V-week and the Vagina Monologues

by Johanna Bos
V-week is around the corner. A team of students has been working diligently to put it all together and everything now seems to be rolling along!

There will be services every day except Tuesday, beginning on Monday evening at 7. All other worship will be at the regular chapel time which now is 11:30. In worship the theme for the week is the silencing of women’s voices in naming the violence that rages against them across the world and the breaking of this silence. Preventing women from speaking their pleasure is another facet of this problem. Both issues are strongly present in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues.

From Refreshment to Reflection
The Venite Cafe will take place on Tuesday evening in the Winn Center Lounge with the appropriate festivities (open mike, entertainment and refreshment).
Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – returns us to the more somber side of the deep issues of V-Week. This year we welcome Dr. Riffat Hassan, Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, and Rabbi Laura Metzger to the campus for an interfaith discussion on the way different religious traditions foster and perpetuate violence against women. The panel discussion is set for 12:30 p.m. in the Winn Center Lounge.

Performance — Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues
Thursday evening, 8 p.m., a full dress-rehearsal of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues will take place which students will be able to attend for half-price. On Friday during worship we will celebrate communion and look forward to the presence of the Deanne Witkowski Trio from New York City. Finally, the week will culminate in the performance on Friday evening. Performances will be held in Hundley Hall, Gardencourt on the Seminary campus. Regular tickets cost $12. The proceeds of all performances go to La Casita, a part of Casa Latina, a local organization that benefits Hispanic women and their families.

The Women’s Center is once again sponsoring V Week and everything that goes with it. For the Women’s Center these constitute the major events of the spring. While other activities will take place in the Center this semester, there are no other programs planned for this semester of such magnitude. Looking ahead, the Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture will take place on September 12. Also, we look forward to our Artist-in-Residence program in January 2011. More about these plans in another entry!


Worship in the Words of the Tradition

Still thinking about V is for Venite . . .

Thursday, February 12, turned out to be a day of examining the ambiguous legacy and role of the church in relation to violence against women.

The V-Week Planning Group had planned from its earliest meetings to include a lunch-hour faculty panel on this day, and had early identified “The Role of the Church in Violence Against Women” as the desired topic. The idea was to find a way to consider the positive contributions of the Christian tradition alongside its complicity in patterns of violence against women. We wanted to celebrate the way themes of, e.g., human worth and dignity, equality before God, love and belovedness, healing, “setting the captives free,” empower women who have been touched by violence, remind them that this violence is wrong and is not the last word on them and their lives, and give them the strength and healing to persevere, survive, overcome, experience resurrection. At the same time, we wanted to be especially cognizant of the undeniable negative contributions of the Christian tradition, especially in its historic role as western cultural hegemon. (Sometimes difficult to remember in these post-Constantinian, post-Protestant-consensus, post-etc. times is that Christianity was an integral part of the dominant cultural paradigm in Europe for 14 or 15 centuries — at least, according to the last western civ text I checked). We wanted to hold those two legacies in tension, consider what that dual legacy might mean for members of the church today, what we might need to be critical of or re-evaluate, what we need or might need to repent of, what action it might call us to, and so on.

With this in mind, it was a short step to a decision to plan an opening worship service for the day that made this ambiguous legacy explicit, and that called attention to some of the connections between what we say we worship, how we say it, what we counsel members of the church, what we require of women and men within the body of the church . . . and the violence that women suffer in many forms all around the world.

Sad fact: It didn’t take long to bring together texts from scripture that have historically been used against women, statements from the Church Fathers that reinforced attitudes that women ought to submit to, and may well deserve, violent treatment on the part of husbands and other authorities, and militant or self-sacrificial metaphors that contribute to a normalization and acceptance of violence. (Here is a draft of the order of service.)

What we had not anticipated was the way this worship service would make people feel. As liturgists Brianne Jurs, Marie McCanless and Christine Coy-Fohr read, and as the congregation responded in song — led by Mary Beth McCandless — the sense of shock and speechlessness was almost palpable. As Mary Beth remarked after the service ended, “it makes you realize how much translating you’ve been doing all along.” Usually these messages — a constantly available strand of the tradition — are diffused in the context of other worship. In this service, brought together as they were, there was little opportunity to ignore or deny the insistent message of the unwholesomeness of women, and the acceptability of violence in the right cause.

One clear conclusion from that painful experience is that many of the church’s habitual tropes, images, and slogans deserve considerably more thought and qualification than we usually give them, and that some — if they survive scrutiny at all — call for frankly critical analysis and far more judicious deployment in the life of the worshipping community.

As the service progressed, members of the congregation wrote down some of the things we’ve learned about women and girls from our participation in this tradition and posted them around the worship space, an action that concretized this day’s worship and prepared for that of the next. The deep pink cards constituted visible reminders that the space in which we worship is not empty. It always already contains — for us, and our neighbors — many echoing voices, words, messages, many indelible images, unforgettable experiences. Not all of those invite, welcome, affirm . . .

Sometimes, indeed, as we saw and felt on this morning, it takes courage and determination simply to enter a worship space and to pursue what is vital and nourishing there, while fending off and blocking out what is poisonous.

It should take less. Remembering and speaking the words of the tradition that make worship hospitable to women is one of the concrete things the church and its members can do in the effort to end violence against women.

V is for Va-Voom!

People came, saw, . . . concurred!

People came, saw, . . . concurred!

The events of V-Week frankly overwhelmed us here at the Women’s Center — but in a wonderful way! And not least with the climax (if you will) of the week, with Friday’s performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.

We were completely taken by surprise at the demand for tickets. We had to shut down online sales by Wednesday, for fear of double bookings, and were apologetically telling people we would be selling standing room long before the end of the week. (Our apologies to everyone who turned away in discouragement! Next time we’ll plan more performances.)

As it turned out, we were able to squeeze in everyone who turned out for the packed-house performance, and what a performance it was! Thanks go to the talented cast of students and faculty, and to our incomparable director Christine Coy-Fohr, who along with the talents of art director aaron guldenschuh, lighting director Daniel Stillwell, and sound director Sonja Williams created a visually rich backdrop for the varied tones and voices that narrated Ensler’s sampling of women’s experiences around sexuality, embodiment, relationship, and wonder, as well as experiences of violence.

Over the course of the next few days or so, we hope to sort out some of the highlights and insights of the week. For now, however, this first observation: that the narratives of women’s experiences around sexuality, embodiment, relationship, and wonder constitute a context for the narratives of experiences of violence.

As we know from exegesis class, context matters. Without it, the pericope floats, excised, in an abstract space of intellectual consideration, apart from the body of the text in which its fuller meaning becomes apparent.

People often consider “violence against women” in this decontextualized and recontextualized way — as something that shows up on a list (e.g., of “women’s issues” or “contemporary problems”) of things to think about or donate money to, as something “we’re against, obviously,” as something with its own awareness day and ribbon color and “focus on” Sunday. The sitz im leben of violence against women is not (or not only) the shelter, the flourescent agency lobby, the living room, the counseling session in the pastor’s study. It’s got to include women’s lives and experience, women’s embodied possibilities for pleasure, creative achievement, joy and exuberance.

That seems obvious enough. And it’s precisely a dramatization of [some of] those experiences, from women’s perspectives and in women’s words, that The Vagina Monologues presents. We will be reflecting on the new insight that’s given us all into the meaning of “violence against women” for some time, and trying to work out ways to respond to the renewed and even clearer call to end it.

/edited for content 2-18-09/

“Until the Violence Stops” Prompts Reflection and Dialogue

Come, days without violence!

Come, days without violence!

A group of LPTS students and staff met Tuesday in the basement of Schlegel Hall to watch the documentary film “Until the Violence Stops,” as part of the observance of V is for Venite.

The film dramatizes the experiences of five diverse communities around the work of V-Day — an international movement to end violence against women and girls — and in the process gives some of the background on the connections between Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and the V-Day movement. As the film notes, the dramatic form of live theatre helps concretize, make more vivid, and bring home the multi-dimensional meaning of violence against women, and the need to end it, in ways that talk or literature simply doesn’t.

The same could be said about the film. In its images of participants in performances around the world, in the testimonies and faces of individual survivors, the audience sees the face of violence against women — what it means in the lives of these women reminding, standing for, the much larger (almost overwhelmingly) reality.

It’s difficult to talk after seeing this film, especially for the first time. The enormity and variety of what needs to be faced, faced down, and brought to an end can leave a person speechless. The depth of pain and suffering, barely touched, can leave a person feeling completely overwhelmed. LPTS Dean of Students Kilen Gray noted one response to the film as a wish to share the understanding the film provides with a congregation in as dramatic, vivid and powerful way as possible. As others noted, bringing the reality, emotions, needs, and calls around violence against women into the life of worship is both particularly necessary, and particularly difficult. It meets the resistance of worship committees, maybe because people feel themselves incapable of doing or saying “the right thing.”

And yet, it’s clear that silence is not “the right thing.” As Gray also noted, it’s the atmosphere of taboo that surrounds every form of violence against women that permits it to go on, to thrive. Breaking that silence, naming violence as wrong, already constitutes support for women who have endured violence and a needed call to confession, repentance and (one hopes) healing for perpetrators. Breaking the silence also begins the needed change in the systems — which tragically include the church and its institutions — that enable and perpetuate violence.

At least one thing is clear: the church needs to be present and active not only in calling for an end to violence against women and girls, but in working for that end.

Lamenting Violence Against Women

candle_bibleAbout 35 people assembled in the chancel of Caldwell Chapel Monday night for a worship service that began this week with prayer, song, and meditation. The worship service, led by Rev. Dr. Johanna Bos and Th.M. student Courtney Hoekstra, included reflections on the many forms taken by violence against women. Images and statistics permitted three specific cases to stand for all violence. Music from Megan Case and Brennan Pearson gave subtle shape to silent reflection and helped the group sing its prayer for healing and relief.

So the week began with lament.

Lament is part of our tradition. It is embedded in scripture — well beyond the book of Lamentations, it constitutes most of Psalms, and much of the prophetic literature. Jesus, famously, laments over Jerusalem, with the marvelous image of gathering its suffering children under a sheltering maternal wing. And while worship planners often pass up lament, looking for more encouraging and upbeat texts and moods, we do well to remember that we live lives in a world that daily makes lament fitting.

Fitting, and therefor, also satisfying worship. Sometimes — often? — we are tempted to pass quickly over the concerns to get to the joys, to hurry through the valley of death to get to the table on the other side. Not everyone can hurry, however. Worship that rushes to rejoice, bypassing lament, leaves behind those whose path winds through that valley. Lament slows us down; we walk together through that rough place, bringing the confidence of hope to that solidarity.

Why the V-Word??

In talking yesterday with a potential audience member for the upcoming Women’s Center-sponsored performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, this objection came up: “It’s fine to be against violence against women, and to raise consciousness, and money, and all that. But why do we have to be so in your face with the word . . . ?” [VAGINA, that is.]

Good question, and there’s a good answer, too.

If we can’t name a part of our body, we also can’t talk about what happens to it. If it’s injured, violated, destroyed, we can’t tell the story of that. Maybe — since we can’t name it, aren’t supposed to mention it — it wasn’t really that important in the first place. Not worth mentioning. Since we can’t talk about it, maybe what happens to it isn’t even anything. Maybe there can’t even be “violence” against something that was nothing worth mentioning in the first place, barely even there . . .

So it’s important to say the word VAGINA, to name it, to insist that the VAGINA is worth mentioning, is valued and valuable rather than nothing much, is protected space in the same way that the face or the hand or the heart is protected space, that it’s better for it to be happy than hurt, and that its stories need to be told.

Because if we can’t say VAGINA, we can’t tell the vagina’s stories, and if we can’t tell the vagina’s stories then we will only have silence with which to call for an end to violence against women and girls. When we need SPEECH.

Read more about “V is for Venite — Come Days without violence!