Three Women, Three Windows: Working towards equality

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Timbrel, “Faith and Feminism.”

What is your definition of feminism?

Martinez: My definition of feminism comes from author bell hooks: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” I use this definition because it’s active—it’s not a passive belief that all gender expressions deserve the same dignity. It is a call to take action to end patriarchy, which hurts everyone, not just women. This definition points out that feminism goes beyond gender equality—it must also include a consciousness of all the contributing factors of our oppression under patriarchy —including capitalism, racism, colonialism, ableism, and more.

Goerzen: As Anabaptists, we take our cues from Jesus, who treated women and other undervalued members of society with dignity and respect, while challenging societal norms that diminished people’s worth. I also believe that when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church, everyone, regardless of who they were, was empowered to proclaim God’s good news. Therefore, to deny or reject the gifts of someone based on gender, race, or class seems to diminish what God is doing through God’s people.

Prothro: My definition of feminism is a hodgepodge from other women like bell hooks and Margaret Atwood. To me, at its core, feminism is a movement that strives for equality of all people. Ideally, feminism dismantles systems of sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression in all forms.

How does feminism influence your faith and spirituality?

Martinez: I grew up in a con-servative church community where women were expected to submit to the men. Realizing I was a feminist meant leaving that community behind and trusting God that I could find a place where all gender expressions were treated with the dignity given to them as God’s creation. I still vividly remember the first time I heard a women preach on a Sunday, and the first time I heard feminine pronouns for God. I remember feeling my heart swell and my eyes water, knowing that God has so much more for us than we ever knew—and that feminism was my gateway to a better understanding of all that our Creator wants for us.

Goerzen: Feminism—or the foundational belief that all people are equally created in God’s good image, equally worthy, and equally called by God—affects all aspects of my life and faith. For example, it influences the language I use for both people and God; it affects the stories and images I choose to use in worship and teaching; and it influences the ways I seek to encourage people to use their gifts within the church and the world. I want everyone to see that there is something of God within them, and that the gifts they have been given are vital to God’s mission in the world.

Prothro: In my spiritual journey, feminism has helped me to realize that I—as a woman—am created in God’s image. It’s such a foundational piece of one’s faith that some take for granted, but I don’t because I lived for so long believing that God was a man and that I was “other.” The greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourself. Recognizing that all women are adjectative of God has empowered me to really love myself so that I am more able to accept and channel my power to love others.

What are your hopes for the future of feminism in the Mennonite Church?

Martinez: I hope that the Mennonite church can be an agent of change in the feminist movement—that based on our understanding of the dignity of God’s creation, the Mennonite church can actively fight sexism, sexist exploitation, and all forms of oppression. That as a church, we recognize that God’s desire is for the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven—a kingdom where there are no such divisions as Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female­—but that while we all have a unique expression of love that honors God, these things make us bigger and more beautiful as a whole.

Goerzen: I hope that the church can explicitly and continually affirm and proclaim the goodness and worth of each person. It is important for the church to teach that every person is equally created in God’s image regardless of gender, race, or social class, as well as that every person is equally called by God for the sake of God’s mission in the church and in the world.

In order to proclaim this, we also need to critique and challenge the ways that the world around us is selling people short of God’s redemptive and equalizing vision. Likewise, we will need to do the hard work of discerning and confessing the ways that we within the church have fallen short of this vision. I have hope, however, as more and more people are engaging in these conversations. We trust that God is already at work and will continue to work so that all may know their deep worth in the eyes of God and have their God-given gifts affirmed for the sake of God’s reign.

Prothro: I have three hopes for the future of feminism in the Mennonite church. The first is that we accept and embrace feminism. Many of us do not yet self-identify as a feminist because of what others have told us it means. Embracing feminism would help us listen to each other better and draw more people into our story as a body of Christ-followers. Second, I yearn for all people, especially girls and women, to recognize they are beloved children of God, created in
God’s image. Third, my hope is that systems of oppression—sexist, heterosexist, racist, classist, etc.—fall by the wayside so we can grow as a community that represents the fullness of who God is. My
sense is that we have not yet come to terms with how rampant sexism and sexual abuse are within our church. Much of what allows these toxic patterns to persist are the sexist and oppressive structures that benefit men and protect abusers. When we dismantle these systems, my hope is that we are all safe to participate in the beauty of Anabaptist calling.

August Grapevine is Here!

Each month we publish an issue of our digital newsletter, Grapevine. To view the August issue or subscribe, click here.

This month’s issue features a prayer for transitions; news about our July event, “Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries” and more!

Planting Seeds by Shannon Unzicker

Shannon Musselman Unzicker, Benson, Illinois, is an active member of the Mennonite Church of Normal where she serves as a cluster group leader along with her husband, Keith. She teaches a primary Sunday school class and participates in the local Moms in Touch. Shannon is employed as a librarian at Roanoke-Benson Junior High School and is the mother of four children. She serves as the Great Lakes regional representative on the MW USA board.

As I’m writing this post,  I’m enjoying the changes that the season of summer brings. For the last ten years on Memorial Day, our family has attended a summer kick-off event at Menno Haven Camp In Tiskilwa, IL. It is a time to meet the summer staff and learn about what is planned for coming weeks. There is singing, prayers of thanks for God’s faithfulness in years past, and the anticipation of what lies ahead. I’ve heard it said that part of the ministry of a Christian camp is to “plant seeds” in the hearts of those who attend—seeds that grow a desire to learn more about Jesus and what it means to follow him.
There is much similarity in the work of MW USA. Through our publications and social media, we offer stories of how women have been and continue to be hands and feet of Jesus.  Our Sister Care ministry seeks to plant seeds of growth and healing in the hearts of the women who attend each seminar.  Mennonite women continue to plant seeds of God’s love and hope in the hearts of those nearby and far away—even those they will never meet—through the ministries of MW USA. For this we are grateful and thankful, and we pray that these many seeds will continue to grow and advance God’s kingdom here on earth.


Balancing Technology Use

Hear from Madalyn Metzger, Amy Gingerich, and Melody M. Pannell on faith and technology in our Three Women, Three Windows Timbrel column.

How do you use technology in your work? How do you use technology in your personal life? Are there any perceivable differences?

Metzger: In both my personal and professional life, I use technology to access and share information. The primary difference would be the type of information. Professionally, I use it for information related to Everence, marketing, financial services, and the various denominations that Everence relates to. Personally, I use it for social reasons and to receive news about current events.

Gingerich: My coworkers and I are constantly connected digitally, if not in person. With our staff spread out in different locations, we connect throughout the day on various electronic platforms and try to utilize video connections as much as possible. In my personal life, I try to limit how much I use my phone or social media. As a parent, I do not want my kids to see me on my phone checking Facebook or email, so I try to keep it to a minimum when my children are awake.

Pannell: As an educator, I use technology for email correspondence, learning management systems, shared documents, video conference meetings and educational webinars. In my personal life, I use social media for  “self-help” education, entertainment, communication with friends and family and engaging in hobbies. At work, my focus is more external as I communicate with and give my attention to others. In my personal life, I use social media in solitude and my focus is more internal.

How does technology affect your faith formation?

Metzger:  Technology gives me access to discussions and ideas around faith that I may not have been part of on a regular basis without it. But, it’s also easy to participate only in discussions about faith that I agree with, which has the potential to stifle faith formation, rather than grow it.

Gingerich: About 15 years ago when people started to subscribe via email to daily devotionals or inspirational thoughts, everyone thought it was great. But I sense that this era has waned. In terms of personal spiritual development, people are going back to print – whether physical Bibles or printed devotionals. There’s something about holding printed words in my hands that lets me engage more deeply than the skimming I would do if I were reading on my phone. Technology provides instant accessibility, which is not always helpful to me in my faith formation.

Pannell: Technology gives me access to “toolkits” to assess my spiritual growth, provides me with  avenues to engage in mentorship and creates platforms in which I can share my faith journey with others. I see these connections and resources as positive influences on my faith formation.

How does technology connect us as a church? How does it distract us?

Metzger: I think technology serves an important role in connecting us as a body of Christ. It gives us the ability to touch parts of the church that we may not be as naturally connected with (geographically, theologically, racially, ethnically, economically, etc.), which I believe is an important way for us to grow and learn as the body of Christ together. On the other hand, technology can distract us. It’s too easy to jump on the bandwagon when someone posts something, rather than enter into a thoughtful discernment about a topic. It’s also too easy for us to stay in our own theological bubbles, and only interact with others who think the same theologically as we do.

Gingerich: Technology can make us feel connected to others in our congregations but I sometimes wonder if we feel more connected than we actually are. Am I really getting to know someone in my congregation and taking time to engage with them or am I getting to know their Facebook or Instagram profile?

Pannell: Technology has  the potential to connect us as a church in meaningful ways. With the use of technology as a “strategic tool” for church growth and congregational engagement, church leaders can use apps with the intention of encouraging enthusiastic giving, expanding audience participation and creating exciting visual examples of Christian Discipleship and Faith Formation. If utilized in a positive manner, engaging in an online church community creates safe and brave spaces where people can continue and embrace conversations about the challenges and joys of faith formation and com-munity outside of the walls of the church or a set schedule of sanctioned services. However, the power of technology with-in the church can definitely distract us from prioritizing face-to-face relationships and communication skills. Technology lends itself to easily enabling us to form a false sense of connection with one another. When social media, email or online church services take the place of authentic, accountable faith formation with a body of believers, we may be settling for an easy distraction from the process of wrestling with what it means to be in relationship with Christ and the ebb and flow of growing towards spiritual maturity.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Timbrel, Faith Formation in the Digital Age. To subscribe to Timbrel, click here.

Patterns by Marie Harnish

Marie Harnish of Indianapolis, Indiana, attends First Mennonite Church where she is active on the fellowship, mentor-mentee, Jr. Mennonite Youth Fellowship and allergy awareness committees. She makes pottery in her home studio and considers her garden to be an art project. Marie and her husband, Ned Geiser, have three children.

Patterns are everywhere. The human eye sees patterns that give order to what you wear, where you drive, what structure you live in, what colors make you feel relaxed or not. Recognizing patterns is one of the first ways a young child begins to learn about letters and numbers. Think of a child stacking squares or matching up puzzle pieces.

Quilts are the same way, stacking blocks and putting puzzle pieces together in a pleasing pattern. With my newly discovered interest in quilting, thanks in part to a good sewing machine, (courtesy of my daughter’s inheritance from her FMC mentor, Luanne Fast), I am loving figuring out how to put patterns in quilts! My favorite part of a quilt is the process of designing…choosing interesting fabrics with similar or opposing colors, pinning shapes to my design wall, and finally, satisfied the pattern works well together, deciding to sew.

Even in the t-shirt quilts I make, the designing time is important, which entails rearranging small pieces of graph paper until all the pieces fit in a pleasing pattern that reflects the quilt recipients interests. For example, I made a quilt for a baseball player that began with shirts in the shape of a diamond in the center. For a runner, I made steps going up with 4” x 12” sections of his shirts.

I told myself I would start quilting when I turned 50, with my “gateway” being t-shirt quilts. I don’t necessarily make traditional quilts, but lean toward the modern, bright colors, and random color combinations. I often find patterns in unexpected places. I recently finished 2 t-shirt quilts for brothers with unique backing fabrics, one with red batik swirls and the other black tiny curls. As I worked on them, I realized the patterns and colors looked fabulous together, like a checkerboard! Often, I just start sewing random fabrics together to use up small pieces, perhaps in a limited color scheme, until they are all mixed up. Then, I can cut them in an orderly fashion, to create a pattern that is less chaotic, like the cross from leftover banner fabric.

While working on the JUSTICE.JUST US banner with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote this past year, the group of women working on the design had unique visions of the pattern for the project. I had a vision, but couldn’t figure out how to get the pattern right with the fabrics we had. We met on Tuesday evenings for several months and 2-3 women each time would work on the pattern. On the design wall, one woman would put together strips in a pleasing color pattern in one corner and another woman worked on her pattern in another corner. The next week another person would join us and she would make patterns she liked and cannibalize fabric strips from someone else’s section. Clearly, we had many ways we thought the fabric colors would form the pattern we were trying to achieve! Add to that, some women wanted to know exact pattern and size (the airplane mechanic) and another (the artist) wanted things to be a process, figuring things out as we went. (I feel safer knowing the airplane mechanic is very precise!) Eventually, we settled on a 4” x 12” pattern with dark outer edges and light center fabrics to achieve the woven pattern you see. The collaborative experience was positive, with much laughter along the way, and we are happy to have created a pleasing pattern with many metaphors of weaving together Christian faith, hard work of justice, and connecting to each other.

I see and think about patterns all the time…in colors, on buildings, on the water, in the garden, repetitive and random,…I have so many ideas and drawings (and fabrics), I will always have something to create! I can’t wait. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go sew…

You can find more of Marie’s work at the following links:

A Climate of Fear and Hope: School Shootings by Kyra Krall

Kyra Krall participated in the March For Our Lives in Chicago, Illinois on March 24, 2018.

I was in fifth grade when the Sandy Hook school shooting occurred. I remember getting on the bus and hearing other students talk about a shooting at a school in Connecticut and that a lot of little kids had died. I wasn’t sure if this was true or not, but once I got home I looked up the shooting and discovered that the kids on the bus were telling the truth.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I remember waking my parents up after crying in our bathroom. I didn’t understand how this could happen. How these kids did absolutely nothing wrong they just went to school and someone went there, disrupted their place of safety and took away their future. I was terrified it would happen to me or to others. I thought about my sister who was a third grader at the time and I was afraid for her too. Fifth grade was the year I began to realize that life is fragile and that the world is a scary place and part of that was due to that school shooting. When I heard about the Aurora movie theater shooting, I was gripped by fear again. Continue reading

March For Our Lives: Youth Lead by Madeline Smith Kaufman

Madeline Smith Kaufman participated in the March For Our Lives, a march protesting school shootings, in Chicago, Illinois on March 24, 2018.

When people ask, “How was the march?”, I have no idea how to respond. How do I sum up my experience at the march into the neat, short, positive sentence that people expect? For me, the march was empowering, terrifying, inspiring, unifying, validating, and fun. I could expand on each one of those words. To me, the march was much more than just saying, “It was amazing!” Continue reading

Every Day Worship: Energizing in Every Way by Carol Penner

Carol Penner is the author of Every Day Worship, the Mennonite Women USA 2018 Bible Study Guide. Every Day Worship will be available for purchase beginning in June 2018. 

Worship is inspiring. Take last Sunday; even as I walked towards the church building, I could hear the music floating through the windows, calling me. As I slipped into my seat, I saw the whole congregation gathered. There was something there as we waited for the presence of God together.

Throughout that service, I felt emotion welling up in me at different points, something deep was being touched. The welcome from the worship leader, the scripture that told us about Jesus, hearing the voices around me singing in parts, the story the preacher told, the sharing time, the prayer where we asked God to help us. And the benediction that told us to go in peace. Continue reading