Jolie Olivetti MDiv ’16
During the summer of 2014, I interned at a domestic violence shelter called Renewal House to learn about restorative circle practices through first-hand experience. I learned a few key things about hosting effective circles at Renewal House given the time constraints, multiple languages, and other typical circumstances at the shelter. For our first circle together, participants were welcomed into the space through a thoughtful introduction to the process, the meaning of the centerpiece, and the mechanism by which the circle flows. I chose a centerpiece with some connection to the struggle for social justice and with bright colors in order to invite liberation and beauty into the space. I learned that the richest prompts for a round focused on community-building were those that encouraged storytelling. I found that the best way to approach hosting a circle was to be relaxed, to trust the process, and to be open to unexpected changes to the agenda. And I learned to take the role of “host” seriously – to be sure that people have what they need to feel comfortable and invited. There is an important difference between considering oneself a circle “host” versus a “facilitator.” As host, I am not leading anything – the circle is truly a group process. Hosts must take seriously the delicate balance between offering structured support and cultivating truly decentralized leadership.
The most significant insight I gained last summer was how deceptive the apparent simplicity of a circle process is. It’s not just a matter of rearranging the furniture and speaking one at a time. A circle is an opportunity for people to voluntarily enter into a space of relationship and to witness and participate in what can grow from that. It is important to remember that a circle is not an isolated event, but rather a process and a counter-cultural practice. It matters how we are with one another during the rounds and in other spaces as well – the invitation to circle is of good quality when hosts are genuine. If I act one way when I’m actively hosting a circle and an entirely different way when I’m interacting with residents around the shelter, my efforts to invite people to participate in circle may not be met with much interest.
This internship afforded me the opportunity to reflect theologically on the type of work that I’d like to do after seminary. Conversations with my theological supervisor helped reveal the theological problems of a stark divide between the roles of “staff” and “client,” which disrupts our common humanity. As discussed in my reflection papers, I find great truth in the idea that we are all simultaneously wounded and resilient, and that we are all from the same divine origin. In circle, these truths can be held and honored. They run counter to an unfortunate tendency in our hierarchical society to keep people separated along lines of power and marginalization. This internship provided me the opportunity to reflect upon the theological significance of rejecting privilege and letting go of power. When we acknowledge that race privilege, class privilege, and other types of privilege benefit some at the expense of others and we when we refuse these benefits, we are choosing to honor the sacredness of all life. When we can learn how to let go of the power we hold over others, we are turning away from violence and towards love. Providing mutual support in a non-hierarchical, decentralized circle is holy work. I also believe that circles offer a much-needed space for people to access our universal interconnectedness.
Finally, during my experiences at Renewal House, I also gained clarity around the distinctions between restorative justice and circles. Restorative justice is a process to repair harm. Circles are practices that can be used as part of an RJ process. But the two are not interchangable. Restorative justice has been developed over the last several decades specifically as a response to the Western system of justice, and is meant to address the criminal justice system’s failures and shortcomings. There are specific questions that RJ asks that are fundamentally different than Western legal justice, which is part of why RJ offers a very powerful paradigm shift. The criminal justice system asks: what law has been broken, who did it, and what punishment do they deserve. Restorative Justice asks, who/what has been harmed/affected, what is needed to repair the harm/make it right, and whose obligation is it to do what?
Circles, on the other hand, are thousands of years old, are found in many different non-Western cultures around the world, and can be about restorative relationships more generally. Circles can be accountable and supportive ways to build community power, share wisdom, build trust, make decisions, and more. Circles can be and have been a part of a way of being, a way of moving through the world.
RCT Fall Retreat 2014
Saturday, October 4, 2014
The Walker Center
Register HERE by October 1
Join us for our annual Fall Retreat at the Walker Center on October 4, 2014 from 9:00-4:00. We will be joined by hymn writer, UCC Pastor, BU STH graduate, and professor of worship at Garrett Evangelical Seminary Dr. Ruth Duck. Together we will explore the importance of creativity and imagination in peacebuilding and reconciliation. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni are welcome to attend the retreat.
Reminder: The annual retreat is a requirement for all students seeking certification in the RCT Program.
Join us in STH room 325 on Tuesday, March 25 for a conversation with Mitri Raheb on his new book, “Faith in the Face of Empire.”
About Mitri Raheb: Born in Bethlehem, the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is a powerful advocate for peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is the President of Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem; President of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem.
About the Book: In Faith in the Face of Empire Mitri Raheb presents a new reading of the Bible from the perspective of the “people of Palestine.” He illustrates how the history of Palestine, ancient and modern, includes diverse contexts and recurring patterns. Using biblical narrative he introduces a wide lens for viewing that history.
This “sacred” story is a response to the “secular” history of occupation by various empires, from the Babylonians to the British to the state of Israel. Throughout this history the question of God remains crucial, Christian understanding remains relevant, and the spiritual dimension of utmost importance. Raheb spells out Jesus’ gospel in relation to the roman empire of his time, and the biblical values relevant for the Middle East- then and now. The book includes a new perspective and culture for a “New Middle East.”
March 25- Tuesday
11:30 a.m.- 1:00 p.m.
STH Room 325
Now is the time for Graduating RCT students to apply to the BTI for the Religion and Conflict Transformation Certificate, and to sign-up for our April 25th Spring Retreat. The Capstone retreat is an opportunity for graduating RCT students to present their 5-10 page reflection paper summarizing key RCT learnings and future plans for integrating these learnings into life practices. If you have any questions about the retreat or application process please contact: Marian Simion at: email@example.com or David Weekley at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Faith in the Face of Empire is an essential read for anyone who desires new insight into scripture, seeks a re-orientation of geopolitical perspective, and maintains hope for justice for Palestinians.
—Dr. Peter Makari, Executive for the Middle East and Europe in Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and author of Conflict and Cooperation: Christian-Muslim Relations in Contemporary Egypt
The Search for Jesus in the Middle East
A Palestinian Christian Pastor Explores the Bible
Minneapolis (January 22, 2014) — In his latest book, Faith in the Face of Empire Mitri Raheb, Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, presents a new reading of the Bible from the perspective of the “people of Palestine.” In light of the current geo-political turmoil, after the hopes of the the Arab Spring, and in the face of the the latest round of US shuttle diplomacy, Dr. Raheb asks, “Can we imagine another Middle East? Can there be a different future?”
In this concise work that blends both academic and pastoral understandings, Dr. Raheb shows how the history of Palestine, ancient and modern, is one of diverse and unique contexts and yet recurring patterns. Using biblical narrative he introduces a wide lens for viewing that history.He shows how this “sacred” story is a response to the “secular” history of occupation by various empires, from the Babylonians to the British to the state of Israel. Throughout this history the question of God remains crucial, Christian understanding remains relevant, and the spiritual dimension of utmost importance.
Raheb spells out Jesus’ gospel in relation to the Roman empire of his time, and the biblical values relevant for the Middle East—then and now. This approach sheds a new light on the biblical texts within the context of imperial domination, and it introduces a new perspective and culture for a “New Middle East.”
Dr. Mitri Raheb is the President of Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem, as well as the president of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. He is also the Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, Palestine. He is the author of several books including I Am a Palestinian Christian and Bethlehem Besieged.
Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes
Publisher: Orbis Books
Specs: 160 pages, paperback
Publication Date: February 10, 2014
THE NELSON MANDELA I KNEW … AND LOVED
I met Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela exactly fifty years ago in his jail cell on Robben Island. I was a newly ordained part-time Chaplain to the prison there. He, together with his fellow Rivonia Trialists, had been flown secretly to the Island after being sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for the rest of their natural lives. The guards were very edgy about their new prisoners, determined to show these ‘terrorists’ how tough they were. Sunday, when I visited, was their one day off, but it was spent in total lock-down. I was not allowed to gather them for a normal service of worship, but had to walk up and down the hallway between the cells, trying to make eye contact with each occupant as I passed. Apart from Ahmed Kathrada, a Muslim, the rest had all experienced mission-school education and were familiar with Christian worship. Preaching was difficult but I tried to leave each one with a word of encouragement. Singing, on the other hand, was not bound by iron bars and the great hymns of the church, which were well-known to them, echoed powerfully through the hallways, their melodies often taken up by prisoners in other blocks. My memories of Mandela were of a strong, vital character in the prime of his manhood, all strength and contained energy. He had a ready smile and clearly appreciated the dilemma of a young minister trying, under the cold eyes of the guards, to bring a moment of humanity into this desolate place. Only once, on a very cold day, was I able to persuade a guard to let the group out into the prison yard where we gathered in a sunny spot. That day I changed my text to, ‘If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed,’ letting them choose how to spell Son/sun. They enjoyed the joke. The guards did not.
Given these impossible limitations, I have sometimes felt embarrassed being introduced as ‘Mandela’s prison Chaplain.’ Yet, looking back I realize that being confined to sharing nothing other than the healing, strengthening words of Scripture and the songs of the faith, required one to put one’s trust entirely in the power of the Gospel – nothing else. More than one of the Rivonia group, including Madiba, have told me since how that ministry and those who followed me (my security clearance was abruptly withdrawn after a few months) meant to them. Ahmed Kathrada, now the only Rivonia trialist still living – and the Muslim in the group – has also shared how, in those early horror days on Robben Island, that brief moment of humanity helped them all.
It was 20 years later when I next heard from Madiba. Still in prison, he used one of his precious letter-writing privileges (initially one per month and later relaxed to a half dozen) to congratulate me on being elected to lead the Methodist Church in Southern Africa, and to express his appreciation for the care the church had shown to him through its Chaplains and to Winnie his spouse, in her banishment and suffering at the hands of the ‘system.’ It was in that letter that he referred to his first encounter with the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg in the 1940s, when he was struck by the message outside: ‘The greatest glory in living is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.’ That message, he wrote with typical understatement, ‘tended to steel a person against the host of traumas he was to experience in later years.’
In the years following his release our paths crossed often. From a personal point of view I guess the most special occasions were when I shared a platform with him in 1993 speaking at the Centenary of Gandhi’s arrival in South Africa and in 1995 on the first anniversary of Freedom Day, presenting him with a sculpture forged out of melted-down guns collected by Gunfree South Africa, which I headed at the time. On both occasions we had some laughs about this proud former commander of the ANC underground army/become peacemaker and these two determinedly non-violent events.
The Mandela I knew became beloved by me, not so much for the grand gestures, although he was a master at political theatre, but for the lesser known acts that revealed a truly human genius for Ubuntu – the awareness that his life was inextricably bound up with the lives of all his fellow human beings, especially his enemies. He was the great includer; nothing was too much trouble if he could cajole or charm another opponent into friendship.
This man who would not bend an inch in his determination to win freedom for his people, nor to be humiliated by the cruelty of his prison guards, yet who said to his comrades as soon as they arrived on the island, ‘Chaps, these Afrikaners may be brutal, but they are human beings. We need to understand them and touch the human being inside them, and win them.’ And did…
This man who, on behalf of the one Muslim among them, badgered the prison authorities literally for years – six, I believe – until they at last yielded and granted permission for Ahmed Kathrada to walk the 50 yards outside the prison entrance to pray in the Kramat (a holy place commemorating a Muslim Imam exiled to the Island by the Dutch in the 1740s). The whole Rivonia group accompanied him…
This man who, when former spouse Winnie shamed the Mandela name by her involvement in the kidnapping of some young men in Soweto and the killing of one of them, struggled to understand the role of his church in the drama and criticized our actions from his prison cell. And who, when we managed to send him a true record of what had happened, sent a personal apology via his lawyer, requesting ‘forgiveness for having misjudged you…’
This man, who in his first Parliamentary speech as President, announced that nursing mothers and children under six would receive free health care, ‘whatever had to be done to pay for it…’
This man, who, when he invited the spouses and widows of former white Presidents/Prime Ministers to tea, received news that Mrs Betsy Verwoerd, widow of the most virulent racist of them all, had ‘diplomatic flu’, decided to surprise her in her whites-only redoubt instead, arriving in his helicopter and knocking on her door, and appearing later with her in a smiling photograph…
This man who, when told by his staff that they were changing the name of the Parliamentary office building named after Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, suggested they hold off until Verword’s widow had passed on. ‘There is no need to hurt her unnecessarily. It can wait…’
This man who, when told that one of his personal armed bodyguards had links with a far right-wing racist group and had been removed, said, ‘I don’t think we should do that. He is young and immature and it will destroy him. Let’s give him another chance …’
This man, who when we presented him with our list of nominated Truth Commissioners for him to make the final cut, asked first, ‘Have we sufficient women on the list? We must have gender equity…’ And when we told him that we had been able to find only one candidate of integrity from strife-torn KwaZulu Natal, he disregarded the process and just went ahead and appointed a Methodist bishop from the region, knowing that unless KZN was better represented, the Truth Commission would not be accepted there…
This man, who when I led a small delegation to meet with him about the crisis of guns and killing going on in 1994, came shuffling into the grand conference room next to his Presidential office in Pretoria wearing an old pair of slippers. He sat down and said, ‘I’m tired Peter. It’s been a hard day, you chair the meeting please,’ and closed his eyes. He wasn’t asleep, however: at some point he looked up from the list of participating religious groups and asked, ‘Where are the Dutch Reformed Churches?’ I said that they had been very difficult to persuade about the gun hand-in campaign. ‘Well, he said, ‘if I’m to be patron of this, you need to get them in…’
This man who asked me to write a speech he was to give to a church conference, and who, wherever I referenced the ‘role of the churches’ in the liberation struggle, or in leading protests or caring for victims, struck out the world ‘churches’ and inserted the words ‘ faith communities,’ in order to be more inclusive of other faiths in the land he now governed…
This man who never tried to hide his feet of clay, lived comfortably in his skin, and never lost an opportunity to deprecate his own accomplishments, lightly deflecting praise to others…
What a very human being!
How blest are those of a gentle spirit …
How blest are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail …
How blest are those who show mercy …
How blest are those whose hearts are pure …
How blest are the peacemakers …
How blest are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of right …
We are so grateful that God made Nelson R Mandela, purified him in suffering and gave him to our divided land to help us become different – the kind of people we were meant to be.
We are so grateful that he now rests. He always said it was in our hands. Now it is.
7 December, 2013
Spring Classes for Religion and Conflict Transformation Program Certificate
STH TS 800 “International Conflict and the Ministry of Reconciliation” Instructor Rodney Peterson 4 credit
STH TS806 “Introduction to Mediation Theory and Practice” Instructor Carol Bohn. 4 credits. Classes will meet at The School of Theology. Mediations will take place on the Cape.
STH TS877 “Principles and Practices of Restorative Justice” Instructor Tom Porter. 4 credits.
STH TC896 “Toward a Theology of the Streets” Instructor Jed Mannis. 2 credit. This class will meet Tuesdays from 3:30-5:00 p.m.
Please contact RCT if you have questions or seek more information about any of these courses.
You are invited to a special event on Dec. 5 at Boston University School of Theology. Performance -activist Peterson Toscano will present “Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible” in the Oxnam-Hartman room at 7:00p.m. This interactive performance explores several well-known (and not so well-known) Biblical characters who transgress gender-norms and boundaries of their day. Experience characters and stories from a new perspective through this innovative and creative performance! This event is free and open to the public. Pizza is provided prior to the performance!
Join us November 19 in the Oxnam Room of Boston University School of Theology for this rare opportunity. Peter Storey is a South African Methodist clergy and former President of the Methodist Church in South Africa. Dr. Storey’s 40 year ministry in South Africa was defined by sustained opposition to the infamous apartheid government and its oppressive racist policies. Peter Storey served as Chairperson of the Regional Peace Accord combating political violence in the Johannesburg/Soweto area and was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to help select members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Dr. Storey will address “Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: A bridge too far? Has the Truth and Reconciliation Commission failed South Africa, or has South Africa failed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?” Dr. Storey will preach in Marsh Chapel the following morning at weekly chapel service.