Below you’ll find a letter from RAVEN’s co-founder, Suzanne Ross, introducing her new peacebuilding initiative and one of our partner organizations: unRival Network.
We also invite you to an upcoming online event, where unRival will premiere two short films and host a panel discussion! Click here to RSVP.
Over the last three years, my husband Keith and I have found ourselves called deeper and deeper into the search for peace in broken places. Years ago, that broken place was our own faith. Because we were renewed by pastors and teachers who helped us encounter God’s Love and Mercy, we founded the Raven Foundation – more recently stylized as RAVEN (the Religion & Violence Education Network) – to share that renewal with others.
RAVEN has brought us together with many others who are seeking to heal their understanding of God and themselves. We have been delighted by the diversity of seekers we’ve encountered: all brands of Christians, atheists and agnostics, humanists and wiccans, Jews and Muslims and Buddhists, followers of Gandhi, devotees of yoga and meditation. (I hope you find yourself somewhere on this list!) What I sense links us all together is our desire for wholeness within ourselves and peaceful, just relationships with others and the natural world.
What I sense links us all together is our desire for wholeness within ourselves and peaceful, just relationships with others and the natural world.
Introducing: unRival Network
Some seekers we’ve encountered are in the field of peacebuilding, and in the last three years we have engaged more deeply with them. They’ve inspired us with their stories of seeking peace in divided and difficult times. They come from diverse cultures, religions and worldviews, but share a commitment to building spaces of healing for their communities.
So, in 2020, we founded a new organization, unRival, to gather activists, artists, and academics who have committed themselves to peace with justice.
We share experiences and form partnerships that sustain hope and model justpeace. In these spaces, through connection, creativity, and storytelling, we imagine and pursue better ways of being together that welcome all people into true belonging.
One hard-won lesson they have shared with us is how easily violence can be justified from within escalating rivalries. This is because rivalries reduce available options to either/or scenarios. We begin to believe that someone else is placing my peace and security at risk and so they must be defeated.
I’m sure you are familiar with these narrowly defined choices where no middle ground is possible:
“Either you are with me or against me.”
“Either you take up arms or you’re a coward.”
“Either you are a patriot or a traitor.”
Peacebuilders realize that we must create space for new choices to come into view. In other words, communities suffering from protracted conflicts need to get creative.
Father Jude Nnorom is a peacebuilder from South Africa, living in a city dealing with the legacy of apartheid. In this interview with unRival, Father Jude said that his city, Tshwane, was “planned to care for a particular part of the population: the White folks. The Black, Indian and colored folks are supposed to live outside the city and labor for it.” For him, this way of thinking lacks imagination and traps everyone within either/or choices: either the city is for you or you do not belong in the city.
This belief limits all the people of Tshwane, so Father Jude wants to foster more creative thinking. One way he does this is by hosting an art and music festival called The Feast of the Clowns to celebrate diversity in the city. We “can learn a lot from the arts, from those involved in poems, drama… who create movies. They challenge us with their creativity, tell us that it is possible to think of alternatives.”
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Artisans of Peace
Billy Price, unRival’s Chief Creative Officer, says that sometimes “creative peacebuilders” sounds like a contradiction. If we imagine peacebuilders doing dangerous and grueling work, we imagine artists differently: a painter, safe in a studio, studying a canvas and waiting for inspiration. Who has time for creativity, we might ask, when people are suffering from violence and injustice?
John Paul Lederach, one of the leading voices in peace studies, insists that there is no better time for creativity than when we are caught in conflict. He has facilitated many meetings between rivals that began in antagonism and distrust but somehow moved beyond it.
“What we will find time and again in those turning points and moments where something moves beyond the grip of violence,” he explains, “is the vision and belief that the future is not the slave of the past and the birth of something new is possible.” (Lederach, The Moral Imagination, 39)
At unRival we call peacebuilders seeking to birth a new future for their communities artisans of peace. The phrase comes from an attempt to more accurately capture what Jesus means in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5 Verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
The Greek word translated as “peacemakers” does not appear anywhere else in the Bible, and it means something like “those who craft peace” or “artisans of peace”.
One need not be religious to find inspiration in this image of peacebuilders as carpenters, potters, blacksmiths, or other craftspeople, making things both more beautiful and more useful.
Thinking about peacebuilding this way invites us all to imagine how we can make our world and our relationships more beautiful and how we can contribute to a more just and peaceful world.
You’re Invited: UnRival Film Premiere Event
True peace is a hopeful and creative endeavor. It emerges from communities built on belonging, collaboration, and resilience. It is less the victory of heroes or the destruction of enemies and more the discovery of hope in places where a shared future once seemed impossible.
On October 26, at 8p EST, unRival will premiere two short films that illuminate this hope. We’d love for you to join us!
The 1st, unRival Invitation, undertakes a journey from the battle-ready beliefs common within us to the healing relief of true belonging in a community without rivals.
The 2nd film, Artisans of Peace, shows how simple acts of loving-kindness and creativity can bind a community to one another with dignity and beauty.
Keith and I are excited to extend this invitation for you to learn more about unRival and join us in the search for peace in broken places!