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Ep. 4 Plumbing the Depths of Connectedness with Jon Rudy

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Our guest Jon Rudy once reflected the importance of moving to a place of gratitude, where we live into deep gratitude for every breath we take. This episode explores gratitude for a magical course in Artistic Peacebuilding, the wisdom of Jon Rudy, and Mellon Grant funding that made this possible. The conversation explores connectedness, spirituality, space, and student work products in the arts.

Mr. Jon Rudy

Jon Rudy has worked as a peacebuilder for more than 25 years in diverse places like Somaliland, Afghanistan, East Timor, and the Philippines. He has worked with diverse agencies including the Catholic Relief Service, Mennonite Disaster Service, Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute, Oxfam, the United States Institute of Peace, and is currently a senior advisor for human security with the Alliance for Peacebuilding.
He identifies as a big picture thinker who seeks restorative practices. His lines of inquiry include the role of imagination in nonviolent approaches to conflict transformation, the interconnection between individuals and the environment, the nature of subtle energies and mystery, and the role of detachment, observation, and non-judgment in creating dialogue space.


Lederach, J. P. (2005). The moral imagination: The art and soul of building peace. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

An artful, philosophical look at the foundations of peacebuilding and the role of arts within peacebuilding work.

Lederach, J. P., & Lederach, A. J. (2010). When blood and bones cry out: Journeys through the soundscape of healing and reconciliation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 


Speaker 1:          00:01          Our guest on this episode. John Rudy once reflected the importance of moving to a place of gratitude where we live in to deep gratitude for every breath we take. From that spirit this episode is a soundscape of gratitude for all the ways John Rudy impacted students, faculty and staff during his time at Elizabethtown College. We Simultaneously express gratitude for a sacred semester with artistic peacebuilding students and our deepest gratitude to the Mellon grant that supported this innovative, meaningful class. This episode will allow diverse student work products and sound clips to live side by side With a conversation with John Rudy that was recorded in May of 2019 made this episode blessed the sacred moments of this work

Speaker 2:          00:59          and this is the power of connectedness. When I'm disconnected, I'm on my phone and I'm walking down the street and I don't even, I don't notice anything outside. When I stop and I observe, all of a sudden the world opens up . . . with connection points and things that are already connected and then the profound disconnects are even more profound.


Speaker 4:          01:25          You are listening to the music and peacebuilding podcast, professional development network. At music, Exploring intersections of peacebuilding culture, sacredness relationship, community, creativity and imagination through research and story. John Rudy has worked as a peacebuilder for more than 25 years in diverse places like Somaliland, Afghanistan, East Timor and the Philippines. He has worked with diverse agencies including the Catholic relief services, Mennonite disaster service, Mindanao peacebuilding institute, Oxfam, the United States Institute of Peace, and it's currently a senior adviser for human security with the Alliance for Peacebuilding. He identifies as a big picture thinker who seeks restorative practices. His lines of inquiry include the role of imagination and nonviolent approaches to conflict transformation, the interconnection between individuals and the environment, the nature of subtitle, energies and mystery, and the role of detachment, observation, and nonjudgment in creating dialogue space. In the spring of 2019 John Rudy and I co taught the first artistic peacebuilding class through the Mellon grant for the humanities. Today's conversation reflects on lessons learned from artistic peacebuilding and how the arts seem to empower more engaged experiences and thinking about peacebuilding.

Speaker 2:          03:05          So let's start with, tell me about how you fell into the work of peacebuilding and conflict transformation, restorative work. Well, you know, I often when I introduce myself like this, I go, well, you know, I was a middle child and I was either creating conflict between my older sister and my younger brother, or I was solving it right as, as someone in between, uh, that a bit in jest because everybody knows childhood isn't that simple. But I think, uh, as a middle kid I learned what that middle space is. And you know, in with two other siblings, the three of us don't make an even pair. And so what happens is there's always a maneuvering. There's always a conversation of some kind, whether it's tussling, you know, uh, whether or, or whether it is kind of negotiating childhood. So, I mean, I can send it back that far in my childhood.

Speaker 2:          04:04          Um, I think more recently, uh, my, my own, uh, faith heritage as a Mennonite, I call myself a tribal Mennonite because a tribe, the concept of tribe works really well here because there are some, some real cultural parts of this as well as theological and spiritual parts. Um, but the DNA of that I think has at its core kind of this, this reconciling element. And, and if I can use some primary language here, I understand that the big picture of what God's trying to do is, is a reconciling all things. And, and seriously, if you look at the scriptures, they actually talk about the reconciliation of all things. Well, I'm learning what that means. What does it mean for humans to reconcile? What does it mean for humans to reconcile with the environment? Uh, what does it mean for ideas to reconcile, for polarities, to reconcile and in that is always a tension between like stasis and harmony and dissonance and, um, and clash, you know? And so, um, those are spaces I've explored in my own professional work. I've done development work internationally, east and southern Africa as well as a much of Asia. And I'm, I, I'm learning how to observe what I just mentioned about the, you know, the dissonance and the clash about, about the things that, that are broken, the things that are fragmented and what does it mean as a peacebuilder to, um, to have the skills, the intuition, uh, and the toolkit to, to begin to harmonize and bring all things together.

Speaker 1:          06:11          John, Rudy has a gift for thinking deeply and creatively about issues of peace. At the root of thinking, he says is the notion that all things are connected. When we understand how even the smallest of our actions have resonance on our planet, we move into spaces of awe, wonder, and deeper relationship.

Speaker 5:          06:35          So as I watched students presentations, I felt like it really hit me over the head about the connectedness piece. And it seems like so many of our students used the idea of connectedness as like the launching place for their creative voice, isn't it amazing that word came up? Maybe you want to introduce for our listeners kind of what you're thinking and what you've learned about connectedness with peacebuilding first. Okay.

Speaker 2:          07:05          Well, yeah, I always in peacebuilding tried to do a piece on connectedness because in the years I worked at this, I've I guess gotten the license to be able to simplify things. And peacebuilding in my estimation, is reconnecting that which has been broken, disconnected by some kind of violence. And so as a major theme I think to start there and say, well this is what this field is about. And then to say, so how do you explore that? Because the connectedness piece also is an invitational piece because it means that nobody doesn't matter in this field. Like everybody does matter. Everybody has something to bring to this and it's not all going to look alike. And my goodness gracious, the last, the final projects, we maybe had two that were very, that were similar, but almost all of them connected to, to something that was intimately important to them and they wanted to share it.

Speaker 2:          08:10          And so the diversity with which these final projects were presented, I think was like a full circle of starting with the idea of disconnect. What do we do to connect? And then in the end, connecting with themselves. So I think this idea of, of connection, um, is being told to us by almost every discipline, every scientific discipline is discovering the connectedness of things from quantum physics to neurobiology, um, to, you know, sociology to. Uh, I dunno, and this is where the organic, like when you were reading Lederach's, um, uh, uh, moral imagination Lederach has picked up organic symbology to, to help us understand. And I think many of the, uh, projects, many of the reflections, they were organic in nature. Not something constructed, but something authentically arising out of the garden of the soul, if you will. Our field benefits greatly or field of peacebuilding from, from, uh, observation and, and using the examples and analogies right around us. Um, and this is the power of connectedness. When I'm disconnected, I'm on my phone and I'm walking down the street and I don't even, I don't notice anything outside. When I stop and I observe, all of a sudden the world opens up with connection points and things that are already connected and then the profound disconnects are even more profound.

Speaker 5:          10:03          Yeah. Yeah. I feel like I'm struck by how much connectedness also comes from a place of imagination, you know, so my capacity to feel connected to, to supply chains all over the world, I've got to live into my imagination to be able to imagine my relationship in there. And I'm really about how the arts seem to be of a way of, um, bringing that imagination into space so that we can kind of play with it and, and get a sense of feel for connection that, that maybe that that connection needs the tangible hugging of a tree as well as the imaginative work that's reclaimed to the arts. Right.

Speaker 2:          10:50          And the next step beyond that then is empathy. Because if I can imagine that I'm connected to someone who sews my shirt in Indonesia, in a way that's a bit sterile, it's a bit, it lacks the soul. If I can empathize, if I start to hear more of the story of that person, then I begin to develop an empathy and the ability to stand in their shoes and look backwards and say, here's a shirt that I sewed. Where does it go? Who's going to wear it? I think arts take visual art for example, can take a connection like that, that's incredibly complex and demonstrate a symbol of that, a way that will draw us not only into the awareness of but also the empathy for and music as well,  that sense of sonic imagination. And I also think about novels and I think about the artful way in which can, can write a story and layer it and they can make connections across time that you could never do right in the day to day world. And I think that that's, yeah,

Speaker 2:          12:03          now I've, I'm running into the limitations of that as well. Mm. Um, game of Thrones for example, right? We're in the, you know, the last episode of this and I'm just, I'm tired of the narrative. All right, we won the great war. Now we've got another war. We got a fight. No, wait, when are we going to imagine a different outcome? When are we going to imagine the end of all of this warring? Can we do that? And I cannot imagine communicating that without art. Science fiction writers right, have been imagining our demise as a human species forever. And in fact the planet, when are these science fiction writers going to start writing about how we get it right and how we become harmonized and how we have paradise regained. And call me naive and call me fanciful, call me whatever you want. But without that vision, man, we are doomed. And so in a sense I, this is one of these concepts I, I, I present to students and I go, well here it is. I don't have the answer. I don't know what this is about. Do we create our own realities? Think you can think you can't, Henry Ford says either way. You're right. So, so let's start imagining

Speaker 4:          13:26          the end of the war. The music you're hearing is the sound of a wind farm in rural Kansas. Where a mounted harp, vibrates with the wind, resonating the music of the prairie. When Jon Rudy and his brother Paul set this project up, they explored the beauty of soundscapes and attempted to reclaim our sense of connectedness with the sonic energy of the natural world.

Speaker 5:          14:38          So I want to go ahead and talk about space, since we have opened up that topic. Some of the quotes I read talked about intimate conversations, who said by changing learning spaces they feel that we've really sparked see different and more intimate conversations. Many of our students talked about the pilgrimmage to space and how the act of walking to new spaces together was something that deepen their relationship is as more than anything. Um, I'm struck in particularly was, I think in particular my favorite place was the writer's house. And for our listeners that was a house that went to the had a very homey feel and a very intimate and conversational space.

Speaker 2:          15:13          And we used it in such different ways all the way from reading poetry, kind of in a semi formal process like you'd have in a poetry slam or, or some other kind of poetry reading all the way to using the outside space for calligraphy, for hugging trees. Uh, and, and so the writer's house itself with its warmth allowed us to explore even the surrounding areas there. And you'll notice that we couldn't get to that intimacy without going through dancing first, which I think was the very first icebreaker doing both the games. We did the drumming first and then the, you know, the games or the dancing. And I think as I recall, students, that was a real pivotal point of, of vulnerability and cohesion in the class. And so that happened even before the writer's house. It'd be fun to shake this up and say, well, so what are we do the the writer's house first and then would dancing take on a very different quality.

Speaker 5:          16:19          And so many of them wrote about the piano and I think for them the piano was like totally stripping away space for a class period. And it, it seemed to be kind of a marker about, okay, here we go. This is going to just be kind of on the fly without structure. Sometimes I thought it was interesting.

Speaker 2:          16:38          It makes me think of bounded and centered sets. Um, in a classroom we are bounded, right? We have the walls, we have the door, we enter, we have the stuff we do in an hour and 20 minutes and then we leave. Whereas with the piano, there are no walls, right? It's in a public space. It's a large space. And so there's no external confines and so we must become centered set and we must focus on the piano, the piano, and in that I think students found the freedom to say, this is class. This is class?????, right?

Speaker 5:          17:18          Yeah, and for, For me, one of the things I love to think about as a teacher, I love to use the metaphor of a journey and and in my heart's mind, every time that I teach, I want to think that my class from beginning to end is a journey, however, I don't think it's ever felt more like a journey than this class did and I, and I guess one of my final reflections is that sometimes I actually have to literally take students on a journey for, for learning to feel like a journey in many ways. I think that's something that I'm really playing with and reflecting on is I think about how I might take these structures

Speaker 4:          17:54          into other areas of class. The clip that follows is from Cheryl Errichetti's-exploration of her connectedness to water and her transformative work of re-storying deficit, narratives. Cheryl captured footage of herself at a swim meet and provided the following narration.

Speaker 6:          18:16          When I swim, I look forward to looking down at that black line for when I looked out at that line from the surface. All I see is everything I have done. I see dyslexia, I see having to learn in special needs classrooms. I see sickness, I see death. I see myself working harder than others just to be viewed as an equal. I see every coach, teacher and person that told me I was never going to make it. I see every tear shed and every heartstring broken over believing I wasn't enough

Speaker 7:          18:48          on the surface. I hear the people cheering me on who supported me, who believed me, who pushed me. Their. Cheers, echo in my head, reminding me of

Speaker 6:          18:57          all I have overcome to get where I am today. I know where I started. You could learn a lot from the people setting and objects around you. You must listen to understand

Speaker 8:          19:08          their meanings and purpose.

Speaker 3:          19:17          [inaudible].

Speaker 5:          19:21          So let's move to spirituality because I was, as I went back through reflections, I was struck about the impacts that our classes and spirituality had on students and I, and I was struck because I felt like it was one of my worst lessons because I didn't really know what I was doing and I felt incredibly vulnerable. And then to read the students felt like it was, here's a quote that can read. Um, "the idea of arts peacebuilding and spirituality is one that still eludes me and I imagine we'll continue to do so for awhile. I left class that day saying that it was my favorite topic thus far. A lot of it stemmed because I did not have the answers. No one really did. We explored the idea as a class and pushed my personal thinking forward." And I have four other quotes. I just talk about this idea of spirituality and I, I guess I'm struck as I read the quotes by the craving for that conversation and the awareness of the conversation. And I put that in relief with the idea that I didn't really feel like I was, that I knew what I was doing when I was opening up the spirituality topic. I was wondering about your reflections on that class and that impact to students. Perhaps the topic of spirituality is, is the thing that plumbs the depths of beyond our, our soul. Like you know, we talk about identity, um, as as some of the deepest

Speaker 2:          20:48          core of, of who we are and our makeup. But I think spirituality is perhaps the ground or the, the sea bottom or whatever that, that all of the rest of that sits on. And, and that touching that gave students a sense of mystery, which is so much missing today. Like we have to, everything's figured out. So what we offered students was this touching the invisible really, um, a place to throw an anchor in that will hold


Speaker 4:          21:26          one student wrote, "I connected with the definition that said spirituality is whatever opens one's heart. I think this resided within me because I often lead with my heart over my head and feel more connected to others based on emotions. I think spirituality is connected to art because just like art, it is based upon emotions. For me, my spiritual side encourages and also demands me to be more compassionate."

Speaker 5:          21:59          So as we think about it for our, for our teacher listeners out there, you know, I think spirituality is, it's still for me a very deep, it's a deeply uncomfortable thing to approach in a public school environment which has its, it's markers as being a very secular space and in our heritage and our democracy about not inculcating religion. But my sense here is that spirituality is something a little bit deeper than the bounded walls of religion. Um, and my question is how do we then articulate moving into spiritual spaces within maybe public school classrooms and moving in with kids to open up those questions.

Speaker 2:          22:36          I, I think the place to start with that is honoring the dignity of each student. And maybe that's what we unintentionally intentionally tapped into in this class of artistic peacebuilding. That we somehow honor the journey of each one and allow them to be vulnerable in as much as they want it to be. So in its largest definition maybe that is spirituality is saying you matter, your voice matters and that whatever you have or have not figured out so far is okay. It's, it's a place to be. And, and I respect that. I respect you and I honor the dignity that you bring to that. Um, so much of education it seems is just... We're just, our, our constraints are too great to be able to take the time with that.

Speaker 9:          23:36          that we maybe need to,

Speaker 4:          23:39          Its that vulnerability piece like I come back to there's the, the, if I go back connectedness,  I can see now how that is the linking point for spirituality. Because when I move into the awe and the imagination, the wonder of just thinking that grander picture about how connected I am to the world, how I might hug a tree and, and actually believe that that matters in some way. Yeah. To me that's maybe what I'm taking away from this experience about how I can put in that element of spirituality into, to teaching to the combination of, of awe and humility and vulnerability. Yeah. It's so hard to define spirituality, but yeah,

Speaker 2:          24:26          and maybe spirituality is opening up the space that has been closed down time and time again by constraints, by what is right and what is wrong. So the binary thinking of right, wrong, uh, like spirituality is opening the plane up again and to say it's vast. It's all out here and that you, you, and your path and you're thinking are as they are, is spirituality is, is enabling. Is, is creating the space for that when someone can't live into that themselves quite yet. And isn't that education right in its best sense?

Speaker 1:          25:08          Jessica Cox wrote and illustrated a children's book that plays with themes of connectedness between children, the sea and environmental care. My daughter reads this text to you:

Speaker 3:          25:22          Am I the sea, the sea is blue. Just like me. The sea is strong just like me. The sea gets cold just like me. The sea cares for animals. Just like me. Lately, the sea has been sick. When I feel sick, my mom takes care of me. Who takes care of the sea When it is sick? You and me together we can hear the sea [inaudible]

Speaker 1:          26:15          with our students. John explored the violence of either/or binaries. Our decision to reduce the complexity of ourselves into binaries by race, nationality, political party or religion often are the beginning of stories of violence. Our capacity for complexity, to hold and encounter paradox, maybe our capacity for peace... As musicians, we have known this

Speaker 5:          26:44          for sometime that music is beautiful because beauty is often a deep exploration of the gray areas of emotion, feeling and the lived experience of being fully human. And as I think about the binary, isn't that the, isn't that a great statement for the role of the arts is is the breaking of a binary is there's no way to do binary through music. There's, yeah, there's no way of doing good, beautiful visual art. It's all about if we go, went back to our Japanese painting experience. It's about the feel of the brush strokes and all that. Yeah,

Speaker 2:          27:20          and that's nuance isn't it? You know, in education perhaps we talk about the, the, the, the depth of nuance, the breadth of nuance. Having students appreciate the subtleties in difference between colors, between notes, between... it strikes me, is there, is there a connection between nuance and subtlety and empathy if it's just, if the world is about me and my viewpoint, uh, in a way that's binary because there's only me and then there's everything else. And, and breaking that down is the ability to, to expand the color palette, the, the bit depth and for students to see you as an instructor saying, hmm, here's a topic. Help us figure this out. It's too big! [laughter] Yeah. Um,

Speaker 5:          28:16          many of them wrote about that, that it was eyeopening to see, to see their professors kind of become vulnerable now.

Speaker 2:          28:25          Yeah. I think there is an arc type of the classroom, an arc type of something new that we stumbled into in this course. And I would, I would appreciate continuing to explore that. Whatever my role is, whatever, however that happens. And I think your new program, uh, is, is really going to open that up for many others outside this campus. So I'm excited to see where you go with this. Yeah.

Speaker 5:          29:00          Student Abigail Illingworth wrote this composition to explore her beliefs and expressions.

Speaker 2:          29:06          of Peace.

Speaker 3:          29:11          [singing]

Speaker 2:          29:17          We

Speaker 3:          29:19          [inaudible]

Speaker 2:          29:19          

Speaker 3:          29:19          

Speaker 2:          29:19          

Speaker 1:          29:43          During our semester together. We welcomed the Silk Road Ensemble founded by Yo-Yo Ma to our campus for a lecture on music and peacebuilding. Eduardo Braniff related the struggle of Silk Road when they were in New Zealand during the Christ Church mosque shootings and the meaning of music in the face of profound loss. He states, "music can draw people together. In times when words and logic fail us, where emotion is all consuming and overpowering and to help us all grieve, process and connect with the good in the world. He goes on to speak of the edge effect. An edge effect cultivates curiosity and beauty in the realm of diversity and difference. He says in creating new music, forging new connections and revealing something before unknown. We push the edges of boundaries. To be radical is to have deep roots in ourselves and long branches toward others. Our students painted a piano as a project in the course seeking to transform routine space through beauty and the arts in the audio that follows Grace Hardy narrates a video that explains the project.

Speaker 10:         31:07          For my peacebuilding project, I was given the opportunity to plan and lead the painting of the piano in the bower student center. As a reflect on this project and my time in this class, one of the topics that resonates with me the most is time. As people of today's society, we often let time regulate our lives with schedules and deadlines. Time creates structure and time creates stress. Throughout this project I, along with my classmates was given the opportunity to practice living and working less to a schedule in more in the moment. I worked in and out of class sometimes for hours, sometimes for minutes. I drafted ideas and produced sketches. This project allowed me to work in the moment with no regard of time and no specific expectations. In many ways, my vision developed as we worked instead of producing a vision beforehand.

Speaker 10:         32:03          As we worked, we also got to practice empathy as my classmates painted. They put themselves in someone else's shoes. Understanding how different people work and learning about the preparation and determination that go into different works of art. As the piano progressed. Various Elizabethtown students stopped to look, comment, and learn about the project. This ties in as one of the most interesting concepts discussed in this course. Using art to open discussion. By working on this project in such a public setting, we were able to spark conversation on campus. I met New People and opened myself up to new conversation. Students and faculty commented on our hard work and the beauty of the garden scene depicted on the piano. The variety of flowers represent the variety of students in this class who have come together to create something even more beautiful. We learned how to utilize visual rhetoric and get viewers to feel and think a certain way. We've learned that we can convey a message without saying any words at all.

Speaker 1:          33:19          Special thanks to the Mellon grant for supporting this class in artistic peacebuilding. Heartfelt gratitude goes to Elizabethtown college students, Cheryl, Errichetti, Abigail Illingworth, and Jessica Cox for allowing their work products and names to be used in this podcast and are very deepest gratitude to Jon Rudy. Jon, I offer you blessings taken from poems by John O'Donohue as we explore the depths of gratitude for your presence at e town. May you know that absence is alive with hidden presence, that nothing is ever lost or forgotten. It dwells within the silence with elegance to create a space for all our words, drawing us to listen inward and outward. We seldom notice how each day is a holy place, where the Eucharist of the ordinary happens, transforming our broken fragments into an eternal continuity that keeps us. May new work fit the rhythms of your soul, enabling you to draw from the invisible, new ideas and a vision that will inspire. We bless this year for all we learned, for all we loved and lost, and for the quiet way. It brought us nearer to our invisible destination. Blessings to you, Jon, with deepest gratitude and love. We wish each of you listeners well on sacred journeys may we encounter each year, day and breath, with deepest gratitude for the sacred moments of living together.

Speaker 3:          35:10          [inaudible]

Speaker 1:          35:29          this is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson at Elizabethtown College. We host a Master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding. Thinking deeply, we reclaim space for connection and care. Join

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