Main Feature

Being hospitable to a broader definition of peace

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Eric Harle y ’97 Researcher at IBM Lagrangeville, N.Y. Artwork from second grade

Eric Harley ’97, artwork from 2nd grade.
Read Eric's statement »

By Joseph Liechty ’78

The genius of “Healing the World, Peace by Peace” is that it serves simultaneously as a celebration of what Goshen College is and as a prod to live out what we proclaim. Reflection on our commitment to making peace in all its forms, for example, reveals considerable successes, such as our Study-Service Term, the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center and the Music Center’s Community School of the Arts.

It also shines a light on our absences and subtle failures. One such area of success and failure on the Goshen College campus is hospitality. Many students and faculty members from diverse backgrounds have found a true home here, and yet too many others – whether because of their religious affiliations, socioeconomic status, ethnic/racial identities or political views – have graduated or departed while still feeling like outsiders.

Lisa Koop ’99 Immigration attorney Chicago, Ill. Artwork from age 6

Lisa Koop ’99, artwork from age 6.
Read Lisa's statement »

In truth, I have an obsession with peace as hospitality that arises from having spent most of my adult life – 1980 to 2003 – as an outsider in Ireland doing mission work with a focus on reconciliation. I survived and eventually flourished only because so many people were willing to take me in and to make me at home. The story that best encapsulates for me the gift I received concerns a tea-break epiphany in Belfast. There were perhaps 15 of us present; some were just acquaintances, others had been good friends for a long time, and one had been what I can only think of as a guardian angel. I went over to get another cup of tea and, for a moment, I was on the outside, watching the others. It occurred to me: “Wow. I’m really the odd one out here. In fact,

I’m the odd one out at least three times over.” I was the only Mennonite, the only American among the Irish and the only Dubliner in a room full of Belfast people. “I’m the odd one out,” I thought, “and I’m completely at home.” That was to me a sacred moment, a paradox alive with significance, and I felt a deep contentment.

Bryan Falcón ’95 Co-founder of the Web-based software Haiku Learning Systems Tucson, Ariz. Artwork from age 9

Bryan Falcón ’95, artwork from age 9.
Read Bryan's statement »

In 2003, I returned to Goshen College to teach in the peace, justice and conflict studies program. Now I was an insider at least three times over – as a Mennonite, as a child of a former faculty member, as an alumnus. I brought with me a desire to repay my great debt for hospitality received by doing what I could to extend hospitality to those at GC who would feel in some senses outsiders.

From my point of view, hospitality and peace have become inseparable. Peace almost always has to do with relationships; healthy relationships can be the goal of peace, the form of peace, the means of achieving peace. To practice hospitality, then – to build and sustain positive relationships – is to nurture peace.

For a teacher, hospitality starts in the classroom. At the beginning of most semesters, I tell my students about my tea-break epiphany, and I say that this class succeeds only if you feel free to be as different as you want to be, as different as you need to be, and also completely at home. It has been exciting to discover that the equitable teaching practices that make a classroom more hospitable for students representing a minority identity are actually the practices that promote the best learning for all students. An equitable class is structured so that every student has opportunities to find, express and develop her voice – no one is silenced, and all benefit from the variety of voices. In this case, the obligations of hospitality lead to a comparatively easy, win-win situation.

Jerem y Garbe r ’96 Ph.D. candidate at the University of Denver (Colo.) and the Iliff School of Theology, concentrating in philosophy, theology and cultural theory Artwork from age 9

Jeremy Garber ’96, artwork from age 9.
Read Jeremy's statement »

Sometimes, however, how to be hospitable is far from obvious and it complicates decisions. A good example was campus work over the past year on whether to break with Goshen College tradition and play the national anthem before athletic contests. For that GC tradition and for many Mennonites, the decision not to play the anthem arises from a faith stance that resists the sometimes-idolatrous claims of nations. Many students, faculty, and staff from other faith traditions, however, regard the anthem as an appropriate expression of national allegiance. Conceived of as an issue of faith and national allegiance, the decision about whether to play the anthem was difficult in practice, but conceptually simple, because faith must trump every other consideration.

However, add to the decision-making mix another faith issue – hospitality as a form of peace – and the decision about whether to play the anthem became more complex and conceptually difficult. The national allegiance quarrel remains in all its gnarly integrity, and yet, hospitality required us to think through some key facts that are invisible when viewed solely through the faithfulness lens: most of the GC student-athletes affected, for example, are from other-than-Mennonite religious traditions and would strongly prefer to play the anthem, and what we mean to be saying by not playing the anthem is inscrutable to visitors who don’t know our tradition and convictions. However, if hospitality complicated the national anthem issue, it was also a resource. Hospitality is always about love of neighbor, and that leaven can provide new ways to conduct the quarrel, and perhaps to transform it.

Erica Friesen ’98 Costume Shop Manager for The University of Chicago’s professional theater in residence. Artwork from age 8

Erica Friesen ’98, artwork from age 8.
Read Erica's statement »

In deciding to allow the playing of the national anthem before games (see p. 17), the President’s Council gave balance-tipping weight to hospitality. What the President’s Council has not done, however, is to imply that the faith motivations behind the previous practice are antiquated or wrong. If anything, the decision is rooted in a confidence that GC remains a place where students and faculty are sensitive to excessive expressions of national allegiance, and a hospitality-driven decision to allow playing the national anthem will not change that.

Considering hospitality did not tell Goshen College what to do about playing the anthem. In fact it raised the stakes and made the discussion more complex. But in this case, more complex discussion also meant more broadly and deeply considered, and therefore more honest and fruitful. Nurturing an institution where it is possible for all to be as different as they want to be, as different as they need to be, and completely at home, is a challenge of the highest order for everyone involved. When we get it right, the rewards are commensurate with the challenge. There is a peace for all present in these moments, these relationships, these places; we glimpse the grace and hospitality of God. Perhaps we even reflect it.

Joseph Liechty is professor and director of the Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies program at Goshen College and editor of the Journal of Religion, Conflict and Peace ( Liechty led the campus task force that recommended the national anthem be played before some sports events at Goshen College.

Thanks to Professor Emerita of Education Kathryn Aschliman for providing artwork of College Mennonite Church Bible School participants, who went on to become GC alumni. Read their statements on what peace means to them »

The first masters have a world for a classroom

Thursday, October 8th, 2009


Editor’s note: Goshen College’s first three graduate students – pictured above (left to right): Mallory Kuhn, Nayla Jimenez and Todd Weston – walked across the commencement stage in caps and gowns on April 26, and completed master’s degrees in environmental education at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College in early June. This academic year, the program was tripled, with a cohort of eight who began studies in July. Here’s what the incoming students can expect and what those who are leaving will take with them.

Bill Minter and Nayla Jimenez

Bill Minter and Nayla Jimenez


Environmental education is place-based learning. It teaches people to be aware of their setting: how ecosystems function biologically, how they fit within the larger landscape and how they are shaped – or misshapen – by human values.

By mid-April, three-quarters of the way through their program, Merry    Lea’s three current graduate students have worked with prairies, farmland, upland and lowland forests, fens, bogs and a variety of other types of wetlands. On this day, they are back on the west side of Merry Lea on the sand dunes that glaciers deposited just north of High Lake. They’ve come with Bill Minter, a certified forester who serves as Merry Lea’s land manager, who is restoring this area to the oak savanna it once was.

The three have been to these dunes before: in August for a natural history course with an entomologist, in October during a seminar on nature photography, and in March, when they helped with a prescribed burn on this site. Now they are back to watch the charred landscape begin to sprout and to learn more about how fire-dependent landscapes function.

None of the three students has previous experience with oak savannas. That is not surprising, since this ecosystem is listed as “globally imperiled.” Although patches of oak savanna were once abundant along the prairie/forest border throughout the Midwest, grazing, farming and fire suppression have since eradicated or degraded much of this ecosystem.

Merry Lea contains the only oak savanna in Noble or Elkhart counties. For Nayla Jiménez – who grew up in the cool, humid cloud forests that blanket the mountains of Costa Rica – any dry, open landscape is new. A savanna is also an unfamiliar setting for Mallory Kuhn from Spencerville, Ohio. Todd Weston, whose hometown in Missouri hugs the Kansas border, is at home with prairies, but unfamiliar with the glacial activity that created Merry Lea’s dunes.

On their educational trek, Jiménez, Kuhn and Weston follow Minter across the north and south sand dunes. The north dune, which was burned this spring, is still black and bare. Kneeling down, they can begin to see green emerging from the scorched clumps. The south dune was not burned, and it takes a serious climb through little bluestem to get to the top. In the classroom, they’ve already learned how to recognize a savanna by observing the percentage of ground shaded by the tree canopy and whether the soils are wet or dry. They know that shrubs such as gray dogwood and smooth sumac are indicators of a dry soil, and that the scattered oaks they are looking at are black oaks. Black oaks prefer dry soil and are able to survive a fire thanks to their thick, corky bark and the ability of seedlings to re-sprout after being burned.

The group heads south toward a point where Native Americans once camped, stopping to admire a patch of Pennsylvania sedge at the base of an oak. Below them, High Lake sparkles through the trees. Another short walk will take them to an entirely different ecosystem where discussions might revolve around drainage tile, and sycamores and swamp rose mallow are the species to watch for. That will wait for another day.



Hands-on Experience

Todd Weston, who studied wildlife and fisheries at the University of Missouri for his bachelor’s degree, chose Merry Lea’s graduate program over seven others partly because of the amount of K-12 interaction built into the program. “I really wanted to be teaching people,” he says.

Merry Lea’s master’s in environmental education requires about 30 hours of practicum experience. Since Merry Lea already has a 30-year track record with environmental education and a K-12 program that serves over 7,000 school students each year, there is ample opportunity to learn from experienced educators and a proven curriculum.

The one-year, year-round program enables students to experience environmental education in all seasons. In the fall, a graduate student might find herself showing first-graders how corn was processed on a turn-of-the-century farm in one of Merry Lea’s farm craft programs. In the winter, the group treks to the Yoder Sugar Bush in Huntertown, Ind., to tap maple trees, boil sap and teach maple sugaring. In the spring, they are hip-deep in wetlands dipping for macroinvertebrates and teaching about water quality.

Preparing a public program for all ages at Merry Lea’s annual NatureFest will round out their experiences. Weston will lead a herpetology hike; Kuhn is guiding families who go geocaching and Jiménez is preparing a workshop on how to make a home more ecofriendly.



Space for Faith

“One unique aspect of our program is that we talk a lot about spirituality and the relationship between care of creation and faith,” says Paul Steury, who teaches two environmental education courses in the master’s program.

Readings and lectures put students in contact with environmental leaders such as author Bill McKibben and former vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals Richard Cizik, whose passion for the planet is informed by a Christian framework.

Merry Lea’s annual Autumn Hope Conference – which integrates Christian theology and worship with time outdoors led by trained naturalists – is also a part of the graduate curriculum.

“The faculty wasn’t pushing a set of ideas so much as making a space for conversation about how spirituality, beliefs and value systems tied into the subjects we talked about,” says Jiménez.

“It was a change, coming from a state school where you never talked about religion unless you were in a religion class,” says Weston.

Kuhn recalls being inspired by the group’s visit to Faith in Place, a Chicago nonprofit that helps people of all faiths find the tools they need to become good stewards of the earth. “I really wasn’t exposed to the idea of creation care before,” she says.



A Wide Open Future for Graduates

“We define environmental education very broadly,” says David Ostergren, director of the graduate program. “We at Merry Lea are excited about reaching out to a broad audience. We want to train leaders that can bring environmental awareness to a variety of fields. Our students’ future jobs and goals are only limited by their imaginations.”

This breadth is evident in the interests of current students and the backgrounds of this year’s entering class. Weston plans to teach in a school classroom that will no doubt contain aquariums of live amphibians and reptiles. Kuhn is a fan of small mammals and hopes to teach others about them in a zoo setting. Jiménez would love to work as a consultant, helping businesses or homeowners improve their energy-efficiency and
ecological footprints.

Among this year’s entering class are a chef interested in sustainably grown food as a starting point for environmental education and a woman with a vision for combining environmental education with her inner-city ministry.

Gallery of images of summer flora at Merry Lea

A Wide Open Future for Merry Lea

The master’s program is reshaping Merry Lea’s focus and energies as well. Luke Gascho, executive director at Merry Lea, is surprised and pleased by the number of students who entered the program this summer.

“People are attracted to our clearly defined curriculum,” Gascho notes. “They can see what they will get when they look at our Web site, but there is also flexibility, based on which major project they choose.”

This year’s students report that the opportunity to complete a master’s degree in one year was a factor in their decision. Granted, the schedule is brutal, with few breaks, but for those able to devote themselves to full-time study, it is an opportunity to save money and
hit the job market sooner.

Perhaps the most important factor filling the chairs in Merry Lea’s classroom is the critical, 21st century need for ecological understanding. “The environment is in the news a great deal,” observes Gascho. “This encourages people to think, ‘I need to do something about that!’ ”

– By Jennifer Schrock, Public Program Coordinator at Merry Lea.

SST at 40: Four decades transforming lives

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Editor’s note: From its modest but revolutionary roots in 1968, Goshen College’s Study-Service Term (SST) has changed the world and transformed lives. The program’s uncommon combination of cultural education, service-learning and everyday life with host families remains a core part of the college’s general education program — and a source of national recognition. The following three articles offer distinct perspectives on SST from the inside out. (more…)