Why a Venite Café?

Still thinking about V is for Venite . . .

Lis Valle at the Venite Café

Lis Valle at the Venite Café

Wednesday night, February 11, saw the Winn Center dining rooms turned into an almost magical Venite Café, complete with cozy lounge furniture, soft lighting and other appropriate decor (art decoration provided by the ever-resourceful Marie McCanless), as well as instrumentals and stage, refreshments provided by Ted Burke’s Dining Services, and a special feature centerpiece cake detailed by Gail Monsma and Johanna Bos. The talented seminary performers who took advantage of the open mike format, too numerous to mention by name for fear of slighting any!, outdid themselves, aided and abetted by emcees Brennan Pearson and Megan Case.

So, some readers may ask, why? What is the purpose of a . . . we might be tempted to call it . . . festivity in the middle of a week of events focused on a serious subject like violence against women and girls?

A part of the answer is that the Venite Café was not simply a “festivity”, but featured serious offerings of talent as well: from song to poetry to personal monologues, the subject matter of the evening continued to touch on the subject matter of the week: the presence and persistence of violence against women. The content highlighted the connections of this violence to perceptions of women as sexual objects rather than sexual subjects, as part of the environment of things rather than as members of the world of human beings.

A part of the answer is that the Venite Café provided a venue for the creative energies of a wider group than the cast of the Women’s Center’s production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. This was, indeed, one of the initial purposes of the event. “Some people will want to write their own monologues!” “Some people will want to share their own stories!” Since that sharing isn’t something that can be accommodated within the frame of the registered performance, we created a venue in which it could be accommodated, and could provide an occasion for building community and enjoying each other’s talents and gifts.

But after being there, listening to the many talented and thoughtful and ribald and personable seminary performers, sharing the evening with all of these folks, many of whom are preparing to minister to the church, all of whom play some role in their various communities of faith, at least one other reason suggests itself.

V-Day contains a significant subtext having to do with women’s embodied lives and the role of physical pleasure in the context of those lives. That is a complex subject — historically, women’s allegedly insatiable sexual appetites provided a rationale for the exclusion of women from positions of responsibility and the imputation of inferiority to women. From approximately the Victorian period on, however, women’s alleged sexual reserve, innocence, even disinterest provided a rationale for the confinement of women to domestic environments in which they could — so the ideology went — be protected from harsh external pressures and could devote themselves to maternal and domestic occupations suited to their temperaments and gentle desires. (There is a distinct flavor of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” to this story.) On the whole, however, women themselves have had little opportunity and less language to give accounts of their own experiences, describe their own preferences, and affirm the importance of pleasure in the context of their lives.

It is not a coincidence that people whose pleasure is a matter of no importance are also people whose pain is, still too often, a matter of no concern.

Part of the meaning of violence against women and girls is given, made intelligible, by the possibilities for creativity, enjoyment, celebration, and conviviality that flourish in places and spaces where violence is, even temporarily, banished. Part of the meaning of violence against women and girls is given by the song, laughter, exuberance, delight, joy that we witness in places and spaces like the Venite Café, all of which is missing from the scenes of violence against women, the faces and lives of those it touches.

Joy may be one of the fruits of the Spirit — available in a context of love and peace — but it’s realized in the body: in the human body, and — ideally — in the body of the community that is called to make cultivating that fruit, and that context, its mission in the world.

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