Being Howard Zehr

Nationally known restorative justice practitioner sujatha baliga tells this story of how she met Herald Press author Howard Zehr. It was 2007, and baliga had invited Zehr to speak at a conference on crime victims at Stanford Law School’s Criminal Justice Center.

As Howard finished his talk, Robert Weisburg, the center’s long-time faculty director, excitedly whispered, “I’ve discovered what I want to be when I grow up! Howard Zehr!”

I was in complete agreement with Professor Weisburg that day. In the years that followed, I’ve taken every opportunity to learn from Howard, in the hopes that his prodigious heart and intellect would somehow be contagious.

It’s no exaggeration to say that by asking us to change lenses, Howard Zehr has changed countless lives. Mine is among them.

 

Shortly after meeting Howard and encountering his paradigm on restorative justice, baliga left the practice of law to try to put into practice her emerging commitment to a justice that restores and heals. “Here was a view of justice that could better meet crime victims’ needs, while simultaneously ending our addiction to punitive confinement by believing in the power of communities to support their members when things go wrong,” baliga writes in the foreword to the new edition of Zehr’s classic text, Changing Lenses. “Changing these constructs requires fearlessly replacing entrenched views that no longer serve us with new ones that do. Howard Zehr is such a thinker.”

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Like baliga, countless restorative justice practitioners have found in Zehr a mentor and a friend. Frequently called the “grandfather of the restorative justice movement,” Zehr published Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice, with Herald Press in 1990.

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It fast became the central text of the restorative justice movement, in use in classrooms and workshops and a variety of settings across the world. Zehr has led hundreds of events in more than twenty-five countries and thirty-five states. His work has included trainings and consultations on restorative justice, victim-offender conferencing, judicial reform, and other criminal justice matters. He has had particular influence in the United States, Brazil, Japan, Jamaica, Northern Ireland, Britain, the Ukraine, and New Zealand, the latter which has restructured its juvenile justice system into a family-focused, restorative approach. “Changing Lenses has done more to shape my understanding of justice and peacemaking and to define my scholarly career and sense of vocation than any other,” Chris Marshall, professor of restorative justice at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, says. “It remains my first choice when people ask me what they should read to learn more about restorative justice.”

The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for Our Times, released in June 2015, gave Zehr the opportunity to add valuable updates to terminology and paradigms that have shifted in the twenty-five years since the book was first published. Language about victim-offender interaction has changed, as have the discussions surrounding mass incarceration, race, and poverty in the United States. A new resource section adds group exercises and discussion questions from leading restorative justice practitioners. Nobel Peace Prize-winner Leymah Gbowee, a former student of Zehr’s, says that the new edition of the book “will change how you think about wrongdoing and justice and mercy.” And Michelle Alexander, author of the groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow, says, “Now that our nation is finally beginning to come to terms with the immorality and irrationality of our criminal injustice system, I hope that we will reread Howard Zehr’s classic text, Changing Lenses, and accept his challenge to reimagine what justice ought to look like.”

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Undergirding all of his wisdom and experience in restorative justice is a commitment to the Christ who calls us to compassion—for both those who have been harmed and those who harm.  Changing Lenses has a robust theological and biblical rationale for restorative justice. And although he may be the grandfather of the movement, Zehr is hardly sitting in his rocking chair watching the world go by. As co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice and a distinguished professor at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, Zehr remains active in speaking, teaching, writing, and consulting. He continues to be sought out by journalists and scholar for his expertise—for example being quoted extensively in this recent article about to the Charleston church shooting.

Zehr is one of many Herald Press authors with whom I’m privileged to work. Like Robert Weisburg and sujatha baliga, I wouldn’t mind being Howard Zehr when I grow up. After reading Changing Lenses, maybe you’ll think that too. As far as role models go, you could do a lot worse.

Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for Our Times is available for purchase here.

headshotValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

Build Relationships, Put an End to Violence

A picture of a young girl in Gaza, standing against a school and mourning the loss of a relative killed there, fills the main part of my browser this morning.

And yet the advertisements on the right-hand side of the page are for a new car, a deal on a pedicure, and an overnight getaway.

A story of global conflict and American lifestyle advertisements. It’s a mismatch, right? Or is it. I live in the U.S., in a small Ohio town where there really isn’t any violence to speak of. So I could click to claim the deal on a pedicure and go about my day or I could read the article and think about this world we live in: a world rife with conflict, a world filled with people who need to figure out how to understand each other, a world where we forget that we are connected to each other. Too often I get pulled into my own life and work and fail to see myself as a global citizen.

This week I had the pleasure of working on a forthcoming book, Christian, Muslim, Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship, by David Shenk (November 1, 2014; Herald Press). The book invites readers into authentic, respectful friendship with Muslims. It invites readers to listen and understand different points of view while also holding fast to one’s own beliefs.

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This is Shenk’s fourth volume in the Christians Meeting Muslims Series. The other books in the series are:

  • A Muslim and A Christian in Dialogue, coauthored with Badru D. Kateregga (focuses on dialogue)
  • Journeys of the Muslim Nation and the Christian Church: Exploring the Mission of Two Communities (focuses on witness and invitation)
  • Teatime in Mogadishu: My Journey as a Peace Ambassador in the World of Islam, by Ahmed Ali Haile as told to David Shenk (focuses on peacemaking)
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In the introduction to Christian, Muslim, Friend., Shenk writes, “I am writing these lines in June 2014, which has turned into a month of anguish. Boko Haram has kidnapped some three hundred high school girls in Nigeria. The United States is gearing up to provide more military assistance for moderate Muslims in Syria. Al Shabab have bombed a market and attacked Christians at worship in Kenya. Christian vigilantes are violently cleansing southern Chad of Muslims. A drone is reported to have killed Muslim militants in southern Yemen. The European Union Parliament is moving toward the right amid concerns about the growing Muslim immigrant community in Europe. … In Egypt, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been served the death penalty by Egyptian courts.

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Author David Shenk

“These thirty days in June are the context in which relationship-building between Muslims and Christians must happen. The astonishment is that the participants in all these conflicts believe they are on God’s side. In case we have not noticed, peacemaking is urgent!”

Shenk’s writing is clear and easy-to-follow, with 12 paths that he sees as key to building relationships. These paths are designed to help readers learn and share about the contemporary challenges and realities of cultivating real relationships between Muslims and Christians, with particular reflection on the journey of North American and other Western Christians. For example, the first four paths are:

  • Live with Integrity: Christians and Muslims are often inclined to avoid candor in their relations with one another. This might be because of mistrust. However, integrity is foundational to wholesome relations.
  • Keep Identity Clear: The Muslim scriptures encourage Christians to be clear about their identity. Christians meeting Muslims most often experience appreciation for Christians who are clear about their faith and church commitments.
  • Cultivate Respect: In the present worldwide atmosphere much is said unkindly about people with different beliefs. Every effort must be nurtured to speak and think respectfully of one another.
  • Develop Trust: It is very significant when Muslims say that they trust their Christian neighbors, and vice versa. The three principles that are discussed in the three opening chapters of this book do sow seeds that nurture trust. Mistrust builds walls; trust creates open doors.

While Christian. Muslim. Friend. is specifically about fostering Christian-Muslim relationships, I believe it offers us encouragement and practical tools for building relationship amid all sorts of global violence. As Shenk writes, “Seeking the rule of God is a common strand of faith and intention that pulls us together in our work and witness.”

How do you seek relationship with the “other” in your context? How are you building friendship with those who believe differently?

Amy Gingerich, editorial director

Amy Gingerich

 

 

Waging Peace: Muslim and Christian Alternative begins airing June 23 on NBC local stations

Our documentary, Waging Peace: Muslim and Christian Alternatives is airing for the second time on national TV outlets, this time on NBC-TV between June 23 and the end of November. (In 2011, it had a run on ABC-TV.) It airs at the local choice of NBC affiliates.

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How did Mennonites come to produce a program exploring peacemaking threads among Christian and Muslim traditions? Haven’t Christians and Muslims been fighting each other ever since the Crusades (and before)? Aren’t extremist terrorists the number one threat to our peace and well-being? The mayhem and tragedy at the most recent Boston Marathon remind us these tensions continue to lurk under the surface for law-abiding Muslims and Christians alike.

I personally have felt this tension among the people that I know and love over the years since Sept. 11, 2001. In 2009 one of the predecessor organizations of MennoMedia was talking to the folks at Odyssey Networks about a documentary focusing on religious pluralism. The Interfaith Broadcasting Commission supplies some religious programming for ABC and NBC (which local stations can use or not use) and they were interested in this topic as well.

Documentaries and other media are best when zeroing in on specifics and stories rather than generalities. As a Mennonite organization with concerns for peace and justice issues, we proposed a program addressing pluralism by looking at stories from the peacemaking traditions of two religions, Christianity and Islam. I set about writing the initial proposal.

Waging Peace productionOdyssey supplied some funding along with grants from Schowalter Foundation and individuals. Buller Films LLC undertook the massive research and filming through a contract for then Mennonite Media in partnership with ISNA, related to a Muslim media organization. The film crew of Burton Buller, his wife Mary, and son Jon traveled from Los Angeles, Calif. to Waterloo, Ontario to Chicago and many points in between and gathered stories focusing on refugees; high school students; Muslim and Christian families; refugees escaping war; and an Imam and Mennonite pastor in Waterloo who began chatting over breakfast which eventually led their faith communities to create comforters together for refugees.

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The documentary was a daunting task in many respects. How do you begin to grapple with the current tensions between Christians and Muslims? By learning more about both religions. Even though the production team thought we were well steeped in Christian peacemaking teachings and traditions, there are many different kinds of Christians with different viewpoints. For instance, a Baptist pastor who opposed a mosque being built next to his church agreed to be interviewed for the documentary expressing one viewpoint.

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There are also many kinds of Muslims, also with diverse viewpoints from each other. There are different basic understandings about the concept of justice: Burton Buller, producer, said he learned through his interviews with Muslims that in their viewpoint, there can be no peace without justice, no matter how nice it is to talk about such things.

Here is a clip:

How you can help

Contact a local station. We’re thrilled for this documentary to have another run on network TV. So far the list of those airing the program is not long, see here.) BUT, if you are interested in seeing this program air in your area and wish to contact the local NBC station, find the name of the program manager. Call the station and ask to speak to that person. Leave a message if necessary. Tell them you represent (whatever group in the community you are with, from a church, a larger ministerial association, an inter-religious association, a civics club) and that you would like to see Waging Peace: Muslim and Christian Alternatives air in your community. (See the bottom of this post for more detail)

Arrange a screening. Or, you can do what Leon Kehl did in his area of Ontario. Since NBC does not air in Canada but the documentary featured his congregation, Floradale in Waterloo, Ontario and a local Christian school, Rockway, he arranged a screening tour for the program. Over 700 people in nine churches, mosques, and other sites in Ontario saw it from Feb. 12-19, 2012. Accompanying the film was Sheri Hartzler, the project’s executive producer. Most screenings were followed by a discussion led by a multi-faith panel, including people who participated in the film project. Supporting the screenings were Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, Islamic Centre of Cambridge, Intercultural Dialogue Institute, and other local churches and organizations.

Study the DVD in a group. The program is only $24.95 with a study guide available at the website, www.WagingPeaceAlternatives.com. Or order by calling 800-631-6535 (Canada) or 800-245-7894 (U.S.).

More about the Network “feed”: The network “feed” of the program to local stations is Thursday morning June 20th for the first play date of June 23rd. NBC feeds it once, and the station can air it whenever they want. If a station misses the feed–they often call NBC–which in turn contacts Interfaith Broadcasting Commission to be sent the program on DVD. There is a six month window in which they can air the program on NBC.

Let us know if we can help you with any of this.

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Melodie Davis
MennoMedia Writer/producer/editor