Guest Blogger: John Noltner, will bring his multimedia exhibit “A Peace of My Mind” to Hoover Auditorium from June 17-24, 2017. He will also be speaking as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series on June 20 (8:15 p.m.), June 21 (10:30 a.m. & 1:30 p.m.) and June 22 (10:30 a.m. & 1:30 p.m.)

Over the past several years, I have driven 40,000 miles across our country asking people to answer the simple question, “What does peace mean to you?” In a world that asks us to focus on divisions, I was looking for the common humanity that connects us.

I spoke recently at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and I was reminded of Dr. King’s notion of Beloved Community. This notion that we could grow into a world that sees beyond prejudice and discrimination. A work where our circles of compassion could expand to encompass all people and we could begin to understand that our differences are not as big as we perceive them to be.

You don’t have to look very far to recognize that we have fallen short of that mark. Turn on the television or read the papers and you’ll recognize that in all sorts of ways, we have failed to live up to that ideal.

But, when the world seems more challenging than ever before. When the problems seem bigger than the solutions we can imagine, perhaps our attention is in the wrong place. Because there is good all around us, and sometimes we forget to see it.

I’ve spent my career working as a freelance photographer. I’ve had the good fortune of working as a travel photographer, and I’ve photographed in 48 states and 38 countries. I’ve come to realize that it’s my job to find beauty in unexpected places. People hire me to see the good that others might not notice.

It’s not that challenges don’t exist. The world is filled with challenges, and it’s important that we face them honestly, and with clarity. But, it’s also important that we face those challenges with hope, grace and the belief that something better is possible.

In 2009, I started asking people the simple question, “What does peace mean to you?” I wanted to find examples of what works. I wanted to reach out to as many different kinds of people as possible. Very quickly I realized that this was a project about listening, which is something we are not doing very well these days.

We listen to respond, or refute, or rebut. We listen to debate, convince, coerce or correct.

But, very seldom do we listen simply to understand and connect.

I look forward to listening to understand and connect when at Lakeside this summer.