I recently attended the Women Doing Theology Conference put on by the Women in Leadership Project of Mennonite Church USA. It was a very rich weekend of connecting with old friends and new friends, worshiping, being challenged and inspired to live into the revolution that springs from God’s heart of justice and compassion. Here are just a few take-aways, in no particular order (many of these I’m still processing so this list is not at all comprehensive):
- it is so refreshing and life-giving to be led by women and those who identify in other ways than male. There is power and strength, vulnerability and beauty in filling the pulpit with women’s voices. I have been hungry for the kind of representation that includes women (particularly women of color who were many among our leaders during this conference), queer/gender-nonconforming/lesbian, young and old people sharing their stories and wisdom, their expertise and theological reflections.
- The language we use in our worship matters. The worship at this conference was shaped with such loving intention—words carefully chosen in an effort to be as broadly inclusive and welcoming as possible (each person gathered was named at one point in our worship as indispensable participants in this revolution); many ways of naming the Holy among us (creative, beautiful, wall-dismantling); sensitivity to the times we don’t always live up to our ideals and what God calls us to—naming and repenting of the hurt we cause one another because of ignorance, fear; music that raised the rafters and came in many styles/forms; communion that became a gift of abundance when the tortillas ran out.
- There were many voices represented through workshops (so many interesting themes and too little possibility of getting to them all). I have never been to a gathering that covered so much territory—from biblical scholarship to queer theology to care for the earth to singing revolution, to autonomous and accountability spaces, and to supporting one another in the work of liberation…I’ve never been to a Mennonite conference where so many scholars and theological practitioners of color were called upon to guide our work (I have a growing list of books I want to read now!).
- The most meaningful workshop for me that I attended was one entitled, “Jesus Christ is Intersex, Gender-Queer, Trans: A Cisgender Plea for a Trans-inclusive Theology”. In it, the presenter shared an insight from Gustavo Gutierrez (Latin American liberation theologian) who said something to the effect that we are living as the “progressive revelation of the human face of God.” What I took this to mean is that our understandings of who God is (and who we are as the image of God) is ever changing, deepening. It’s a never-ending commitment and practice to widen our understandings and recognition of the human face of God. In this workshop the challenge was to recognize and commit to the image of God in those who are intersex or transgender. In order to do this, we need to get comfortable with thinking of and talking about God as transgender because God always exists in solidarity with the oppressed. This is something that I very much need to keep thinking about and learning more. But it opened my eyes to see how the work of inclusion, of theology is never done—God’s revelation is progressing and requires our never-ending practice and commitment.
- at another workshop I attended a woman shared how she is writing a book about her experiences of being a mom and the theological intersections that come with that. As the conversation continued, another woman shared her story of pregnancy loss and offered a gentle caution about equating womanhood with motherhood. Another woman then spoke about infertility and the comment was made that when we do theology in our lives, there will always be growing layers of complexity that we are invited into. I felt this was a good summary of the conference: it provided me a space for growing layers of complexity, holding my own personal experiences and ways that I have done theology in my own life and contexts while challenging me through the stories and insights of others to stretch what I have experienced to be true into rippling waves of new questions, new insights, new commitments. It’s this complexity that keeps bringing me back. It lights a spark that gives renewed hope that we haven’t yet quite reached the fullness of an answer, but that we need one another to keep stepping out toward it.