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Then God Wept

Then Jesus Wept.” John 11:35 (New Living Translation)

This is the shortest verse in the Bible, often simply written as “Jesus wept.” That’s one fun Sunday school tidbit that has stuck with me since childhood. In this story, Jesus comes to see Lazarus, who has been sick, only to arrive and to find out that he has already died. When he approaches Lazarus’ tomb, and before the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, Jesus weeps. It’s a powerful, deeply human moment.

Today is Good Friday. The day when we remember Jesus’ crucifixion and death. It’s often a mournful and reflective day. And frankly, it’s a day that I have not always known what to do with. There’s not a lot about this day that seems “good” to me. Part of this problem stems from some unease with death. Death, no matter when it comes, is never something simple to make sense of. It seems to be a complicated process bound up with many emotions. You could also look at the story of Jesus that I’ve been taught, which tends to emphasize the day-to-day narrative of the life of Jesus, his actions, his treatment of people, his nonviolent stance, his preference for the poor and his resurrection over and above Jesus’ death as a salvific moment.

And then you can add to that list feminist and womanist critiques of atonement, which suggest that God mandating Jesus’ death could be compared to divine child abuse. In Proverbs of Ashes, Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker describe the ways that setting up self-sacrifice as the mark of a good Christian sets up systems and expectations that can lead women to stay in abusive relationships and can cease to address unhealthy patterns of abuse.

Of some theology, which emphasizes the necessity of Jesus’ death, Parker says, “But this theology can fail to serve life. It takes a historical act of violence and misapplies it to a spiritual truth…What happens when violent realities are transubstantiated into spiritual teachings? You’ve heard it or said it yourself. A mother loses her son to suicide. In an effort to comfort her you say, ‘God has a purpose in this.’”

And womanist theologian Delores Williams notes that by casting Jesus as a scapegoat for all human sin, theologians may have inadvertently (or even purposefully) painted oppressive systems that exploit black women, like surrogacy, as divinely ordained.

So, suffice it to say, I’ve got my reservations about Good Friday, and my tendency has been to ignore this day and skip straight to Easter. But that doesn’t seem adequate either. A robust Christology, and a robust understanding of how God works in the world, must also answer questions about suffering and loss. Weeping is a part of what it means to be fully human, and we cannot evade death forever.

Jesus was uniquely attuned to God’s call, and was able to enact in history a visible sign of God’s reign on earth. Jesus’ ministry was marked by love. As Alfred North Whitehead writes, Jesus, channeling God, “…dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and quietly operate by love.” In this way, the spirit of Jesus’ ministry is with us whenever we embrace life.

But perhaps the world, and we ourselves, are not always ready to embrace this particular vision. As John Cobb notes, there is often a disconnect between what we wish and expect to be true and what is true; between our hopes and dreams and between reality. We do not always choose life and love. Jesus’ life, which “afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted” ( from Reinhold Neibuhr), was and is an affront to systems that sought to perpetuate the status quo. This affront was not to be borne, and I think that most of us know how this particular story ends on Good Friday.

And then, I think, God wept, too.  Just like Jesus wept upon losing Lazarus. And like we all weep when things do not go according to plan.

I’m convinced that God weeps alongside us still: when racist undercurrents result in the death of a young man like Trayvon Martin; when our states pass dehumanizing immigration legislation; when our churches fail to be welcoming and inclusive places and whenever we choose against those things that give life.

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Why Femonite?

Well, you see, that’s a good question. I could start by pointing out that I seem to have developed an affinity for combined words (take my last name: Heinz + e + Kehr = Heinzekehr). But more than that, when launching a new blog, I wanted a title that would hold together so many of the things that I care about: the Mennonite church, (young) womanhood, feminism and theology. Hence, Femonite.

Why Mennonite?

Partly because at this point in my life, I am not sure that I know how to be a Christian and not a Mennonite. Growing up within this church, I have 27 years of input, spiritual formation,  and experiences that have been rooted in Mennonite congregations, organizations and educational institutions across the United

States. But more than that, I have found myself, again and again, drawn back into Mennonite and Anabaptist theology and communities, because of its continual focus on the narrative and life of Jesus, and not just his death; because of its organic, grassroots structure which, at its best, allows congregations to discern their own calls as local communities; because of the commitment to social justice, peace-building and nonviolence that is woven throughout the church’s history; and because of the hope that I feel when I continue to encounter new individuals and groups who have discovered the Anabaptist story and been drawn into it.

Why Feminist?

But lest you think that all this waxing poetic about love for Mennonites has blinded me, I want to be up front about the fact that I know this church, just like any other, is not perfect. My entrée into the world of church politics began in earnest when I was 22 and beginning my first job with a Mennonite organization. It’s definitely a testament to previous generations of feminists and to the privilege that I experience as a white, heterosexual, middle-class young adult that I did not experience oppression in earnest until I entered the work world. But, to my surprise, my very first work experiences, within church organizations no less, also turned out to be the first place that I encountered sexism or a sense that what I could achieve or how I was heard was dependent on my sex.

This experience led me to a deeper understanding of the ways that other systemic “isms” were at work throughout the church: sometimes in sneaky, crazy-making ways and other times in blatant and overt forms. It led me to want to work to help make visible these systemic injustices and to work against them. And it also led me to a commitment to feminism, and to resolutely affirm the full humanity of women. During grad school, I have continued to be impressed by the ways that feminist scholarship calls us to relationship, and opens up doors of possibility for conversation and change-making. I have known for quite some time now that this is one label that I’m happy to take on.

Why Theology?

The answer to this simple question could be the subject of a whole slew of blog posts on its own, but for the purposes of introduction, I’ll say this: encountering radically open forms of theology was the saving grace that pulled me out of deep spiritual rut. At the end of high school, I said goodbye to one of my best friends whose life ended after a two-year journey with cancer. This event rocked my world, and with the theological tools that I had in hand, I could not make any sense of God’s place in this event. I was angry with the church and with God for what I saw as a failure to adequately address this situation.

But in college, thanks largely in part to several key mentors along the way, I discovered feminist and womanist theology, which raged against ideas that God could ever sanction death, let alone the death of God’s own son, and liberation theologies, which planted God squarely on the side of the suffering. I discovered process theology, which described God’s work in the world as co-creative and not controlling, and showed me a God who wept alongside me and all those who loved my dear friend at the injustice of an 18-year-old’s life ending too soon. And because these discoveries were so freeing to me, I wanted to share them with others, and I wanted to know more.

So, there you have it: the rationale behind this blog and the reason it has come to exist. I hope that this will be a forum that will allow for a new kind of conversation to emerge that grows out of Mennonite, feminist and theological streams, but that inhabits space with many others, too. I’d love to hear your thoughts about feminism, Mennonites and theology, too. Why do these themes matter to you?

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