Watson: Discomfort empowers

Jun 18, 2018 by

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Every so often I find myself humming a hymn I heard several years ago:

I found God in myself,
I found God in myself,
and I loved her fiercely,
oh, I loved her fiercely.

Hillary Watson


The song is both breathtaking and disconcerting.

The text is full of theological pitfalls that seem dangerous or perhaps downright unchristian.

I was skeptical when I first heard the lyrics. I have theological concerns about locating God inside oneself, of distorting the Christian pursuit of the Creator of the universe into a search for self-placating comforts. I worried about centering God in me rather than in communal discernment and listening. Of course, the feminine pronoun for God can be unsettling and unfamiliar to some, even to those who firmly believe in God’s feminine aspects.

It isn’t a church hymn. The lyrics come from Ntozake Shange’s play, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, a series of choreographed poems on race, love, loss and empowerment. It was written by a marginalized woman to empower other such women to recover connections with holiness and worthiness.

I first sang these words at “All You Need is Love,” the 2014 Women Doing Theology conference hosted by Mennonite Church USA. The more I hummed the song, the more necessary its discomfort seemed. It is a pendulum swing toward a more centered and holistic Christian theology, a complement to generations of hymns that neglect these dimensions of spirituality.

As I anticipate this fall’s third WDT conference, “Talkin ’bout a Revolution,” I think of all the times discomfort has led to growth. The first two WDT conferences were warm spaces, but not easy ones. They were full of the growing pains that appear when Christians take their faith seriously.

But alongside the challenging conversations and new ways to think of spirituality, there was a commitment to affirming each person’s spiritual journey from an Anabaptist perspective.

My complicated feelings about this song are exactly the reason I look forward to this year’s event Nov. 8-10 at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. WDT conferences aren’t easy, but faithful discipleship rarely is.

The conferences affirm that struggle. They are also intersectional. WDT is not for white women, but for all women, and the workshops and plenary sessions particularly invite white women and heterosexual women to consider how race and sexual orientation impacts their experience of gender, power and spirituality.

Workshops allow women to connect through Bible studies, but also through conversations about the legacy of Anabaptist dress codes, physical practices to become more comfortable in bodies and ways to constructively amplify the voices of women pastors (still fewer than one-third of MC USA pastors).

This conference offers concrete practices for use in home churches, new ways to approach sticky church problems and, of course, new friendships and affirmation among women.

Although it is a women’s space, in the past a handful of men have attended. If you are a man interested in attending, reach out to conference coordinators and your home congregation to discern if attending is an appropriate way to practice allyship. Or, if what you yearn for is a stretching space of your own, reach out to other men to plan something similar. The church needs new ways to understand masculinity, too.

The church needs many revolutions. WDT is embracing those necessary, faithful revolutions, and I hope to see many of you there in November.

Hillary Watson pastors at Shalom Community Church in Ann Arbor, Mich. She blogs at gatheringthestones.com.

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