By Minister Jené Colvin,
There is a struggle that comes with growing up and coming of age in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. We could see ourselves on television as both the most positive character and as a drain on society. A Different World and Sister Sister played on the same television as COPS, and the coverage of Rodney King, while news programs called us everything but human. We lived through Girl Power and learned that much of it was not meant for little Black girls. We believed the idea that school saves and imaginations are rewarded while simultaneously having loved ones disappear from our communities because of the three strikes rule. We repeated that it takes a village, but were taught personal responsibility where respectability was at stake. We watched as whole sections of our community died and were exiled because of drugs, sexuality, and HIV/AIDS. We were raised on the stories of civil and justice valor and then we realized how much there was left to do.
This realization is not rooted in a disregard or contempt for those that did the work before us. Our foremothers could not do it all, just as we likely can’t. But they gave us so much to survive and thrive on. I hope one day my granddaughters are finding the holes in our work and filling it in. I hope beyond hope that they won’t have to, but should there be more work to do, I hope I can remember, we didn’t get it all done.
In this way, millennial womanism is less about age and more about era. We must be grounded in what shaped us and intentional about what we create that will help shape others. Because it was not millennials who the created the shows, music, art, theology, books, and rebellious ways that made us who we are. It was conversation. It was an exchange of different perspectives from different generations. The world around us is still being built by this exchange.
As for me, I was raised on Black Baptist church, Detroit, and good music. I was raised on TLC, Janet Jackson, Salt N Pepa, and TV specials on Mary Magdalene. I was raised by women that did for us because they wanted to, could, and had to. They never apologized for it. My mother never shunned any question I had. She never said she knew when she didn’t. She took us to the library when she knew there was an answer to find. So, my village and the 90s raised a curious, Black feminist, nerd.
Womanist Theology and Biblical interpretation gave my questions about what I had been reading and listening to in church an entire field of study. The more I read, the more something felt like it was missing. It felt like trying to decide what you have a taste for. So, you keep eating, but you’re still not satisfied. In fact, you’re frustrated because you’re full, but still not satisfied. Then, I took classes that led me to Monica Coleman, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Renee Hill, and others. I found women talking about sexuality, mental health, disability, and all the ways we remix oppression while demanding racial justice. I was once asked what repentance for the marginalization of queer Black Christians would look like. My answer was that it looks like not having to wait to learn that there were people writing about us, talking to us, who were us. I believe this is true for every part of our human-ness and woman-ness. Listening to the stories being told by the people living the stories is one of the best ways to begin repentance.
To be a millennial woman of faith, means doing the interdisciplinary work of examining all of our sources. This includes, movies, books, music, conversational life, as well our strictly faith-based lessons that gave us our worldview. That means washing off every hidden and dusty story behind us and fighting like heaven to make sure we do not keep locking stories away as we go forward. It is necessary to think broadly about what stories belong to us and what people belong to each other if we are going to accomplish this. Lately, I have been leaning on parts of Alice Walker’s definition of womanist that get lost sometimes.
“A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually.”
“Loves music. Loves dance. Love the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness.1”
It does not lend us any additional freedom to cut ourselves off from the gifts that come from other systems of belief, other practices of being, and people that we simply do not understand, especially when they are as Black as we are.
I am still defining my work. Life around me is still defining my work. I am certain that I care about voices that often get drowned out by tradition or new ideas we rushed too without thinking about what we might accidentally throw away. I care deeply about people who once loved the congregational church, but can’t set foot in a sanctuary anymore. I am curious about the people that want them back and the people that put them out (either intentionally or unintentionally) in the first place. I know that I am particularly interested in how we communicate (whether we are aware of it or not).
We build theology through conversation. These conversations happen in prayer, call and response, music, preaching, even the way we celebrate and share information in announcements. These conversations also happen in spaces far from congregations, although not always far from the people of God and those that are ministers, healers, and spiritual leaders (whether Christian in a traditional and orthodox sense or not). Who do we listen to? Whose voices do we value? How do we digest what they say? (Which includes how our body of Christ utilizes it). Why do we listen to who we listen to? What do we repeat?
How can we build strong connections with one another through our faith when we exercise our faith in different spaces? How do we build strong connections with one another through our faith when we are human and we are going to disagree? When is justice more important than keeping everyone in the same room? Especially if bigotry or unchecked privilege is an underlying linchpin of a community. How do we move forward? Millennial womanism must keep pushing our questions and our answers forward. One day, we will have to hand some of this off. Today and in the future, room must be made for those of more recent upbringings. But we cannot leave our section of this story blank or trust that someone else can tell our stories, ask our questions, or think for us. We also must be committed to being honest and sharing what we know. If what we create will shape others, whether we mean for it to or not, then we have to do it on purpose.
1 Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, (Mariner Books, 2003) pg xi & xii.
Min. Jené Ashley Colvin serves in the Office of Community Engagement and Transformation at Trinity United Church of Christ (Chicago, IL) where she works with the Executive Minister to facilitate community partnerships, conferences and programming for the congregation. She holds a Masters of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary, where she focused her studies on race, gender, and sexuality. Min. Colvin is one of five FTE Mentees with WomanPreach!; an organization focused on developing the voice and skill of preachers. She is also an essayist for StoriesConnect.org, a site that features essays, podcasts, and conversations highlighting perspectives from the margins. Licensed in 2009, Min. Colvin has worked in various ministry contexts including social justice, campus and young adult ministries, supporting women in ministry, drama & theatre, community development, and has served as a Program Development Consultant for DePaul University creating retreats and programs focused on young women and students of the African Diaspora. Prior to attending seminary, she worked for three years as the Program Coordinator for the Emerging Scholars Interdisciplinary Network (ESIN), running programs for researchers and academicians, and fostering collaborations between scholars and community organizations and churches. She also does freelance research work that supports projects focused on various marginalized identities and justice efforts. Min. Colvin believes life is interdisciplinary, and therefore ministry should be also.
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