Sunday, 7 August 2011

IPC ISS Part two

As promised, part two of the Irish Peace Centres International Summer School, held at Corrymeela August 1-4.
Although I wasn’t able to take in a lot of the content of the event, I did get to some of the keynote addresses and several workshops, and had many interesting conversations over meals and in the corridors.
This was the aim of the conference, as stated on the Irish Peace Centres website:
“To mark the end of the first phase of Peace III funding, the consortium is hosting an International Summer School from 1st - 4th August at Corrymeela Centre, Ballycastle.  The four-day residential event will engage our colleagues from practitioners and academics, to the groups and individuals with whom we work, as a way of sharing and exploring the learning that has been captured at a local and international level.

The Summer School will be a celebration of thinking, talking and acting for peace where delegates are invited to challenge the consortium and inform us so that the models and programmes for peace-building that are borne out of this dialogue will be both focused and relevant.  ... Irish Peace Centres’ Co-ordinators will model the programmes which they have been delivering and share their understanding of the perceptions and impact that each programme has achieved. The programmes showcased at the event will capture the thematic areas of the consortium’s work: women and peace-building; ex-combatants and storytelling; theology and peace; interpersonal relationships and well-being.”

A highlight for many was the keynote address from Maria Garvey, leader for the L’Arche Community in Ireland. A compelling and inspiring speaker, she introduced us to about 10 members of the L’Arche community who had traveled with her from Belfast. She told stories about how these people had changed their communities,  by their ability to love unconditionally and through their unique perspective on and participation in the world around them. She reminded us that these folks can teach us much about inclusion, seeing past  “the other”, and peace-building.

Inez McCormack, one of the most influential civil rights leaders in Northern Ireland today, and who played a critical role in the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accord, gave a fiery and hard hitting keynote which challenged folks to look at what the word “fairness” really means. From a human rights perspective, she raised the question of inequalities which still exist in poverty stricken areas between Catholic and Protestant communities, and asked the hard question about whether aid money should be distributed on the basis of need, instead of just distributed equally. She also said that if folks don’t always ask the question “Who is not at the table?”, then you become part of the system and part of the problem.

Dr. Duncan Morrow, Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, also gave an address which challenged folks to begin to ask the hard questions about power in their analysis of the past and as they look to the future. As an aside, Duncan is a long time member of the Corrymeela Community, and his son David was in the first cycle of summer volunteers.
Workshops involved the practical, philosophical, and theological aspects of peace, both in the Irish context and on a broader basis. The stream of workshops that I sat in on were offered by Padraig O’Tuama, on staff at the IPC, under the heading Peaces of Faith. The series provided examples of narrative storytelling with a biblical and theological base, and looked at specific sessions on the GLBT community, human rights, Judas, welcoming the stranger, and land, religion and politics in the gospel.

Perhaps one of the most powerful moments of the conference was on the last night, when a talking circle took place. There were some who were dissatisfied with the fact that the structure of the conference did not allow enough time for discussion after the keynote speakers, particularly after Inez’ and Duncan’s addresses. Although there was a consensus that both speakers had much that was good to say, there was a substantial number of participants who took issue with some comments, and wanted time to talk about it. The conference organizers arranged for a talking circle with the whole group on Thursday evening. It was a very moving experience, as many took the microphone and talking stone, and spoke from their hearts. Many felt it was the beginning of the difficult and painful conversations that were the next step in the process that Duncan Morrow had spoken about.

I will admit to feeling totally overwhelmed by the content of the conference, the history of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and “The Troubles”. I have done a bit of reading about Irish history, and have read the two books by Alf McCreary on the Corrymeela Community which go into “The Troubles” a bit, but I still get confused and befuddled by the complexity of it. However, I know more now than when I did when I came six weeks ago, and I know I will continue to learn as I am immersed here in Corrymeela for six more weeks.

What I heard during that talking circle was the hard work of deep dialogue and deep listening that I have heard in other contexts where folks have come together to be truly open and listen to the other ... in interfaith dialogue, in dialogues between men and women, in dialogues between aboriginal and non-aboriginal folks in Canada, even in the dialogue between family members who have been deeply hurt by each other. The context changes, the content changes, but true conversations of the heart seem to have similarities in any language, in any situation. I am grateful and feel privileged to have been a witness to the conversation that evening.

As I write this, Alana is catching a quick nap in our Belfast B&B before we poke around the town, get a Black Taxi tour, and dinner. I feel blessed!

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