In this conference-with-a-difference, we hoped to uncover a common desire for peace, while asking ourselves what kinds of commitments this might lead us into. Ljiljana Bogoeva, David Gee, Ben Griffin, Fee Miller and Peter Tatchell engaged and provoked us with their diversity of approaches to peace work. We explored the role of some of the arts in sustaining and challenging us in a commitment to peace, and we also learned from one another in small groups. The conference was open to all those, of any or no faith tradition, who were curious to look at these questions from different perspectives. In all 42 of us gathered together at Woodbrooke 23rd to 25th may 2014 to explore ‘Creating Peace in a Violent World.’ The title for the conference came from David Gee’s book Holding Faith – Creating Peace in a Violent World.
Could we discover a deeper feeling for peace as ‘the dignity of our common being’? Who or what inspires us to work for peace and hold faith with that commitment? And, while facing up to many forms of violence, how might we build peace in the world?
Friday evening – This is Peace Work
To invite us into the conference David led us in a group reflection or meditation.
Ljiljana invited us to weave peace into our lives by “putting this design into our carpet”
Then to close the first evenings session delegates talked about their expectations and then offered many questions and these grouped in to four big themes:
- One: Trying to live peace
- Two: Trying to respond to conflict, including violence/tyranny
- Three: Trying to understand and tackle the conditions of violence
- Four: Trying to create the social/economic/political/’spiritual’ (etc.) conditions of peace
‘Straight male machismo underpins all war and tyranny’
We welcomed Peter Tatchell to the conference and he shared with us this video of Diana Ross singing We Shall Overcome because the song had for him a special association with the theme of peace:
Peter Tatchell spoke of the prevalence in the West of a macho culture. We were urged to consider this to be primarily a cultural habit in which most ‘straight’ men, and also some ‘gay’ men as well as some women found themselves to be either trapped or seduced into behaviours that gave a place to violence at all levels and in every aspect of our lives.
Peter argued convincingly that over the last 50 years the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Gay Liberation Movement working within and alongside the other great liberationist movements of the time had challenged, and recently had begun to reform this macho culture and that the reforms now under way in this area would necessarily ‘free’ straight men from this tryanny.
Unfortunately due to technical problems we only have this snippet from Peter’s address but this will be available in the Conference issue of The Universalist.
We welcomed Ljiljana Bogoeva-Sedlar to the conference. She began her contribution by sharing with us a poem by Alice Walker ‘Democratic Womanism’:
Ljiljana spoke to us about her conviction that machismo acme to European civilisation about 2500 years ago and that we can see this in early Greek myths, for instance the story of Hercules and Anteus. She expanded upon Peter Tatchell’s ideas by putting Machiso into a historical setting, describing the work of current researchers whose recent archaeological and other academic research demonstrated this. Ljiljana also introducing the women who today challenge via their political activism the culture of violence in which we live.
‘From career soldier to war resister’
Ben Griffin was welcomed to the conference and he bagan by sharing with us a song by Ryan Harvey:
Ben spoke to us both from the heart and based on his recent and personal experience as a professional combatant. His testimony was deeply impressive, profoundly moving and at times challenging. We felt good that Quaker Universalists had at Woodbrooke provided Ben a time and place where he could express his testimony in a loving and supportive environment (the Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham has been a place of previous significant testimony – e.g Gandhi, xxx and xxx)
‘I am that I am… Energetic communication… The bigger picture… ’
Finally on Saturday evening Fee Miller led us in a celebration in the form of an inside-outside experiential evening. It was fun, colourful, symbolic and light-hearted, involving creative word-play, metaphor stories and landscape-viewing.
‘Creating peace in a violent world’
David Gee brought together the themes of the conference and at the same time invited delegates to act. He illustrated this by offering a detailed exposition of Caravaggio’s Painting The Road to Emmaus
David then closed with his poem It’s Spring in the Park:
Afterwards Peter Tatchell kindly led us in introductory talk: ‘A non-violent way forward for Syria?’