"Getting in the Way"
"Getting in the Way," CPT's motto, has multiple meanings.
Violence Reduction: Getting in the Way of violence. CPT intervenes in situations of violence.
Discipleship: Getting in the Way of (entering) the path of discipleship of Jesus. Early followers of Jesus referred to their movement as the Way.
An Inter-relatedness between the two: by entering the path -- getting in the way -- of peacemaking discipleship, we are led to proactively intervene and get in the way of violence. And by intervening in violence, we discover deeper meanings of discipleship.
Gene Stoltzfus, director emeritus of CPT, reflects...
In the early period of Christian Peacemaker Teams we wanted to find a simple phrase, sentence or saying that could represent our experiment in peacemaking. On more than several occasions in the field, in the Steering Committee, and in ad hoc groups we brain stormed words or phrases.
We continued our peacemaking work expecting that somewhere in our engagement with the broken stuff of our world, a phrase growing directly from experience, would become apparent to all of us. Eleven years after the vision for teams of Christian Peacemakers was first articulated at a Mennonite World Conference and seven years after we began program work, the result of our quest began to make itself known. The answer was simple, engaging and connected to a long religious and spiritual history. When we found it, there was no further debate on this subject. It seemed so right, "Getting in the Way".
The year was 1995. The place was Hebron in the Palestinian West Bank. A major massacre of Palestinians had occurred there, at a site important to Jews and Muslims, a site where Abraham and Sarah are entombed. In response to the mayor's invitation and the advice of local people, a CPT project began in mid year. All of us in CPT were finding our way, testing methods to act and to prevent violence. We knew, for example, Israeli settlers threatened Palestinian school children and we began to look for ways to be with them in a presence of protection.
On November 4, CPTer, Wendy Lehman on one of her first field assignments and a new delegation participant, Dianne Roe went out to accompany children at the Cordoba Elementary School. As Dianne stood talking to some teenage girls at the school, several settlers pushed her to the ground and kicked her. The settler youth also attacked the students, dragging them by their hair. Twenty minutes later a settler armed with an Uzi threatened Wendy, Dianne and other CPTers. On the same afternoon 80 settlers blocked the road where students walked to and from their school. November 4 was a tumultuous day. That same evening an Israeli militant shot and killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
A week after all these events, Dianne was back in Corning, NY reporting to her home church when a women in her congregation asked, "Why didn't you just get out of the way so you wouldn't be hurt?" The option had never occurred to Dianne since in violence reduction you don't just get out of the way whenever there is a threat to your personal safety.
Some time later, Dianne was invited to create a banner for an international conference organized by Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian group seeking a just peace for the region The conference organizers wanted to incorporate the notion of Way, an early name for Christians. The main feature of the banner was feet in worn sandals. Dianne used a photograph of Wendy's feet as a model. The feet of CPTer Sister Anne Montgomery also contributed to the final banner. After a discussion with conference organizers the phrase, GETTING IN THE WAY, was superimposed on the feet.
When I saw the banner during a visit to Jerusalem some time later, I immediately remembered our long search for a phrase that could describe CPT. In a Bible class years earlier I studied the Way (Acts 9:2), a word that appears frequently in the New Testament and actually is part of the grounding of other world religions. In Islam, Sharia law hints at the notion of a Way. Buddhism speaks of the Middle Way, a path of moderation between the extremes of asceticism and sensual indulgence. I inquired at Sabeel for permission to use the banner drawing and the phrase. They agreed, and we began to test out our signature phrase, GETTING IN THE WAY.
My primary conviction and enthusiasm for rooting ourselves in the basic language of Way was that it reaches to the foundational threads of Christianity, to the stories of Jesus himself and his immediate followers who combined words, healing, confrontation, public discourse, suffering and possible death at the village and urban level, and at the personal and political level - all as an inherent part of the journey. This is a perfect place from which to launch the project of violence reduction.
GETTING IN THE WAY implies that there is a way. It's a way that requires healthy feet, and clear convictions nurtured in the spirit and it leads through villages and cities, across oceans, mountains and rivers. It incorporates a persistent spirit that is not seduced by the twin diversions of either compulsive activism or unengaged living.
THE SPIRIT OF THE WAY suggests that the person on the pathway will not easily veer off course or look backward, tempted by power, wealth, or security. The Way knows that in the real world, people will encounter words, other people and systems that can pull them down or off the path - "benign" racist statements, little lies, killing of innocents and non innocents, organized violence, hatred, destruction of nature. People of the Way learn to use their minds to develop careful strategies. Their bodies are engaged and their spirits link with the power of God throughout the whole universe.
GETTING IN THE WAY implies a quality of collective work and decision making that still retains flexibility for an individuality that is not bound by short term ego needs. This way has unexpected opportunities for transformation, surprise and miracles as well as occasional impediments and obstacles.
PEOPLE OF THIS WAY are not looking to be saved by the power of the nation state and its military. In a press release about the settler attacks in 1995 Wendy Lehman summed up the components of Getting in the Way as it came to her that day in Hebron, "I've certainly learned a lot about the power of prayer and its interconnectedness with action. Our work here involves risk, and we sometimes put ourselves in situations where we have only our faith in God, the power of nonviolence, each other and our Hebronite hosts to keep us safe. Without the prayer support of our friends back home, I'm not sure we could do it."
PEOPLE IN THE WAY practice a form of mellow long term militancy that is armed with a special literacy to read the signs of the times. Whether the message is joyful or ominous we invoke the power of God in celebration.