Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) 2017 ~ #3

IMG_0022The second year of Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS) has now been observed in several congregations, though I’ve learned that others will be remembering it in the next couple of weeks because of their parish schedule. I find myself, as I did last year, a bit spent after the work (physical, emotional, spiritual, liturgical) of preparing the materials, distributing them, and then leading the service in our parish. It surely didn’t help this year that BTSS was just a week after work of Holy Week, and Easter.

The observation of BTSS in our parish was good, and Spirit filled (I’m including my reflection/sermon from the service at the end of this post). After the services three people shared their stories with me, things they hadn’t ever told before, and for that I am deeply honored, and grateful, a reminder that this work is important regardless of the number of congregations and communities participating. If even one person has the courage to break their silence, to speak their truth, then BTSS has achieved its goal.

But still I find myself disappointed, and angry. At least two churches that participated in 2016 didn’t this year because, as one of the pastor’s said, they “dealt with that once and they don’t need to do it again.” Other communities didn’t participate because they say there are more important issues, that they can’t talk about things that will upset their parishioners, that it doesn’t affect anyone they know, that it’s too complicated, that it’s private … and the excuses go on, all things I’ve heard before. I try to be patient, remembering that everyone comes to the work of justice and love at a different time, from a different place, with their own experiences, fears, doubts, and more. But my patience is wearing thin at the moment. I’m sure I’ll get it back with some more time in the garden, and another couple weeks to remember why this work matters.

The bigger part of my disappointment and anger, though, comes from my denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC). They were good enough to include the materials for BTSS on their Worship Ways website (though it might have been nice if they’d told me directly that they were going to do so). However, in watching the UCC’s e-mails, justice alerts, and Facebook pages we have a sum total of THREE posts that are marginally about rape and sexual assault. One was an infographic about what consent is, one was a reposting of an animated video about consent, and the final one was a picture on the personal page of our general minister & president of UCC folks with our partners from the United Church of Canada observing Thursdays in Black (a project to bring awareness to sexualized violence … FYI, the Canadians are amazing at posting a picture of their staff every Thursday throughout the year to bring attention to rape and violence). None of the UCC’s posts ever mentioned Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and only the picture actually used the word rape. For a denomination with such strong ties and commitment to justice for all creation, for all people, we are collectively doing a terrible job standing with survivors, speaking up about changing the culture, and creating new theologies that challenge ideas of redemptive pain and suffering. I wish I could say I was surprised. My experience with trying to get BTSS going, to find a listening heart in the national leadership has been full of this same silence, and disappointment.

At this point, it’s important for me to once again thank our Wisconsin Conference UCC minister, the Rev Franz Rigert for his support, encouragement, and help with all things BTSS. He has been, and continues to be, a tremendous ally and I am grateful beyond words for his help. Yeah Franz!

I’m not entirely sure what to do with the disappointment, and anger, other than to keep at it, to keep producing BTSS materials, to keep speaking out, to keep writing, to keep listening to stories, to keep breaking the silence. I suppose I just need to sit with these feelings, to continue to hear the stories of where BTSS made a difference this year, and to think about what more might yet be done. I welcome your thoughts and ideas, and it’s never too early to start writing something for next year’s materials – a prayer, a plea, a song, a poem, a sermon, a survivor reflection on a scripture.

In the meantime, I give thanks for the people of the Tri-Jo Parish UCC, my parish, who allow me the privilege of being their pastor, and of bringing this quest (passion? obsession?) of mine to them. They are more amazing than they will ever know.

*******

Moira’s reflection/sermon from BTSS 2017

Luke 8.42b-48 (from the New Revised Standard Version)
As Jesus went out, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Jesus, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Last year, as we first observed Break The Silence Sunday, I said that I desperately wished we didn’t have to, that there was no need for the church to have a day set aside to demonstrate our support of survivors of sexual violence; no need to have this day to be reminded of our call, our obligation, to speak up and work for change.

But, of course, there is a great need for a day like today, a day to listen to hard stories and statistics; a day to remember that people we know – our friends, family, coworkers, classmates, and people who sit next to us in these pews – carry the violence of rape and sexual assault in their hearts, and minds, and bodies every day.

There is a great need for today because the suffering continues, the fear of reporting continues, the unwillingness of prosecuting attorneys to take cases to court continues, the lack of convictions continues, and in the few cases that get that far, the short sentences handed out continue. And the victim blaming and shaming continue, the questions about what they were wearing, why they were out after dark, why they were at someone else’s house alone – all of that continues too.

In the year since we last gathered to observe Break The Silence Sunday there have been several cases that have made national news, a high school in Texas where sexual violence was routinely used by the football team to haze new members, and most recently in the last week with Bill O’Reilly being fired from his television show because of repeated sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, and more.

There has been more coverage in all kinds of media of sexual assault, rape, and abuse. More and more people are talking about it, and that is, I believe a good thing. It’s hard, surely, and sometimes we want to turn the television off, walk away from the newspaper, and think that it simply isn’t happening, that it’s not in our towns, not in our schools, not in our churches.

I understand. I pay a lot of attention to the cases in the news, for both personal and pastoral reasons, and even I want to turn away, to hide from it all, sometimes. But I believe our call as Christ’s disciples requires us to pay attention, to the cases that make the national news, and maybe even more to the ones that don’t, the ones that only make it to page six of the local paper, to that two minutes after the sports report on the nightly news.

Our gospel reading this morning may seem like a strange choice for today. There was a woman who had suffered for twelve years with something no doctor seemed able to do anything about. Then, as Jesus is walking by, she reaches out and touches his cloak and is healed. But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus knows that somehow power has left him, been transferred to someone else, and so he looks around, and questions the crowd.

Eventually the woman stands up and confesses that it was her, that she was the one who touched Jesus’ cloak. And it’s really at that moment I believe she is healed, when she tells her story, owns what has happened to her. In front of the crowd, and the disciples, and Jesus himself she tells of her experience without shame, or guilt.

There is incredible power in being heard, in having someone listen to us, to what we have experienced, and even more power when that listening, and hearing takes place within our community of faith, in the midst of people who share this journey with us, who trust in the same G-d who has named and claimed each of us, who keeps our lives.

Because I am a bit outspoken about this, I am honored to hear a great many stories, from people I know and love, from people who reach out over the internet, from strangers at the grocery who see me wearing my This Is What A Rape Survivor Looks Like button. The stories are all different, but they share one thing – almost always the survivor has never told their story, has carried the pain of their experience in silence.

Whether it’s the man at the church supply store who was abused by his neighbor when he was a child, or the woman at the grocery who was raped by her husband, or the shop clerk who was assaulted during college, they’ve all carried their stories in silence because they were afraid of the judgement, and shame that would be thrown at them. They’ve lived in fear of telling their stories, particularly in the church, because of how people respond, with bad theology, and with guilt.

I have no doubt that I will continue to be on the receiving end of people breaking their own silence, sharing their stories, but we all need to be in one way or another. We all need to be paying attention, opening our hearts, and minds, and spirits to change the culture we live in, to create spaces in society, and in our church, where people can share the pain of their experience, and receive the healing love of G-d.

Earlier this year, just after the worship materials I had prepared for today were sent out to the churches, with a pastor who called and asked why we were doing this again, why did we need to have another Break The Silence Sunday. They wanted to know if we couldn’t leave it alone. They said we had done it once and that should be enough.

I wanted to cry, and to scream, at the same time, but what I said is that the process of breaking the silence isn’t something that we can do once and think we have done all that needs to be done. It is a continual process, and that the church needs to continue listening, hearing, standing up, speaking out, until all of G-d’s children are free from the pain, shame, and misplaced guilt of rape and sexual violence.

So today I congratulate all of you for being here, for witnessing to what is difficult, and heartbreaking, for participating in the work of mending the tears in the fabric of society, and I remind you that we will keep doing it, year after year, day after day, until rape and sexual violence are no more. Amen.

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.

 

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.

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.