“Pursuing” with Regina Shands Stoltzfus

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 5
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 5: “Pursuing” with Regina Shands Stoltzfus was released on February 8, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

We continue through Black History Month on ~ing Podcast, this time as host Rev. Allison Maus sits down with Dr. Regina Shands Stoltzfus. She is a Professor and the Director of Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies at Goshen College. Regina is co-founder of the Roots of Justice Anti-Oppression program (formerly Damascus Road Anti-Racism Program) and has worked widely in peace education. In this week’s episode we look back at Regina’s origin story, her passion for this work, and what gives her hope for the future of the Church in this challenging space. Allison and Regina will also discuss themes from Regina’s new book, coauthored with Dr. Tobin Miller-Shearer (former ~ing Podcast guest on episode #27) titled Been in the Struggle: Pursuing an Antiracist Spirituality, available now from Herald Press! 

Allison Maus, Regina Shands Stoltzfus, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  00:27
Even with the problems that we have today, the world in 2022… It’s very different than the world in 1957. Right? The people during that time, that held their ground, that built community together and had a vision that they were collectively working towards, and they had successes in that successes that led to where we are today.

Ben Wideman  00:57
Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.

Allison Maus  01:04
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of ~ing Podcast. Today I am sitting with Dr. Regina Shands Stoltzfus who’s the director of Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies at Goshen College, is an author of the book Been in the Struggle: Pursuing Antiracist Spirituality, and has done a lot of other antiracist work. So welcome, Regina.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  01:28
Thank you so much. It’s good to be here.

Allison Maus  01:30
Will you share a little bit about who you are the work you do where you are currently?

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  01:35
As you mentioned, I teach at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. I’ve been there 20 years, which is kind of hard to believe. I started out as a campus pastor, and did that for a few years and really wanted to teach. And so I was I came into the world of academia, through doing antiracism and anti-oppression work primarily in the Mennonite Church and its institutions. And I got shoulder tapped a couple of times along the way, with people asking me if I ever thought about teaching in higher ed, which I had not. But then I started… then well, I went to seminary, and I really admired what my professors were doing, and thought, “Oh, I’d really like to do that.” So I did my master’s degree in Biblical Studies and continued to do anti-oppression work in various places spent some time as an associate pastor, at my home church, the church I grew up in in Cleveland, Ohio. They were the ones that sent me to seminary and did a master’s degree and really started thinking about higher ed and teaching and got my foot in the door at Goshen College, like I said, as a campus pastor. And then I knew that if I really wanted to teach, I taught a class a year, maybe, for the years that I was there as a campus pastor. And then I knew I had to do the PhD. So I did that. And there I am. And Peace Studies, what is where I landed, but my degrees are in, as I said, Biblical Studies, the master’s degree. And then the PhD is in theology and ethics, which feels to me like a perfect fit for the way that I the lens through which I view the work that I do.

Allison Maus  03:41
Thanks for sharing that… a little bit about your journey. I love hearing about how people, you know, find their way to fulfilling work. And sometimes that we don’t notice it ourselves. You said someone tapped you on the shoulder, right? I feel like that feels a little like a relatable part of my journey to where I am today. So you talked about this anti oppression work. This antiracism work that you do. Can you talk a little bit more about that part of your calling in that? I don’t know how you stepped into or were invited into leadership in those spaces.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  04:20
Yeah, that is a long story. But I can I can condense it to the high points. I’ll start off with the congregation that I was raised in. It was an intentionally, um… It was a Mission Church of the Mennonite church back in the 50s. Our family started going there when I was a little girl, but it was an intentionally interracial church. And during that period of time, there were not a lot of churches that were from the very beginning, intentionally interracial, it was really into the church Constitution. It was the vision of the church founders. And that was my normal growing up in church, I learned about God and Jesus and all the Bible stories in the context of black and white people going to church together. And because I was a child, during the 60s, there was the civil rights movement happening all over the country. And we were a racially conscious congregation. And by that I don’t necessarily mean that we were hardcore activist types, but because race because because of what we were doing, being church together in a context where that was very, very unusual. We talked about race. And I remember hearing from the pulpit. Dr. King, back in the days when people had a harder time with him, while he was actually alive and doing his work, then we often see what has happened since his death. But those were things that we talked about, those were things that we were conscious of, because, you know, in youth group, we were a mixed youth group. And so we would go to places together and people would look at us and wonder why this configuration of kids was hanging out together. And so the backdrop of my childhood, and church life was a was thinking about the problem of race, but not necessarily thinking about it as a problem because of my context, but certainly also knowing that things that were going on, outside in the world. So that shaped me, I think, in ways that made me really wonder probably more probably more focused, wondering about it as a young adult, and then an older adult as to. So why is it that I had this experience, but so many other people in places seem to have a real problem with that kind of those kinds of relationships? And of course, that part a big part of that is knowledge, naivete a young person saying, well, we could do it, why can’t everybody else do it? Fast forward to as a young adult, and getting involved in again, because of the grounding of my church to be thinking about justice oriented activities. During the 80s, I worked with some Sanctuary Movement. I did some work with a Women’s Labor organization, and eventually found my way into working with Mennonite Central Committee. And that job was about doing peace education, with congregations primarily, but with other folks as well. And because I had this interest in what we called it back in the 80s, and early 90s, diversity work. And I had a little bit of free rein as to how I could focus myself, I started thinking more and more about that through the lens of the church like and, and there were congregations and organizations that were interested in having that conversation. Tobin Miller shared was also working at MCC Mennonite Central Committee at the time, and he was actually doing the anti racism desk. So we put our heads together, to find more conversation partners and to find ways that we could work together in doing anti racism work. And we co founded with the support of other folks in that network of people that we were wanting to have conversations with. We co founded in antiracism, education and organizing organization that was called Damascus Road, and is now known as Roots of Justice. And the book that we just published is actually us having an extended conversation about some of the things that we learned about doing the work about doing the work together and about the long period of time that we’ve been engaged in it. I don’t think either of us back in the mid 90s. Thought about, oh, we’re going to be doing this for decades. But that is what it has turned out to be.

Allison Maus  09:51
I would love to talk a little bit more about this book, Been in the Struggle: Pursuing Antiracist Spirituality. Yeah, I’m curious how Um, your relationship with your co author Tobin affected the way that you see your your work and leadership. But I also think that it’s important that we talk about, I don’t know, maybe define antiracism spirituality, I heard a little bit of what I think it is rooted in your story. And I think in this world where we’re kind of like, I don’t know, it feels like anti racism work can get compartmentalized into that social justice work. That’s activism work. It’s not necessarily something that is like rooted in like the center of the conversation as people safe.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  10:41
The first thing to say about the book is, it is not a book that says, here’s how to build your spirituality through anti racism, or here’s a set of practices that you should do if you want to be a good anti racist. Or this is how you can pray racism away, it’s not any of those of those things. What it is, is a an extended reflection on what it has taken to stay in the work. For as long as we have, as I said, when I was talking about how Tobin and I came together to start doing anti racism work, and not really visualizing this being something that would extend into a couple of decades. It it takes a toll. So a lot of the stories that we tell in the book are about the toll that it takes mentally, physically, and certainly spiritually. And what we each came to learn and often reflect on in the years leading up to the time when when we started writing the book, is there are resources that our faith communities provide for us. We also think that it’s true, that the same kind of thing is true for people who come from different faith traditions. So it’s not an explicitly, although we reflect upon our common Christian/Mennonite faith traditions, we also see this kind of phenomenon at work in people from various traditions, including people who say that who are not religious, but know that they are connected to something beyond themselves. And so one of the things I think we’re doing in these conversations is saying, Yeah, we need to lean on our traditions, we need to lean on our practices that give us sustenance, and strength and endurance and joy, we talk about joy in the book, when we’re doing the work of anti racism, just as we apply it in other parts of our lives. And I think that that one of the lessons from that, as I’m just sort of listening to myself talk about it is that the work of antiracism or anti-oppression, or whatever kind of social justice work, people are engaged in, it is built on a number of practices. When you think about it, in non spiritual terms, right, you can think about the planning that goes into it and the meeting together and meetings sort of take on ritualized character, some of that can be very good, some of it, maybe not so good. But there are things that you come to again, and again and again, and those things that we come to again and again, embed themselves in us and help us again, withstand the work. One of the big areas that we talk about to that, for us makes the connection between the work that we’re doing, and a life of the Spirit, if you will, is doing antiracism work, in the context of community, in the context of I don’t have to defeat racism all by myself, and I couldn’t, even if I wanted to. And so leaning on the relationships that we have with one another, and crafting relationships that are that are honest, that are transparent, and that are capable of holding hard conversations and hard moments in hard times together.

Allison Maus  15:06
I’m curious, as you talked about building relationships and community, Mennonite Church USA is a predominantly white denomination… PCUSA, my tradition that I find myself in has a lot of predominantly white congregations. Can those congregations and denominations, do anti racism work well? Are there extra hurdles we should be paying attention to?

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  15:32
I think the answer to that is yes. But I also would say, without question, that it’s not easy. And the short answer to why it’s not easy, there’s lots of reasons that it’s it’s not easy. But we have spent a very long time in this country. And that’s the collective we right, living under the notion of a racial hierarchy. And just, you know, entering into that by virtue of being born here, and being handed down the practices and traditions of that. So the practices and tradition of segregation, racial segregation, very ritualized, right. It’s got signage, it’s got rules, it’s got regulations, and for, like I said, for hundreds of years, that was the norm, going back to talking about my church, that’s what made my church not the norm. Because it’s like, everybody knows that we don’t do church together, What are y’all doing. And so there’s a lot of undoing that has to happen. And there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance that comes in with that unlearning. And I think, not only but particularly for people who are white, and are in all white context, the learning and the unlearning or unlearning, I think can be very uncomfortable. And it takes a lot of time. And one of the things that I believe is true for all of us, when we are trying to undo harmful systems, we want it to happen right away. Like, I think about my students a lot, we want to just like tear it all down. And yes, that impulse is real. And I think it’s energizing. But we also need to rebuild the new world that we want to see take place of the one that was harmful for so many people, including white people, right? The system of racism is not healthy for any of us. It hurts us in different ways. And, and I don’t want to equalize that. But I think that it’s true, that is it is harmful for all of us. But that unlearning and rebuilding takes time. It takes patience, it takes resilience, because we see in the present moment that there are lots and lots and lots of powerful voices that say we shouldn’t be talking about this, we shouldn’t be teaching it, we shouldn’t be thinking about it. And if you are talking about it, teaching it thinking about it, you in fact are the problem. And so there is a lot, there’s a lot churning underneath that desire to have a different, a different society, a different world. And, and so going back again, to the necessity, necessity of doing it in community. And anything that we do in community is going to take a long time because we are different people with different personalities, and all of that stuff has to be taken into account.

Allison Maus  19:06
I definitely feel some of the frustration sometimes of the slowness of the process. And and there is a lot to be discouraged about along the way. So I’m wondering if if you could share where do you find hope, that joy that you mentioned, maybe what’s the the blessing we can look for in the midst. And that gives us courage to keep going.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  19:33
Those are so necessary, because I don’t feel them all the time. Right. I think that having the long view of history is helpful. We think that it’s really important to as we look at the history of how race has functioned, and orchestrated people’s lives in this country and other countries as well. There’s a lot of bad stuff. Right. And that’s why people don’t want to hear about it because it makes us feel gross and icky, and who wants to feel gross and icky. So there’s a lot to mourn. But even with the problems that we have today, the world in 2022, it’s very different than the world in 1957. Right. And that is because of the people during that time, that held their ground, that build community together, and had a vision that they were collectively working towards, and they had successes in that successes that led to where we are today. Again, still have problems still have things to solve, but very different than what we had before and different in significant ways that matter for the way that people are able to access things that make a good life. housing industry, education system, religion, talking about our churches, right, talking about the the ways that many of our churches, not all of them are seeking ways to continue to shift the legacy that we have been handed. So they’re looking back on what has happened. And the successes that have been made and the foundation that has been built. For those of us in the era that we’re in now, to we don’t have to start from scratch. I think about that, in terms of looking back, but also in terms of looking forward and being really glad many, many days when I see people who are younger than me, my students and others who are invested in this work and thinking about what is it that their generation is called to do? And what are the new things that their generation will be doing that my generation and the ones before either couldn’t do or the context wasn’t right, or we didn’t have the vision that they have now. And so there is that, that thinking about knowing that change is possible, because we have seen it, we have experienced it, and having the opportunity to to contribute to that. And again, I am going to go back to the joy of doing it in community. I think that many of the people that I trust, the most, in this world for lots of things, not just antiracism work, are ones who have walked with me through some of these, some of these struggles of doing antiracism work, because it does take a genuine kind of trust and clarity with one another. But there’s also something about going through hard times together, that builds that builds strong bonds. And because with the model that we use for antiracism work, we have always insisted that it’s not just about the work, it’s about us as human beings. And I want to know, you know, what your kids are up to, and I want to cook together with you and let’s go out to a movie, let’s not just do the work, we made the mistake for the first while of we have to like squeeze every moment and make it you know, the people who are investing in us, we have to make sure we give them a good return on the dollars that they have spent or the space that they have allowed us to do this work. And that is a sure and swift road to burnout and bitterness. And so I’m very, very grateful that early on, we said, You know what, we have to have fun together. We have to, we have to hang out together and just enjoy life together as well as doing the work. And the truth is the work is better for that part of the foundation as well.

Allison Maus  24:30
That there sounds like the definition of antiracist spirituality. This wholeness, right, that you’re describing. Right, maybe you can’t define it just in words, but it’s this experience in this holistic living. As you were speaking I was just thinking of, you know, the early church stories that we read in the book of Acts or other just, you know, moments of hope in the stories we share and in the way God shows up and people show up and and all of that. So,

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  25:04
Absolutely, absolutely. And I think about the way that we read about sharing food together and making sure everybody has enough. And so being invested not only in people’s people’s spirits, but they’re very bodies, like you need to be fed, you need to, you need to rest, we need to make sure that no one is left out. And so that, that is that’s community building. And that’s resilience building.

Allison Maus  25:39
Wonderful. Well, Regina, thank you again, for sitting with me and answering all my questions. It’s really been a delight to hear about your work that you’re doing. And yeah, it’s been very encouraging as well. I’m curious, for those who want to know more about you the work that you’re doing maybe future projects, where can people find you?

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  26:03
Yeah, I think the best place to sort of get a list of what’s upcoming for me and and what I’ve done in the past few years is actually my Goshen College faculty page. Okay, I’m more of a lurker on social media. So I’m there, but I don’t really say much.

Allison Maus  26:23
Yeah. Well, thanks again for being here. We’re so glad to be able to speak with you.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus  26:29
Thank you so much. It was a great opportunity. I love the conversation.

Allison Maus  26:33
Well, until we meet again, dear listeners, peace.

Ben Wideman  26:40
Over the next few weeks in podcast, we’ll be spending some time remembering MJ Sharp, a Mennonite peacebuilder, who was kidnapped and killed on a UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We will be sitting down with Marshall King, author of the recent book, Disarmed: The Life and Legacy of Michael “MJ” Sharp, as well as MJ’s parents, friends, and those striving to live into the passion that he left behind. We hope you join us for this special series.  As always, we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app and have something to share. Send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards, and produced by me, Ben Wideman. views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.