Attempting to reflect on what I experienced at the All You Need is Love: Honoring Diversity in Women’s Voices in Theology conference last week has been a challenge. Typically not lacking words, the conference left me without. I walked into the event grateful towards all who contributed monetarily so I could go, but also with a “business” mindset: I was going to another one of those Mennonite events for the purpose of promoting the mission of this blog. The end.
I came out with yet another experience to gracefully inform me the Spirit can, and will, work through my assumptions and close-mindedness; yet another experience of being thrown overboard, with little awareness of the approaching storm; yet another experience of the Divine’s all-encompassing love, felt through the people with whom I’ve grown up and who have been walking by my side, whether I’m conscious of it or not.
I don’t think I’m ready to delve into my heart to describe the beauty and (dare I say it?) love that I and many other women experienced at the conference last week. The messages, workshops, and conversations that I engaged in were insightful, relevant, and prophetic. And finally meeting together with my blog partners Barbra Graber and Hilary Scarsella was a beautiful reunion. I’ll hold the overall experience in that little corner where I keep my Divine secrets.
I do however think I’m capable of reflecting on how the conference has influenced Our Stories Untold as we move forward.
I began Our Stories Untold as a safe place for marginalized voices to share their stories, a place for UNtold stories to be told, however raw and emotional those stories may be.
This is a place of safety, a safety that is rarely offered in churches. This is a place for voices that won’t be heard through church organized or affiliated communication platforms. This blog exists for hearing the cries of persons who have been shoved outside the margins for too long:
For those of us who have been maligned and mistreated, and both personally and impersonally attacked.
For those who are given no voice and no power or personhood in the Mennonite, or broader Christian church.
For those who have done nothing “wrong” other than present to their families and congregations exactly who they are—whether it concerns sexual identity, race, gender, ethnicity, survivors of sexualized violence or any other marginalized category.
This blog is in existence for those who are re-discovering self through their authentic voice—regardless if it’s perceived by a some as angry, depressed, “misguided,” or unpleasant voice to read. Through their untold story, they are telling us about the place they’re at in their journey. They are telling us things never before expressed publicly for fear of rejection and disapproval.
I’ve posted things to this blog that have made me uncomfortable. And if I’m going to be really honest, I’ve received abuse stories that I’ve questioned posting because I didn’t like or agree with the person’s perspective. I’ve debated for hours over whether or not to accept a criticizing comment to a piece I’ve written.
But in the end I’ve accepted these voices, even those in dissension, because they matter. These human journeys matter. My human journey matters. And I have no right to dictate where other people are in their journey. I also don’t have a right to hold myself back from my own journey, something I do far too often in an attempt to conform to what I perceive as an “approvable” image to the world because I want to be accepted, even when that means not displaying to the world an important component of what makes me authentically ME.
Not only do these voices matter, but these voices are also one and the same. We are a collective of human stories and we’re all on the journey through life, regardless of our point of view or perspective. We all have a shadow side, just as we all have beauty to offer those around us. When we begin to realize that we aren’t different from each other, we can finally acknowledge God’s love knitting and knotting us together.
OSU does not see itself as beholden to the Mennonite Church’s stated doctrines or policies. We see ourselves beholden to those who have been abandoned by them and we grieve the loss of these people from our faith community, whether from sexual abuse by other church members or by their sexual identity, all come under the umbrella of perpetrated sexualized violence.
Exposing ourselves through this platform has never been easy. It has, at times, made us targets. It has also made us very vulnerable, to both ourselves and others. But most importantly, it has given us a space to trust ourselves and our voices; to say the things that have been stuck in our throats for so long, and to finally find release through this blog platform. We are freeing ourselves from the shackles that we’ve placed on ourselves, and that is something no one can take away from us.
We have seen ourselves called to live on the fringes with hope of providing a bridge to the center and though often uncomfortable, we believe this bridge is an important place to stand, even when it seems the connecting struts, ties, and other supporting components are crumbling. We won’t always walk on this bridge perfectly, and sometimes we’ll even be responsible for the erosion of a tie. But with faith in the Spirit, we’ll continue moving forward, making repairs when necessary and reaching out towards the banks of those who need the crossing.
Last night I was talking to a close friend about my anxieties in publicly identifying as queer. She made the statement, “It’s helpful for you to distinguish the ones who are not going to see you through.” She further defined “seeing someone through” as the people who stand by your side who are there because they believe in you, trusting in your process. For example, in this case, people seeing me through not because they believe in homosexuality or heterosexuality or any other one side of the coin, but because they believe IN ME. As my friend further explained, someone can’t understand that concept if they have never honored their own process, seen past the black and white and right and wrong and knowing their own flow and evolution through life.
So, to all of you, and on behalf of Hilary and Barbra, I thank you for seeing both Our Stories Untold and myself through, and for trusting the process even when mistakes are made. I pray we, as both a church and as those on the fringes, continue to see each other through.