Peace Blogger Interview #7: Abigail Miller
MLW-W: Welcome to the return of the Peace Blogger interviews. Due to many obstacles, we have not had an interview with a member of the Christian Peace Bloggers blog-ring since mid-April! To read earlier entries in this series, click the following numbers: 1, 2 (sadly, this interviewee has since quite the blog-ring), 3, 4, 5, and 6. Today’s interviewee is Abigail C. Miller who blogs under the pseudonymn “Espiritu Paz,” Spanish for “Spirit of Peace.” Her blog, Parables displays theological and other observations from her own Anabaptist perspective. She sarcastically headlines the blog with a quotation from John Calvin, “Anabaptists demonstrate a total lack of intelligence. There is nothing to be learned from their ideas.” Well, I beg to differ with that 16th C. French lawyer turned Genevan Reformer and pastor–not only about the ideas of 16th C. Anabaptists, but those of contemporary descendants like Abigail. Welcome to the Peace Blogger interviews, Abigail!
MLW-W: How would you describe yourself?
Abigail: A traveling pilgrim, a child of God, a catalyst for the kingdom, a student of life and academics (science and theology). I’m an artist, a writer, a big sister, a sometimes too adventurous daughter. I work on community building enterprises and networking, mentoring and leadership in my local community.
By the way I’m not saying I have perfected any of these things. I just like integrating the best spirituality and theology with the places where the rubber hits the road, in the cracks and crevices of life. I also do some speaking when I can but I don’t package myself for that endeavor—pacifism, my testimony, my Beachy Amish heritage and community are often my topics and once I presented on the rise of [contemporary] paganism. My faith and way of relating to God is both mystical and rational. Prayer, meditation and reading and thinking about dense philosophy, work together just fine for me. I go about my house, neighborhood, and global community in an attempt to practice the presence of God. I am a strong idealist and adventurer and often insist too strongly on having my ideals become a living reality.
MLW-W: That’s quite a description. Before we unpack any of that further, tell us about your immediate family.
Abigail: I am second born into a family of ten. My grandparents were both horse and buggy Amish and my parents grew up somewhere between Amish and Beachy—if you know what that means.
MLW-W: I understand those references slightly, but let’s help out our readers. The Amish are an offshoot of that branch of the Anabaptists known as Mennonites after the Dutch Radical Reformer Menno Simons. The Amish, who reject most forms of modern technology for very simple rural lives, were a splinter movement named after Jacob Ammann who believed too many North American Mennonites were becoming aculturated (“worldly”) and lax in enforcing church discipline, right?[N.B.: Non-U.S. readers can get a somewhat accurate picture of Amish life from the movie, Witness.] There are Amish communities in many parts of rural Canada and the U.S., especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and Kentucky. The Amish do not pursue education beyond Middle School, i.e., beyond what is needed to maintain their simple lifestyle. Could you describe further the distinctions between “old order Amish” and “Beachy Amish?”
Abigail: I don’t know about all the technical differences but functional differences are generally: The Amish haven’t incorporated the 20th Century technology and mobility inventions into their lifestyles. The Beachys have more so. Beachys drive cars, do air travel and use electricity. Yet there are still some restrictions across the board—television and radio are absent from daily lifestyles and often internet use is as well. Historically, the Beachy’s began splitting off from the Amish in 1930s, over the issue of Sunday school, which was too in vogue for the Amish brothers, and a movement into a more dedicated spiritual life for the Beachy dissenters. The popular faith of the Beachy’s is still structured around a largely Amish worldview, although Protestant teaching is brought in by the more progressive and evangelistic ministers. As for distinctive attire, the Beachy’s have a more relaxed dress code than the Amish. Women still wear coverings (bonnets) although they are somewhat smaller. Solid colors for men and women. Women wear the cape dress style, somewhat altered from the Amish version.
MLW-W: Thanks. Okay, back to your family.
Abigail: We grew up on a 30 cow dairy farm, where we participated in the operation of growing crops to feed the cattle and gardening to feed ourselves. I parented my younger siblings and learned how to cook and sew all my own clothes as well as milk cows, put up hay, wean and feed calves. We helped my dad, the jack of all trades, build stuff, fix stuff, invent stuff. My family, in many ways is the best image I have of positive community. As we lived and worked together, in all our various personalities, we almost didn’t know where one hand’s effort became another’s.
All of us pursued higher education except for one brother. I was sort of the instigator of that. My parents resisted it strongly but after talking about it for four years, during my high school years, they relented. And I started off at the local community college. As I discovered and freely shared with all my siblings—“they pay you to go to school, if you are poor.” This we all did in the context of a Beachy Church Community. In a sense, we were also raised under the auspices of this subculture.
MLW-W: What do you do for a living? When not working or blogging, what do you like to do?
Abigail: I am the full-time administrative assistant to faculty at Bethel Seminary for the past number of years. I was also a student during that time, receiving my MATS[Master of Arts in Theological Studies] last spring . I’ve also taken up some side projects in book editing/typesetting for some professors. I volunteer as a director on my district’s board of directors. I joined, accidentally but accepted my duties and responsibilities as I began to realize the opportunity it provided me to develop my leadership.
I like exploring. I like adventures and challenges. I like learning a new language and getting on the inside of new cultures. I like meeting new people depending on my phase in life, I also like to sit and daydream, wander around alone, generally at night, thinking or praying or just feeling the solitude. I like to organize and problem solve and do systems analysis and tweaking. I like to garden, cook, work on my various art and knitting projects. I like building and fixing things. I like to read and write and teach. I like designing things. I like hanging out with friends and family. I tremendously enjoy rigorous discussion.
MLW-W: Bethel Seminary is run by the Baptist General Conference , a conservative evangelical denomination that began as immigrant Swedish Baptists. I’ve visited there. The seminary culture reflects a typical American Evangelical sub-culture that is quite different from your upbringing. What led you to choose Bethel Seminary rather than enrolling in a seminary in the Anabaptist tradition, such as Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, VA, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Goshen, IN, or even Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, CA?
Abigail: To be entirely honest, I didn’t really intend to go to Seminary. I began working at Bethel Seminary, because I needed a job badly and a friend got me in. Then I started taking classes and couldn’t quit. As for the other Anabaptist Seminaries—I didn’t really know about them and it would have required a move far away from my family. Career navigating and resume building and moving across the country for a job or a school still aren’t a part of my hardware.
MLW-W: Okay, you’ve begun this already, but tell us something more directly about your faith. How long have you been a Christian (follower of Jesus)?
Abigail: Being raised Beachy, I am no stranger to Christian teaching. The best thing my community gave me was a slow way of life and humility. It is those habits that cultivated the ground for faith, for hearing the Holy Spirit. I remember praying and a sense of oneness with God long before the confession of faith that my tradition recognized as the deciding point for following Christ.[N.B.: This is a believers’ baptism tradition, requiring an adult, or, at least, adolescent confession of faith, followed by baptism, to officially join the church.]
So, I don’t know how long I’ve been a Christian, but I know I am actively pursuing the path and that is what matters. There have been times in my life when I have encountered the reality of Christ so significantly that, by comparison, I could almost say I wasn’t a Christian before the growth surge. For instance I can point to a mystical-like experienced I received during my senior year of college, as a result my faith was heavily influenced by the concept and motive of incarnation. My experience has been that there is a progressive process infused by Spirit catalyzed moments.
MLW-W: Of what local congregation/parish are you a member? If your local church is part of a denomination, what is it?
Abigail: I go to church services but I would be loathe to consider myself a member of any such institution, mostly because it would be a bit meaningless to the end toward which church should be. Membership in the context I have found myself in, no longer means much other than formal affiliation to an organization. I have my circles of Christian influence, numerous mentors and people that are companions in sharpening my growth and maturity in faith and circles of human fellowship. So I go to services and celebrations and I participate in various communities but I also meet with mentors and discipleship partners to challenge and keep me accountable in my spiritual growth. I think there was a time when that was all wrapped up into the same ball of wax but it isn’t anymore. So, I piece it together in an attempt at fostering wholeness in myself.
MLW-W: How did you get into blogging? What do you like about it? Are there problems you see with blogging?
Abigail: I started blogging at the urging of my seminary ethics professor. He enjoyed my personal stories as well as my intentional living. He urged me to get into it as a means of being a Christian witness. I like the challenge of blogging because it is forcing me to be succinct and write well. The thing I hate about it most, though, is that my readers/lurkers could remain anonymous forever, not putting in the effort to reveal themselves and interact with me toward a mutuality. I find the one-sidedness of blogging most unsatisfying because I hold mutuality and equality in friendship as such a high ideal.
MLW-W: . What led you to join Christian Peace Bloggers? Since joining have you blogged any posts on peacemaking? Have they gotten any feedback from readers?
Abigail: Peacemaking is a lifestyle. Posts on the perspective and the position—the issue itself, per say—will be rare. However the perspective and lifestyle choice, pervading my worldview, will surface everywhere. I write in stories or in-divisive commentary. It’s not so popular. I also add a touch of humanness by telling of some life stuff—my family keeps tabs on me that way. I’ve been contemplating splitting up my blog into two themes: a more personal life and event blog and then thoughts and meditations and parables.
MLW-W: Do you read any of the other blogs in the blog-ring? Which ones do you like and why? Have you alerted any readers to your blog about these blogs (or specific posts on them) which you like?
Abigail: Matt Stone’s Journeys In Between. I like the mystical bent and the knowledge of Paganism he’s got. Mark VanSteenwick’s Jesus Manifesto. He’s my friend and he responds to me when I comment. Plus, I like many of the ideas, because they describe the philosophy and principles out of which I come. Graham Old’s Leaving Münster. I don’t know what I like about his blog but I read certain themes ccasionally.
MLW-W: I know that nonviolence/nonresistance is part of Amish faith, but you’ve moved a bit from your roots. Do you consider yourself a pacifist? If so, say something about how you see nonviolence (or nonresistance) and its connections to the gospel.
Abigail: You might say I was raised in a Christian pacifist community but I doubt my father would have passed the conscientious objector test.[N.B.: This refers to the U.S. government’s standards, during times we have had coerced military induction, a “draft,” for allowing someone to refuse military service because their religion or conscience objects to all war.] My father is an armchair history buff, specializing in military history. He is rather an anomaly in that sense; he lived a very nonresistant life but in his business dealings and in his relationship with others he participated in active non-resistance. However, when it came to military history, tactical planning and such, he switched into this other mode of thinking. I kind-of compare it to folks who assent to the gospel mentally and don’t live it. My father lived nonresistance but didn’t talk it. I came into my peaceful resistance stance via encountering the history of the Anabaptists as well as through the gospel.
MLW-W: Some in the Anabaptist tradition(s) distinguish between “nonresistance,” which is generally more apolitical and doesn’t seek to influence “the world,” and active nonviolent resistance. Is this a distinction you would make?
Abigail: I would acknowledge the distinction. Nonresistance is the stance espoused by most of those in the community I am from. The “lived out” portion of that nonresistance from which I would dissent is what I would term “non-participative”—the uninvolved habit one can form in a community which has a history of nonresistance, where the lifestyle has been accepted and incorporated into the culture around it. Active nonviolence is different in that it engages the turmoil and the violence of the world and with decided active nonviolence bringing ideological, social and interpersonal change.
MLW-W: Outside of blogging, do you participate in any other peace-related activities or organizations? If so, tell us about them.
Abigail: I am not intentionally a part of such an organized work. Rather, I join groups and organizations and bring peace-related teaching and living habits to it. For instance, I’ve been working toward a network of home churches/small churches. Most don’t see this as a peace-related activity. I do. Because I see these groups forming around common interests. Often they are very homogeneous. I say this only to point out as a passing observation about a reality that could turn unfavorable. Homogeneity was never really interesting to me in the first count but it also is a precursor to seeds of conflict laid on the lines that homogeneous groups are defined according to that which remains unexpressed till the moment of conflict. My “peace-related advocacy” in this situation (if I can even claim such an intent) is to introduce the catalyst factor to the situation. It will bring tension and opportunity through which greater capacity for peace can be worked out of.
In general, I habitually look for schisms and fissures in social structures and I look for ways to become both sides. Basically, I realize that if I am going to have anything profound or new to say about the issues on a philosophical or theological plane than I must be immersed in life of it.
MLW-W: Have you ever considered bringing your Beachy Amish perspective to some active peacemaking programs started by more “engaged” Anabaptists, e.g., the Mennonite Central Committee or Christian Peacemaker Teams?
Abigail: No, I haven’t. Generally, I start where I’m at with what there is and begin organizing and networking with people. I’ve considered being a missionary and have looked at some mission organizations in the hopes of finding a place on the margins of violence and haven’t found anything uncomfortable enough. I know I need guidance or maybe a windfall on how to best make use of what God has entrusted to me. Until then, I wait and pray.
MLW-W: You rightly show that peacemaking is a lifestyle. You bring this perspective to conflict resolution in families and congregations. In my own experience, churches with little or no history of peacemaking are often very receptive to this kind of “internal” peacemaking and reconciliation. Have you found this, too? If so, has such a reception ever opened up opportunities to talk about peacemaking “in the world” as also part of our discipleship (e.g., through prison ministry, victim/offender reconciliation, opposition to war, neighborhood peacemaking vs. neighborhood violence, etc.)?
Abigail: Yes, I have seen that connection and grappled with it in my own church community. I’ve done a house church that was concentrated in a particular location for most of the past 6 years. So, the setting for peacemaking was immediate and applicable both internally and external to our community. Our external foci were connected to the Spanish speaking new immigrants and immediate neighbors. The first issue placed our focus into the global realities of economic disparity and injustice which are often the underpinnings of violence. Mostly, what to do to make a lasting difference was something we tried to wrap our heads around but couldn’t come up with any immediate answers for lasting impact. Us women joked about marrying illegal immigrants to subvert the system and through it forge inroads into international unity. One did marry internationally. Yet, in truth, American foreign policy would be forced to be significantly different if a critical mass of its population were married into families from other nations.
MLW-W: Ha-ha! That might really work if we could get enough of the “elites” to have such family connections. I notice that three of the current candidates for U.S. president have such international families: Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has gotten much attention because his mother is a white woman from Kansas and his father a black Kenyan, his stepfather a Filipino. But Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) also has such a complex background: His father is an Anglo from Boston and his mother is from Mexico and remained a Mexican citizen and he is married to a naturalized citizen from Nicaragua. Less dramatically, in terms of cultural stretches, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is now married to an Englishwoman. Significantly, while none of these candidates is pacifist (Kucinich comes very close), each of them takes a far more internationalist and peacemaking approach to foreign policy than anything this nation has seen for some time. So, that “subvert by marriage” strategy might actually work! It also shows how immigration policy and foreign policy are deeply connected.
MLW-W: Speaking of international connections, have you travelled outside the U.S. ? How well do you stay informed with global events?
Abigail: I’ve been to several places in Latin America and Canada. I don’t stay very well informed of global events. I’m trying to figure out how to do this, once I’ve got the time. I was raised on not TV or radio and my family never got the paper. I was isolated from world events. In my community, we relied on the personal testimony of folks who were a part of our extended global church family, for the real deal on national events of interest to us. Since I have been separated from the community that raised me, I have tried to check out the news from various sources but have given up in frustration. I’ve not wanted to become indoctrinated into the general media slant.
MLW-W: I certainly understand that. Abigail, thank-you for joining us and thank you and our readers for patience in the weeks this series has been dormant. More Peace Blogger interviews to come, I promise. Meanwhile, check out Abigail’s blog, Parables !
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