SAAM Day Five – Memories

When I was in high school there was an innovation in television technology called picture in picture TV. The idea was that there would be the usual picture taking up most of the screen, and then in the upper right corner you could have another smaller picture from a different channel playing. The marketing was mostly to people who wanted to be able to watch two different sporting events at the same time.

I’m not sure it ever really caught on, and then the internet came and changed how we watch TV, but the idea of picture in picture has always been a helpful way for me to describe what it’s like inside my head as a rape survivor.

Please understand that this is MY experience, and every survivor is different.

The present moment – me sitting at my computer surrounded by napping kittens, drinking coffee, thinking about worship things for Sunday, wondering if I should make oatmeal cookies, wishing I hadn’t forgotten to get tater tots at the grocery – that’s all the main picture, the big screen of the TV inside my head.

But there is always that smaller picture playing in the background. It plays on a constant loop, reliving and remembering – the events leading up to my rape, the events of the rape, and the aftermath as well.

On good days (which are most), it works with the memories quietly playing on the side while I go about my life, but there are days…

There are days, and moments, when the screens switch, when the memories are the bigger picture, and the present moment is shoved off to the side. All kinds of things can trigger the switch – stress, the weather, a particular smell or taste, having to go somewhere unfamiliar, certain days and times of the year, a song on the radio, not getting enough sleep or the right foods. And sometimes I’m not even aware of what the trigger is.

I’ve spent lots of time working with my psychiatrist at getting control of the switch, of learning how to navigate the triggers in an unpredictable world, and how to calm myself down and get my brain to bring the present back to the big picture.

IMG_0030It’s a daily practice. Some days it works, and some days it doesn’t. Some days the memories are overwhelming. Overall, I think I do it well, but I know what that kind of mental energy costs me.

Perhaps this will go a bit of the way towards helping people who aren’t survivors understand the kind of internal gymnastics that are required to go out into the world, to get the groceries, go to work, meet people, go out to eat, attend concerts and classes, and all kinds of things that a “normal” (neurotypical) brain takes for granted.

SAAM Days Three & Four – Support

There’s a lot in the news these days about survivors who didn’t report, or who waited to report, their assaults to the authorities (police). Much of what’s written comes with a heaping portion of judgement – if you didn’t report it wasn’t that bad, or you wanted it, or you’re trying to cover something else up (like underage drinking, or drug use, or the like).

I’ve heard survivors told that they HAVE to report in order to prevent someone else from being a victim, in order to end rape culture, in order to bring themselves some kind of closure. I’ve heard people say that anyone who doesn’t report their rape isn’t really a victim since they didn’t take it seriously enough to wade into the legal system.

NONE of that helps. I’m going to say that again in case you weren’t listening … NONE of that helps.

Survivors don’t need your judgement, your critique, your commentary on whether or not they’re really survivors. They don’t need your advice, from a place of relative safety, or your back seat “help” with what would be best for them. They surely don’t need anyone telling them about how much better they will feel when they report and prosecute (as someone who did report, and went through the nightmare that is our legal system’s prosecution of rapists, I understand why someone wouldn’t ever want to do that – it reopens all kinds of wounds, and the victim is often put on trial themselves … more about that in another post).

What survivors do need is your nonjudgemental support. They need to know that you’re there for them, walking with them whatever the darkness brings. They need to know that you aren’t going to run away when the going gets tough, when the memories are a living nightmare. They need to know they aren’t a burden to you, because they feel like they are, all the time, that their story is too much for you to bear, that you don’t want to know why they’re really struggling with.

What survivors need …

  • to be reminded that they are not alone;
  • that you believe them (say these words … “I believe you”, it matters more than you can possibly imagine);
  • that it isn’t their fault (say these words, “it’s not your fault”, say them more than once, trust me, the survivors won’t be able to believe you the first time);
  • that you support them whatever choices they make (about reporting, counseling, medical care, and well everything);
  • and for you to be there for them, to listen, to help with the laundry, to drive them to their appointments, to cry with them, and to listen (yes, I said it again, it’s the most important thing you can do).

For some other ideas, and ways you can support survivors, check out these resources:

Help Someone You Care About from RAIIN

A survivor’s advice for supporting someone who has been assaulted by Alison Safran

#saam

#breakthesilencesunday

SAAM Day Two – Somebody

It’s Saturday, and I’m a working pastor who has to lead worship twice tomorrow, so today’s notes shall be a bit brief…

Often, when we talk about rape & sexual violence there’s this strange thing that happens. People tell you to think about what would you would feel like if it happened to someone you love – your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter.

I know they mean well by trying to personalize the issue, but it means that we, as survivors, are defined by our relationships to other people (very often as women who are somehow attached/connected to men).

It irritates me. Yes, I am someone’s daughter, and sister, and mother, and aunt, but I am somebody without all those categories. I am me, a human being, deserving of respect, and decency, and kindness, and compassion even if I weren’t someone’s daughter, sister, mother, or whatever.

That I am human should be reason enough to not hurt me. That someone, anyone, is human should be reason for them to not have to fear the violence of rape and sexual assault.

So the next time you see one of those signs or memes that invites you to think about how it would affect your sister, or brother, or some other relation, remember that we are all sisters and brothers and when any one of us suffers, we all suffer together; when any one of us is not free from violence and fear, none of us are free; when one of us is raped, all of us are raped.

 

SAAM Day One ~ Everyday

April is coming to my part of Wisconsin with rain, and sleet, and probably even snow. It’s grey, and if I weren’t of Scottish descent, I would probably even find it dreary. But the weather does mean it’s a good day to make some tea, do some reading, and some plotting.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), a time when people will wear purple or teal, will post lovely things on their Facebook pages about ending sexual violence, and then in thirty days, move on to whatever the next thing is that we’re supposed to be caring about.

That sounds more bitter than I intended it to, but the reality is for survivors of sexual violence, our lives are an endless time of awareness about the realities of rape and sexual assault.

We don’t get to lay it down for the other eleven months of the year. We think about it day in and day out, some days more than others, but the reality never leaves us. It’s our waking, and most definitely our sleeping. It’s in the choices we make about where we will go, who we will go with, how late we will stay out, how we can get home, how many times we check the locks on the door after we are home, and so much more.

As we work our way through these days of April, please find ways to support the survivors you know, to listen to them, to speak the most important words you might ever say … I believe you.

And find ways to make change happen. A world without rape is a very real possibility, but it will take all of us working together to make that change happen, it will take time, and grace, and hope, and prayer, and a lot of tears. More than anything it will take the courage to speak up, and speak out.

IMG_0026

A strange (good?) thing is happening

The materials for Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS) have been out in the world for a little more than two months. They’ve been emailed to all the U.C.C. churches in Wisconsin, and have found some listening hearts in other communities from St. Louis to Phoenix, among the U.C.C., but also among Baptist, and Methodist, and ELCA Lutheran congregations. I have had some wonderful feedback, and appreciation for the idea, the materials, and the courage to open up space for this conversation.

There has also been, not entirely surprisingly, some negative feedback – people who say we don’t need yet another designated day for yet another designated topic for the church to address; people who think that this shouldn’t be discussed in church at all because it’s too personal, and too sensitive; and the folks who have said that we are, collectively, already overwhelmed with issues that matter and don’t have time for one more. I’ve handled most of that quite well, with only one major rant to my nearest and dearest friends, and only a handful of excess cookies.

But the strange, and perhaps good, thing that’s been happening is that since the materials were released an increasing number of people (clergy) have reached out to me because they need to help someone in particular in their parish with the aftermath of rape or sexual violence. These clergy come to me and tell me that they are completely unprepared, uneducated, unaware of how to help, what might be unhelpful, and they don’t know anywhere to look for resources. So they turn to me, and for that I am truly grateful, but it got me to thinking that something is lacking in how we are educating our clergy (well probably more than one thing, but I digress).

When I was in seminary we were taught to refer, refer, refer, to be careful about how much pastoral care we offered because we aren’t trained as psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, social workers, or the like. And I understand that, BUT much of what my colleagues have been calling me to talk about isn’t the stuff of that kind of care.

In every instance the person they’re working with also has a counselor of some sort. What they need is their pastor to be present with them, to wrestle with the G-d questions, the tough stuff of faith about where is G-d when these awful things happen, and why does a G-d of love allow such stuff. They need their pastor to be part of their team, to maybe drive them to an appointment, to help them figure out how to be as safe and comfortable in worship as possible, to know that they have panic attacks at times, and be sensitive to their concerns about how we do this thing called church.

I am grateful to the colleagues who have reached out for help, who have admitted their ignorance about how rape and sexual assault affect people, and who have looked for ways to educate themselves. It has reminded me just how important the work of BTSS is, and will continue to be.

On Friday, Sexual Assault Awareness Month will begin, and we will be just 24 short days from the suggested date for the first observation of Break The Silence Sunday. I’m hoping to write often during the month (daily would be a dream, but let’s be a bit realistic here) with information, statistics, stories, quotes, and other things that might be helpful to those preparing to lead worship, attend worship, and those who aren’t ready just yet to do either.

Patience, Next Steps & Quotes

Patience
When I was young, my mother tried very hard to instill in me a good Quaker principle that she called “the right knowledge at the right time”. She was trying to teach me patience, how to wait with grace and faith, and how to trust that eventually, when the time was right and my heart and brain were ready, things would come together. Her teaching didn’t work too well since I was an incredibly impatient child (and am, perhaps, only a slightly less impatient adult).

My family comes from Clan Farquharson and our clan motto is Fide et Fortitude or, in English, By Faith and Fortitude. Fortitude is one of those lovely words we don’t use nearly enough anymore. It’s the emotional strength we have in the face of adversity, and difficulty.

Perhaps now, in my 40s, I’m finally beginning to understand what my momma, and my family motto, have been trying to teach me all these years – that sometimes we move in little steps towards a goal that no one else can see and then, eventually, at the right time everything opens up, and the miracles come.

The Revolution has been like that. I’ve been trying to get a toe in the door, even someone to listen to the voice of survivors in the church, for what seems like forever. With lots of fits and starts, a great many setbacks, a lot of nights spent crying and screaming at the silence of good people, and an enormous quantity of coffee and tea we have finally arrived at this place, a place where The Revolution is gaining traction, finding its way into people’s hearts and minds.

Next Steps (And A Bit Of A Deadline)
I am delightfully overwhelmed.

Richard Bruxvoort Colligan has written a beautiful healing service for survivors, their families, and friends, that helps remind us of the great and healing love of G-d. And today, it’s Friday I believe, I received an email from Maren Tirabassi with some incredible pieces of liturgy for Break The Silence Sunday, a prayer of confession and new words to “I Love To Tell The Story”. And friend of The Revolution Jill Hileman has gathered together an amazing collection of resources to help people throughout Wisconsin find support on their journey of healing.

As pieces of liturgy and other resources come in I try to remember that all those little steps have led to this moment, to people joining their hearts, and minds, and creativity, and voices with mine to speak up and support survivors. And for this I give great thanks.

The next couple of weeks will be a flurry of Revolution activities.

A press release type e-mail will go out in the next week or so, inviting U.C.C. congregations in Wisconsin to mark their calendars for April 24, 2016 and begin their preparations to participate in Break The Silence Sunday. If you’re not in Wisconsin, or not U.C.C., but you’d like to participate PLEASE let me know. Comment on this post, or send an email to breakthsilencesunday@gmail.com so that you can be included.

I’m also hoping to hear from more of you out there who are busy writing liturgy for us, or thinking up songs and hymns that we might suggest to congregations, or writing a sermon, or thinking up a liturgical dance, or designing a banner, or whatever creative, delightful things you’re doing. If you can get those things to me by December 20th, that would be most amazing. Yes, that’s very soon, and I understand if you can’t make that deadline. Don’t worry. Break The Silence Sunday will be an annual event, and we shall have continuing need for liturgical resources, so plan now to get things ready for the 2017 observance.

Quotes
Finally, I’m hoping some of my survivor sisters and brothers might lend me a few words about why The Revolution is important to them. I can use your name, your initials, or make them anonymous as best suits your comfort level. I’m just hoping to have some voices other than my own about why churches need to participate, to speak up, to support survivors. Drop me a note at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com if you have a few words to share.

Thanks to all of you for reading, for your thoughts and encouragement, and for all the ways you’re supporting The Revolution.

~ MoMo

The Logo & More

We have a logo. It’s surely not as nice as it could be if someone gifted
in the ways of graphic design would lend their talents, but I’m happy with it. It’s a circle which is important to me, and says the things I need it to say:

Say the words – don’t shy away from difficult words, recognizing that they’re important to some survivors, and triggering to others

BTSS Logo 2Work for change – commit yourself, and your faith community, to the work of creating a world where rape, sexual violence, and abuse are things of the past

Support the survivors – this is what it’s really all about, making a place for survivors to share their stories without guilt, shame, or bad theology

In addition, I received in my email this morning our first piece of liturgy (thanks Don N.), a prayer for hesitant clergy.

I would love to open my email every morning to your contributions to the work of Break The Silence Sunday.

The plan

Several people have asked how The Revolution is going to work. Here’s some information about how you and your congregation/community of faith can participate.


How can my congregation/faith community participate?
United Church of Christ congregations in the Wisconsin Conference will receive information about, and be invited to participate in Break The Silence Sunday automatically. Congregations outside either of that group are asked to email us at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com with the following information:

Name & location of faith community (include denomination please)
Name & email/phone of pastoral leader
Name & email/phone of contact person (if different than pastoral leader)
How you heard about us
Anything else you think we need to know


What will we get to help us plan this event?
Preparation is key to making Break The Silence Sunday a success – people need to know what they can expect so they can prepare their hearts to be receptive, so survivors can decide if they are ready to open themselves up to this, and so parents can decide if it is age-appropriate for their children and youth to attend. You will receive advance preparation materials including bulletin inserts, and sample newsletter/website articles.

Then you will receive complete liturgies that congregations can adapt for their particular settings and context. That means you’ll receive prayers, hymn and song suggestions (for different kinds of musical needs), sermon suggestions, at least one complete sermon, ideas for communion, and more. There will be a ready to use bulletin, or you can copy and paste information into your own format.

There will also be suggestions for alternative or additional worship opportunities including a healing service.

Finally, there will be a place (on the web, perhaps hosted through the WI Conference UCC, perhaps on this blog) where congregations can find contact information for resources and support agencies in their communities.


How can I help? What else can I do?
We need all the help we can get. We need creativity, imagination, suggestions, ideas, comments, and whatever else (constructive) that you’ve got.

  • Do you like to write liturgy? We need all kinds of prayers – call to worship, gathering prayers and invocations, confessions, litanies of healing and hope, communion liturgies, offering prayers, collects, prayers of the people, petitions, pastoral prayers. You get the idea.
  • What about hymns? Think you could write a new hymn to a familiar tune?
  • Want to take a try at writing a brand new song – for the congregation to sing, for a choir or a soloist?
  • Have a passion for the scriptures – give us your best suggestions about healing (the communal/spiritual as opposed to the physical), wholeness, community, listening, honouring stories, and the like.
  • Dance? Draw? Paint? We’d love to have your ideas for gentle movements everyone could be invited to do, or dances trained groups could perform. We need art works to convey the importance of telling our stories, and the need for a community to hear us. (We’ll have a logo very soon.)

Keep in mind this will be a yearly event so we’re going to need lots, and lots of resources to keep things fresh and interesting. So start working now, and if you can’t make the deadlines (see the timeline below) that’s OK. We’re happy to collect resources and use them on an ongoing basis. E-mail us at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com to let us know you’re interested in helping out, and to share your resources and please know that full credit, and deep gratitude, will be given to you for whatever you help create.


Timeline for Break The Silence Sunday

October 2015
Initial publicity starts to appear in places like the Wisconsin Conference UCC newsletter, Facebook, additional blog posts, and so forth.

November 2015
Additional publicity including an all church e-mail to save the date (4th Sunday in April ~ April 24, 2016).

December 2015
Liturgical resources due to us by December 20th

January 2016
Liturgy and other materials are distributed to congregations (our goal is January 10th, but it might well be the 17th).

There will also be a Steps On The Journey retreat in Phoenix, AZ held January 22-24, 2016. Registration is now open. Please visit our website for more information: http://www.azstepsonthejourney.org

February 2016
Breathing & processing – seriously, Lent starts before Valentine’s Day this year.

March 2016
Reminder time ~ emails and other communication with congregations to get them ready for the event next month.

April 2016
The event ~ April 24th

May 2016
Follow-up with communities that participated asking what they used, what helped, what they found they needed, etc. Gathering this information together so we know how to proceed for 2017, and how we might widen our audience.

June 2016
Begin planning 2017 event (this may start to take place during the WI Conference UCC annual meeting.

October 2016
Clergy retreat at Moon Beach for all UCC clergy in Wisconsin. We will be talking about shining light into the shadows, and how to address difficult subjects in the church. Our particular focus will be on suicide and sexual assault. More information after the beginning of the year.

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 http://sirchio.com/and his incredible work with the people of Haiti at http://www.haitiallies.org/