Integrity, Shame & Hymns

It’s been an interesting few days here in the land of The Revolution. Maybe I’ve been stirred up by the full moon, and the eclipse, or maybe it’s just that vulnerability is a risky enterprise which oftentimes threatens those who cling to structures of oppression.

First, over the weekend I was told that I am, through this work, destroying the integrity and honour of my family. It’s not a new rant, that somehow I’m a disgrace because I speak out about being a survivor, but it still makes me sad, and angry. Thankfully I have an amazing group of chosen family who are willing to listen to me rant, and cry, and process my thoughts and feelings, but I wonder about the survivors who don’t have that kind of support system. What happens when a survivor is rejected by their family AND doesn’t have any other community to stand with them? Shouldn’t this be precisely the place the church steps in to be that community, to be a place where survivors can tell their stories, to be heard without judgement, to find the courage to move forward in healing, hope, and faith?

Second, I was at the market this morning. I am in the habit of wearing a button that says “This is what a rape survivor looks like”. Usually the button invites good conversation, compassion, and sometimes I am honoured to hear other people’s stories of survival. Today, however, the woman in front of me at the registers had a different approach. She looked at me, read the button, looked at me again and then said, “you should be ashamed of yourself”. This woman, totally unknown to me, decided to pass judgement, to decide that I should bear the responsibility, shame, and guilt for what happened to me. I get it. I, and most survivors I know, struggle with it already. It’s called survivor guilt, and it needs to stop, today. The woman at the store, the culture around us, all just need to stop. All the responsibility for what happened to me, and to all survivors, belongs to the people who hurt us.

My third rambling will seem unrelated, but hear me out. We need some new hymns that dare to use the word RAPE. I’ve talked with lots of survivors and one of the things we struggle with the stigma around that word, the fact that people don’t want to say it, that it makes them uncomfortable. Guess what – it’s even harder for survivors, but we need you to be brave, to face that which makes you uncomfortable, to deal with your own stuff and support us. I’ll probably write loads more on that soon, but for right now I’m thinking about needing some new hymns, probably to tunes we already know, that use the word rape. No, it won’t be easy to do, to find a way to faithfully, and honestly use that word in song, but I have no doubt the grace of G-d can get us there. Anybody want to try?

A song for The Revolution…

Music is an incredibly important part of my healing, as it is for many of my brother and sister survivors.

In the summer of 2014 my dear friend Bryan Sirchio, a gifted musician working to make the world a better place, and I wrote a song to tell parts of my story. He persists in telling me that it’s “my” song, but I will forever think of it as “our” song.

The whole process surrounding the song – from dreaming of it, to writing it together in the heat at Pilgrim Center, to recording it, to performing it, and sharing it – has been part of the tipping point, moving The Revolution forward.

I struggle with embracing my singing voice, having been told that I don’t sing well. But perhaps that’s the point of the song. It’s title is “I Need You To Hear”. I don’t like to admit that, but it’s true. I need to be heard, to tell my story in my own voice, with my own words, no matter how clumsy they might be at times, no matter how far out of tune I am.

I think that’s true for many (I might even dare to say most) survivors – we need you to listen, to hear, to speak, to know that you aren’t going to run away when it gets tough, when the words make you uncomfortable, when you would rather look the other way and pretend that rape simply doesn’t exist.

The video here is of Bryan and I singing together after I gave the keynote speech at Ten Points of Light to Take Back The Night at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac, WI in April of this year.

Please also check out Bryan’s work at his incredible work with the people of Haiti at

A poem while I work on some others

I’m working on some new poems for The Revolution today, and letting a couple of ideas for hymns/congregational songs simmer in the back of my brain (and heart), but in the meantime I wanted to share this poem I wrote several years ago as a manifesto (which word I have just looked up … a public declaration of intention, objective, or motive … and seems most appropriate).

“Sometimes I Wonder”
Moira Finley, August 2012 & revised August 2013

in the small hours of the night
when the voices
of a million screaming women
keep me from sleep,
I wonder what it would be like
if we all just sat down
and stopped
because we’d finally had enough.

If we gathered up
our saris and burkhas,
nursing bras and corsets,
cotillion dresses and uniforms,
our suits and G-strings,
running clothes and pyjamas,
jeans and habits,
and settled ourselves in
for a nice long wait
until the world finally admitted
that enough was enough,
that rape must come to an end.

I dream of that day,
when over a cup of tea,
or coffee or simply cool clear water,
we calmly state our demands.

We require a world where we teach
that you should not rape
instead of how to avoid being raped;
that every person is sacred
and deserves to be respected,
to have their own voice,
a right to the sanctity and dignity
of their own bodies,
to an education and
the encouragement to use
their minds, their hearts, and their souls,
to follow their dreams.

We require a world where
girls and women can safely
walk down the street
wearing a bikini or a hijab,
and sit in their own homes,
without fear that their
bodies and hearts and souls
would be torn apart
by the violation of someone else’s anger,
by the hatred of someone’s violence,
by the searing pain of rape
which will follow them,
endlessly replaying
in their hearts and minds,
for the rest of their lives;
and where this is equally true
for boys and men.

We require a world where
our daughters and sons
never feel compelled to cooperate
with things that make them
hate their bodies,
at the hands of those
they should be able to trust;
where power over others
is a memory best to be forgotten.

I wonder what would happen
if the labourers in the fields,
office workers and nurses,
teachers and store clerks,
business owners and farmers,
mothers and grandmothers,
athletes and firefighters,
all of them women,
simply stopped and sat down
and demanded a world of peace,
a world free from rape and violence,
from shame and degradation,
from buying and selling human flesh,
from oppression and tyranny.

Would it matter?
Would the world notice?
Would it change anything
if more than half the world
failed to show up for work one day?
Would our strength be praised,
or our bravery condemned?

Would the men we love,
who say they love us,
take a stand with us,
use their voices and their power
on our behalf,
to advocate for us,
to share our dream,
to help create it?

as the first rays of dawn
creep through my bedroom window,
I wonder what it would be like
if there were no more voices
crying in the night,
no more lives torn apart by rape,
and what it would be like
if the dream came true.

Welcome to The Revolution

My name is Moira Finley. I am many things – a poet, a painter, someone who loves a good meal, a potentially crazy cat lady, a fan of all things Sherlock Holmes, someone who is mildly (ok, intensely) obsessed with Harry Potter, the pastor of two wonderful United Church of Christ (UCC) congregations, and a rape survivor.

I was raped when I was thirteen.

It has been twenty-eight years since the night that changed everything. Along the way I have been blessed to be surrounded by a great many people who have loved me when I didn’t feel loveable; who have held me together when I was falling apart; who have cried with me, laughed with me, tried to understand my anger, listened to my questions, and struggled with me to make sense of all that happened to me.

One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my journey (and the journey of many survivors) has been wrestling with questions of faith. Where was G-d when I was raped? If G-d loves me, why didn’t G-d prevent it from happening? Can G-d still love me even though I’m tainted, broken, dirty? There are questions about suffering, grace, mercy, hope, forgiveness, and so much more.

My mother, and the church I grew up in, were wonderful about helping me wrestle with those questions, but I know many survivors are not so lucky. Their congregations, their pastors, their communities meet them with outdated and hurtful theologies, dangerous ideas about what is required to be a Christian, and have laid blame, and shame at the feet of survivors.

When I was ordained in the UCC I had high hopes that my own denomination might be a place where survivors could find space to share their stories, to be heard, honoured, and respected. After all, ours is a tradition of justice seeking, and peace making, advocating for those who have been marginalised, and lifting up the voices of those who have been silenced and oppressed.

Sadly, this has not been my experience. For the fourteen years since my ordination I have been trying to get the UCC, and the church in general, to open up a space for this conversation – to support survivors and advocate for change. I have been met with what feels like a firmly closed, and locked door.

Responses have ranged from the fairly mundane of “it’s private and personal” and “it will make people uncomfortable” to the genuinely hurtful “it’s not an important issue for the church”. I have received theological advice that was well intentioned, but seriously misguided including the platitudes about Jesus suffering, and that nonsense about G-d not giving us more than we can handle. I have been instructed that forgiveness, immediate and unconditional, is a requirement of the Christian faith, and that I shouldn’t be angry about what happened to me because it might upset others. I have been told that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is stupid, that I should just get over it since it all happened a long time ago, that stuff like this happens to everyone and I should just accept it, and so much more.

But I am stubborn, or brave, or foolish, or more probably a combination of all three. I have refused to give up, to back down from my belief that the church is, and can be, a place where survivors can tell their stories; can receive love, encouragement, and support in their healing; and can find a way through their pain with faith.

It has been a trying, difficult time. There has been a lot of crying, some screaming, and a lot of wondering if I was on the right track, if this really mattered, if the work was worth it.

Then something started to happen. In the summer of 2014 my dear friend Bryan Sirchio and I wrote a song about my story. The song started to get shared. I got invited to be the speaker at a Take Back The Night event in Fond du Lac in April 2015 where, after my speech, Bryan and I performed the song. That video got shared some more. And then we reached the tipping point.

Our new Wisconsin Conference UCC minister has agreed to help me push open the door and Break The Silence Sunday was born.

We are working, first within the UCC in Wisconsin and eventually much broader, to create a Sunday when the church will, in worship
say the word rape, acknowledging the reality of rape in our world;
support and encourage survivors in their journey of healing;
and commit themselves to working for change.

It won’t be easy, or quick, but I believe it will be worth it because together we can help survivors know that, despite what happened to them, they are beloved children of G-d, and that the church stands with them, outraged at their experience, and working together towards a world where no one else ever has to live through such things.

This blog will be reflections from those helping to create this Sunday: crafting liturgy, writing sermons, sharing songs and hymns, offering prayers. There will also be writings (ramblings), poems, visual arts, music, and other things that help move us together towards a place of healing, wholeness, and hope.

So, welcome to The Revolution. I am grateful you are here.