Interviews with people who work with conflict
about the spiritual foundations of their work
A research process done by Michael Bischoff
Emily Hughes | Abdul-Hakim As-Siddiq | George Lakey | Marcelle Martin
Introduction | Reflections on the Research Process

Reflections on the Research Process:
An Interview with Michael Bischoff

To reflect on the proces of doing this project, I interviewed myself. Here's the transcript of that discussion:

Why did you do this project?

It was an assignment for a class, Methods and Philosophy of Conflict Research, which I am taking as part of the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University. We needed to do an interview project and this is what I came up with.

My largest motivation was to learn from some people who seem to be well connected with God in their work with conflict. I have great admiration and appreciation for each of the four people I interviewed. They each have ways of opening up to God that I would like to learn from. I did the project mostly as an excuse to talk to them and to savor their words. I hope their examples can be further integrated into the ways I am sustained and transformed while working with conflict.

I also have a desire to have my future work be about connecting spirituality and peacemaking. One way I imagine doing that is helping support the spiritual lives of peacemakers. I hoped this project would help develop my vision for the ways I might do that kind of work.

Did you develop any visions about the kind of work you want to do as you did the project?

I definitely increased my belief in the importance of cultivating our spiritual foundations at work.

From interviewing Hakim, I was reminded that providing opportunities for service to others can be the best way of supporting other's spiritual lives. I have especially found this true for people coming out of prison. People in that situation have so many barriers on their time and movement, but many also have such a desire to give back to their community, and especially with younger friends, to help keep them out of prison. One kind of work I would like to do is help set up more chances for those people coming out of prison to do community service work--and help connect that work to their spiritual growth and satisfaction.

Talking with George and Emily helped reinforce how interconnected organizational structure and culture is to a greater Spirit. I am interested in doing organizational consulting to help find structures that can support people in that community in their own listening to and following God. That consulting might include training, spiritual direction, strategic planning, facilitating retreats, or things I haven't yet imagined. Having organizations that honor each person's abilities and needs for rejuvenation seems pretty essential in that desire--but I think there is also a more proactive part which includes seeking deep, inspired guidance for the organization. I want to help organizations take care of their people well, and also to foster organizations full of Spirit.

Marcelle's clear focus on bringing a prayerful presence wherever she goes helped me see that, whaterver kind of work I am doing, cultivating my own openness to God is what is central to my values. Praying for organizations, praying for peace, and praying for peacemakers seems the most genuine way of being helpful in this arena. How that prayer is expressed and what it leads me to do will probably always keep changing, but as Marcelle said, I hope I always keep turning to God in the process.

What was the process you used to do the interviews and then make the web site?

First I decided who to interview in a very subjective way. I didn't look for a scientific sampling, but I just looked for people I admired and wanted to learn from on this subject. I then tape recorded each of them in interviews that lasted between one and two hours. The central research question I based my questions on was:

 How do people who work professionally with conflict find and identify a spiritual foundation for their work?

I also had two secondary focusing questions:

 What specific individual and group practices do these people use to open up to soulforce (love, God, etc.) in their work?

 How does the organizational and cultural environments around these professionals influence their spiritual grounding?

I didn't use a standard list of questions for any interview, but I tried to follow the language and direction each person brought up, within the context of my focusing questions. I also took photos of the people I interviewed, or found old photos of them.

I then transcribed the interviews and edited them down to between 3 and 6 pages. Then I started looking for images that corresponded to the metaphors people used to describe their spiritual foundations. I mostly searched for these images on the internet, looking for public domain images to use in the photo montages. I found many of the images at I then combined the photos of the people I interviewed with the metaphoric images using Photoshop. I wanted each person to have their own web page to let their words speak for themselves. Each person I interviewed has thought carefully about this subject, and I wanted a way to pass on their wisdom and experience.



Since you asked other people about metaphors for their spiritual foundation, don't you think you should tell us what your metaphors are?

First of all I want to steal all of the metaphors that George, Emily, Marcelle, and Hakim used. I find them all useful in different ways.

Alice Walker once said that sometimes her heart was so open, the wind could blow right through it. I pray for the courage to receive that level of openness. I think of God's Spirit as a breath that moves in and out of me, but also a wind that blows throughout the world. As a child, I was fascinated with the origin of the wind, and I still am. Although it is invisible and I don't fully understand it, I certainly feel it, and sometimes get blown over by it. And breath keeps me alive even when I don't think about it--but sometimes I find myself holding my breath or not breathing air in very deeply.

In addition to the metaphors, I have found paying attention to my breathing to be a useful meditation to calm my mind in the midst of conflict as well. Even in the craziest, scariest conflicts or work situations, that breath, that flow of life is always there to notice and allow it to move. My favorite meditation right now is to silently call out "Jesus" as I breathe in, and as I breathe out, I imagine Jesus saying "Michael" back to me. In that second, my heart often feels softer.

A metaphor that Marcelle alluded to is of plugging into an electric socket. One way I experience God is as electricity, as a current of power that runs through all life, which we can plug into. Sometimes when I am facilitating, I feel a jolt of energy running through me and it seems to have come out of the blue. Although I think there are surges that come from places other than God, I think the surge from God of love and compassion is the strongest and most enduring. I also trust that the lightening that comes from God will not fry me or zap the life out of me. An image I have of my spiritual life is of thawing out--allowing a numbness and coldness in my emotional and physical connection to others and to God to fade away. The electricity of unconditional love seems the best source for melting that ice.

Do you plan to follow up on this project in any way?

First of all, I hope to receive feedback on it from many people who see the interviews. I invite each of you that sees these web pages to join me in discussing the spiritual foundations of peacemaking. What stories, metaphors, and practices do you use? What reactions do you have to what has been said in this web site? I will carefully and appreciatively read over any responses. If appropriate, I will pass the comment on to George, Marcelle, Emily, or Hakim. If there is much interest and response, I will continue to update and expand this web site.

This discussion will continue to inform my vision for how to best support our connections to what is divine in the midst of conflict. As I mentioned earlier in this interview, I am looking for how that will shape the projects I do, and the spirit I do everything.

Please email me at to join this discussion.


Spirit in Conflict
Interviews: Emily Hughes | Abdul-Hakim As-Siddiq | George Lakey | Marcelle Martin
Introduction | Reflections on the Research Process

Please let me know your reactions to this project or tell me about the spiritual foundations of your work: Michael Bischoff,