Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Anti-Slavery Campaign Interview Series. Lora Steiner

Towards the Truthful Face of the World

Lora Steiner joined CJP staff in December 2010 as the Admissions & Marketing Coordinator. Lora has lived in Bolivia and Guatemala, and spent three years in Washington, D.C. with Mennonite Central Committee where she worked in public policy. She has also worked as a freelance writer and editor. Lora holds a B.A. in history from Eastern Mennonite University and a Master of Divinity from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

Yago: Lora, you are welcome to this blog that aims at breathing forgiveness and compassion to today’s energies of enslavement as we first deconstruct them. In this interview I would like to invite you to share your journey as an Euro-American woman coming face to face with the world as different from being presented in America. You are an historian and theologian. Theologies, cultures, and educational systems influences very much our vision of God, the world and history. I believe that maturity goes together with having a healthy attitude of criticism towards the worldview we were shaped into. We are urgently invited to check the lens through which we interpret the world and to discover that many times there is a story behind the official story.
Lora, you were born in the States, how were you introduced to the “American Dream”? How has your family background contributed to a more realistic encounter with the world?

Amish Tradition
Lora: I grew up with layers of identities: I was an American, but also descended from long lines of Swiss Mennonites and Amish. My mom’s first language was Pennsylvania Dutch and my dad grew up in a plain Mennonite tradition with distinct dress, they only drove black cars—a lot of rules. My dad had also been a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and spent two years in Madagascar. So I had an awareness of coming from a particular tradition and peoples that felt stronger than my American identity. My dad had also travelled a lot—he’d been to 21 countries by the time he was 21—and that certainly shaped my journey. I always wanted to do the same, the closest I got was 26 countries by the time I was 29. I also think when you come from a long line of pacifists, there’s a certain skepticism of government and nationalism that is just ingrained in you—almost without being aware of it. I’ve long felt more like a citizen of the world…

Yago: Emmanual Levinas has been very influential in your process of deconstructing the illusionary face of the world presented to you? Who was he and how have you been inspired by him?

Emmanuel Levinas
Lora: Emmanuel Levinas was a 20th century Jewish philospher who wrote about the seeing the face of the other—and what obligation and action might come of actually seeing that face, and recognizing the other’s humanity and inherent dignity. I think it was Stanley Hauerwaus who critiqued this very postmodern assumption that having relationship makes everything better—that people just need to know each other, and then they’ll love each other—and he’d say, “Have you met my family?” And I’m with him on that. For me, sometimes knowing people better has made them harder to love. But I do think we need those stories because it’s too easy to dismiss others’ realities, and our power to effect change—realities that sometimes we’ve helped to create—until they have a face, and a name, and a story, and a mother who loves them.

Yago: Emmanuel Levinas says that “the face is meaning all by itself… it leads you beyond.” John Paul Lederach, in a previous interview in this blog, talks about holding the face of the other as a ritual, as to hold the very face of God.  He talks also about the importance of paying attention to the below and the beyond in situations of conflict.
You have been exposed to the suffering face of the world, especially in Bolivia and Guatemala… you say that it was very difficult to name and make meaning of that reality… how have you evolved in processing the mystery of suffering? How the suffering face of the world leads you beyond? How takes you into the mystery of God?

Lora: Suffering is the human condition. It has seemed to me that to suffer is to cry out, and discover that nothing describes God more than silence.

I still don’t know what to make of suffering—I hear people say, “God provides,” when good things happen, and I just want to ask, “Why does ‘God provide’ for wealthy Western Christians?’ and not for women who die giving birth because they lack access to basic medical care?” Why is there this belief in the U.S. that God can change the course of an athletic match, but not save the lives of the 30,000 kids who die from hunger every year? God grants your wishes but not theirs? God can’t, or God won’t?

I’ve come to this place where I think we’re not meant to pray for anything we’re not willing to use our own hands or time or energy to help change. And this isn’t to diminish the importance of prayer—but rather to recognize that we are called to be God’s hands and feet. To act, to follow the ways of Jesus. We pray to “our” father—not just yours or mine. That would seem to indicate to me that our salvation is not disconnected from our ability to care for each other, and to alleviate the suffering that we can.

Yago: Could you share with us your experience in Washington working with MCC on political advocacy? What did you gain from that time? What is your vision in this regard?

Lora: I spent three years doing advocacy work in Washington, D.C., on the edge of Capitol Hill. I sometimes described my work as lobbying without the big bucks.

I worked in the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office. MCC is the relief and development arm of the Mennonite church in the United States and Canada, and its motto is, “Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.” The Washington Office was started for a number of reasons—one of them was a growing awareness that MCC couldn’t do development work with integrity if it wasn’t also asking what was creating the problems it was trying to fix. One of the stories that gets told is of a Palestinian woman in a refugee camp, I think in the 70s—and MCC volunteers went in and were passing around Christmas bundles. One Palestinian woman took the gift in her hands, held it for a moment, then thrust it back at the MCC workers, and she said something like, “You keep your Christmas bundle, and you tell your government to keep its military aid.”

I’ve always remembered this story because I don’t know what it means for me, as someone who occupies a greatly privileged position in this world—I’m white, I’m middle-class, I’m well-educated, I have access to a lot more resources than the majority of the people with whom I occupy this planet—I don’t know what it means for me to be a member of this planet in ways that make it better, that create more dignity, that create more security. I think I went to DC wanting to be a part of something that would at least first do no harm—    It takes a long time, if you choose to work on the edges of the system, to make change. Everyone is caught in it. I don’t think most people realize how easy it is to go in with your dreams and hopes about changing everything, and step into a system that might be able to absorb small changes, but it takes an enormous amount of work behind the scenes to get even those changes, and usually a really charismatic leader leading them to boot. Systems don’t just change…

I think most of us, if we’re honest, have to admit that we don’t want them to. Most of us with power, anyway. I read somewhere that you can’t ever convince people to give up power, the most you can do is prepare them to have it taken from them. Even when we recognize that the way we’re living our lives isn’t great, or that our choices are having less than ideal repercussions somewhere else in the world, to change that, we’d have to step outside of our community. We’d have to give up love and understanding from the people who support us, who are there when we need them, we’d have to give up secure supports. And whatever anyone wants to think, humans are mammals. We’re social creatures, a herd, a flock, a pack.

If you want to change people, you can’t just tell them what is wrong with the world. You have to invite them into something better.

What is my vision now? I think nowadays I mostly believe in stories. I’ve spent most of my professional life as a writer—listening to stories, reading stories, learning to ask questions and really listen for the brilliant things the most ordinary person will say about his life. I’ve learned that mostly what people want is for someone to hear them, for the right to define their own story, and be granted the dignity to live that out. There are seven billion of us sharing this planet, and so that predictably gets messy. I wish this world were a place where there is more curiosity. Where more people stop, when offended, and say, “What does this tell me about myself?” “Why did she just say that?”  “What has happened in his life that he believes those things?” If I could give the world anything, it would be curiosity. If I can leave any legacy, I hope it will be that.

Yago: Wolfgang Schonecke in his interview says that when he lived in Africa the direct contact with the victims of injustice was simply part of his daily life and it was easier to feel compassion. He finds it much more difficult in Europe where compassion is institutionalized in social services. He also says that the system pushes you to deal with injustices in a more theoretical level. How those that applies to the States?

Lora: I’m not sure. I felt much more aware of life when I lived abroad—the challenges, the possibilities, the joys. It carried more meaning, whereas here I feel insulated by technology  and the general ease of living. In the United States, we do have social services—food stamps, some supports for housing, and medical care—but we have a significant amount of economic inequality, so I see homeless people even here in our little city.

There are many undocumented people living here who are really upright people, going to work every day, doing their jobs, staying out of trouble—and they could be separated from their children (who are often citizens) at any time. If I were to speak for the States as a whole, I’d guess that people tend to interpret those circumstances through their general approach to life—which may or may not have much compassion, or nuance, or a sense of how to fix it or even an obligation to do so.

Yago: You say that we cannot talk about development without addressing structural systemic issues first… could you elucidate more on this regard?

Lora: There’s this classic story of the man who saw a baby floating down a river, and jumped in to pull it out. Then he saw another, and another, and another, and he kept pulling babies out of the water and saving them, and he never stopped to ask who was throwing them in.

So often, the inequalities that I’ve observed in my life, in my travels, have been very much created by the assumptions people hold about what they’re entitled to or how they believe the world should work. Just this past week, there were stories in the news about how Peruvians can no longer afford quinoa—a staple food, a regular part of their diet—because demand for it has risen dramatically in the United States. I love quinoa, I eat it regularly, it’s a great grain for me since I can’t eat wheat. What am I supposed to do about that? It’s a small thing, but I find story after story like that.
I was travelling in Nicaragua in 2006 a few weeks before national elections, and I love history, so I tried to spend as much time as possible learning the history of Nicaragua. What I discovered was a long tale of my own country’s interference. Take the Sandanistas: From their perspective, they wanted a revolution of literacy and healthcare for all. But the CIA didn’t like it, Ollie North didn’t like it.
Violeta Chamorro
So they get together—and motivated partly out of a fear that Nicaragua would become another Cuba—they undermined a movement with immense popular support and helped to elect Violeta Chamorro, and the Sandanistas stepped down. And I realized that my government has been interfering in Nicaragua’s political system since the 1850s, when this American named William Walker defeated Nicaragua’s army, took control of the country and gained recognition from the United States government. When I got home, there was an email in my inbox asking me to remind the State Department to kindly keep its hands out of Nicaragua’s elections, and I just thought,  “So much for democracy building,” which is what we kept saying we were about in Iraq.

So often there are these huge power imbalances—maybe the instincts of most of the people doing that work, trying to influence Nicaraguan elections, or fight the war on drugs, or give loans from the World Bank which come with huge interest rates—maybe their individual instincts are actually really good. But you have to ask: who wants this? Why? Is it just the people in power in both countries doing negotiating for something that’s ultimately going to create greater insecurity for the whole? ‘Cause unless we’re asking those questions, I think we’re just pulling babies out of the water.

Yago: So, what makes structural change to happen?

Lora: I feel like I have many colleagues who can answer this one better than I can. I do think it’s a combination of changing societal attitudes combined with legislation. Anti-racism and affirmative action laws in the United States didn’t immediately change what people believed, but they did change how people acted—and perhaps beliefs follow actions much more than actions follow beliefs.

Yago: You say that “Americans are generous when you encounter them face to face but…” How would you describe the American society regarding the need to live in an equal world?

Lora: There’s this paradox in terms of the way Americans think of themselves in the world. I’ve had friends from Europe who are struck by the way Americans value the individual—and not just value the individual, but they don’t really care where that person came from, they care where they’re going. It doesn’t matter if you’re poor, or from another country, or whatever—the American dream is that anyone can be someone, and you’re not going to be judged on who was your grandfather five generations ago, but who are you? What are you doing?

It needs to be said that when the founding fathers wrote the constitution, they really did mean all men are created equal. I think they believed that. But then the subtext of that narrative is, well, all white men. They weren’t talking about black men, or women, and certainly not anyone who is gay, not even certain categories of people we now think of as white: the Irish, Italians. There’s this long history in the U.S. of racism and dehumanization just transferring from one  group to another, and oftentimes to groups outside of the U.S. We’re still battling over equality and who gets the right to decide. Is abortion okay, are guns okay, is gay marriage okay, should everyone have access to the same healthcare, and never mind that we’ve decided drones are okay, kids dying from our sanctions are “collateral damage,” we’re ambivalent about kids dying from famine and at the same time we’re spending billions and billions of dollars every year on our military.

So I don’t think I can make any case that Americans feel a need to live in an equal world—most would be very dismissive of that, in fact, because we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that everyone should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and never stopped to ask whether everyone has bootstraps.

Vamik Volkan
Yago: Lora, as historian, let us move now to the issue of identity formation in historical contexts. Vamik Volkan talks about the chosen trauma and chosen glory. We choose what we want from history and what fits for our own benefit… again we divide reality in sections of likes and dislikes without accepting the whole picture of history. You did your undergrad studies on history. One of the ways that the Systemic Violence functions is through the creation of amnesia of stages of history link to shame and guilt… There is a good amount of history that has been hidden purposely by the people on power… We have to remember, to process and to transform part of our collective and individual histories… What is your comment on this regard? How does this apply to the American history, specially to the processing of the way the indigenous people (first nations) where treated, and all what is related to slavery, and racial discrimination?

Lora: It has been said that history is written by the winners. What fascinates me about this is the way even the “losers,” the ones who don’t get to shape that history, absorb and take on the identity that the winners put on them. The other challenge to writing history is that the more privilege a person has, the less they tend to be aware of that privilege. So really, the U.S. history that is taught in our schools is, for the most part, a history of the United States from the perspective of the most powerful.

This history that Americans are taught—it mentions some of our most shameful moments. We learn, when we’re young, about the Trail of Tears. We learn something about the slave trade, and about the wars we’ve fought in and the reasons why we entered those wars. We learn about Manifest Destiny and the belief in American exceptionalism that got us much of the lands and resources that we benefit from still today. But we don’t learn to think critically. We don’t sit in a classroom and ask each other, was your ancestor a slaveholder? What does it mean that your ancestors were forced here for free labor? U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were interred in camps during World War II because the government believed they’d aid Japan. Thirty years later, the government realized it was huge mistake and paid reparations, but still—the underlying lesson is, when we do something wrong, it’s a mistake that goes against our general goodness. When countries or religious groups or peoples do something wrong, it becomes the way in which we define and dehumanize them. So our ancestors owned slaves—that? That was a grievous error, but we’re better than that now.

I am pretty sure I have a great-grandfather, many generations back, who owned some slaves. If you drive north on Rte. 42, ten minutes from here, you can see one of the cabins where the slaves lived. There used to be three cabins. I don’t really know, assuming this is true, how to reconcile this information. What’s appropriate from here? How do you atone for the fact that one of your ancestors thought it was okay to abuse people in ugly ways? How do you deal with the fact that the capacity for evil runs, at least in some small way, through your veins?

We have collectively begun naming some of those stories and realities, which I think is the first step to transforming them. Part of the challenge has become that it’s fairly universally accepted here that racism is bad, so people say, “Well, I’m not racist” because they don’t want to be bad, but that keeps us from having a conversation, a real conversation about the ways in which racism exists in the U.S. today, or the subconscious ways in which many of us are racist.

When you open people up, you have to know how you’re going to put them back together again—or at least how you’re going to try.

For me, one of the most hopeful things about our last presidential election was realizing that the ‘angry white male’ demographic no longer defines us—or at least, it doesn’t win presidential elections any more. Right after the election, I was in Asheville, North Carolina, at a well-known food stand where tourists often stop and get their picture taken. A young, African-American couple asked if I’d take their picture and I was happy to oblige—it took a few tries, and we were all laughing by the end—and I remember feeling like I’d been given a piece of redemption, as though whatever the history of the U.S. had been, it was finally changing to absorb their story and mine—as equals.

All those angry white males are still a part of us. I hope if there’s anything we’ll remember as history keeps shifting is that there is (to borrow the words of Bill Clinton) no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’

Yago: New historicities emerged in the late 70s. History needs to be looked very carefully because history informs very much the way we behave (whether is good behaviour or bad behaviour) It is not so much about the facts but about who is writing history. How much the American society knows about the world? What kind of defence mechanism is using in order to avoid reality of the suffering masses in the Global South? The fact that Americans are still in the beginnings of a healthy processing of their national history could contribute to the blindness of what is going own around the world?

Lora: Once when I was in Canada, I was watching a show where the host would ask Americans questions about Canada. And the host asked an American, “What do you think about Canada?” The American responded, “Well, we don’t.” I think that’s fairly accurate, and not just where Canada is concerned.

I don’t know that American ignorance is so much a defense mechanism as it a sign of how much power we’ve had in the world, and how long we’ve been in the position of defining other people’s realities rather than other countries defining ours.

Americans don’t know much about the world. We learn our geography through wars. We’re pretty lousy at the metric system, which is what most of the world uses. And in the U.S., we’ve somehow created this narrative in which the individual is king, and we’ve lost touch with how we’re so interconnected, how our lives are so dependent on each other. It goes back to this perception that individuals can create their own realities—so if you’re rich, that’s because you did it. If you’re poor, well, that’s probably because you don’t work hard, or you use your money for drugs. A white person might think, “I do work hard” so I am not giving any money to you, and never consider that they got land or money for college or other resources from their parents that set them up to succeed.  

I’m not exactly sure how to describe the American conscience and how it has formed—it’s something I’m going to have to think about further.

Yago: Do have America name, grieve and lament its own history? Does exist real forgiveness especially between the Indigenous people, Afro-Americans and Euro-Americans? 

Lora: In some ways yes, very much so, and in other ways, not at all.

When I lived in DC, every year someone would deface the statue of Christopher Columbus, at the edge of Capitol Hill. I came to look forward to it as a public (albeit illegal) way of expressing dismay with the way Christopher Columbus is still lauded in our history. But then there are white Americans who see themselves losing the privileged place they once held, and not dealing with it well at all. A white woman in Texas sued the University of Texas over its affirmative action policies, policies that ensure that students of different racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups all get a chance to study at UT. The case went the whole way up to the Supreme Court, where the question was asked, how much diversity is enough? It seems to me that as long as we’re still asking questions like that, the answer is, we don’t have enough diversity.

If forgiveness has happened, reconciliation certainly hasn’t. There are still a lot of people who don’t recognize the systemic issues that have been created. They don’t recognize that a country founded on genocide and enslavement still may carry the scars, and certainly, the trauma. I heard someone say recently that reconciliation requires that the one who has harmed must repent and work to harm no more… In the case of historical wrongs, who does the repenting?

Yago: You say that we are slaves of our fears, addictions, ideas… we are captives in a illusionary world of comfort and “wellbeing.” You believe that  there is so much potential for liberation at different levels. Could you expand your view on this?

Most of us are held by something that feels more powerful than us—for some, it’s literal, for others, it might be a deep-seated fear of rejection, or perhaps an addiction to a drug, or maybe it’s this drive to purchase things—the addiction of consumption… All of us have these weak spaces in us that hold us.

I think the first step to freeing ourselves, to any sort of liberation, is the naming. When we name, we bring forth, we bare, we introduce. I don’t think we can be liberated until we each recognize the things that keep us from healthy and whole ways of being.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Yago: The Russian writer Solzhenitsyn has this great quote: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” What can the “American dream” (inherently dualistic in reference towards the world and history) can learn from this statement?

Lora: I would hope humility. The reminder that our actions do affect more people than just us. To keep our dreams—“American” or otherwise—in balance with Jesus’ imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves. If my shirt was made in Thailand—if the clothes on my back come from that place—what does it do for our sense of who is our neighbor? What should it do?    

Yago: Now, let us move to Lora as theologian. You studied theology in the Methodist school. You feel really fulfilled with that ecumenical experience of theological exploration. Regarding the need to name the  systemic structures of oppression, could you share with us areas of growth during your theological studies? What theologians have been influential in your journey? Why?  

Wendell Berry
Lora: With all due respect to my professors, I think my favorite theologians have always been poets. Denise Levertov; Mary Oliver; Jane Hirshfield, who wrote, “Everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.” Wendell Berry has been one of the most influential people in shaping my theology—and he is a poet, a farmer, an environmentalist, no one would consider him a theologian and yet he’s the one who says, “Practice resurrection.”

In terms of my experience at Drew, I think it was my systematic theology class that was most shaping. Dr. Boesel gave us a standard systematic theology text, but then he handed us works from theologians from around the world who were not men of European descent, who wrote about sin, and forgiveness, and redemption from their experiences as women, as African-Americans, as a Korean, in one case. Suddenly I had a theology in my hands that didn’t sit by and idly watch oppression, but it reshaped all of my ideas about God and oppression. The sin of the oppressed and the oppressors are different, what Christian forgiveness looks like may be different, but God loves them both, and it is our responsibility as the church both to find a place for oppresser and the oppressed, and to work to ensure that in His name, all oppression shall cease.

Yago: What inspires you most from the historical Jesus in your search for a Just and Peaceful world? How have you been re-discovering the real historical Jesus beyond the one presented through an “imperialistic” mentality?

Lora: For me, what is salvific about Jesus is his life—that time that he spent healing, restoring, forgiving, freeing. That, to me, is what we should be striving for.

I’m also often struck by the incarnation itself—the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. If you want to make a difference, you have to show up. You have to be present.

Over the years, some of the writers most helpful to me in re-discovering the historical Jesus come from a post-Christian context—they live in places where Christianity once ruled, and doesn’t any more.
Stuart Murray Williams
Stuart Murray Williams is a good example of this. He asks a question that I like a lot: “In a world where revenge, retribution and the myth of redemptive violence have hugely increased suffering and insecurity, what understanding of the cross can offer alternatives to the present unimaginative and disastrous policies in relation to Iraq, the Middle East and terrorism and break the vicious circle?”

Many of the stories of Jesus—and really, throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments—offer us new ways of seeing and being—if we’re willing to ask those questions.

I love the stories of the Bible. We’ve got this 2000-year-old text and it seems pretty clear that humans were much the same then as they are now: same sins, same ability to love, to doubt… For me, the challenge is that we have let those years, we’ve let history interpret the texts and accepted the meanings and not always stopped to carefully read and understand. For me the story of the concubine in Judges 19 is a classic example: a woman gets killed, the people decide to exact revenge, and they go to God and say, “Who should fight first?” God is always seen in the Old Testament scriptures as a warring God, but here’s one example where it’s God’s followers who decide to start that battle, and then credit God for the war.

Oftentimes, my most intelligent and creative friends have felt there’s not a place for them in the church. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because we have stifled this sort of really engaging the text. Or maybe it has something to do with the tension between culture and religious identity. We often want to think that religious identity—what we believe as a Christian—shapes our approach to culture, but I think often times we’re not so different from those warring men in Judges, and we decide how we want God to lead and then give God the credit.

Yago: Emmanuel Levinas says that “the Holy Scriptures do not signify through the dogmatic tale of their supernatural or sacred origin, but through the expression of the face of the other man that they illuminate.” How are you inspired by the Bible in your search towards a more real and truthful face of the world? 

Lora: Much of Jesus’ life—it’s not about perfection. It’s about wholeness. Jesus relates to a lot of people who aren’t perfect, and he tells them there’s a place for them in the kingdom. If you look at Jesus’ genealogy, the four women mentioned in it are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba. They’re all women from the margins, and I think that’s pretty significant. God lives in the margins, in the thin spaces. God is everywhere, but there are so many places I don’t expect to find God, and it’s a reminder to always be looking.

Yago: You mention that you enjoy very much preaching? What is the role of preaching as far as contributing to a change of consciousness in our Christian community? How can we link faith and life? What is missing nowdays? Why is so difficult to make meaning of our lives?

"The Prodigal Son" (Rembrant)
Lora: I love to preach. I love the challenge of taking this text that is two millenia old, at least, that is so rich with stories and ethics and faith, and connecting it to our lives now, in this very moment. I love the challenge of taking a text that we’ve always understood in one way and wondering, is this really what was meant? Take the prodigal son, for example. “Prodigal” means wasteful, but the funny thing is, the father in that story orders a lavish celebration when his son returns—wasteful, even, you might say. And maybe the lesson in that story we’re to learn isn’t about the wastefulness of the son, but the wastefulness of the father. Maybe we’re all supposed to be loving wastefully. If there’s anything we can afford to waste in this world, it’s certainly that.

There are so many ways to link faith and life. Most of us do it all the time, anyway. Even my friends who have no religious beliefs have faith in something—faith in science, or fate… We need faith to live in this world—faith that our lives will mean something, faith that we will be loved, faith that when we step out into the void, there will be something there to stand on, or we’ll be taught how to fly.

I think what I mourn the most is how people approach so much with a consumptive attitude. Whatever they take in—preaching, even—needs to entertain. Or it needs to reinforce their black and white thinking about their world. It needs to leave them comforted.  And while there is a place for those things, I don’t think that’s good preaching. I think good preaching calls us towards transformation. It helps us see something in our world with new eyes. It calls us to live on earth, as in heaven—and heaven’s kind of supposed to be perfect, so that’s no small feat, is it?

I don’t know why it’s so hard to make meaning. Most days I don’t feel like I understand one thing about this world myself. I’d love to know if someone else figures it out.

Yago: You have been working in CJP for many years, in which way CJP has contributed in your own journey as peacebuilder?

Lora: I arrived at CJP somewhat coincidentally—I needed a job, they had an opening, and I’ve always loved what CJP does. I am still learning exactly what peacebuilding is, and I admire the work very much, but it hasn’t been a primary identity.

I’ve been here two years now. One of the things I find most rewarding in life is helping people get to where they’re supposed to be, and it’s always fun getting to know the amazing students that walk through our door. Harder to watch them leave.

The language that we use here about long-term, sustained transformation—at the personal, organizational, and governmental levels—that really resonates with a lot of the work I have tried to do and support over the years. I’m always trying to remember that transformation starts with the self, and that, to quote one of my colleagues, real change comes when you work with people not like you.

Yago: Who were you told you were, and who are you?

Lora: I think my biggest sense growing up was that to be a woman, to fill my place in society, was to get married and have children. That was my primary worth—maybe I’d go to college, maybe I’d even work—but what I was supposed to do was settle down.

Who am I now? I’m a writer, I’m an aspiring gardener, I see myself as contributing to peace on this earth by riding my bicycle, for starters. So maybe in that sense I am a peacebuilder. I try to affirm the value I see in others, to take the often-traumatized people that I love and get them to see themselves as survivors, not victims. I think it’s amazing what human beings are capable of suffering and recovering from. I try to stop and take note of beauty where I see it, and not have to consume it or attach a functionality to it, but simply appreciate it. I try to create the safest space I can and build on what affirms people at their core. I think if you want to create more joy in this world, you can’t just tell people to be joyful—you have to affirm who they are.

I am discovering that what I enjoy most in life is coaching—not in the athletic sense, as I pretty much have two left feet—but helping foster environments where people are best set up to succeed. As a child, I always loved puzzles; as an adult, I am finding that I love figurative ones. What piece goes where? What person should be doing this? What aspect can we shift to make an idea work? I love to play.

Yago: Finally Lora, what is your contribution towards the vision of this blog that breaths forgiveness as deconstructs and embraces the giant wound in the naked now?

Lora: Maybe I’ll just borrow the words of Plato here: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Yago: Lora, thanks a lot for your wonderful sharing and for your energy granted to this interview!

Lora: Thank you so much for asking me! I’m honored to be a part of this process.