Yoder-Short: Smudges of pain, shimmers of grace

Dec 5, 2016 by

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While unpacking my bags after returning from the Women Doing Theology Conference, I noticed a smudge on my comfortable grey sweater. Was it spilled coffee or residue from shared pain? As I cleaned out the pocket, glitter stuck to my hands, a shimmer of grace that comes from raw honesty.

Jane Yoder-Short


Worship with women lends itself to openness, openness regarding pain and openness about being God’s beloved. We heard the confession, “I am a recovering racist.” We heard the sad reminder that our land was violently taken from indigenous tribes. We listened to the pain that comes from not being taken seriously and the pain from not being allowed to express anger. We heard the pain of exclusion and abuse. Can we open our comfortable Mennonite worship to the smudges of pain? Can we find ways to sprinkle grace into our strained relationships?

There was a woman who had questions about correct worship. She is the one who avoids the well-attended woman’s gathering. Her sin list is too long and her past too painful. She goes to the meeting place, the local well, long after the other women have gone home, long after the gossip has ended. One day a Jewish man shows up. He isn’t afraid of the truth. This fellow doesn’t roll his eyes when he speculates that her man is not her husband. He connects worship not with place or ethnic biases but with spirit and truth. This woman with no confidence becomes a messenger. Her past is no longer a barrier. She spreads the news about Jesus, this Jesus who conveyed that even a woman like her is beloved.

It’s easier to share past pain when you are among people who understand your situation. In many congregations, pain-sharing can be difficult. Our pains clash. One person’s election pain clashes with another person’s politics. One person’s pain of being stifled as a woman clashes with another person’s biblical truth. One person’s pain of exclusion clashes with another person’s faith position.

It is hard to be truthful when we are sitting next to someone who thinks we are wrong. It is hard to be honest with people who come from different political persuasions and different worldviews. Are there spaces in our congregations and our worship where we tell the truth — about our lives, about our faith community, about our world?

According to some, we have entered a “post-truth” political era. Owning up to being wrong is countercultural. Worship comes along and asks us to be authentic, to be honest about our pain, our flaws and our joys. Worship becomes flat when confession and truth-telling are missing. What goes unsaid can remain in our core and gnaw at our soul.

We find it easy to welcome those who are like us. It takes grace to welcome those who see the world differently.

Let’s start imagining churches that worship in spirit and in truth. Let’s imagine congregations where the residue from shared pain is acknowledged. Let’s imagine congregations where our failings can be named and all us flawed people are loved. Let’s imagine comfortable Mennonite worship that isn’t afraid of the smudges of painful honesty. Let’s imagine the shimmer of God’s grace and God’s love sticking to our hands and our hearts.

(Thanks to Rebecca Slough of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary for prodding my thinking about worship.)

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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