Lists, Or Synod’s Almost Here…

2019-Synod-Logo-verse

Anxiety Time (AKA, Let’s Make Lists)
Outside my window here in northeast Wisconsin there’s a storm blowing in unsettling all the living things inside and outside the house. On my computer screen there’s a countdown clock that tells me the United Church of Christ’s General Synod begins in just over NINE days. On an anxiety scale of 1 to 10 I’m a pretty solid 23 at the moment. There are lists upon lists:

  • Things to pack (must finish t-shirts and put new laces in purple shoes, oh and boxes of advocacy materials, buttons, and such);
  • Things to do to leave my parish in good shape during my absence (made largely possible by amazing people in all three of my congregations, and my tremendous licensed local pastor who will preach all three services on the Sunday I’m gone);
  • Things the kittens need, and instructions to their caregivers:
  • Things domestic like vacuuming, and laundry
  • Things to do to keep my head on straight like one more visit to Dr. Ben (psychiatrist), and refilling all my medicines
  • Things that need to be done for the advocacy work of Break The Silence Sunday at Synod itself which I confess I’ve been putting it off, the whole list including writing this blog post because thinking of the vulnerability required to do this well is overwhelming and the thought of how many stories I might hear, and how many times I might share mine, is humbling, and downright scary.

A Sure Thing
There’s a nagging voice in my head that says none of it will be enough, that one more time my request that the church support survivors of sexual violence will be met with disdain, and dismissal, the refrain that we’ve got other more important justice issues before us, that this just simply isn’t an issue for people in the UCC, or that it’s a private, personal matter that can’t be talked about in congregations because it makes people uncomfortable. (FYI, all these are things said to me by various people, clergy and laity alike, in the UCC over the last seventeen years.)

Many folks keep telling me that the resolution for BTSS to become a national observance of the UCC is a “sure thing”, but enough of my roots are in Kentucky, steeped in horse racing, to know that there’s no such thing as a sure thing. (Plus, I’m a Boston Red Sox fan and we all remember that the utterly improbable happened in 2004.) I know these folks are trying to be reassuring, I do appreciate their words, and maybe they’re right, maybe it’s finally the moment, but until Synod Committee 9 has met, and referred the resolution to a vote on the floor of the Synod, and until the entire Synod has voted to adopt the resolution I don’t think I’ll be convinced (and maybe not even then, but that’s why friend Lella will be with me, to remind me of such things).

As I see it, one of two things will happen – the resolution will be adopted, or it won’t. Either way, the work of Break The Silence Sunday will continue because I know exactly the impact it’s having, and lives are literally in the balance, survivors are hanging on, sometimes by the thinnest of threads, needing a listening heart, a kind set of ears, and a welcoming hand of friendship and solidarity.

A Mere Ten Minutes
When the committees meet on Sunday I will have ten minutes to address them about why we are bringing forward this resolution, why BTSS matters, Trying to figure out how to condense it to a mere ten minutes will be the work of the coming days. How do you condense hundreds of stories, including your own, into ten minutes? How do you let the impact of the statistics – once in every 92 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the United States – sink deep enough into people’s hearts, and minds, and souls that they understand the urgency of this work? How do you help people to understand that sexual violence isn’t about sex, but about violence, power, and control? How do you explain that you believe prevention work, and teaching consent, and all those good things are indeed important, and valuable, but they aren’t enough, and they didn’t work for people who have already been sexually violated? How do you help people to understand that the focus on prevention often leads to more victim blaming, shaming, and guilt? How do you help people understand that yes, you’re hard on the church, demanding even, because you know what it can be when we get it right, a place of incredible healing and hope? How do you do all this, be honest and open about your story, and not turn into a giant puddle of goo? I’d appreciate any feedback you’ve got on what you would include in a ten minute talk about why the church should support survivors as vocally as BTSS asks them to because it’s really tempting to say “it’s important because people are dying” and sit down, but that probably won’t do.

One More List (How You Can Help)
So, perhaps (hopefully) you’re wondering how you can help? I’m glad you asked, I have (here’s a surprise) a list:

  • Follow the new Break The Silence Sunday Instagram account (@breakthesilencesunday) where we’ll be posting oodles of pictures from Synod, advocacy items, and solidarity with and support for survivors, and probably pictures of a lot of cups of coffee;
  • Follow us on Facebook where, if I’ve done everything technologically correct, the Instagram account will also connect;
  • Contact delegates in your conference, particularly those who might be assigned to Committee 9, and encourage them to learn about the work of BTSS, and why it’s important;
  • Reach out to a survivor you know and check on how they’re doing, these are mighty tough times to be a survivor;
  • Pray, light a candle, hold us in the light as it’s going to be a tough week from June 20th to the 27th;
  • If you’re a survivor, reach out to us (or someone) because we believe you, and you are not alone;
  • Let me know your thoughts on what you’d include in a speech about why BTSS matters
  • If you’re a survivor who’s comfortable with doing so, reach out to us with a photo of yourself holding a sign that says “this is what a survivor looks like #BTSS”, you can email them to breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com
  • Financial donations are always welcome – PayPal and Venmo both at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com

So here we go, in the home stretch, at least for this part of the work. I know we have what it takes, but it’s going to take everything we’ve got. But in the end I have to remember some of the words of the incredible Audre Lorde who said:

“And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.” (from Sister, Outsider)

2019 Break The Silence Sunday Materials

“There is nothing to writing.
All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”

~ Ernest Hemingway

I’m not a huge Hemingway fan, not the least because he seems to have a hatred of commas, writing all those short staccato sentences that feel like gunfire when I read. But this quote has come back to me over and over in the past couple of weeks, a reminder that the work of writing is intensely hard, and at least for me, costly in body, mind, and spirit. It is also work I am honoured and privileged to do.

This is the fourth year I’ve written materials for Break The Silence Sunday. Every year I think it should, somehow, get easier, and every year it seems like more is required of me, as a pastor, as a survivor, as a human being.

Part of this is, of course, because of the world we are living in, the stories on the news every day about rape and sexual violence, and the general state of society here in the United States.

Part of it is also that I want to do better every year, make the liturgy, and commentary, and everything else the best it possibly can be. I remember a class in seminary where we were discussing the purpose of the church and how what we say about Jesus’ life and ministry shapes that purpose. I was frustrated because my classmates seemed to be having an intellectual exercise, all hypothetical ideas about some ideal church. I went to my professor to share my concerns. He listened with a pastor’s heart and said something like, “well, the problem, my friend, is that you know these aren’t just ideas, they’re matters of life and death.”

I want these BTSS materials to be their best because lives really, truly are hanging in the balance. In these days where sexual violence is a story on the news, a joke at the comedy club, and a derogatory meme on the internet, survivors are desperate to be heard, to know that their stories, and their lives matter.

So here they are my friends, the 2019 materials for Break The Silence Sunday, as both BTSS 2019 WORD and BTSS 2019 PDF.

I hope you’ll pray about ways in which your community can support our work, and support the survivors in your midst.

 

 

General Synod Advocacy – Update & Budget

Hello from Arizona my friends.
I’m down here for some writing time working on the 2019 Break The Silence Sunday materials, and taking a little break from the cold of a Wisconsin winter.

An Update On The General Synod Resolution
When last I wrote we were just beginning to gather support, needing a minimum of six United Church of Christ congregations to sign on in support of the resolution before it could be submitted to the national church. I wasn’t sure we were going to find six churches who would be willing to consider the resolution, or who would be able to meet and vote on it in the short time frame we were working with (and during Advent as well). But you all AMAZED me. When the resolution was submitted we had 20 congregations as well as two conferences of the U.C.C. supporting us. TWENTY!!!!! The congregations are from across the country, small and large, urban and rural, and at all kinds of different places in their work of supporting survivors, but all twenty took a leap, reached down in their hearts and deep into the Gospel and found it within themselves to speak out in support of survivors, and I am in awe. A huge thank you to Maren Tirabassi for her tirelessness in working to find congregations to support the resolution in the eastern part of the country.

I’ll list the congregations and conferences at the end of this post. Additional congregations, individual clergy, organizations (seminaries & U.C.C. groups), and conferences are still welcome to sign on in support. You won’t be listed as officially submitting congregations because that had to happen by January 1, but rest assured your supporting voice will still be heard!

The next step is that the resolution goes to the U.C.C.’s Board of Director’s Committee on Disposition (doesn’t that sound imposing and slightly scary?). That committee determines if the resolution meets all of the requirements of the by-laws and standing rules of the General Synod. Assuming that they approve the resolution it will then be officially circulated to delegates, and on the Synod website. Once at Synod it will be assigned to a working committee who will study it, suggest and make changes (every resolution ever submitted has been changed in some way so I’m trying not to worry about this overly much), and then eventually it will make its way to the floor of the Synod for a vote. After that, assuming the floor vote is affirmative, it goes to the national church for implementation and all U.C.C. churches are invited to participate in BTSS.

You can see a PDF of the final, fancy version of the resolution with line numbers and everything here: btss general synod resolution final submitted version. Many, many thanks to David Anderson from the national church who guided me through the submission process to make sure the resolution meets requirements.

General Synod Advocacy Budget
Now that the resolution has been submitted, it’s time to think about being present at Synod to listen to survivors who need to share their stories, to advocate for the resolution, to talk with people who have questions, and to simply be visible and present. This is, as you might imagine, not going to be inexpensive. Synod is a five day event, blessedly this year in Milwaukee so I can drive from home, but there is registration, and housing, and meals, and then a host of advocacy and visibility materials that will make our presence more effective. My survivor sister friend Lella has agreed to go with me, to be my valet as it were, and make sure that I remember to drink some water, and breathe regularly during this whole process.

Budgets and money are not really my strength, but I’ve worked up some numbers that cover everything from registration fees, to housing, to cards to send to folks who support us, to buttons, to t-shirts so Lella and I can be seen wherever we go (and maybe so we can find each other across the sea of people at Synod).

Break The Silence Sunday needs your help – $5 or $50 or $500 would be wonderful. We have a PayPal account just for this with our email address (breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com) and I would be grateful for whatever you can contribute. And my friends, I know some of you are in difficult financial situations. PLEASE do not put yourself in a harder space by thinking you have to contribute. If you can’t, I completely understand. In that case, send me a note and tell me you’re thinking of us, of Lella and I as we embark on this huge unknown scary thing), and look to the blog here in future days for lots of other ways you can help out. ♥♥♥

2019 B.T.S.S. Advocacy At General Synod Budget
Synod Registration $500
Hotel $900
Parking $75
Transportation $20
Meals $430
Website hosting $100
Business cards $55
Correspondence (cards, labels, postage) $120
General office supplies (paper, ink, pens, etc.) $100
T-shirts $300
Buttons & stickers $255.50
Miscellaneous $75
Total Budget $2930.50

Some folks have already contributed. We have raised $885 as of this writing, meaning that we have $2045.50 yet to go.

Want that PayPal address again? breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com

And if you want to see the full detailed budget look here: synod advocacy budget

Resolution Heroes
Finally, and most importantly, here is the list of sponsoring congregations and conferences for our resolution:
St. John’s U.C.C. Cecil, Wisconsin
Trinity U.C.C. Shiocton, Wisconsin
St. John’s U.C.C. Black Creek, Wisconsin
Orchard Hill U.C.C. Chillicote, Ohio
Valley City Congregational U.C.C. Valley City, North Dakota
Westmoreland Congregational U.C.C. Bethesda, Maryland
Second Christian Congregational U.C.C. of Kittery, Maine
Bethesda U.C.C. of Bethesda, Maryland
First Congregational U.C.C. of Rochester, New Hampshire
Alfred Parish Church U.C.C. Alfred, Maine
Trinity U.C.C. Manchester, Maryland
Claremont U.C.C. Claremont, California
Epiphany U.C.C. St. Louis, Missouri
Berkeley Chinese Community Church U.C.C. Berkeley, California
First Congregational U.C.C. Grand Junction, Colorado
Immanuel U.C.C. West Bend, Wisconsin
Chinese Congregational Church U.C.C. San Francisco, California
Pilgrim U.C.C. Grafton, Wisconsin
Peace U.C.C. Webster Groves, Missouri
Wisconsin Conference U.C.C.
Penn Northeast Conference U.C.C.

General Synod Resolution

Friends, I have a proposed resolution to go before the 2019 General a Synod in Milwaukee calling on the UCC to create Break The Silence Sunday as a denomination wide observance to support survivors of rape and sexual violence.

We are on a short calendar to get six congregations to sign on in support before the end of the year deadline for submitting the resolution to the national church.

I am attaching the resolution here as a Word document btss general synod resolution and would be grateful to anyone whose congregations might consider such support.

You can reach me with your community’s support, questions, or comments at pastormoira73@gmail.com

Thank you.

Onward ~ how do we keep going?

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

2018 BTSS materials are ready

I keep thinking that as the years of doing this work go on it will get easier, but it seems just the opposite is happening. This is a process of continually opening myself up to the stories and struggles of survivors; listening to stories that haven’t been told in decades (if ever); hearing the pain and heartbreak, but also the relief of finally finding a listening heart.

Add to that the world we are living in, the reality that the occupant of the White House is a sexual predator, the #metoo movement, and daily stories of abuse, rape, sexual assault, harassment, and more. It’s enough to overwhelm even the strongest of souls.

But truthfully, the biggest challenge is the silence of the institutional church, a place where survivors should feel safe to share their stories, and where healing and hope should be found in abundance. It’s disheartening on a good day that the church (across denominations) is unable and unwilling to do the work to support survivors in their healing church.

However, Break The Silence Sunday is ultimately a movement of hope, a movement where communities of many sizes stand together with survivors in worship, in Bible study, in prayer to say that our God is present with us in the struggle, our God hears and remembers, our God offers companionship on the long journey of healing from sexual violence.

It is in that spirit of hope that I offer you the 2018 worship materials and resources for Break The Silence Sunday. You will find a complete liturgy. Feel free to change and modify it so that it best fits the needs of your community. You’ll also find additional liturgical suggestions, sermon ideas, a complete sample sermon on consent, and more.

Please do read the introduction and notes for worship planners so that you can prepare yourself, and your community for this important work. The suggested date for 2018 is April 22nd. I know that this is Earth Day and many communities have long-standing commitments to this important day. Please feel free to choose another day that works with your community’s calendar.

Finally, at the end you’ll find a feedback form. You don’t have to use the form (an email will be fine), but if you and your community observe BTSS in any way I would appreciate knowing.

2018 BTSS PDF

2018 BTSS Word

Time Magazine, #metoo, and supporting survivors

person-of-year-2017-time-magazine-cover1

This morning Time Magazine revealed it’s person of the year. Amid many choicesincluding the occupant of the Oval Office, Special Council Robert Mueller, and former NFL player Colin Kapernick, the editors at Time chose The Silence Breakers, those who have come forward in increasing numbers to share their stories of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence.

You can read the entire article here: 2017 Person Of The Year

I am grateful that the conversation about sexual violence has started to take a national, and international, stage. As the article notes, “This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries.” Women, and indeed some men, have been bravely telling their stories for years, and have been ignored, dismissed, blamed, shamed, and cowered into silence by the powerful, by institutions that would rather look the other way, but people who are invested in a system that benefits from power over others.

I’m grateful for the breadth of folks Time included in their story. It’s not just the famous like actors and media professionals, but hotel workers, and strawberry pickers, and office clerks whose stories have received less attention, and who have had far less support in dealing with the fallout from sharing their stories. This isn’tsomething limited to the boardrooms, and movie sets of our country (world), but this scourge of sexual violence, and harassment, and intimidation is something that infects every part of our society, every level of our economy, every home, and office, and classroom. It’s woven into our culture, one that puts men over women, allows men to assert their perceived dominance, and to gain some twisted pleasure from seeing women uncomfortable.

But I’m also worried. It’s just after noon as I write this and already I’m dealing with pushback from Time’s decision. Someone argues that Taylor Swift shouldn’t have been included because “all that happened to her was her butt got pinched, that doesn’t matter”. Another person says that no one should be allowed to remain anonymous (the Time story includes several people who chose to remain anonymous for many reasons) because, “surely they have something to hide” and “they’re probably making it up to get famous”. And yet another person says the women should have come forward earlier because they could just “get another job”, blaming the victims for the perpetuation of the cycle of abuse because they didn’t speak out before.

I’m not a cynic. Many people will tell you I’m among the most optimistic, hopeful people they know, but these days have me weary. I’m sure some of it is the dark and cold of a Wisconsin winter that so far has no snow to insulate the ground, keep my pipes from freezing, and refresh the scenery.

But more of the weariness comes from the direction some (most) of the conversation is going since the #metoo hashtag went viral. Lots of the conversation has been about empowering folks, suggesting women need to take self-defense classes, and firing those who have been accused. Please don’t get me wrong. Those are all good, and incredibly important things, but… I’m not seeing support for survivors.  

One woman called me in tears because she had been bullied online by other survivors who said that if she didn’t publicly state #metoo then she was betraying her gender, allowing the abuse to continue, and probably condemning someone else to being a survivor in the future. She was being blamed for the actions of perpetrators because she wasn’t comfortable coming out online as a survivor herself. Where the movement should be empowering, and encouraging, it also has the potential to be coercive and manipulative, demanding people out themselves before they’re ready, or when it’s not safe for them to do so because of personal, home, work, or other concerns.

And survivors who have been able to share their #metoo stories more publicly are finding there aren’t systems of support. There are incredible organizations like the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN and their 24/7 hotline 800-656-4673, or live chat on their website if calling isn’t a safe option), and local shelters, hotlines, and places to get help, but one of the places I feel should be stepping up to offer support is staggeringly silent … the church.

Yes, individual churches, communities, and clergy are doing great things, but nationally, as denominations we are still asking survivors to sit in our pews in silence, making lists like THIS about 18 ways the church can fight sexual assault (from The Christian Century) which falls flat when it includes the idea that putting women in positions of leadership will somehow end sexual violence, and when putting #metoo on the church sign is supposed to be sufficient signal to survivors that their stories will be heard with compassion, and grace. We’re saying with our words (and more often with our silence) that being a survivor, asking to be heard by the church, is a special interest, something private, something we aren’t willing to address with our faith, something that is outside the work of justice to which the churches are called.

It’s not enough. Churches, and clergy, have to be openly and passionately stating that they will listen to stories about rape and sexual violence. That these stories will be met without judgement, or condemnation, or blaming, or shitty theology, or questions about what you were wearing, or why you were out alone.

If this moment is really to be one of transformation, a seismic shift in how our culture is structured, and operates, then yes we need to do the work to hold abusers accountable; yes, we need to do the work to teach our children (and adults) of all genders about respect, and boundaries, and consent; yes, we need to change the criminal justice system, the police and courts, to be victim-centered and victim-centered; yes, we need to talk about diversifying our leadership on all levels with more women, more people of color, more disabled people, more people from different religious/faith/philosophical traditions, and more; and yes, we’re going to need men to step up and change, to do some thinking about the privilege that they have, and what they can do with it (an interesting article HERE describing ten things men can do to address sexual harassment in their workplace might be a place to start); but…

we’re also going to need to do a lot of work to support survivors, all survivors:
the ones who have shared their stories; the ones who are thinking about doing so; the ones who don’t have words to describe what happened to them; the ones who are afraid because they might lose their job, or their family, or their friends; the ones who remember every detail, and the ones who have only fuzzy recall of what happened; the ones who were assaulted yesterday, and the ones whose abuse happened decades ago; the survivors we decide are acceptable, and the ones who make us uncomfortable like sex workers; the women, and the men; the ones sitting in our pews, aching and hurting, carrying stories inside them that challenge our assumptions about what people are capable of, looking for hope, and asking us to help them find a way to a God who loves them in all their struggle.

For now, I thank Time Magazine for their courage in choosing the #metoo movement, and the people who are breaking the silence, for their cover this year, and I challenge us all to do better for the survivors around us, the outspoken and the silent.