For three days last week, EMU Research Professor Lisa Schirch PhD. carved time out her busy schedule to work with the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship Conference in the Seminary building.
In between a trip to Europe and her work in creating a curriculum of nonviolent human security strategies, she spoke to students from Goshen College, Conrad Grebel University, EMU, and Bluffton University.
Schirch, an alumna of Goshen College and Georgetown University, is herself a former Peace Fellowship member, and on the forefront of global security issues in a multitude of roles. The Weather Vane sat down with her to ask her about her work and views.
WV: You talk about two different kinds of security, human and national. Does this mean that you see a fundamental divide between humanity and what theologian Walter Wink calls “the Powers?” What is the implication of the Anabaptist self-separation from institutionalized authority as it relates to our Mennonite institutions, specifically EMU and MCUSA?
LS: [Historically] Anabaptists were questioned by church institutions and by state institutions. While Anabaptists saw a need for civil order and government, they were suspicious of motivations that led church and state institutions to focus on protecting their interests rather than in serving citizens.
Anabaptist leadership took extreme risks in order to live out Anabaptist ethics. Sometimes today, I see Anabaptist leaders sacrificing their values to protect their institutions. Anabaptist institutions and State governments should be guided by a moral compass of love, compassion, inclusion, and humble dialogue.
WV: What role do you see EMU playing in the ongoing saga of American militarism and/or pacifism?
LS: Early Anabaptists were strong in their opposition to war and their belief in pacifism. But they were not strong in laying out alternatives to violence. EMU is laying out alternatives to war, violence, terrorism and injustice. EMU marries Anabaptist theology with pragmatic peacebuilding.
WV: It’s difficult not to see you as a living prophet of peace. Do you have a favorite prophet, do you read yourself into the prophetic tradition?
LS: Wow. Well, no, I don’t see myself as a prophet. But I do try to connect my work with the military today with a long tradition of Anabaptist, Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders who spoke out in public about the need for social justice and peace. I find inspiration from many other leaders. I think MLK is the most poetic prophet, because his speeches are full of metaphors and images. I like the writings of many women, such as Barbara Deming, and they are prophetic in a quieter way. Women don’t often get invited to give speeches and have fewer opportunities to speak in public now and in the centuries past. So I often find myself wishing I had more examples of female prophets who gave public speeches.
WV: John 15, the parable of the vine and the fruit, talks about being pruned as a fruitful branch, or being thrown into the fire as a fruitless one. Do you think this applies to the Mennonite church, EMU, CJP? Should we constantly justify our existence in terms of God’s mission of Shalom? What might pacifist fruitfulness look like to you? When is a pacifist tradition fruitless?
LS: Hmm. I always have a hard time with this passage. As someone who wishes I had been taught more about self-care and resting and reflecting, I read this passage with skepticism because I’d like to think people don’t have to constantly “produce” or “work” and that the less fruitful vines – the time for reflection and listening – are also valuable.
WV: You had personal advice for students interested in peace. What advice would you give them, and what would you tell students who are unsure how they feel about peace?
LS: Sometimes students come to me asking how they can move forward in their work for peace. I remember asking my professors this same question. What I’ve learned is that other people can give you ideas and inspire, but they cannot take you by the hand and make the path easy. Finding your way in the world is hard work. Marking out new territory is likely to require bravery and big ideas – but will likely be financially challenging and lonely. But work that is meaningful and inspires your passion is far more rewarding that a fancy title or a large salary.
Thanks to Christine Baer and Krista Nyce.
-Evan Knappenberger, Staff Writer; photo Ellen Roth