I have been a part time contributor the past couple years due to a) not knowing how my time/capacity would play out in the chaos of life, and b) a nagging ambivalence toward anything that has to do explicitly with/for women. And yet, writing for WIT has been the only place in which I feel compelled to grapple with “women’s” issues like, complementarianism in the evangelical world, infertility, and even the very definition of being a woman. Am I a “woman”? Though I do not identify as queer, I have asked myself this my entire life.
After reading and loving the blog for a time, and looking for places to publish as I started a doctoral program in Theology and Ethics (even if informally), I first responded to the call for contributors in 2016. It felt like a longshot. The theologians here are unmatched in tenacity, grace, and rigor: three essential characteristics for being a woman doing theology, frankly. Tenacity because if we don’t keep knocking at doors and ceilings, no one else will. Grace because persistence is exhausting. And rigor because, as women, we always have to know what we’re talking about, the potential arguments and counterarguments that others will bring, and the full (historical, critical) conversation relating to whatever it is we are discussing in the first place. That is the academic side.
In truth, I needed to write in order to theologically process the experience of infertility—a process that seems to change shape with each passing year. As I found myself wading deeper into the black hole of infertility I needed some kind of rope to cling to, and theology became just that. Moreso than even scripture or prayer, I felt resonance with theodicies and Job-like inquisitions of creation theologians writing in the Anthropocene. In search of a new creation theology, I continue to find myself revisiting theological anthropologies again and again. What are we as women, ontologically, in the sight of God, when we cannot have children of our own bodies? Who are we, according to the gaze of the Church, when we do not (cannot!) conform to the program? I have never been one for conformity, but I never thought my body would manifest such a rebellion. And why is it so damn difficult to write theology as a woman?
I find that doing theology in the academy can feel a bit dissociative at times. On the one hand, if I choose to write from the perspective of my experience, or through the lens of my person or my body, then I am doing that feminist embodiment thing (it’s all the rage right now), and it feels a little too au courant. But when I ignore my cells and my own fleshy existence, theology is no longer life giving. Furthermore, because I have recently transitioned from a Free Church context to the Episcopal Church, I find it difficult to clearly identify my theological community while still closely following the charismatic stream. Thank God for this corner of the internet that is Women in Theology where I have permission to think theologically as a person who has distinctive experiences, like infertility, that do not require me to begin with a paragraph of explanation as to why having a female body matters.
About a year ago I decided to write a series that renders stages of life as different from the typical categories of daughter/wife/mother/grandmother to—well, something else. But, here’s the problem: What is that something else? Initially I envisioned the question in relation to phenomenological sources, but I can’t seem to find much traction there. So now I am looking at it in terms of relationality—specifically, relationality as a theological feminist category. What might it look like when we resituate ourselves in relation to others, making a significant perspectival shift, perhaps including the othering of our own bodies? Who, at any given moment in our lives, could we say has provided not only a reflection of our own person, but with whom do we have a constitutive relationship—to the point where we would say, ‘I am not (x) without this person?’ As in, my very existence is intricately tied to the way this person and I have constructed aspects of ourselves in relation to one another. (Or something like that.)
Admittedly, this is new territory for me, and there is a fair amount of trepidation that comes with the exploration. Yet, unlike writing for coursework and conferences, writing for WIT feels (dare I say) personal. These are not just words sent out into the interwebs in the hope of a few likes or possibly even a constructive comment (those are great, too). Writing among a community of women engaged in theology, be it largely in the academy or the parish, feels like writing for in contrast to writing about. I am writing for us, for a community of persons who sometimes (often?) need permission to fully live through our bodies our minds and our spirits. I am writing for those of us who have been categorized as somehow less than or second to others who may not even know us, and who may not have a sense of what we truly need/want/desire. At least, this is my hope.
Most days, though, I am writing simply to make up my own mind about who I am, and what God believes about me, as a woman.