Finding the Light, Ringing the Bells, and Practicing Gratitude: A late summer reflection from the executive director of CJP

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
–Leonard Cohen, Anthem

In March, COVID-19 forced us to start working from home. Every morning, I listened to Leonard Cohen’s Anthem six times in preparation for another day on Zoom and email. For eight weeks the CJP team worked to move the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) online and figure out how to transform all of our other programs for a world devoid of its normal order and predictability. Our goal was simple but ambitious. CJP was going to thrive, not just survive this massive disruption. 

We postponed our 25th Anniversary celebration; we did not cancel it. Patience Kamau finished all of the planned podcasts and negotiated with our scheduled speakers to join us June 4-6, 2021. 

“Ring the bells that still can ring…” and mark your calendars!

Before the pandemic, SPI enrollment numbers were robust. We were high-fiving each other as participants from countries where visas are often rejected reported success and confirmed their arrival plans. Why now?  

“Don’t dwell on what has passed away…” Celebrate what is becoming — SPI Online 2020.

How do you move potlucks, dances, and late night conversations to a disembodied environment? This is impossible! 

“Forget your perfect offering…” SPI Online 2020 will be its own imperfect offering to a world in crisis. 

In addition to moving SPI online, we decided that given the unknown trajectory of the pandemic and our global student population we had to move our degree programs online for 2020-21 so that students could enroll even if visas were not being issued or the United States remained in lockdown or travel was impossible. We also accelerated the launch of a new limited residency, mostly online Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership (MATL). Every decision created three or four equally urgent dilemmas. I would love to say our process was neat and orderly. But, I can’t lie. It wasn’t always pretty, but we got it done. I hope you find inspiration in the stories about our innovation and creativity in the face of COVID-19. 

Everything is Broken

If COVID-19 exposed our inadequate healthcare system and fragile economy, the public murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer forced a reckoning with institutionalized racism and police violence against Black and Brown communities. As the mostly peaceful protests unfolded, we were confronted with the reality that policing has become highly militarized in the United States. 

There is a crack in everything…That’s how the light gets in. What light is shining through these broken systems? And, what does it mean for CJP?

These problems are not new, and the supposedly spontaneous uprisings were actually led primarily by communities of color that have been preparing to respond nonviolently when the time was right. White people joining the protests in large numbers is a new development, and we need to remember that. At CJP, we have been honored to work with some of the individuals and groups leading the movement to confront the racism embedded in our systems. There is a reason we asked Alicia Garza, a founder of Black Lives Matter, to help us prepare for the next 25 years of CJP.

Let’s start with what CJP cannot do. We can’t present ourselves as rescuers or experts. That is not how we have worked anywhere in the world. Most importantly however, CJP is a predominantly white institution that has invested heavily in working with violent conflicts in other countries and sporadically prioritized addressing racial injustices and violence in the United States. 

My Catholic tradition tells me that we first need to confess our sins of commission and our sins of omission. Where did we do harm through our actions and where did we fail to take actions to confront and transform the racism that is baked into every institution in the United States? This truth telling will be a central priority in the coming year although we don’t yet know exactly what that process will look like. 

Confession without corrective action is empty. While rebuilding our programs in response to COVID-19, we are putting racial justice at the center of our work. 

  • A diverse group of colleagues spent the summer revising the Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) program for online delivery. We took the opportunity to make sure that STAR draws on the wisdom and insight of scholars and practitioners whose life experience in Black and Brown bodies inform their approaches to trauma and resilience.  
  • The Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice continues to place racial justice at the center of its work. 
  • While CJP in Harrisonburg is predominantly white, the global CJP network is not. We are working to connect our graduates with each other and we are asking them to share what they have learned about reconciling divided societies, telling truths about past harms, and demilitarizing policing systems. 
  • We are promoting equitable engagement for mutual learning (and unlearning) about power, privilege, racism, and nonviolent resistance as we figure out how to use the many tools for online education. 

Practicing Gratitude

None of our successes this year would have been possible without the staff and faculty of CJP, our generous supporters, and the many people across campus who make our programs a priority. Thank you for helping us thrive in the midst of chaos.

Other Leonard Cohen songs that kept me going included Democracy, You’ve Got Me Singing, and Heart with No Companion. Closing each day with at least six repetitions of Hallelujah created space to simply weep for the suffering of the world. We cannot heal what we do not love and sometimes love demands grief.

–Jayne Seminare Docherty

Join the Discussion on “Finding the Light, Ringing the Bells, and Practicing Gratitude: A late summer reflection from the executive director of CJP

  1. Thank you for your frank yet hopeful reflection on a tough time, Jayne. This account of the way your daily listening discipline and faith-based commitment to confession and correction lead to engagement provides a model for us all.

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