Break The Silence Sunday is now three years old. There has always been some push back, people who don’t think that this work needs to be done, or shouldn’t be done in church. That push-back has increased lately. Part of it is, I think, a general world weariness. The news is overwhelming, and folks get tired of being constantly on alert, waiting for the next crisis to respond to. It’s tempting to give in, to give up, to go back to bed, pull the covers over our heads, eat ice cream, pet the cat, and ignore the world.
I’ve been in a bit of that place the past few days. Some of it had to do with dealing with a major adult challenge (buying a new car when my old one gave up), but there was also just this overwhelming sense that BTSS wasn’t enough. The tape that plays in my brain got stuck – this isn’t enough; it’s just a drop in the ocean considering the scope of the problem of sexual violence; that people in positions of power and influence were against it (if not openly opposing it at least quietly going about saying it wasn’t important). My brain got stuck thinking that the work would never be enough, that it would barely make a dent, that people like Dr Mukwege are doing so much better and more important work (please … check out his foundation http://mukwegefoundation.org and the incredible things they’re doing for survivors of sexual violence in conflict/wars). The dream of having the church truly be a place where survivors would be heard, and respected, and supported in their journey seemed too big, too far away.
This is not a plea for you to tell me that BTSS does make a difference, but rather some thoughts about how we sustain and find the energy to keep going in the work for justice. When I get to this place (and it happens rather often), I have a set of movies that I watch to remind me that the struggle is long, but as Dr King said in a 1964 commencement address at Wesleyan University (Middleton, CT), “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The movies are a reminder for me that the work worth doing will take my whole life.
So tonight, to encourage myself, I rewatched “Iron Jawed Angels” about the movement to get women the right to vote in the United States. There’s a scene, after Inez Milholland has died on a speaking tour supporting suffrage, when Alice Paul has fled the work, taking refuge at her family’s farm. Alice can’t face the cost of the work, that someone should die she says in a fight that shouldn’t even have to be fought. Alice’s mother, a deeply rooted Quaker, says to Alice, “you put your hand to the plow, you finish the row.” If it’s the work you’re called to, you finish it, whatever it takes. You can take a break, but you don’t put it down for good.
I wish, in so many ways, that this wasn’t the work I was called to, that I could put it down, or as someone recently told me “let it go”. But this isn’t “Frozen” and I can’t. This is my life. Being a rape survivor defines a huge part of who I am, and it surely affects how I look at, and live in the world every minute of every day.
And lately, I’m not entirely sure I want to put it down – not while my sisters and brothers are suffering; not while churches are still pouring out toxic and abusive theologies about purity, and suffering, and God’s will; not while survivors are afraid to tell their pastors about their experiences for fear of judgement; not while our culture still encourages men to violence as their default emotion; not while someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every 98 seconds (National Sexual Violence Resource Center); not while churches are screamingly silent, so incredibly silent about the suffering and struggles of people in their pews.
Later in the film, when Alice is struggling while other suffragists are in jail, Ben Weissman (a fictional Washington Post reporter) says to Alice, “You couldn’t fold if your life depended on it. You don’t know how.”
I’ve decided, at least for tonight, that it’s a virtue to not know how to give in, or give up. Call it stubborn, or illogical. Tell me I’m an unrealistic optimist, or an idealist with no idea how things actually work (both things people have said to me lately about the work of BTSS).
Go ahead. I’ve heard it all. And I’ve heard far worse. Nothing folks can throw at me about this work will compare to the words the men who raped me used to try to destroy my sense of self.
Guess what – it didn’t work. Against all the odds, I’m still here, and so are lots and lots and lots of other survivors. And I will work for them today, and tomorrow, and every day until the church universal gets its act together and supports survivors with theologies of love, and grace.
So, as my pastor growing up always said, a reminder that we look ever forward to the fullness of time when justice will prevail … ONWARD!
In case you’re interested, some of my other films for encouragement are:
Amazing Grace, Spotlight, Selma, Wonder Woman, Harry Potter (particularly Prisoner of Azkaban), Restoration, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Kingdom Of Heaven, Dead Poets Society, and True Believer