Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?: “Mothering” of a Different Kind


Becca Lachman

Guest post from…Becca J.R. Lachman lives with her husband Michael in Athens, Ohio, where she teaches, tutors, and writes. Her first book of poetry, The Apple Speaks, is dedicated “to humanitarian workers around the globe, but more for the families who love them.” She muses about the writing life and living simply at To hear Becca read poems and discuss writing, check out this WOUB radio interview.

Do me a favor:  Imagine you’ve been asked to tell your mother’s life story. In public. In front of your family.  Your community will be there–your ancestors, too. What stories would you choose to tell? And which influences, memories, or emotions might steer your tongue?

Being a creative writer, I often ask myself these same tough questions. Sorting through complex answers helps me to write what matters, what needs to be said simply because of beauty or music or truth (I make it sound rather easy here, but if you’re a writer, you know that it’s anything but.)

One writing exercise I return to involves imagining a long banquet table surrounded by the people or events that have shaped my sense of self and, most importantly, my public voice. Sometimes, the guests around this “inner writer’s table” surprise me with their presence: my 7-year-old-self, my high school boy friend, my strict great-great grandma I never met. Other times, they’re expected, even cliché: my seemingly perfect father, or my martyred religious ancestors with tongue screws still intact.

In order to write the truth (note: not necessarily the same thing as fact), I “excuse” certain guests from my inner table, then decide who sits at the head. This inner rearranging of place settings, if you will, can shape how–and why–my stories are told.
Over the past few months, I’ve been traveling to promote my first collection of poetry. But the real goal of this self-planned book tour

Participants at a Creative Mothering workshop

is to encourage others (particularly women influenced by Mennonite Church USA) to realize the strength of their stories, and to share that truth–as Emily Dickinson puts it, to “tell it slant.” Having the courage to tell our version of a story, even our own, takes ongoing encouragement and hutzpah.

So wherever I go to share my own stories through poetry and song, I also offer free storytelling/poetry writing workshops for intergenerational women. I’m calling these gatherings “Creative (M)othering” workshops, not because I’m an expert on parenting (I don’t have children, may never have children) but because there are other, alternative ways of mothering, perhaps just as important to Anabaptist faith and culture and to new generations of feminists.

I believe that sharing our stories is a powerful form of creative mothering  (what I define as the long-term act of affirming and mentoring one another’s originality and truth).  As a writer, friend, wife, sister, daughter, and stumbling Anabaptist, it’s very important to me that mothering can also mean “to nurture, to author, or to protect” ( If I do have a child one day, I will teach him/her this with both my words and actions.

One reason I’ve been collecting stories is to nurture the Women in Leadership project within Mennonite Church USA. “Mennonite Monologues,” the project focus group I’m a part of, hopes to eventually collect diverse experiences for an anthology or worship resource. But at its most basic level, it simply asks Mennonite women of all ages to take the time to share their life experiences:

“As Mennonite women, we believe it is important for women in the church to share their stories, not only to value individual experience, but also to strengthen and transform communities. Historically, due to explicit and implicit patriarchy in the Christian church, women have been silenced and their stories devalued. We believe this historic reality is still present, keeping women from experiencing the freedom of full expression in their church community. We believe that our church, the Mennonite church, with its commitment to the priesthood of all believers, can honor the stories of women as a step away from patriarchy.” (excerpt from “Mennonite Monologues” mission statement draft)

At a recent poetry reading in Orrville, Ohio, a confident 20-something man introduced himself to me as “a Mennonite feminist.” His public declaration made my entire week. (It also reminded me that men of all ages need opportunities to share their stories, too.)

“I will tell you something about stories,” writes novelist Leslie Marmon Silko. “They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.” As I’ve led Creative (M)othering workshops, I’ve been inspired, challenged, and changed by the stories shared and the questions raised. I’ve giggled and cried with strangers. I’ve found the community I’d always been hoping to find in Mennonite circles. And I’ve set new places at my “inner writer’s table.”

Want to share your stories with the Women in Leadership project? Contact Becca at for more info.

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Six Things I Resolve to Never Do to Other Pregnant People

Before this year began, I really was pretty clueless about pregnancy and childbirth. I had several friends, a sister-in-law and a few other acquaintances who had been pregnant, but I don’t think I really realized much about the entire process. I didn’t really have an understanding of how drastically my own body would change, all of the crazy symptoms that come along with pregnancy, and perhaps, most surprisingly, I completely underestimated the ways that common strangers might begin to approach me in new ways.

So, as I sit here, about 10 days from my due date, and feeling like more of a spectacle each time I leave the comfort of my air conditioning and brave the outside world, I offer you my list of the top six things that I resolve never to do to another pregnant person again, now that I have personally experienced them for myself.

1. I will not just assume that it is ok to rub her belly. I get it. Bellies are cool. It’s pretty amazing and impressive to know that every pregnant person you see is growing a baby inside there. And really, I don’t have big personal space issues. I love it when my friends and family rub my belly as a sign of love for their coming granddaughter/niece/cousin/friend/etc. And if people I know are fascinated by the belly, and they ask whether it’s ok to rub, I usually give them the green light. But to you, random 50-year-old man in Starbucks whom I have never met before: walking up to me, rubbing my belly and saying, “This baby’s dropping soon, huh?”, is not appropriate. At all. This is my belly. It’s still attached to my body. If I weren’t pregnant and you came up to pat my abs, people around you would be horrified and it would be called sexual harassment.

2. I will not simply volunteer to tell her my pregnancy horror stories. Since I hit seven or eight months pregnant, I have been really curious to hear other people’s birth stories. I’ve been asking friends and acquaintances to share their tales with me, and when I ask, I expect that I’ll hear some of everything: great, relaxed birth stories, tales of births that didn’t go quite according to plan, and testaments of very long labors. But what I didn’t expect was that strangers would, out of the blue, offer me stories of the worst labors they (or their friends) have ever experienced. Stories of incompetent doctors, labors that lasted for 56 hours, etc. This is not encouraging. If you’re going to inundate me with something during pregnancy, shouldn’t it be with stories about how glad you were to have your baby or how memories of labor pains fade over time…

3. I will not make value judgments about the size, shape or placement of her belly. At the beginning of pregnancy, I couldn’t wait for my baby belly to start showing so I could stop looking “nebulously chunky” and start looking full-blown pregnant. For awhile, I thought that perhaps I would never get large and I was crushed every time a stranger would say, “Oh, there’s no way you’re 5 months pregnant” or “You’re too small to really be that far along.” I was sure that I was doing something wrong and was somehow growing the world’s puniest baby who might never reach full size. But now, my how the tables have turned. Beginning a month or so ago, people began coming out of the woodwork to tell me, “Wow, you must be overdue,” or “What have you been feeding that baby?!” Again, not so reassuring for a woman who is getting ready to push this child out, and who still has a month (or maybe more) to go before this baby is even overdue. So, a word to the wise, which I never really would have understood prior to being a paranoid pregnant person: It helps no one to make random value judgments about my belly.

4. I will not stare at pregnant people in public.  I know, I know.  I do look a bit more like a sideshow attraction every time I venture out in public, and I’m probably wearing clothes that have more in common with a tent than they do with the clothes I was wearing 9 months ago or that regular people like yourself are wearing today. I know this and you know this. BUT, you brazenly staring at me while I navigate my way through the grocery store and climb in and out of my car does not make me feel less conspicuous. The occasional glance is cool, but remember, I’m just pregnant, and it’s still ok for me to be out in public. I can offer you about a 99% guarantee that I am not just going to drop this baby on the spot.

5. I will not judge her birth choices. Frankly, there’s enough guilt out there surrounding motherhood to go around, without everyone feeling like they need to get in on the action. I am really excited about our birth plan, and I will happily share with anyone who asks how we are planning. We’re hoping to go natural, avoid medication and intervention as much as possible, etc. But I’m certainly not under the impression that this is the only way to give birth, and I know that often circumstances can change. So, I’ll respect your birth choices if you’ll respect mine. Let’s just make a deal on that one.

6.  I will not comment on her sweaty, flushed countenance. OK, now this one seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s August. I’m pregnant. It’s hot. If you haven’t had a chance to experience this personally, try sticking a warm watermelon under your shirt and carrying it around outside for 20 minutes. I guarantee: you’ll be sweating, too. And seriously folks, it’s not that I don’t know that I look “hot” (and not in the sexy sense, either). And, frankly, you remarking that, “I seem warm” will not help either you or I to feel better about my melting mascara.

To be fair, there are so many ways that people have responded that I appreciate and I want to remember to emulate when I see pregnant people in the future. I will: compliment her appearance, tell her a happy pregnancy tale, offer encouragement, be willing to let her share her own stories and thoughts when she’s excited and scared, offer to help carry her groceries to her car, help her family move across campus in the dead heat of summer, etc. I have been blessed to be surprised by kindness from family, friends and strangers all throughout pregnancy.

But I will always carry these six memories with me as a reminder of the patterns that I don’t want to foist onto any pregnant people who cross my path in the future.

If you are or have ever been pregnant, what are your favorite and/or least favorite memories of other people’s responses to you from that time?


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The-almost-end-of- pregnancy-freak-out

I might be feeling a little overwhelmed…

About four months ago, one of my co-workers jokingly told me, “So, you’ll need to call me when you really start to freak out about pregnancy.” At this point, 20 or so weeks into pregnancy, I was past the morning sickness phase, had seen images of a healthy baby on an ultrasound screen, and I was feeling pretty good. It’s not that things weren’t sometimes stressful, but a large freak out didn’t seem particularly imminent. So, I laughed along with this co-worker and agreed to let him know when – and IF – that happened.

But now – at 37 weeks pregnant and careening quickly towards the eventual conclusion of this pregnancy – the freak out has officially arrived. Sometime in between washing Baby H’s clothes, readying her room, figuring out how to use a Moby Wrap (seriously: way more complicated than you might think) and being told that our little girl might be a bit on the larger side of normal, healthy baby weight, I’ve officially entered freak out mode.

It’s not that we haven’t gotten educated. For the past 12 weeks, Justin and I have been faithfully attending Bradley Method classes (if you live in SoCal, I highly recommend our teacher),  where we’ve learned about the physiological phases of labor, learned and practiced healthy nutrition habits, and been challenged to learn new techniques for relaxation and stress relief, prior to and during labor. We’ve hired a doula and met with her to learn a variety of techniques for massage and movement during labor, to help the process move along smoothly and naturally.

But for some reason, all these things seem to pale in comparison to the realization that my body is about to undergo something that it has never experienced before and over which I have little to no control. Right now, it’s just a waiting game.

And it’s not that I’m not super excited to meet Baby H. On the contrary, I’ve spent the last 37 weeks talking to my belly and wondering about who’s in there, what she’ll be like, what she’ll look like, what kind of personality she’ll have, etc. I can’t wait to meet her.

But there is also a sort of sinking sense of dread that comes when I think about the very real responsibility that comes with raising a child once they flee the womb and enter the world in a new way. I mean, who are we Heinzekehrs kidding?! We love to hold babies, and we’ve watched kids every now and again, but the occasional babysitting stint is way different than being responsible for a little newborn 24/7.

We are going to have one of these in a short amount of time…

In the midst of this freak out, which my co-worker tells me is apparently inevitable and strikes most first-time moms right about this time, I attended some meetings. One of the best parts of working for the church is that work and worship are often blended, and these meetings were no different. We opened our time together by dwelling on scripture, and specifically on Romans 8. As the passage was read, we were asked to focus in on a word or phrase that jumped out to us.

Not surprisingly, I was struck by the following phrase: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” Labor pains! Ha!

The passage goes on to describe the longing of all creation that waits in hope for the coming of the Spirit and the revelation of God. Later on, the chapter reads, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

I was struck anew by this passage. I have certainly never been one for redemptive suffering, and I’ve been hesitant to ascribe a purpose to any form of pain or suffering. I think these theological trajectories have too often been mis-used and/or misconstrued to condone abuse of all sorts.

However, as I think about pregnancy and the labor that will eventually come sometime over the course of the next few weeks, I was struck by the ways that pregnancy, and probably labor itself, can prepare one for parenthood. It’s part of the inevitable waiting process that must be undergone. And it’s certainly not a process without hope, because at the end, if everything goes smoothly, we’ll have a healthy little girl to hold. And we’ll take her home and figure things out (with lots of help from friends and family, I am sure).

But, as Romans 8 notes, the waiting over the next few weeks may not be without its groans and its eventual labor pains. These are

A very pregnant me.

inevitable parts of the pregnancy process.

So, in the midst of my “almost-end-of- pregnancy-freak-out,” I am grateful for the reminder that the waiting is really an exercise in the spiritual practice of cultivating hope.


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Mennonite, Feminist, & Woman

Hilary Scarsella

Guest post from…Hilary Scarsella is a recent graduate of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary who researches and writes on the intersection of violence against women and worship. She lives in Elkhart, Indiana as a part of the Prairie Wolf Collective and enjoys spending time with family.

This post is one in a series of posts by guest bloggers, each reflecting on what it means to be a Mennonite woman. You can check out earlier entries in the series here.

Being Mennonite has always been an important part of my self-identity. Though I attended church as a kid with my family every Sunday, I hardly ever spent time with other Mennonites during the week. It would have been rare for me even to spend time with other Christians. Consistently, my friends and peers seemed to be Jewish or Hindu or secular – anything but Christian and definitely not Mennonite. In fact, when the topic of conversation turned to religion I remember being grilled again and again. “If you’re Mennonite, how come you have electricity?” “How can you be Christian and believe in evolution?” “Do you think that God spoke the exact words that are printed in the Bible?” And, the question I answered most frequently, “How can you be a pacifist when there are horrible things happening in the world that need to be stopped?” I was aware of my Mennonite identity and thankful for it all the time, because I was made to account for it by my curious (and often critical) peers.

These days, the tables have turned, and it’s rare that I have an extended conversation with someone who isn’t Mennonite (save for my childhood and college friends, of course). I have just finished an MDiv from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and within a one mile radius from my home there is a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit, at least three Mennonite churches, AMBS (the seminary), Mennonite Church USA headquarters, Mennonite Mission Network offices, and more. Instead of my Mennonite identity causing me to seem suspect it’s what allows me to belong. Now, it is my identity as a feminist woman that seems to pose a potential threat to my credibility. I’m not sure if the feeling that this is a threat is one produced from within me or absorbed from my surroundings, but I feel it all the same. It is with gratitude that I can say many of the people around me are warmly supportive of feminist theology and work hard to undo oppression against women, people of color, people of the lower socio-economic class, people of lgbt orientations, and so on. Even so, I sense an odd undercurrent that is at least very different from the interreligious and secular subculture I grew up in.

The Madonna of Humility by Domenico di Bartolo

It is one that has me questioning my ambition. For example, I recently used a vocational assessment tool to help me discern next steps, and part of the feedback I received was, “Motivational levels are highest for Hilary when in the limelight where recognition is earned, deserved, or given.” From a feminist perspective, there is no shame in appreciating and striving toward recognition for a job well done. All people should be appropriately recognized for the work that they do. But, as a Mennonite, accepting this truth about myself – that I am motivated by the potential for recognition – feels a bit like failure; failure to be happy with simplicity, failure to be humble, failure to be selfless, failure to be Mennonite. Somehow, though I don’t think this was ever said to me explicitly, I’ve absorbed the idea that a “good Mennonite woman” is one who blends into the background and delights in helping others into the limelight. Thus, my Mennonite identity and my identity as a feminist woman have at times become tangled, each seeming to paralyze the other.

To untangle the knot, it’s been important for me to recognize and accept several things. As a Mennonite woman I find myself needing to work a bit harder than my secular female peers to feel justified in seeking out and accepting my own gifts, talents, and successes (however “success” is defined). I find myself needing to qualify and explain myself carefully when I self-identify as a feminist in church settings. I find myself needing to pay closer attention to my own mannerisms in order to prevent myself from defaulting to a more quiet and apologetic female role than is true to my nature.

On the other hand, as a Mennonite woman I also find myself supported and formed by an absolutely stellar community of people who help me hold faith and justice and reconciliation as values to center my life on. I appreciate that my Mennonite formation keeps me from getting caught up in the spirit of cut-throat competition that sometimes characterizes various feminist and professional circles. In Mennonite tradition and scholarship I find resources for valuing my “womanness” that have been essential elements of my personal, spiritual, and vocational development.

For me, being a Mennonite and feminist woman means feeling confused and stuck sometimes. It also means that joy and healing and faith are with me as steadfast friends for the journey.


Filed under Mennonite Identity

The Conundrum of “Call Me (Maybe)”

For the past few weeks, I’ve had a song stuck in my head. If you listen to pop music on the radio at all, you have almost assuredly heard the song that keeps running through my head. It’s a catchy little ditty by Canadian pop songstress Carly Rae Jepsen. You know what I’m talking about. It’s “Call Me (Maybe).”

In its short run in the U.S., this song has already staked a chokehold as the most watched video on YouTube for the last few weeks, and is being played incessantly by pop and soft rock stations across the country. It’s spawned a series of parody videos (of particular note, check out Cookie Monster’s “Share It Maybe”).

Now I know that if you wanted to take a look at pop music as a whole from a feminist perspective, there would be plenty of fodder.

Luke Bryan sings “Shake it For Me”

There’s hip hop music, which routinely paints a picture of women as property. There are songs that masquerade as “girl empowerment” ballads (think may of Beyonce’s power pop numbers) while still reinforcing a certain stereotypical view of male-female relationships and co-dependency. And don’t even get me started on the whole messed up abusive S&M situation that Rhianna and Chris Brown have been involved with over the past few years. Even country music isn’t immune: I can’t count the number of songs I’ve listened to that suggest that a woman’s role is to “shake it” for some man (and they use more strange slang words to describe a woman’s “it” than I have ever before heard: Honkey Tonk Bedonkadonk, anyone?).

So really, in comparison to many of these more overtly offensive songs, Call Me (Maybe) is quite innocent right? Crazy catchy and perhaps annoying: yes. But harmful? Probs not.

However, my perspective on this song changed a bit a few days ago when I was riding in the car with my sister and this song came on the radio. I quickly started singing along, to Maya’s horror. She quickly said, “No Way,” and changed the station. I was a little annoyed. I was enjoying being set adrift on these corny pop melodies. But Maya said, “Hannah, this song is the perfect stereotypical example of a passive female with no self-confidence.”

As I thought more about it, she’s right. You could say the protagonist in this song is brave. I mean, she’s giving a guy her phone number, right? Wrong. This chick is not even confident enough to hand over her phone number and just say “Call Me.” She has to qualify it with the “maybe.” And, to make things worse, she makes it clear that offering someone her number is not something that she ever does. Really, as she sings later on, “All the other boys, they try to chase me.”

Why couldn’t this song have instead said, “Give me your number. I’ll call you, maybe” or  simply “Call me”?

Although I’ve been out of the “dating field” for awhile now, I still remember the strange courtship dance that often would take place. I remember strongly the desire to be the pursued, and not the pursuer. Even if I was interested in someone, it seemed socially inappropriate, and, at the very least, highly intimidating, to think about making the first move. Instead, I played passive aggressive games like the ones that Miss Carly Rae sings about. You try to find ways to be noticed, to attract attention (but not too overtly), and to peak someone’s interest just enough so they’ll approach you. You talk with mutual friends to try to gauge the other person’s interest in you. It’s a strange chess game that takes place.

So maybe Maya is right. What the world needs is not another catchy pop anthem that reinforces passive aggressive behavior, but rather songs that celebrate the mutual role that women and men can play in dating, and offer a view of a more confident female, who doesn’t need to qualify her propositions with a “maybe.”


Filed under Pop Culture

Being comfortable with complex unity and honest about theological diversity

Conflict by Dawn Hough Sebaugh

Over the course of the past several years, conversations about sexuality, gender and membership have risen to the forefront of Mennonite Church USA conversations, as they have for many other denominations. In the past few months alone, Mennonite periodicals have been filled with articles and editorials about sexuality: there was Pastor Joanna Harader’s explanation of her rationale for performing a same-sex marriage ceremony; a letter from many pastors asking whether the issue of sexuality was worth splitting over; a response from another group of pastors suggesting that sexuality has implications for a broad range of church issues; and news that Central District conference would not suspend the credentials of Pastor Megan Ramer, who had recently performed several same-sex marriages, and that some churches might leave Central District Conference over this decision.

This news is clearly a mixed bag, illustrated the conflicted nature of the conversation and the broad spectrum of understandings about inclusion throughout Mennonite Church USA. This conversation is one whose roots go back many, many years, and the denomination has put out a variety of statements. According to Loren Johns, of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, conversations about human sexuality first rose to national denominational consciousness in the mid-1970’s. Statements released in 1986 by the former General Conference and Mennonite Church denominations in Saskatoon and Purdue respectively both emphasize that sexuality is a good, beautiful gift from God. They talk about sexual ethics beyond simply homosexual relations. And, perhaps most importantly, both statements emphasize the importance of inter-denominational dialogue. They state, “ We covenant with each other to mutually bear the burden of remaining in loving dialogue with each other in the body of Christ, recognizing that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that the Holy Spirit may lead us to further truth and repentance. We promise compassion and prayer for each other that distrustful, broken, and sinful relationships may experience God’s healing. We covenant with each other to take part in the ongoing search for discernment and for openness to each other.”

Later, in 1995, we a statement on how to agree and disagree in love was released, which offered tools for Mennonites to use when conflict arises. This document emphasizes that conflict is a “normal part of our life in the church” and emphasizes a process of dialogue and community discernment which suspends judgment and avoids “labeling.”

Also, in 1995, the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective was published, which included a statement, in Article 19, that reads, “We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.” However, in the introduction to this document, it states clearly that this statement gives an “updated interpretation of belief and practice in the midst of changing times,” but that it also is subject to the authority of the Bible and is meant to help guide discussion around Mennonite practices and beliefs. It is not meant to be a final word or creedal statement.

The last five years have seen a rise again in the intensity and frequency of these conversations throughout the denomination. In many conversations that I have had occasions to have while visiting Mennonite Church USA congregations, I sense a growing anxiety from people on both sides of this issue. The question of whether we can remain together as a church with this ideological gulf seems to weigh heavily on many people’s minds.  There are fears that churches on both sides of this issue will leave, and that our denomination might never be the same. This fear pervades our conversations with each other, and hovers in the background of each of these articles/editorials and the comments that follow them.

Several weeks ago, the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board released a statement in response to this growing conversation surrounding same-sex unions. In this document, the Executive Board wrote, “The board owns the understanding of our confession of faith that sexual union is to happen between one man and one woman who are committed to each other for life in holy marriage.”

This statement is nothing new and seemed to echo what the board has been saying over the course of the past few years. This particular statement understandably drew both affirmation and strong critique from members across the church.

In response to a call from some pastors to respond with disciplinary actions towards pastors and conferences who were permitting same-sex unions to take place and ministerial credentials to remain intact, the Executive Board states, among other things, that they affirm the understanding laid out in the Confession of Faith. The letter goes on to say, “The board has no plans to suggest that the church should change its current understanding and commitments.”

 Unfortunately, and perhaps unintentionally, this statement seems to send the message that the church itself is unified on questions of sexuality and inclusion, and that those with opinions different than the Confession of Faith are outliers. This statement seems troubling, given the fact that there are many committed members, staff, and leaders of Mennonite Church USA who would hold opinions that differ from the statement of the Confession of Faith. And this language, whether intentional or not, does seem to set up an “us vs. them” paradigm which does not serve to enable the dialogue that the church has been calling for since Purdue/Saskatoon to continue.

However, the statement does not stop there.

Later, it states, “The national conference of Mennonite Church is composed of conferences and congregations. The national church does not have the authority to control the discussion or decisions at these levels. Congregations decide on their members and conferences decide on member congregations. Ministerial credentials are held at the conference level and thus minister’s accountability is to the area conference rather than the national conference. We are aware that our polity creates some differences in the practice of church discipline from conference to conference.”

In my mind, this simple statement does have some hopeful emphases within it. Anabaptist polity is not set up to grant high levels of centralized power. Indeed, our denomination uniquely privileges the discernment processes of local communities, at both the congregational and conference level.

This may mean that people on both sides of this issue, and those in the middle, will have to live in a transitional, border space for awhile. We are stuck in a liminal moment, where our denomination bridges a wide range of opinions. This is the same process that occurred as women were allowed into ministry (as one of my professors says, “Churches don’t know how to free everyone at the same time: it happens in chunks.”).

Over the course of the next era, we may need to define our idea of what it unity means. It is no longer a simple, clear-cut concept. We will need to decide if we can truly value and see our theological diversity as a gift that enriches our conversations, just as we value diversity of many other kinds. We will need to determine whether we are willing to remain at the table with one another even though we don’t always agree on the rules that govern it. We will need to decide whether we are willing to broaden and expand our definition of “unity” from simply an integration of difference into a cohesive identity where distinctive, different parts are subsumed, to a complex unity that celebrates diversity and collaboration across difference.

I believe that a complex unity is marked by a commitment to remain in conversation and relationship with one another, sharing a common, unified Mennonite identity, while still celebrating and understanding the diversity of identities and opinions that exist throughout Mennonite Church USA.

Together by Josefina Aguirre

It seems to me that there are few denominations that whose polity would allow for such a flexibility and diversity of opinion to exist. If we Mennonites can take seriously the call to be engaged faithfully with discernment in our own local communities, as well as respectful dialogue across the denomination, we could be leaders for many other Christian groups who are struggling to figure out what it means to live together with such varied ideas of community ethics. But to really take this process of discernment seriously, we cannot deny or try to hide the theological diversity that is pervasive throughout our denomination, and we cannot pretend that the church holds one, unified theological opinion on sexuality.

As Parker Palmer writes, we will need to learn to “hold tension creatively” and to understand that, as process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead notes, greater complexity also lends itself to deeper beauty.


Filed under Church

Areas of Grey: Sex, Desire, Abuse and Christianity (Part II)

This post originally appeared on the Our Stories Untold Blog and is shared here with permission.

Note from the editor: The author is remaining anonymous because, as the author stated to me: “I work with kids. I Google my employers, and I’m sure they Google me. I don’t want to invite the possibility of ever not getting a job, or losing one, because I talked about sex on the Internet once.” Unfortunately this is sadly true in today’s society, which is why I’ve allowed the author to remain anonymous.

This is the second post for Areas of Grey: Sex, Desire, Abuse, and Christianity. If you haven’t read the first post, I recommend doing so before continuing to part II.

Note from the author: This post is a little bit about Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight. Both have been abysmally reviewed and voraciously enjoyed…more about that via your favorite friend, Google. If you haven’t read either book, I think you’ll still digest this. post just fine.

This post is a continuation from yesterday’s posed question:

Many of the women I know—many of them Christians, some of them Mennonites—have read Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight. Each of these women is intelligent, well-read, successful, and strong-willed. They are made of sturdier stuff than the women they devour in fiction.

But our best friends and mothers are STILL reading these books. Why?

3. We’re still reading these books because…: We are as unsure of ourselves as Ana, Bella, or another character:

Ana had barely met Mr. Grey before saying:

“We need to see women appreciated from the pulpit, honored for service, and stepping into roles where previously, there have been only men.”

“Romantically, though, I’ve never put myself out there, ever. A lifetime of insecurity—I’m too pale, too skinny, too scruffy, uncoordinated, my long list of faults goes on.”

Gloss over the particulars, if you will. What’s significant is the general self-loathing which many women, real and imagined, pour down upon themselves. Women need other women, in real life, in fiction, and in the media, who model self-love for their own bodies  and confidence in their own intellect and abilities. We need to be shown other women who, if they are sexy, are not sexual objects. We need to see women appreciated from the pulpit, honored for service, and stepping into roles where previously, there have been only men. (We’re doing a little better here, church.)

Or we will continue to identify strongly with weak female characters who we feel we know personally.

4. We’re still reading these books because…: It helps us empathize. A woman close to me read Fifty Shades of Grey as an insightful exploration of the continued struggle for intimacy that victims of abuse may live with.

I’m not an expert on the validity of that reading, but I do find it a powerful thought.

Abuse may end, but it doesn’t go away. That’s why we’re here. To tell our stories.

5. We’re still reading these books because…: Women experience firsthand the ways in which our broader culture insists that women be given permission—by a man—to explore their sexuality.

Permission is a big thing in Fifty Shades of Grey. As their relationship progresses, and despite the fact that she endures situations in which she is put in physical harm, Ana is told when, how, and how not to enjoy herself sexually. Literally, she’s playing the rules of the BDSM game—rules which are designed to keep the players safe. Again consider the possibility that you have church members for whom “kink” is more than a curiosity—it is meaningful way of engaging sexually with the gendered powers we daily confront.

BDSM Company on Taiwan Pride 2005

But even figuratively, it makes an appalling amount of sense. We hear stories of thongs for little girls, the male gaze in popular culture and advertisements, and women returning to their abusers again and again. Even if we don’t dwell on it, women are aware of their placement as objects of male sexual desire—it’s fed to us from the age at which we begin to watch television.

As we provide our youth with role models, guidelines, prayer, mentorship (I’m assuming that you’re doing this—if you’re not, time to start)—at the center of the conversation must be this message: Your sexuality is a gift given to you—not to someone else. Because of the shared nature of most sexual experiences, I know this message may be seen as problematic. Or, perhaps you think it’s obvious.

In conversations with dozens of twenty-something female friends, they have admitted to me that they felt disavowed of their own bodies, unable to even imagine the possibilities their intimate relationships held for them, because as women raised in the church, they didn’t feel allowed.

If I wasn’t a pacifist, I’d flog anyone telling girls it’s not okay to fantasize. Ditto to discouraging masturbation. Encourage your daughters to develop healthy, life-giving thoughts about sex within their private worlds.

6. We’re still reading these books because…: We need sex-positivity that goes beyond a rote declaration that we will not tolerate sexual abuse. Please understand me: I think that declaration is absolutely essential.

Ruth Marston reminded us that sex should be “union, joy, and trust.” I love that!

I am not arguing for promiscuity, however you define it. I am arguing that sex-positivity is about more than saying “sex is good.” It’s also about allowing for exploration of a multitude of sexual “unions, joys, and trusts” if your congregation is going to experience good sex.

Some of our stories untold have involved church members feeling unworthy of good sex.  Where do we go from here?

The first step is examining the connection between our silence on the most mundane parts of sexuality to our own propensities for victim-blaming, sexual shame, and delayed healing.

The second step, I think, involves creating room within our new guidelines for healthy sexuality for each woman or man’s sexuality—and reading habits—to be as unique as they are.

And the third? Keep talking. If not from the pulpit, talk to your friends. Talk to your parents. Talk to your sisters. Whoever told you that you weren’t allowed was misinformed.

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