Finding the Voice We’ve Always Had

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“So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace” St. Paul, to the Ephesians (6:14-15, CEB).

“You know,” he said to me, “You work at the sleeping giant of the Valley!”

“I do?” I asked, slightly surprised. My neighbor and I were having one of those early evening middle-of-the-street conversations as we simultaneously arrived home. “Tell me what you mean,” I continued. Although I wasn’t sure what he was getting at I was curious to hear more, and I also didn’t want to sound defensive. As someone connected to a variety of sectors in our community, his thoughts about what FPU represents really mattered to me.

“You have what everybody’s looking for, but they just don’t know you have it!” He looked at me like I really should have much more of a clue: “Restorative justice!” my friend finally exclaimed, “that’s what I hear about everywhere I go. When I talk to school district administrators, community organizers, youth leaders, veterans’ groups…everyone sees the value of what restorative justice can do in our community…That is what you teach at FPU, isn’t it?”

Well, yes, it is. Of course, “restorative justice” is not all we teach at FPU, but it is at the core of what we teach. This is for good reason. FPU’s Anabaptist history finds its identity in Jesus’ announcement of God’s intent to bring peace and wholeness to all of creation. Further, the early framers of the Fresno Pacific Idea envisioned a place where students’ formation in the liberal arts and training for the professional world would be understood both as acts of justice and preparation to act justly. Even a quick review of our alumni demonstrates just how often that vision has become reality. Long before school districts, prison systems and human resources agencies jumped on board the “restorative justice” train, our learning community was already marked by a commitment to orient students in the way of peace—teaching as “restorative justice.”

At FPU, this commitment is so much more than a certificate, a major or an academic discipline; “restorative justice” has long been the grounding vision that can shape all we do. So I told my neighbor about a few of the politicians, the community organizers, the social workers, the church workers, the therapists and the medical practitioners who have graduated from FPU. I also told him about the Center for Peacemaking & Conflict Studies (CPACS), the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) and our emerging networks with school districts, global studies initiatives and service learning opportunities. Whether in the form of current students, alumni or academic programs, these are all expressions of what is deeply embedded in our DNA as an institution. This is our voice—a voice we’ve always had. This is the “giant” opportunity before us, and the communities we serve are awakening to what we have to offer.

“We’re not asleep,” I suggested. “But, we’re also waking to new possibilities and partnerships. Would you help us make that happen in your networks?” He said he would.