What we each can do…

Yesterday was an interesting day. I was doing some visiting of people, and running errands (even pastors have to go to the grocery store). I stopped for lunch and ended up right in the middle of a mess – a family torn apart by misogyny, slut shaming, and hatred. I wrote about it on my personal Facebook page, and I link here for the full story…

Many people kindly said how brave I was. Thank you. I defer to your thoughts on that because I’m not sure we (I) ever think of ourselves as brave at the time. We just do what we do when we need to, and other people see it as brave. Upon considerable reflection, and not too much sleep because my heart and brain couldn’t get themselves slowed down, I am grateful it didn’t occur to me at the time that Wisconsin is a concealed carry state, though it probably wouldn’t have changed what I did, it might have changed how I did it.

A quick update on the family I have been in contact with them. Grandpa did come and get things from the house while the granddaughter’s fiancé was there, and her father as well. They have also been in touch with the counselors at the local abuse shelter whose numbers I gave them. The family, except grandpa, seem to be quite supportive, and I’m praying for all of them.

However, all this got me thinking about what we are called to do in these challenging days.

At least once an hour there’s a comment from someone on my Facebook page about the Women’s March on Washington, invitations to call our congressional representatives, petitions to sign, letters to write to advocate for various things, and more. It’s all incredibly important work, participating in the world, showing up, making our voices heard. Personally I’ve written the sitting president every week since I was eleven, and I intend to keep that practice up with the new administration. I have my congressional reps (both state and national) on speed dial on my phone, their names and numbers taped to the front of my computer. I have marched, and participated in sit-ins, and been arrested for civil disobedience. And all of that is good, vital work.

But there’s an interesting turn that’s happened in the last couple of days. People have seemed to demand that there’s only one way to do the work – that we must all attend the march, or must all make phone calls, or must all do whatever it is they’re calling for. And that’s simply not true, nor possible.

I won’t be at the march on Washington. Partly because I have a long planned trip to St. Louis to work on the materials for the 2017 observation of Break The Silence Sunday. Partly because I think that right now, given all the other things I’m juggling, the huge crowd would send my PTSD over the edge, and I’m not sure my lupus would allow me to march for very long in the cold. Then there’s a financial consideration as well – getting to and from Washington, and housing in between, plus all the other expenses of traveling.

I’m not the only one in that boat, where time, distance, finances, health, and other obligations (jobs, children, partners, caregiving, and so on) need us to be in other places. There’s no shame in that, and we need to stop harassing others who aren’t able to make it to Washington, or participate in their local supportive events either. We aren’t helping the cause of justice and peace if we’re shaming people who can’t participate in the same way we do.

But I got distracted. That’s not actually the point of this post. Back to the encounter at the restaurant in Green Bay…

Two things occur to me most – one about the church, and the other about all of our roles as good bystanders.

First – the church. If you’re paying attention to the story, the grandfather assumed that I, as a clergy person (obvious from my choice of clothes – quite intentional on my part, to make clergy, and particularly women clergy, more visible in the world) – he assumed that I would condemn his granddaughter for having sex before marriage. He simply assumed that is the stance of the church, that we’re in the business of condemnation, guilt, and shame. We have allowed this to be, and we (clergy mostly, but laity too) have to get off our buts and be more vocal, more visible, and more passionate about a G-d of love, and grace, and compassion. We have to challenge every hate-filled, hate-fuelled Christian preacher the media chooses to be the voice of our faith. We have to get busy with spreading our understanding of the gospel – writing alternative columns for our local newspapers, offering interviews to the media, talking about our faith with people at the gas station, and the grocery store, and the restaurants we frequent. It’s our job, our calling, and should be our passion.

Second – we need to be good bystanders. Several people remarked that they wouldn’t have felt comfortable intervening in the situation at the restaurant the way I did. I understand, and as I said about if I had stopped to consider if the grandfather might have had a concealed weapon, I might well have reacted differently. As it was, I was by myself which means I didn’t have other people to look after, and could give myself to the situation without knowing how much time, and energy it might require. But there are ways for all of us to be good bystanders, to intervene in such situations, and we need to start thinking about how we’re going to do it. As I said, not everyone can go to Washington for the march, but all of us can challenge sexism, toxic masculinity, misogyny, and patriarchy at home.

  • We can ask people to explain to us why jokes about women earning less than men are funny.
  • We can challenge people who catcall, or call women “sweetie”, or say “you’re pretty smart for a girl”
  • We can interrupt people who are in the middle of rants like the grandfather was – one of the most useful things to do, in my experience, is to ask someone who has gotten stuck in one of these rants what time it is, or where the nearest McDonald’s is, or anything that will make them stop and think about what they’re doing and saying; it might give just enough time to someone else who can step in with other resources, and ideas.
  • We can call the police (if that’s a safe thing for us to do – understanding the complicated nature of police relations).
  • We can seek help from others around us, in this case the wait staff at the restaurant, but in other circumstances, the other people at the bus stop, or waiting in line at the grocery, or wherever you happen to be.
  • We can befriend the person who is being attacked – for example, the pregnant young woman might have come to the buffet and you could have offered a kind word, an “I’m sorry for what you’re going through”, or a friendly smile.
  • You could talk to the youth and children in your life (all of them, regardless of gender) about treating one another with dignity and respect.
  • You could carry the numbers for your local shelter, abuse crisis center, or other such places with you, so you could hand them out to people in need.
  • You could carry the number for RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) that provides phone, and online counseling … 800-656-4673 or http://www.rainn.org

These are only a few things, and this post is getting long enough, but there is something each of us can, and should be doing, to be better bystanders. The world will change through huge movements like the March on Washington, and through countless small steps we each take in our day to day lives. We need to “be the swedes”, the two Swedish students who intervened, stopping Brock Turner’s rape of an unconscious woman at Stanford. They saw something. They did something. They were good bystanders, good neighbors, good people to share this planet with. May we all be the same, to everyone in need.

P.S. There’s still plenty of time for you to contribute something to the 2017 Break The Silence Sunday worship materials. Drop me an email at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com if you’re interested, or just curious.

 

An Invitation

As I write this, it’s a brisk +11F (before the wind chill which brings it down to a nice round zero). We have a pleasant amount of snow on the ground, and it’s less than two weeks to Christmas. So naturally, my thoughts are turning towards the time after Easter, and the 2017 observance of Break The Silence Sunday on April 23rd.

When I dreamed up Break The Silence Sunday, in the summer of 2015, I had hoped that five or six churches would participate. In our very first year we had nearly 50 communities participating! I hesitate to set a goal for a number of participating congregations this coming year, but I shall instead decide to be grateful for every community that, in whatever way they can, lifts up the voices of survivors, opens a little space, allows a story to be told, and stands in solidarity with those who struggle with the aftermath of rape and sexual violence.

These are challenging days to be a survivor, more so than usual. The election of Mr Trump has reopened a lot of wounds survivors thought were healing. His history of denigrating and objectifying women, abusive and misogynistic speech, and inappropriate physical contact with women as young as fourteen leaves me with a lot of questions that have no satisfying answers: how did this happen – that someone with such a history, such an overt contempt for half the population, could be elected to the highest office in our land?

In the aftermath of the election, as a pastor, my phone has been ringing more than usual with survivors trying to make sense of what’s going on, and what might happen next. They’ve got questions about their safety in a country that already doubted, questioned, and ridiculed them, and now doesn’t seem to care about them at all, putting an abuser in power. These aren’t just political questions the survivors are asking, but there are deep faith questions as well – where is G-d in this? Has G-d given up on us? Is it safe to tell my story anywhere, particularly church?

And in the midst of all this, I have personally had people tell me that the concerns of survivors will just have to take a back seat to the “real” issues facing us, primarily racism and the rights of GLBTQI folks. I’ve been told there’s no threat to women in the new administration, and that, in one person’s mind, all rape victims must surely have done something to make it happen, must surely have wanted it somehow. The number of times I’ve been called a b**ch, and other such names has increased in the days since the election, and I live in rural Wisconsin. My friends in larger communities report the same – name calling, unwanted touching by people on public transport and on the street, harassment online and in person. We have failed, somehow, to see the interconnectedness of our struggles, that racism, sexism, heterosexism, and all the other isms are bound up together, and that we need each other, all of each other, to help dismantle the system that has allowed this hatred to flourish.

But, amidst these challenges, I have hope because people are reaching out to find out how to help, to ask how they might support survivors, to make their communities places where survivors can ask questions, tell their stories, and be heard with dignity and respect.

That’s where you come in dear readers.

The time has come to put together the materials that will be distributed (and available on the website) for Break The Silence Sunday 2017. 

  • Do you have a prayer?
  • A poem?
  • A litany?
  • A sermon?
  • A song?
  • A work of art?
  • A dance?
  • A resource for helping talk to children or youth?
  • An idea for any of the above you’d like to share?

And specifically for survivors…

  • Are you willing to share your story (either with your name attached or anonymously)?
  • Do you have a poem, a prayer, anything that tells your story that you might be willing to share (again, anonymously is always an option)
  • Would you be willing to share your picture with us for our growing collection of “This is what a survivor looks like” gallery?

So get out those pens, dust off the computer, put on your dancing shoes, polish up the ukulele, sharpen those crayons … whatever you’ve got.

The working deadline for you to submit your materials is Monday January 16th, 2017, a little more than a month from now. You can send your work, and any questions you might have, by email to  breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com

My deepest gratitude for all your support with this work. Together we are unstoppable.

Thoughts on Mr Trump, being a survivor, and what’s next…

This may ramble a bit, but hopefully it won’t be too stream of consciousness for you to follow. The rambling comes because it’s hard in the face of these days for even me, who loves putting words together, to figure out how to say what’s in my heart and on my mind. I am grateful for all of you who give it your best to read what follows…


It’s been an interesting season in America. In case you were living in a cave (an idea that becomes increasingly attractive by the minute by the way), you have heard the words on an old recording of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump where he says essentially that, because he’s a celebrity, he can grab women and force himself on them. People were shocked by Mr Trump’s choice of words, pussy apparently being a word we aren’t supposed to say. Thankfully many more people were outraged at what Mr Trump was describing – his sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, and his casual description of sexual assault. Of course, for those of us who have been paying attention this recording came as no great surprise. It is who Mr Trump is, and this was just the latest in a long line of his denigration of people who aren’t just like him.

This revelation from Mr Trump, about his total disrespect of women, raised the visibility of  rape and sexual assault. Conversations were had on every morning TV show, and just about everywhere else. The phrase “rape culture” became a talking point. Legions of athletes – professional, amateur, high school, college, men, and women – stepped up to say that the things Mr Trump dismissed as “locker room talk” had no place in their locker rooms, or in their lives. (My deepest gratitude to all those athletes who lifted their voices – it gives me hope.)

But there has been another side to Mr Trump’s words. They have reopened wounds that many survivors thought had healed, or at least scarred over. I’ve had an average of twenty, yes twenty, calls a day since the story broke. Survivors are trying to keep going, to live their lives, but it’s damn hard when every story on the news drags you back through some of the worst moments of your life. We’re listening to people talk about sexual assault and rape as hypothetical things, when in reality it’s our lives, our every waking breath. I’ve found my own coping skills stretched to their limits, and many nights ending in tears of frustration, fear, anger, confusion, grief, and so much more.

A well-meaning person told me I should be grateful for Mr Trump’s words because it’s opened up this conversation that we so desperately need to be having. Thankfully I have a lot of practice in finding a quiet, peaceful place inside my soul and I didn’t smack this person upside the head with the nearest candlestick. I can not be grateful to Mr Trump, or all those who are like him (because there are so many more just like him who don’t see anything wrong with violating consent, and who don’t have the media watching them). I cannot be grateful. I can only listen when my survivor sisters and brothers call, crying in the night, because they have been triggered, are dealing with flashbacks, are afraid to even leave their homes because they know full well what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the actions that follow words like the ones Mr Trump used.

I am glad to see the public conversation about rape and sexual assault, but as I write this the public’s attention is beginning to wane. Non-survivors tell me they’re tired of it being the lead story, that it’s time to move on, that they don’t want to talk about it any more. I get that, I really do, and I don’t care. If you’re tired of hearing about it, try living it, for even an afternoon, and then we’ll talk about whether or not we should change the subject.

While there has been a great deal of conversation about this in the public sphere I must  note that there has been deafening silence from churches (particularly my tradition, the United Church of Christ, one which prides itself on advocating for justice) about Mr Trump’s words. In theory this has to do with maintaining neutrality during the election, and not taking on a political position. However, this is NOT a political issue. This is a moral issue, one that the church needs to be addressing alongside all the other things we so proudly, and rightly take a stand about.

And that leads me to the question of what next? Where do we go from the revelations of Mr Trump, and all those who have apologized for him, and excused his words and behavior?

Let’s pause to consider a story … today (Monday, 24 October) I was running errands, in and out of many shops, and I had two drastically different encounters.

At the Barnes & Noble, I was checking out and the clerk (a woman) noticed my button that says “This is what a rape survivor looks like”. She paused for a minute and then thanked me for wearing the button, for trying to show the world that there is no shame in being a survivor. Then she took a breath and said, “maybe someday I’ll be brave like you”.

Later, I was leaving the grocery store and stopped to rummage in my purse for my keys before I went outside. A man stopped and said, “good for you, staying safe out there”. I asked him what he meant and he said that it is important for women to protect themselves because you never know who might be out there. I asked him if it was important for men to control themselves and he said no, that women have to protect themselves, it’s the woman’s responsibility. Truly the guy made my skin crawl, but thankfully the whole exchange took place near the customer service desk and the manager came over, asked me if I was ok, and walked me to my car, just in case the creepy guy decided that I wasn’t being careful enough.

These two encounters rather neatly sum up what it’s been like lately – a moment of healing and hope followed by a moment of entitled idiocy.

So what do we do? Where do we go from here?

Listen to survivors – I think this would be a great place to start. There are several public personalities (celebrities, authors, athletes, and so on) who are survivors and they’re talking, and being listened to, but I guarantee there’s a survivor or two or twelve in your circle, much closer to you, who needs to know someone is listening. If you have not experienced rape or sexual assault I am grateful for that, and now I need you to open your ears, and your heart to those you know who have experienced this violation. Listen to what  it’s like from someone who has been there. Listen to the fear, and the uncertainty, the triggers, the flashbacks, the confusion, the misplaced guilt and shame. Listen. Don’t try to fix it. Just listen. Let our stories get inside of you, carry them with us that they might not be such a weight on our hearts.

Ask survivors what survivors need – I have been at a couple of events lately where well-meaning people, who are not survivors, have explained to me how best survivors can be helped. They’ve had great plans, and even some ideas that seem good, but when I asked if they’d talked to any survivors about their ideas they said no, and they didn’t see the sad irony in what they were doing. Now every survivor is different, and we all do this surviving thing differently, but surely if you’re thinking of opening up space to support survivors, or looking to do advocacy on our behalf, it would be a good idea to talk to one or two of us before you go giving us things we may not need, or want, or that might re-traumatize us in the process? So stop and think. If you have questions about rape and sexual assault, turn to the experts, the people who’ve been there. And if you don’t know any survivors well enough to ask (though you’re reading this so you could ask me, just a thought), you could turn to places like the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (http://www.rainn.org) as a starting place.

Change the conversation – I don’t want to talk about prevention any more. I don’t want to see lists of ways women can protect themselves, not only because it’s not our responsibility,  but because it also implies that men and boys aren’t victimized as well. I don’t want an ad for a self-defense class because not everyone feels comfortable doing those kinds of things, nor should they have to. I don’t want dress codes to police women’s bodies so that men aren’t tempted. We’ve been having that conversation my entire life. I’m 42 years old. It isn’t working. It’s time for us to have a different conversation, one about changing the culture we live in, about respecting every body, about not raping or assaulting people. Let’s talk about challenging the rape jokes because they aren’t funny, and teaching all our children about consent alongside safety lessons. Let’s recognize that racism, sexism, heterosexism, poverty and all the other oppressions are intimately connected problems. Let’s own our responsibility for having created (or allowed) the culture we live in to exist, and claim our ability to together create a new culture.

As for me, and the work of this part of The Revolution, I’m starting to gather materials for the 2017 Break The Silence Sunday worship. If you like to do things liturgical I’d love for you to contribute a prayer, a litany, a few words, some original art work, a song, whatever you’re inspired to do. I’ll be taking a writing trip to Eden Seminary in St Louis in mid-January to gather all the materials together so that they’ll be in the hands of churches near the beginning of February. Put the date on your calendar now – Sunday April 23rd, 2017 – so you and your community can participate. Of course, you’re welcome to participate on any other day that works for your community’s calendar as well – a couple of communities have just had their observations of BTSS in the last several weeks. If you and your community would like to participate, and you’re not a part of the Wisconsin Conference U.C.C. (who will all receive materials automatically), and you’d like to receive the new materials, please drop me an email at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com so I can make sure you get added to our list.

I invite your thoughts, comments, ideas, hopes, dreams, visions for how we might move Break The Silence Sunday forward, and create the new culture we so desperately need. And I welcome your prayers for me, and for all my survivor sisters and brothers who struggle through these, and all our days.

Orlando, Vanderbilt, Grief, Outrage & Change

It’s barely Tuesday afternoon and it’s already been a hell of a week.

As many (all?) of you know in the small hours of Sunday morning a man walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL. Armed with guns with ridiculous power, designed only to kill and maim, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, he began shooting. He took aim at some of the most vulnerable members of our society, our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, and intersex (LGBTQQAI) family and friends.

Forty-nine people who had gone out to have a good time, to dance, and laugh, and celebrate with their friends lost their lives. (Many media reports list fatalities at 50, but that number includes the shooter.) Incredible numbers of people were injured: physically in the shooting; emotionally by being one of the police officers or paramedics or fire fighters who responded to the tragedy to tend the wounded;  by learning of their loved one’s deaths; and by being a part of the LGBTQQAI community, in Orlando, and around the world, reminded of their connection, and their vulnerability.

The number of vigils has been amazing, and the hands that have reached out to help, and the voices that have spoken up about love has been helpful to tired, and weary hearts. I am most moved by scenes of Muslims, who are in the midst of their Ramadan fast, and who are sadly called upon once again to defend their faith, lining up to donate blood, and offer water and food to others waiting to do so. And I am grateful for the voice of churches like mine, the United Church of Christ, and their witness of love, justice, and inclusion of all God’s children.

But even amid that, there’s been a lot of awfulness – media outlets attempting to ignore that the victims were LGBTQQAI, hypocrites who in recent weeks had been spewing hate and bigotry now praying for the very communities they were condemning, politicians turning these deaths into talking points for their own agendas, and folks who just can’t seem to understand the scope of gun violence in our country. A lot of my friends are hurting, grieving the loss of what had been safe places, and mourning for people they never met, but with whom they shared their lives. This is probably already too many words from me on the subject, so I stand with them, and listen, awaiting their instructions and ideas about how I can be of help.

Meanwhile, my own community of survivors of rape and sexual violence are reeling.

Stanford has slipped off the radar for most people, gone to wherever viral internet things go when they aren’t viral anymore, but I promise you survivors are paying attention, still reading the articles now moved to page six, listening in the silence for a commitment to change.

And then there’s Vanderbilt University, back in the news with a case from 2013 that caused considerable public outcry, but has since been largely forgotten.

In June of 2013, four members of the Vanderbilt football team – Corey Batey, Brandon Banks, Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, and Brandon Vandenburg – took a woman back to the dorms after a party. There they proceeded to rape her, and videotape the rape, distributing it across various social networks.

Mr Batey and Mr Vandenburg were convicted in January of 2015, but then because of some issues with a juror, a mistrial was declared. Mr Batey was retried and convicted in April of this year and is awaiting sentencing this summer. (Mr Banks and Mr McKenzie are still awaiting trial, and Mr McKenzie is expected to be the prosecution’s lead witness in the trial against Mr Vandeburg.)

Mr Vandenburg is on trial again now. After a difficult process of empaneling an out of town jury which will be sequestered in Nashville during the trial, the trial began on Monday of this week. The defense’s argument on why Mr Vandenburg should not be convicted might sound a bit familiar:

He was a good kid with a promising future who got in over his head, his family was 2000 miles away in California, he looked to the other players as his brothers, his role models, and in the words of his attorney, “he didn’t know that that’s the way these guys did things at Vanderbilt.”

My community – survivors of rape, abuse, and sexual violence – are grieving. And every day 808 more people join us (there is an average of one rape or sexual assault in the U.S. every 107 seconds). Every now and again there’s a vigil, when a big case like Stanford or Vanderbilt break. Sure, there are vigils, and walks, and such in April during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but not for the almost 34 people an hour, each and every day, who are violently, and intimately violated in this country (much less the 1 in 2 women around the world who will be raped, abused, or assaulted in their lifetime).

I don’t mean this to turn in to a competition, some sort of grief and oppression olympics of who is more or less deserving of a rally or a vigil, and if I have offended I do hope you’ll comment here with compassion rather than vitriol.

Rather I would hope that this might be a moment for us to understand just how interconnected all these forms of oppression, and discrimination, and bigotry are. The social structures that led to the violence in Orlando, are connected to those that see our young black (and brown and native American) men killed by those who should protect them, and those are connected to the religious bigotry that condemn all Muslims for the actions of one, and those are connected to rape culture which teaches men like Mr Vandenburg that they have a right to use a woman for whatever they want without consequence.

Heterosexism, racism, Islamaphobia, gun culture, and sexism – they’re all tied up together. To solve these problems, to create a better tomorrow, we’re going to have to work together, to recognize the particularities of our own struggles, and the places where those struggles connect with others. It’s going to be hard, and messy, and painful. It’s going to scare us, and shake us to the depths of who we think we are, but it’s all we’ve got. There is no them, there is only us, one people who all desperately deserve to be free to live, and love, and dance, and run, and celebrate, and walk their dogs after dark, and be themselves – at home, at work, at the night club, at church, at the grocery store, everywhere.

I could keep writing, there are so many words, and emotions swirling in my head, a jumble of sad and angry, confused and scared. Instead I’ll leave you with some words about how we might translate our internet outrage and grief (which is wonderful and important) into something more. Kia Groom writes, in an article called “Want To Show Your Solidarity With Victims? Then Actually Take Action”:

Stop waiting until the story breaks. Stop waiting until you feel safe to stand up. Expressing solidarity is not supposed to be easy. It is challenging. It is terrifying. It calls upon us to make difficult decisions, to risk our alliances, our careers, our reputations—perhaps even our bodies—on behalf of others. Not because we have something to gain, but because it is the right thing to do. … The actions you take in your day to day lives matter. Whether you speak up or stay silent. Whether you step in. Whether you take a stand. Don’t wait for a body count. You can make a difference—even if you don’t make the headlines.

For the rest of the article, click here.

My hope and prayer friends, is that the tragedy, the grief, the heartache of this week might move and change us, might bring us together, might unite us to strive together for a more perfect world.

For more information about the Vanderbilt case, click here, and look for the link at the bottom of that page to follow updates.

 

Yes you have…

The world, or at least the internet, is up in arms about the paltry sentence given out by a judge in Santa Clara county, California last week. We could call it the Stanford University Swimmer case in which Brock Turner, age 20, raped an unconscious 23 year old woman behind a dumpster. The judge, Aaron Persky, sentenced Mr Turner to 6 months in jail (not prison) and three years of probation (which could be three months based on good behavior). The survivor wrote a stunning victim impact statement and authorized its release to the media. You can find it here, but be prepared as the statement has graphic descriptions of rape and medical procedures. To make the situation all the more complicated, Mr Turner’s father wrote a pre-sentencing report to the judge in which he laments, not his son’s actions, but that “these verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways. His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life. … He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015.”

The internet’s comment sections are not places for the faint of heart on a slow news day, and that is doubly true with anything revolving around the Stanford case. While many people are outraged, others are taking Mr Turner and his father’s side arguing that since alcohol was a factor it should mitigate responsibility, and that this promising young man’s life is forever ruined by what the survivor accused him of (not what he did). Still worse are the people hoping that Mr Turner will be raped in prison so that he can experience first hand what he did to someone else. Let me be perfectly clear … that is NOT ok. It is never, ever, ever acceptable to advocate anyone being raped, ever. It’s not a joke, it’s not a punishment, and acting as if it is perpetuates rape culture just as much as anything the judge, or Mr Turner’s father have said in this case.

Meanwhile, over in Texas there’s another storm brewing at Baylor University. Several players, and at least one coach, of the university’s championship winning football team have been accused of violence, and sexual assault. The allegations are that the university knew about what was going on, and covered it up, silencing victims, and working with the Waco, TX police department to make sure nothing was “leaked”. You can read a summary of the case from the Dallas News here.

All of this, plus the case against Mr Cosby, the brutal gang rape of a young woman in Brazil, and more, can leave you sick to your soul. It has made me want to scream, and cry (both of which I’ve done), and resort to some violence of my own (which I haven’t done and won’t do). And more than anything it has made me wonder a bit why I bother with all this Break The Silence Sunday work. The problem is so overwhelming, so big, that my little drop in the bucket seems utterly pointless against the ocean of rape culture, and violence.

But then, there’s the gentle, unexpected moment that reminds me what you can do with a bit of compassion, and one voice.

I have a friend who runs for fun which is something I do not understand at all, but she runs in all kinds of charitable events, and I go along to cheer her own, hold her jacket, time her races, and make sure she eats her pre-race banana.

On Saturday last, in the midst of a drizzly rain, we went off to one such race in Green Bay to benefit the Tourette’s Foundation. After my friend and the other runners set out I sat on a bench with another woman who was there to support her family members who were running. When the drizzle intensified we took to the nearby shelter where they had the pre-race bananas, and coffee, and rather delicious rice krispy treats. We talked about a whole range of things, and discovered that we knew several people in common, and then it was time to go to the finish line to cheer on the returning racers.

After the race we were standing around talking – the woman and her family, my friend, and I – and that’s when the woman noticed my “This is what a rape survivor looks like” button.

She was visibly stunned and said, “I’ve never met a rape survivor before.”

A slew of responses ran through my head, from frustration, to outrage, to anger, to laughter. A huge part of me wanted to shake her and scream.

Instead, as calmly and evenly as I could, I said, “yes you have.”

It wasn’t a moment to rail at her in outrage. It wouldn’t have accomplished anything.

It wasn’t the time to scream statistics at her. She wouldn’t have been able to listen just yet.

Instead, it was a time for one calm, even voice offering her the truth in a way she might be able to hear. “Yes you have.”

You’ve met a rape survivor because we sit next to you at church, and work in the next cubicle, and shop at the same grocery store. We’re on the PTA, the soccer dads, and the moms who bake cookies for the little league.

As we stood there, after the race, this woman and I, something in her heart changed. I don’t know where it will lead her, or what she will do with her new information (she was eventually open to the most basic statistic … one in six women in the U.S. in their lifetime will be raped or assaulted). But I do know that something changed in her. She has had an invitation to open her heart, and her mind to an entirely new way of looking at the world, and the people around her. She has my card, and the link to this blog, and I imagine some challenging days ahead of her as she re-evaluates what she used to believe.

Sometimes I wish that BTSS was moving faster, making a bigger change, ending the universally damaging system of patriarchy and rape culture overnight. But I am enough of a student of history, and just enough of a realist, to understand that’s not how lasting, true social change happens. It’s the relentless persistence of one conversation, and then another, of one heart being opened, and then another, that eventually moves mountains.

One of the most amazing things about the survivor’s statement is the final paragraph which I quote here. She writes to girls, but I would remind us all that men and boys are victims as well…

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats dos ave; they just stand there shining. Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you.

Her courage, and her solidarity to stand with all survivors, is what BTSS is about. And yes, this work is agonizingly slow at times, but it is the only way, to stand with my feet firmly on the ground, trusting in the hesed (unfailing love of G-d) that I cannot see, and saying:

“Yes you have, you have met a rape survivor, because I am one.

Yes you have, you have met a rape survivor,
now let’s do something together so no one else ever has to wear this button.

Yes, you have.”

Pictures

Thank you to everyone who has sent in feedback about their experience with the first Break The Silence Sunday. I’m grateful to see the things you did, the changes and interpretations you made to the liturgy, the ways you integrated the themes into things you already had going on. If you haven’t sent anything, I’d be grateful for a few lines by email as that will help formulate ideas for next year.

Now, on to newer things.

Break The Silence Sunday will have a display booth at the 2016 Wisconsin Conference UCC Annual Meeting (June 10-12). We hope to increase awareness of the movement, and perhaps reach churches that weren’t sure about participating this year, and churches that somehow missed the invitation.

As part of the display, I would like to include pictures of survivors.

I know this isn’t something everyone is able to do, but if you’re feeling up to it, I would ask for you to find a piece of paper and with a nice big marker write “This is what a rape SURVIVOR looks like #BTSS” on it. (#BTSS is our snazzy hashtag … look how hip to technology we are.)

You can send the pictures to me by email at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com, or on our Facebook page Break The Silence Sunday Facebook.

If you do send a picture, please note:

  • You have the choice to include your name, or not;
  • You’re giving me permission to use it in both print and online media (Facebook, this blog, and other places as appropriate) for purposes of promoting and increasing awareness about Break The Silence Sunday;
  • I will do my best to notify you of when, and how, your picture is being used.

As an example, here’s my picture…

Moira Finley clergy collar
Moira Finley

Thank you for thinking about participating.

What happens next?

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is over. Our collective attention turns to things to remember in May  – brain cancer awareness, lupus awareness, and mental health awareness month to name the ones that are closest to my life.

Sadly, SAAM came and went without a word from the national leadership of the UCC. Not a facebook status (on the national page, or the justice & witness page); not a blog post; not a mention in the keeping you posted emails. There were a few pictures of the national staff wearing black on Thursdays (#thursdaysinblack – a campaign to end violence against women), but even those stopped being posted about mid-April.

It’s left me sad, and more than a little disillusioned, unsure where I fit in my denomination, one that proclaims enthusiastic welcome of all, who talks the talk about embracing us all wherever we are on life’s journey, and yet … there is silence about something that affects so many of the people who sit in our pews, and do the work of our churches. It breaks my heart to see all the justice issues we lift up (which we surely should be doing – all of them incredibly important, and interconnected), and to see no mention of something that affects about 1/4 of the world’s population. I don’t know what to make of the silence of the national church, but I have to be honest with myself (and with you dear reader) that it hurts my heart, and my soul.

I am trying, however, to find focus and hope with the good news of courageous congregations that opened their worship spaces, and their hearts to Break The Silence Sunday this year.

The Wisconsin Conference of the UCC has been fabulous, thanks in large part to the enthusiastic support Break The Silence Sunday has received from our conference minister, the Rev Franz Rigert. Word is still coming in from congregations that participated, or will be soon when it fits their liturgical calendar. The feedback has been incredibly positive, and life-giving. (There’s still plenty of time to send in an evaluation, a few notes about what you did, how you did it, how it was received, and so on … drop us an email please.)

And there have been other places where BTSS has found a listening reception – Congregational UCC in Decorah, IA; Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO; Rincon Congregational in Tucson, AZ; and more.

I am grateful to each and every congregation, and pastor, and lay leader who took the brave step of opening up this conversation that matters so very much.

As we look ahead, it will take some time to gather information, worship bulletins, and evaluations from congregations that participated. Then the work begins – of writing new materials, adapting what we did this year, gathering prayers, and artwork, and music, and resources for congregations. New materials will be produced every year until rape is no more.

We will have a display at the Wisconsin Conference UCC annual meeting at Green Lake Conference center, June 10-12. You won’t be able to miss our very purple display. You’ll be able to get your BTSS buttons, and stickers, and order a t-shirt or twelve. You’ll be able to look at materials from congregations that participated in 2016, consider statistics and ways to integrate the ideas from BTSS into your worship and education programs throughout the year.

If anyone reading here is interested in creating something to be included in the 2017 materials, the deadline will be sometime in early December, but there’s no need to wait – get out the paint brushes, the dancing shoes, the banner making materials, the composition paper, the pens, and pencils. You can send materials via email at anytime.

And for now, let us pray together that the silence of the church about rape and sexual violence, which we have successfully broken in small, but meaningful ways, might continue to be broken, and that the perhaps deliberate silencing of survivors might come to an end.

Arundhati Roy