. Despite her determination, Robyn works hard to wrap everything in a spirit of love. Robyn and her dedication to her well-chosen causes are . . . just one piece.

Allison displays her love for people in every single one of her facial expressions. She loves peace. She loves to help others. Allison is uniquely suited for her work with students in SMU’s Study Abroad program. We’ve come to know that Allison has many great works ahead of her and she and all those works are . . . just one piece.

Aaron brings a quiet assuredness to the group. His talents are apparent and his comments are given particular consideration by other members of the team. Aaron’s professional career is evidence of his ability to observe, discern, plan, and execute in order to get things done. Yet, we also see his caring side, both through his attention to detail within the group and his expression of love and respect for his family. Aaron and his humble confidence are . . . just one piece.

Team5Malcolm plays a pivotal role in our team. While all team members have revealed an active sense of humor, Malcolm’s dry wit and observations of life and of our team are always welcome and enjoyed. Knowing that Malcolm is actively engaging people each night in his work as a peace officer brings a smile to our faces. With the ability to play numerous roles — friend, protector, family man — almost simultaneously, Malcolm and his warm presence are . . . just one piece.

Dan marshals a great deal of intensity as he pursues what I see as his passion to bring stability to any situation. His passion is not driven by his desire to control, but rather to make the world around him a better place. I know that the people of Dallas are better off because Dan sees his work as a peace officer as a calling to serve. Dan’s desire to understand what is going on around him is contagious and makes us all more curious and, thus, more human. Dan’s openness and his willingness to serve are . . . just one piece.

Obviously, in this moment in our lives, our training mission to Africa is the largest piece. Ten days in Rwanda and Kenya concentrating on sharing conflict resolution skills and motivating others to seek a peaceful path at every opportunity will capture the majority of our imaginations and energy. But even though it’s a big one, our peace mission is . . . just one piece.

However, as I sit and I think about the incredible richness of our team and the unfathomable deepness of our opportunity on this peace mission, I know that all of these things are mere pieces of the greater story of our untold futures.

Just one piece . . . just one peace.