Guest post from…Malinda Berry is an Instructor in Theological Studies and Director of the MA Program at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana. The daughter of two educators, Malinda has built a career as a community organizer, teacher, and a worker for peace and justice within the church. She describes herself as: Ambivert. Activist. Tea drinker. Houseplant gardener.
I am grateful that Malinda was willing to write a post for The Femonite. This is the third in a series of posts reflecting on what it means to be a Mennonite Woman.
I love this question because it’s one that I’ve been answering since I was an eighteen-year-old. As I reflect on what I might say today, April 11, 2012, I have to be honest and admit that my answer to this question has changed with each rite of passage I have experienced: going to college; moving to a metropolis for my first five-days-a-week, nine-to-five job; choosing my career path and graduate school; beginning my first full-time, tenure-track teaching job, and marriage.
One thing I know, is that being a Mennonite woman isn’t the same as being a feminist Mennonite woman, and yet my identity as a Mennonite woman is inextricably linked to being a feminist. I’m one of those knitters who loves looking at yarn as much as they love working it into function works, so I often use baskets of colorful yarn to adorn my work spaces. My yarn stash is made up of hanks, balls, and other skeins of fibers that range in weight, color, and content. My identity is like that too — in the basket of my being there are hanks, balls, and skeins of yarn that are my nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, religious commitments, academic interests, leisurely pursuits, personality, and temperament; the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the songs I sing, the words I offer in prayer, the books I have read, the places I have traveled, the places I have lived, the people I have lived with, the schools I have attended, the faith communities I have worshipped with, and the families I am part of. The colors of these yarns in my basket range from bright and bold to deep; neutral tones of Earth, sea, and sky; cotton, acrylic, wool, bamboo ranging in weight from fingering to super bulky — the variety is endless, but the variety is also how I have come to know that it is impossible to see that variety without the differences.
I don’t remember a time in my life when, having reached the age of accountability, I didn’t consider myself to be either Mennonite or feminist. I do remember a time when I wasn’t entirely sure about the whole “Christian thing,” though I have found resolution to that uncertainty by blending feminist and Mennonite theologies, like I am doing in my doctoral dissertation. To return to my metaphor, if I reduce that basket of yarn into a single variegated skein, my identity as a feminist Mennonite Christian has required my almost forty years on the planet to become something that I am ready to knit into a simple, functional, and beautiful statement of my feminist, Mennonite Christian theological perspective: I believe that Godde’s intention for the beautifully complex web of life on our planet is great shalom. Shalom, biblical voices explain, is that state of affairs in which everyone’s needs are met, none are afraid, and Godde’s justice is our joy!
While I would love to dive into all kinds of technical terms to talk about this theologically, would rather talk shift my metaphor from knitting to gardening so I can talk about my heroine, Doris Janzen Longacre, compiler of the More-with-Less Cookbook and author of Living More with Less.
Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to work with her contribution to Mennonite theology and thought, and every time I reacquaint myself with her words, I am deeply moved by her desire to do “organic theologizing” to deal with “holy frustration” borne of a vision for living in tune with Godde’s great shalom. Organic theologizing is a way of talking about our relationship with Godde that celebrates the living, breathing, organic grassroots of our faith communities. We produce this Godde-talk when we speak from the heart and consider the everydayness of faith as we live out our beliefs in our corners of the world. Spanish has a word for this: lo cotidiano. Homegrown Godde-talk hasn’t been treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and while it may be informed by sources like the Apostle’s Creed or the Schleitheim Confession, it also doesn’t begin with the assumption that it must conform to those sources. Organic theology is about cultivating the aspects of faith that haven’t been engineered to be heresy-proof. Rather, organic, homegrown Godde-talk is a way for communities take stock of shared experiences and consider what kind of fruit they are producing, rather than viewing church as a place where we shop for unblemished fruits and vegetables plucked from the produce isles without getting our hands dirty.
So I am a Mennonite woman who collects yarn and digs around in my garden doing what I can to cultivate shalom and clothe myself and my community in joy as we try to live more with less.