Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Satya agraha (Satyagraha)

30 September 2009

What is the principle of nonviolence? 

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It is not possible for the English word "nonviolence" to communicate the meaning of what is commonly referred to, in English, as "nonviolence"!  This is not a paradox, but rather a limitation of the language used to convey the concept.  There simply is no English language equivalent for the Sanskrit term, Satyagraha (click here for pronunciation). 

Satyagraha, a term coined by Gandhi, is a derivative of two other words: Satya means a truth which equals love; Agraha means force.  The term "Satyagraha" combines these two concepts into one word.  By this, Gandhi means to convey the concept of an active, powerful force of moral truth, a truth which is indistinguishable from and characterized by altruistic love.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., translated Satyagraha as "soul force" (in his "I Have a Dream" speech). Satyagraha could also be called "love force" or "truth force". 

The term "nonviolence" is incapable, linguistically, of capturing the active and powerful nature of the concept of Satyagraha.  The term "non," coupled with "violence" implies mere absence of violence.  Because of this problem, use of the term "nonviolence" is actually discouraged.   Satyagraha is not merely the absence of violence.  Satyagraha is a positive and powerful force in its own right, not merely the absence of something else.  It is a counter measure, an opposite, to oppression and violence. 

Nor is Satyagraha merely a passive enterprise.  As enunciated and modeled by Gandhi and King, it is the active, and often physical, employment of a powerful spiritual and moral weapon.  The individual employing satyagraha is armed not with physical power, but with moral power.  Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong.  It is a weapon consisting of truth and love.    

saffron revolution

Moreover, because Satyagraha is not passive -- it is an active assertion of positive moral energy and decision -- the the term "civil resistance" is preferred to the term "passive resistance".  

king in jail


Martin Luther King in jail after being arrested for requesting service at the segregated restaurant in the Monson Motor Lodge in St. Augustine, Florida. Photo taken on June 11 or 12, 1962.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection, LC-USZ62-116774.

In the theory of Satyagraha, the means and ends are seen as inseparable.  Violence can never be used to achieve justice, because whatever method is used to achieve a result will become embedded in that result. For example, if a war is won by military means, then the military will become embedded into the new order, and that order will thusly be reliant on presence of the military.  Gandhi wrote, “There must be no impatience, no barbarity, no insolence, no undue pressure. If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause.”



How might this principle be applied in civic discourse?

This principle is universal, applying as equally to power within personal relationships as it does to power in relationships between individuals and governments and between governments themselves.

Thinking in terms of nonviolence, on the other hand, is a good start for thinking about what it means to apply the truth-force to conflict.  To be manifest, the truth force of applied, active love must always be nonviolent.  Nonviolence begins verbally, with how we think and speak toward others.  Through employing nonviolent language, we engage in nonviolent responses to those around us.  As nonviolence begins to be incorporated into our lives, active peace-force begins to be manifested in how we relate to others, in how we build community, and eventually in how we respond to those who sin against us.  Gandhi wrote,

In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and compassion. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself.

Give this concept some time, and mull it over.  I think of this concept as being similar to the concepts of matter and energy: you can think in terms of a subatomic particle (my thoughts about myself), or you can think in terms of a galaxy (how nations should relate to one another).  The ideas, both big and small, are beautiful and consistent. 


The Merciful Christ c. 1603 by Juan Martinez Montanes

thank you to the Web Gallery of Art

art the merciful christ


Friday, September 25, 2009

My Web Page

25 September 2009

My web page is almost ready to go online.  Actually, it has been online for some time but it wasn't very good.  I hope the new design and style are better. 

Here's the Link to

Just Mediation

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!  Does the first page load too slowly?


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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Letting Off Steam

24 September 2009

In an article in today's Psychology Today online, Art Markman debunks the myth that venting anger by blowing one's top or by letting off steam might have a positive effect.  To the contrary, he notes, humans are not like kettles full of heated water, and anger is not steam.  Instead, when a person acts violently as a result of anger, the violent reaction becomes associated with and more closely linked to future anger.  Contrary to popular belief, when a person "acts out" to release "steam" one time, they are more likely in the future to react with violence. 

When a person is feeling angry, it is better to sit quietly or meditate to calm one's self down. 

Here is a link to the article:  Anger Is Not Heated Fluid In A Container


Monday, September 21, 2009

Pray for Peace



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Will you help me recruit a million people for the cause of peace? This will take just three minutes of your time:

  • First Minute: sign THIS PLEDGE (which will be delivered to the United Nations)
  • Second Minute: Pause for one minute at NOON ON EVERY SEPTEMBER 21 to pray for peace. Pray for whatever you choose, in any way you choose.
  • Third Minute: Pass this link along to ten friends.

What Is the International Day of Peace?


Here is a message from Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.

Remember the horrible events of history that led to the formation of the United Nations.

Most victims of war are powerless. Please lend your voice to those who have none.

The Greatest Generation made a pledge, "Never Again". Let's help keep their pledge a reality.


Pray for a world where people can take seriously that the acronym WMD should stand for "We Must Disarm".

Dare to dream, dare to believe.

Here are some other ideas for ways to observe the International Day of Peace. These ideas were originally posted HERE by Mark Koenig:


Why Do We Care?  Here's One Good Reason . . .

Friday, September 18, 2009

Focus on Christian Mediation

The process of mediation is not faith based.  Mediation is a good tool for addressing most types of conflict.  For people who are Christians, however, scriptural principles in the New Testament have much to say not only about the value of settling disputes outside of court, but also about the spiritual ramifications that are inherent in how we respond to wrongs.  Because of these scriptural principles, Bible-based mediation can differ from secular mediation in several respects. 

First, a first key goal of Christian mediation is that the parties become genuinely, and authentically, reconciled to one another.  This is not just a matter of kissing and making up.  It is expected that this process will involve prayerful self examination, acknowledgment of and acceptance of responsibility for wrongful thoughts or actions, a commitment to genuine change, as well as a willingness to forgive and to be forgiven. 

A second key goal of Christian mediation is to follow the Biblical mandate not to take cases between Christians before the secular courts.  Bible based mediation therefore is usually structured so that parties first mediate, but they also enter into a binding agreement which provides that their dispute will be submitted to an arbitrator if they fail to agree through mediation.  The arbitrator is generally a person, chosen by agreement between the parties, who is respected as an expert in both secular law and in scriptural principles.  

A third aspect of Bible based conflict resolution is so rarely applied in modern times that is it virtually nonexistent.  Namely, expulsion (or excommunication) from the church.  This type of sanction can also take the form of some other order as well, such as mandatory alcohol or drug counseling. 

Parties interested in learning more can explore other topics on my blog, or contact me directly. 


* * *

And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone:  if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established.  And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church:  and if he refust to thear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican.  * * *  Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  until seven tmes?  Jesus saith unto him, I ay not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven. 

(Matt 5:15 - 21)

When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don't you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can't you decide even these little things among yourselves?  . . .  So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church?  I am saying this to shame you. Isn't there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues?  But instead, one believer sues another, right in front of unbelievers! Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers.

(1 Corinthians 6)


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Special Ed Kids, IEP's, and the New School Year

September 16, 2009

Special ed kids are starting a new school year.  Take some time now, at the beginning of the new school year, to benchmark, collect tools and resources, and schedule conversations with teachers and school officials. 
Click HERE for a great article on Wrightslaw (a special education resource) that will get you started.  If you are a Special Ed parent or child in South Carolina, and you need help navigating the system, feel free to give me a call for a professional consultation.  It's not a well known fact, but any party can request mediation at any point whenever a conflict arises with regard to a child's Individualized Education Plan.   Click HERE for my professional mediation web page about mediation in special ed cases. 


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fallout From the Mushroom Cloud: Part V of Using Social Media to Build Community

September 15, 2009

"If your non-profit isn't acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you're failing in your duty to make change." Quote from Seth Godin's blog entry, "The Problem With Non," posted September 15, 2009. 

* * *

This is the fifth in my blog series about using social media to build community organizations.  Part I of this series was inspired the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Bruce Reyes-Chow, who blogged about "Top Ten Reasons Churches and Pastors Resist Social Media".  On the same day I read his post, I also attended a meeting of the Outreach Committee of my own church.  One of the issues that came up at that meeting was the issue of balancing budgeting priorities among various things like newspaper ads, web page design, resources to keep the web page updated, investment in wireless Internet and other technologies for the church building.  During this conversation, I observed a distinct generation gap:  An older member of the group was discussing the need for a newspaper ad, and a younger member of the group replied with a comment that both shocked and enlightened.  He said that most young people will not look at a newspaper to find a church; they will use Google and look online. 

I agree.  Paper is becoming increasingly irrelevant in my own household. 

The next Sunday, as I looked across the heads of people in the sanctuary for church, I noticed that most of them had gray hair.  Where are the "young" people?  Are they failing to engage in community, or are they just failing to engage in my community?  If they are not attracted to my community, then what is it about my community that fails to appeal?  Does my own community in fact lack vitality, or is it just missing one element, perhaps communication?  It's a crisis, as local community organizations, not just churches, struggle with how to remain engaged and vibrant in the local community.  What makes people want to be a part of that?  What is the role of social media in the local organization, and what role is played by the non-geographic community? 

As my thoughts grew, so did the length of this series on using Social Media to Build Community Organizations. 

I believe the Internet is to the Printing Press as the Nuclear Bomb was to Conventional Warfare.  The Internet, and Social Media, has been released in the world.  The fallout from that mushroom cloud is transforming society. The question is, how will we respond?   Immediately after "the Bomb" was dropped, Japan knew that something fundamental had shifted in the way war could be conducted.  Surrender was almost immediate.  We ought to surrender our ideas about conventional communication just as quickly.  Assuming we do want to keep pace with the 21st Century, which way do we go?   

Here's how one church has gone.  For what it's worth, the church that created this video also offers an "online" congregation in addition to traditional services: 

The notion that the Internet has changed the way our society operates is not news to anyone.  In his book The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman discusses the revolutionary ways in which the Internet has created opportunities for dispersal of information.  The Internet has eliminated geographic obstacles and boundaries for many kinds of human endeavors.  People can now engage in communities that are no longer restricted to one geographic locale.  As a result, the fundamental geography of human relationships has now shifted also. 

Here's another video, this one discussing the emergent church and challenges to the future of the institutional church.  But, do we really have to choose?

In my view, social media is vital to any congregation or community organization that seeks to remain relevant in today's world.  I can't tell you how or what or give a simple roadmap about how to make your organization relevant and vital.  All I can say is, you'd better figure it out or your organization will go the way of the small family farm or the mimeograph machine.  In this series, I've tried to provide some thoughts as well as some concrete suggestions that might help in terms of finding the right balance.

There are many beneficial side effects of opening the world of ideas and communication to everyone.  In Part II of the series, I used the story of Mary and Martha to illustrate what I viewed as the importance of paying heed to both aspects of human nature:  the mental and imaginative side (as represented by Mary) and the embodied and practical side (as represented by Martha).  I urged that churches ought to find ways of embracing and incorporating social media.  I linked to a web site showing how to create a podcast and to a YouTube video discussing the value of Twitter. 

There's just one problem, though.  The Marthas among us rightly ask with alarm, "If we focus purely on the world of ideas, and build our community around that, what happens to the local soup kitchen?"  This led to Part III of this series, in which I urged that social media, itself, is not the enemy.  Social media is a tool, and we simply must learn how to use it wisely -- and with intention -- to build community at the local level. 

On the other hand, there are indeed those among us who don't feel any particular commitment to local community.  They may even take a laissez faire attitude that if a local community organization dies, it must not have been relevant anyway.  Like a business that fails to match with its target market. In Part IV of this series I argue in favor of local community.  I confess, I am a social media maven.  I feel deeply nurtured by my online community and contacts.  Yet, I am also deeply and profoundly embedded in and committed to my local community. I was separated from my local church while I lived in China for four years.  Like the Prodigal Son upon his return, my absence from my local church helped me learn to appreciate it more deeply upon my return.  Not only am I in love with my local church, I also think there is value in my being accountable and responsive to my local church.  Though it's not always a message I want to hear, sometimes I need to be reminded that I should wash dishes at the local soup kitchen, and I especially need to be reminded on those days when I don't feel like it.  

Yet I still return to the idea that we must nurture every side of our Being, not just our embodied, physical self but also our spiritual and intellectual side.  And churches are making a grave mistake if they think it's just a matter of "publicity".  Social media is a new way of thinking, relating, of doing business, of being in relationship! 

Social media has revolutionized not only how we communicate, but how we think.  My brother-in-law is a pediatrician.  When my youngest child was born, he told me "No TV until Munchkin is two years old.  The difference in stimulation changes the way the brain is physically wired."  Well, right.  It changes the way we think, literally.  There has been a sea change, and we are witness to it.  I observe young people and they do think differently, perceive differently, and relate differently, than I do.  Just as I think, perceive and relate differently than my parents and my grandparents.  It's not really practical just to get rid of the TV and the computer and the telephone.  We live in the Age of the Internet.  What I propose is that we find wholesome and fruitful ways to embrace and utilize the new technology. 

This leads me now to propose the following concrete suggestions concerning use of social media by churches and other community organizations: 

(a) Social media can be used to strengthen individuals personally through access to information and resources.  In furtherance of this goal, community organizations can enable access to information by installing internet (preferably high speed, wireless), and making it available to their constituents.  Churches can organize training and sharing sessions such as instruction in Internet use.  Churches should make sure that all children are trained in how to keep themselves and their personal information safe from Internet predators. 

(b) Social media can nurture healthy online communities through opportunities for wholesome and healthy interaction.   Social media has spurred new ways of meeting and talking, such as chats and tweetups.  Church groups can facilitate chats and tweetups.  Churches need to be proactive about training and guiding young people in safe use of these activities. 

(c) Social media can nurture deeper relationships among individuals within the local community by enabling greater depth of communication about subjects not normally discussed in chatty conversations.  Churches and community organizations can encourage deeper communication and blogging.  Specific topics can be used as conversation starters, much like a Sunday School class discussion format.  Volunteers could take turns moderating these discussions. 

(d) Social media can be used to broadcast detailed information about local community organizations and events.  To be useful communication tools, church web pages need to be relevant, engaging, and up to date.  Twitter and Facebook also offer venues for communication of current events.  Churches can create events on Facebook and encourage members to publicize the events through this medium. 

(e) Social media can be used to educate virtual bystanders or researchers about the local community organization and opportunities within that community.  Most people in the younger age groups no longer look in a newspaper to get information about local organizations and volunteer opportunities.  Instead, they will look online to find a community organization.  Is your organization's web page interesting and inviting?  Do you give clear instructions about location and contact information?  Are dates and times of events clearly stated and readily apparent from a glance at your web page? 

(f) Social media can be used as a resource for sharing events such through media such as video and audio broadcast and photo sharing.  Is your organization taking advantage of easy digital technology, free resources for creating and broadcasting podcasts?  Do you post video of your best sermons and outreach activities on YouTube?   

(g) What possibilities have I not thought of?  I am interested in the general project of using online resources to strengthen individuals and community -- in all these ways -- both among geographically dispersed people as well as within geographically local community.  What other ways is your church using social media?  Please share in a comment below! 

In conclusion, social media can expand horizons of communication for both individuals and for local community organizations.  Social media does this not only by enabling relations that are not bound by geographic restrictions, but also by increasing effectiveness of communication within the local community.  In so doing, it can deepen relationships of individuals who work within local community organizations and strengthen ties in the local community as well as in the "virtual" community.  I hope to continue to blog and journal about this. Please comment as well! 

Monday, September 14, 2009

Focus on Elder Mediation

14 September 2009

Elder Mediation creates a safe space for dialogue about challenging issues that come with changing circumstances in life. Each family’s needs are different. Issues involved in Elder Mediation may include:

  • Estate Planning & Trust Arrangements,
  • Housing & Living Arrangements,
  • Care giving & Health Care Planning,
  • Financial Management & Consumer Issues,
  • Guardianship & Conservatorship Issues,
  • Decisions about inheritance, and
  • Settlement of Estates when heirs disagree.

Any person may suggest a mediaton, and the Elder is involved in the mediation to the fullest extent possible.  Mediation strives to preserve the autonomy, independence, and dignity of the Elder while accommodating practical and financial needs including care giving and safety.  

Ideally, a family will call in a mediator to facilitate discussion before a crisis occurs. This will ensure that thoughtful well-considered strategies for dealing with life transitions are put in place at a time when many options are still open.  When done early in the process, planning can be proactive rather than reactive.

A mediator is often called in after a crisis has occurred.  When faced with a crisis, the Elder and different members of the family may individually come up with different answers to the question, “What’s next?”  Big decisions must be made on short time frames and with limited information.  This is fine. The mediator is a professional.  Elder mediators do not make decisions for families, but they can point families to resources and facilitate the process of decision making.  In this way, they help families manage conflict peacefully. 

Elder mediators are aware of the stresses and challenges posed by aging family members. Caregiver burnout and inheritance issues are common in families. The conversations that are required to deal with these issues are difficult ones. Health, financial and care giving concerns are serious issues, demanding that all family members weigh in with their views. The answers to how problems will be addressed often, as well, depend on very personal values. The challenges of aging, and of caring for an aging parent, will require various family members to draw on resources, sometime on sheer inner strength, that they didn’t even realize they had.

Regardless of the context or timing, Elder Mediation builds up families by helping them come to agreement and face these challenges in a unified, cohesive manner. In this way, mediation may actually heal fractured relationships and restore family unity. At a minimum, Elder Mediation offers the promise of helping families come up with agreements that everyone can live with, even if no solution seems 100% perfect.

The mediator is not a “counselor,” but neither do most families desire “therapy”. They just need help working out a solution that everyone can live with. A mediator guides family meetings, sets ground rules and referees the conversation so that difficult topics can be discussed in a neutral and safe environment. This setting enables families to overcome the emotional hurdles preventing healthy communication.



A mediation done in this way often takes the form of a family meeting, led by the mediator in such a way as to create the space for everyone in the family to be heard on an important developing family transition. Conflict addressed in this way may be dealt with in a healthy way, before hard feelings or grievances have a chance to fester or polarize the parties.

As family members seek fair ways of sharing the burdens and resources of the family, their individual perceptions and personal feelings are important. Using Elder Mediation to address tensions may avoid the feeling (or actuality) of exclusion of family members. It also avoids having the entire burden of care, or of decision making, fall on one person, whether that person is the Elder themselves, a spouse, or one particular child. Securing adequate assistance from a unified family may actually prevent abusive or neglectful behavior by overwhelmed caregivers.  

Families on the journey toward planning for old age may find themselves not only in territory they aren’t familiar with (estate planning, trusts, advance care directives, home health care, assisted living choices, etc.) but also they may find that when siblings and adult parents must come together to face these issues, they may come face to face with feelings from their past that bubble up and make clear thinking difficult.

Unresolved tensions that may have simmered below the surface can resurface and make family conversations very difficult. Siblings who have lived apart for many years may have developed differences in their own geographic, economic and immediate family structures. As a result of these challenges, they may find it challenging to work together. Angry words may be spoken, and thoughtful decision making can seem all but impossible. 

Even when the angry words are not spoken, an appearance of “peace” may not be truly peaceful at all.  Underneath the still waters, there may be a turbulent bed of emotions.  Mediation seeks to help parties find an authentic peace, not a faked one. 

In conclusion, mediators with specialized knowledge in areas related to estates, financial planning, physical care, mental and emotional needs, and community resources, can help facilitate family discussions about matters relating to safety, finances and capabilities while keeping in mind the senior’s desire for individual control and respect.  If you are interested in talking with me about any issue that may be resolved through mediation, take a look at my mediation web site, HERE.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Breaking Impasse in Mediation

7 September 2009

If a conflict were "easy" for the parties to a negotiation to solve by themselves, they wouldn't need a mediator.  Impasse is a fact of life.  Sometimes the mountain seems pretty formidable.  It's the mediator's job to help the parties find a way over or around their impasse.  Here is a list of some techniques to break impasse.  It was originally posted by Peter Bloch on a dispute resolution listserv.  I have copied the list (though not verbatim) from a site on ADR resources (HERE) run by Stephen R. Marsh.  Thank you to both Mr. Bloch and Mr. Marsh for sharing: 


  1. "Fly on the wall": When an impasse develops, ask one of the parties physically to leave their seat and stand near the wall. Then ask them to play the role of "objective observer".  Ask them to look back at the controversy as it is being played out and give both parties advice on the smart thing to do to resolve the problem.
  2. Role play: Ask the parties to exchange roles. Ask them to remember everything they can about the other person's position and to play that person's "part". Ask them to feel like the other person and to be the other person. They may ask for clarification from the real person, either at the beginning of the exercise or as it progresses.
  3. Brainstorm: Encourage parties to throw every idea on the table, regardless of how crazy it may sound, whom it favors or where it may lead.
  4. Neutral evaluation: Ask another person to comment on the value of something that is crucial to the argument.
  5. External mechanism: Ask the parties to agree on how something will be valued or how some fact will be determined.  An example could be the use of a formula or a market index, even though the actual value is not known.
  6. Exaggeration: Ask one or both sides to exaggerate both their position and their emotional attitude. Sometimes exaggeration causes a person to see their own behavior in a fresh way.
  7. Time out for meditation: Ask parties to take a break for reflection, perhaps in the room together. Do not permit anything to be said. Ask people to think silently about identifying possibilities they may not have yet seen.
  8. Fresh blood: Ask the parties to send in a fresh person who is authorized to act but has not seen all the blood letting that has occurred.
  9. Relationship building. Have the parties to an important dispute spend some time together in a relaxed, retreat-type setting. Let some of the sessions consist of mutual activities or of relaxing together with no particular agenda.
  10. Acknowledgment. Encourage each side to reflect on and acknowledge the admirable qualities of character shown by the other side. Ask them to verbalize the positive things they see.
  11. Personal narrative. Ask each side to share a story about another situation in their life that reminds them of what is happening now.
  12. BATNA and WAPTNA. Assign each side the homework of developing and putting into writing their "Best alternative to a negotiated agreement" and their "worst alternative to a negotiated agreement." This will permit the parties to see more clearly what is at stake by remembering the best and worst that may happen to them if the negotiations fail.
  13. Confrontation. Confront one or both sides about what they are doing and the likely results of continuing in that way.
  14. Setting deadlines. We must accomplish "x" in the next hour or I will assume that there is no will in this room toward settlement.
  15. Offer to forfeit a portion of your fee if the parties can settle before a set deadline. (Only helpful where the size of the fee is large in relationship to the importance of the conflict.)
  16. State interests rather than positions. What do they really want?  What are their concerns?  What are their motivations?  In what areas might they be more flexible?
  17. Imagine a better future. What might the parties be able to do in the future that would be even more valuable than past activities, if they could solve this impasse? 
  18. Change the tone. Ask people to dress differently. To sit in different locations. To sip a cold (non-alcoholic?) drink. (If they are informal ask if becoming more formal might help, and vice versa.)
  19. Switch roles. The mediator becomes a party, and one of the parties becomes the mediator for a while.
  20. Brainstorm again:  Ask the parties to throw out ideas how to break the impasse.
  21. Propose one or a few options: Here are some ideas I have had. They count for nothing unless the parties both like the ideas.
  22. Assign both parties to read the book, "Getting Past No." It has ideas that may help to break the impasse.
  23. List some things that may be at stake: money, prestige, trust, respect, etc. Ask the parties to discuss and explore which of these things seems to be most in the way of breaking the impasse.
  24. If someone shows emotion, comment on that and ask why they think the emotion is present.  The answer may reveal a cause of or a way past the impasse. 

Wear Sunscreen: Advice for Living

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Million Minutes for Peace

6 September 2009

Save the date!  The International Day of Peace is on September 21st. 

On September 21, please join a million others to pray for one minute for peace,

In your own way

All you have to do is pray

If you can't pray at noon, choose any other time during the day.  

Click HERE to sign the pledge

Click HERE to learn more

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What Would Jesus Tweet? Part IV of Using Social Media to Build Community

In my last blog entry on this subject, found HERE, I discussed how Jesus's home community was unable to bridge the difference between the Jesus they had known from his childhood and the man who had grown into his calling.  I used a New Yorker cartoon of a dog using the internet to discuss the disjunction between the boy they had known growing up and the prophet he had become. 



Fundamentally, the people in his hometown could not get beyond their vision of Jesus as being like the dog in this cartoon -- as the hometown son of Joseph the  Carpenter.  They never could see him for who he truly was, in his "online" persona as a prophet.  Yet, in spite of the tension between the blossom of his calling and his roots in the soil of his childhood, and the fact that perhaps in his local community he was a bit like a square peg in a round hole, Jesus did not abandon all ties with his family and local community.  And we should not, either, even in the times when we feel slightly out of sync with our local community.  

Local community serves a valuable purpose.  First of all, we can derive important satisfactions from friendships within our local community.  Not everyone in our local communities rejects us for who we are or sees us as dogs.  Ideally, local communities are nurturing places where we receive as well as give friendship.  

Secondly, my local friends keep me grounded, force me to keep to the center. Local community supplies ballast in the keel of my ship, helping me maintain equilibrium.  Without this ballast, there's a danger I might capsize from lack of balance.  Local communities provide valuable feedback, checks and balances that prevent me from becoming isolated and eccentric, as unrecognizable as the paranoid, neurotic, unkempt Howard Hughes at the end of his life.  Local communities force me to remember to brush my teeth.   Good hygiene is not a bad life skill. 

Third, local communities provide valuable insight I might otherwise miss.  Local communities force me to practice listening to others, being polite.  Through building and maintaining local friendships with people who are not "just like me," I am forced (in a good way) to practice the skill of being interested in others.  I must open myself to the possibility that I might be persuaded by viewpoints or perspectives I might not otherwise have seen.  Their demands force me to be persuasive and social, as well.  If I want to convert my local friends to my passion, then I must not be offensive, I must give them reasons, I must make them want to like me; I must persuade them.  Honest feedback from my skeptical friends forces me to listen and respond and thus nurtures me toward a more coherent presence in the world.  I am also made into a better person by being confronted with concrete evidence of my own imperfection.  When I see myself through the eyes of others, I am reminded in turn not to be too harsh or insensitive or judgmental of others. 

Fourth, local communities nourish the body and soul as well as the mind, by providing physical nurture to individuals, including me, who reside within their boundaries.  This is a give and take.  In my role as a friend within a local community, I might give a hug on a sad day, serve food at a soup kitchen, make phone calls for a local charity, or notice if my neighbor hasn't come outside in a few days.  If I hope for my community to remain a vital, nurturing place, then I need to nurture it.  Who else will drive for Meals On Wheels, if not me?  Who else will answer the telephone for a local nonprofit, if not me?  Who else will deliver bags to the local food bank, if not me?  Our participation in civic life is what makes our community a place where we would, ourselves, want to live.  Collectively, we do make a "difference". 

What reasons can you add to the list of how we benefit from being in local community, by leaving a comment below?

Using the analogy of Mary and Martha in the New Testament, I argued in Part I of this series of journal entries that both aspects of community building  -- local and nonlocal -- are important.  We must not neglect the more intellectual, thoughtful side of our being which can be so strongly nurtured by online communities.  Yet, we also must not neglect our local, embodied communities.  I once heard an anecdotal story that as Constantinople was being overrun by Goths, the city leaders were having a debate about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.  We must take care that online, disembodied, discussions, must never be allowed to displace pressing needs grounded in the here and now. 

Okay, hopefully I've established the importance of both online and local community.  Whether it is local or distant, being part of a community weaves us into the web of the human endeavor, of life.  Participating in community building activities, if they are wholesome and not at the expense of ourselves or others, is good for us no matter where it occurs.   

My goal is to stimulate thought about how community organizations can make the best use of new tools of technology to build that community.  How can community organizations use social media to nurture individuals and their own organizations? 

I can think of several ways:  Click here for "the answer"  ;-) 


If Jesus Were A Dog, Would He Tweet? Part III of Using Social Media to Build Community

September 2, 2009

This is the third part of my series on using social media to build local community.  I argued in Part I that churches and community organizations should not resist social media but rather ought to consider it as one tool in the toolbox of building community.  In Part II, I discussed very briefly some ideas about how applications such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter could be used to benefit local community organizations by building community within them.  Today I ruminate further about the interrelationship between online versus embodied communities. 

If you prefer not to read too much and are already sold on social media as communication tools for local organizations, I'll share some links to practical tools for increasing social media effectiveness.  The list is by no means complete or exhaustive, but just what I've run across today:  Nine YouTube Features You May Not Know AboutTen Cool Twitter Applications ,  and How to Create a Podcast 

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For those who enjoy a longer discussion:

I observe the earth is shifting in terms of how people communicate, get information, and even how they define community.  People -- particularly those under the age of 40 -- are finding and participating in "like minded" communities that are unbounded by physical proximity.  Younger people are abandoning more conventional notions about the value of "local" friendships and community organizations.  People also no longer exhibit so much loyalty to "brand names" in terms of denomination or other community outreach. 

Community organizations, including churches, grapple with the challenges of how to adapt to this new world.  I believe that while churches must be careful not to abandon older and more physical notions of community, it would be a mistake to fail to adopt new tools that add vitality to community and build deeper, more meaningful relationships. 

Social media, generally speaking, unleashes individuals from geographic constraints in terms of building relationships and community.  In the book The Language of Genes, author Steve Jones explains how invention of the bicycle resulted an entire new level of genetic mixing in the human population: with invention of the bicycle, a young person could actually travel to the next village and meet a future husband or wife in that venue rather than being limited to the small group of people in their native village.  Well, the Internet makes even the next village seem provincial.  According to some rumors circulating on the Internet, one out of every eight people who got married last year in the USA, met in an online context.  The Internet, and the social media revolution, has indeed flattened the world and opened up entire new possibilities for relationships, unbounded by geographic limitations. 

Because of the way social media does open windows to relationships that might not be possible in a strictly local society, social media is often viewed as something unrelated or even harmful to local community.  Perhaps it is!  As people satisfy more and more of their relational needs through use of online and non-geographic based communities, there has been a decline in reliance on, and support of, communities based more on geography.  Because relationships based on social media can directly compete with geographic based community in meeting social needs, social media can be a threat to local communities -- like churches and food banks --  where ties are primarily based on geographic proximity. 

If social media is a threat to the traditional idea of community, what can (or should) local community organizations do to "fight back" against this weakening of traditional community ties?  Should social media be viewed as evil for contributing to the demise of local community? 

I would argue that social media is not the enemy.  Social media is nothing but a tool for building communities.  So far, social media has been used mainly for the building of "virtual" communities -- it enables communication and organization to a degree which frightens governments like China and Iran, which have cut off access to online communities for that very reason.  If local community organizations use social media intentionally, however, meaning in a way that has intention and is not accidental, I believe social media can be used effectively to build local as well as non-geographic community. 

Social media have many positive uses, one of which is actually to liberate people from geographic constraints on information.  Suppose a person is passionately interested in topic A.  Perhaps that person is able to find or build an online community that is build around topic A.  Assuming that topic A is something positive (perhaps a topic like, how to use social media to strengthen community organizations?), the person can engage with people from around the world in dialogue devoted particularly to that topic.  An entire world of ideas -- and contacts with people who share the same interest -- has been opened to that person.  Another positive use is that social media enables people to maintain ties that they might otherwise lose to time and distance.  Many people have experienced this through location of a long lost high school friend by way of the Internet. 

In the case of the person interested in topic A:  If no one in my local community organization has a similar interest, perhaps I might view my local organization as quaint and irrelevant.  Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. 

Part of the value of a local community organization is that it keeps us rooted in the important soil of who we are, where we are.  There is a famous cartoon from the New Yorker Magazine in which a dog, while using the Internet, tells his friend, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." 




That's certainly true.  Exchanges of the type I just described -- passionately shared interest in one narrowly focused subject -- and friendships made on that basis, are extremely limited.  When I "talk" in an online context, I am interacting with another individual merely about one small aspect of that person's life.  For example, unless you knew me in person, you might not know that I have written this blog entry in my free time today instead of washing laundry to make sure my family has clean clothes to wear.  In contrast to this, the people in my local community know who I really am.  They can see -- from looking at me -- that I am really a dog.  They know if my family is wearing disheveled or unlaundered clothes. 

Jesus ran into this issue -- the disjunction between how his local community perceived him versus who he felt he really was -- when he returned to his home town after traveling as an itinerant Rabbi.  Traveling outside his home community, Jesus had become known as a powerful voice for truth, but when he came back to his hometown those gifts were not recognized.  In the story, told in Matthew 13:54 - 58, it's apparent that the local people knew his physical background so well that they could not accept his "online" persona.  They said, "Is this not the carpenter's son?" In response to their unbelief, Jesus replied, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." 

This illustrates that Jesus was confronted head on with the disjunction between who he felt called to be -- his "online" persona if you will, meaning his passions and calling and his non-local community of people who "followed" him -- versus the local boy he had been known as in his home town.  In other words, his local friends and family knew him only as a dog, and they weren't going to accept him any other way. 

The tension between Jesus's identity as a dog -- as the carpenter's son -- and his online identity, the prophet, seems irreconcilable, doesn't it?  And there is but one correct response to those who would limit us in life to our previous identity as a dog.  Jesus demonstrated this when he encouraged Mary to pursue her calling as his student; and he demonstrates it in his response to the disbelief of his own local community and his family. 

In what may be one of the more difficult family episodes in the New Testament, Jesus is confronted by his family in Mark Chapter 3, when they frankly think he has gone insane.  Arriving where Jesus is teaching to a large crowd, they have the intent to "take charge of him" and take him home.  His mother and brothers, unable to get squeeze into where his is, send someone in to Jesus to call him out.  The person delivers the message to Jesus that his mother wants to see him.  His reply? 

"Who are my mother and my brothers?  Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother!"  (Mark 3:34, 35)

Jesus, known as the son of Joseph the Carpenter, was so much more than that. He had a vision of a community that extended far beyond the borders of the town where he lived as a child.  I don't really know if he would have tweeted.  But I'm pretty sure it would be a mistake for community organizations to overlook the potential of social media as a tool that can be used intentionally to build community. 

For my ideas about specific ways social media can be used to build community, click HERE for the next installment in this series.