Strings and things – a project

820

That’s the number of stories shared with me (and Lella) by survivors since Break The Silence Sunday began not quite five years ago.Seventy-eight of those have been since the beginning of General Synod on June 20th.

I’ve kept track of every story, usually initials, sometimes a name when they’ve asked me to use it, and maybe a little note as an aid to my memory about who they are and the story they carry. I’ve tried to respond to every story with gratitude for the sharing, knowing myself how hard it is to tell, to not want to be a burden, to share something that many people can’t begin to imagine, much less live with.

Lately I’ve found myself replying with words something like, “your story is heard, and believed, and held in God’s grace”. (Yes, I know that last bit might not work for everyone … so could we maybe agree on grace as a concept, in this case like tenderness and love combined, that holds the story without judgement, shame, or blame?) I’m finding those words comforting to survivors, and to myself, maybe because they’re the words I heard, and still need to hear even all these years later.

And that got me to thinking about some sort of tangible way to symbolize this with survivors come the next General Synod, 2021 in Kansas City.

The answer, clearly, is string!

If I knit one shawl every month from now until the next Synod, I’ll have 24 of them.

If I recruit other people to knit, crochet, weave string into scarves, shawls, and wubbies (more on that in a minute) then I could have oodles and oodles of objects, soft and cuddly objects, for survivors to have when they share their story at the Break The Silence Sunday booth. Because as sure as I’m sitting here, and as sure as the kittens are demanding I get up and feed them, there are gonna be a whole lot more stories now that BTSS is moving to the national stage, now that we’ve taken down the door, now that we’re all working together to break the silence.

So, here’s the plan (if you aren’t a string type creating person, please skip to step three where we need your creativity in naming things):

Step One: You – fabulously wonderful string artist type person – commence making objects in whatever pattern you like, by whatever technique you like (I am an utter failure at crochet, but I’ve been knitting for 40 years)

Object Suggestions

Shawls – something like 24″ x 60″, give or take

Scarves – well, you know, a scarf is sometimes skinny, sometimes not; sometimes long, sometimes not; variety is key here, but scarves are clearly skinnier than shawls in width

Wubbies – my William had one of these when he was little, they’re about 12″ square (big washcloth?) and get carried around in backpacks and purses and such so when you need to know it’s there, you just reach in and pet it; the person who gave us William’s called it a wubbie and so here we are

Object Requirements

Soft, seriously soft. Don’t go into debt buying cashmere or something, but we want snuggly.

Probably acrylic or a blend thereof; if your string has wool in it, please let us know (see further steps); washable is really useful, particularly for wubbies.

Colours – somewhere in the purple-ish range of things. Purple is our theme colour for sexual assault awareness (my living room looks like Barney the Dinosaur exploded), but please think of this broadly. The string I’ve started with has loads of yellow and pink in it. And remember, purple is a whole range of colours. It doesn’t all have to be lilac and lavender pastels.

Step Two: You – fabulous string creator person – arrange to send me your creations. This step needs some sorting out. If you’re near me I can collect in person and bring you a snack. If you’re further away we shall conscript the postal services into delivering, and give the carriers a snack (and probably mail you a treat too). But, we’ll get to this when we do because it’s going to take some time to get the creations going.

Step Three: We attach a note to your creation that says something like

your story is heard, and believed, and held in grace
with the BTSS logo
maybe your first name or initials as creator
and some sort of name for this project

(hello non-string people, this bit is where we need you and your use of words to come up with what we’re calling this work). I had thought of “Comfort For Survivors”, but the more I said it in my head the more it sounded like the comfort women of World War II and I just don’t want that (if you don’t know about it, please go here … https://www.history.com/news/comfort-women-japan-military-brothels-korea).

So, the project needs a name … what shall we call it to convey the meaning that these objects are symbols of the courage of the survivor for sharing their story, it being received by our BTSS team, and it being held in the loving grace of our hearts?

Step Four: We give out these objects to survivors. Perhaps it will all be when we get to General Synod in 2021, or at the Wisconsin Conference Annual Meeting in 2020 (where I’m sure to hear many stories), or they become part of our website outreach to folks, or ??? In any event, the objects eventually end up in the hands of survivors.

Step Five: You relish in the support you’re offering to survivors you may never know, but who now feel a whole lot less alone in their stories, and in the world.

Step Six: You make more objects, and repeat the entire process until rape culture ends.

If you’re game to help, even one scarf or wubbie would be great, drop me a note: at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com, through the comments here on the website, or on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/breakthesilencesunday/

Same goes if you’ve got ideas about what we can call this enterprise. Drop me a note and let’s get a good name going.

Also, you don’t have to be any good at this. We’ll take your best efforts. This isn’t about perfectly knitted, crocheted, or woven objects. This is about you expressing your love for survivors of rape and sexual violence.

Looking forward to all your creativity. ♥ Moira

What happened on the Synod floor

Hello friends, We’re still processing everything that happened in the incredible 691 yes, 10 no, 0 abstentions vote a week ago at the UCC’s General Synod in Milwaukee. We’re still figuring out what the next steps look like, lots of questions: how to liaison with the national church and a reasonable timeline for that; how to gather the writers, and resources that we need to make Break The Silence Sunday the best it can be, offering support and opening the door to healing for people in every community; how to prepare for the next General Synod in 2021 in Kansas City. While all of that happens and a thousand post-it notes go up in my front room (completing its transition to campaign headquarters), we wanted to share with you what we’re calling “The Speech That Made All The Difference”. Our incredible committee chair, the Rev Cheryl Lindsay, allow the committee to do what it needed to do – open space for healing, stories, and hope; brainstorm dreams and ideas about implementation before we’d even discussed if we were supporting the resolution (that seemed a foregone conclusion in committee from the beginning); calling attention to communities that might be underserved, or underrepresented by BTSS’s work to this point including communities of color, LGBTQAI+ communities, and people with disabilities. (An apology … In an effort to be avoid a gender binary we discussed, but neglected to include specific wording about male survivors. This was an entirely unintentional oversight and despite the fact that this language isn’t in the final resolution, we will definitely be working on including those resources in our materials going forward.) So, our incredible chair made all that happen and then she was tasked with three minutes on the Synod stage to make the case for adopting the resolution. She was AMAZING!!!!!! The video is here (taken from my mobile phone, from a distance, with shaking hands) and I’ve done my best to transcribe the video as well. Please take a few minutes and listen. This is why the work is so incredibly important.


Transcription of The Speech That Made All The Difference by the Rev Cheryl Lindsay

emphasis (bold) added towards the end because that’s a seriously important question she asks…

Moderator (Mr Norman Williams): Does the committee wish to speak to the motion?

Rev Cheryl Lindsay: Yes, thank you. The Gospel according to John tells the story of Jesus encountering a person who had been hurting for a long time, who was in the midst of the community of faith, suffering, on the sabbath day no less, but whose pain had become a part of the landscape, but not acknowledged or addressed in any way. But Jesus sees and asks the question, “Do you want to get well.” Siblings in Christ, our congregations are full of survivors of rape and sexual violence who are in desperate need of the body of Christ to open the door to healing, to make space for their stories, to be seen and heard, to be acknowledged and believed; waiting for the church that proclaims that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here; waiting for that church, that not only welcomed their presence, but the totality of their lives, their story, their pain, and their truth; for the church that boasts of a still speaking God to no longer be complicit and instrumental in the silencing and shaming of her members. The silence is a disease in the church making us unwell in immeasurable ways; the silence magnifies the hurt; the silence deepens the pain; the silence kills; the silence has to go. It’s time church to break the silence. It’s time to show up for survivors. It’s time to demonstrate our love and support, to educate and equip ourselves to be faithful allies, companions, and friends, so that survivors may know that they don’t have to leave a part of themselves outside of their faith journey or their faith community; so that a congregant does not reach her 90s before hearing words of healing and restoration for the deepest, and longest held hurt of her life, from the pulpit of the church to which she has belonged from the cradle. And as that congregant told her pastor, who happened to be a member of our committee, to tell the General Synod that the God who is still speaking needs to break the silence today. Break the silence to make way for healing. Break the silence to make room for hope. Break the silence because rape and sexual violence are more prevalent than we realize including within our congregations, and if we cannot bring the good news into this part of our life together what gospel do we proclaim? If we cannot break the silence our faith communities will never be whole, will never be healed, will never be well. Do we want to be well? Break the silence. I strongly encourage the 32ndGeneral Synod to vote yes on resolution 9, Supporting Survivors Of Rape and Sexual Violence Through the Ongoing Church-wide Observance of Break The Silence Sunday.

[clapping and shouting]

 

Synod committee day & my speech

My friends, today was … you know I’m not sure I actually have words to describe today, so I suppose I’ll settle for amazing. This has been, many of you know, a long journey filled with more than a few (thousand) setbacks, naysayers, disappointments, and more Today General Synod 32’s Committee 9 met to discuss and deliberate the resolution for Break The Silence Sunday.

The members of the committee opened their hearts, and minds, and spirits and truly did God’s work. They listened to each other, some sharing their own stories of why this work is important. They asked questions, not about IF we should do this work, but rather about HOW to do this work in different congregations, communities, and contexts. They thought through ways to make sure we are paying attention to the needs of different groups of survivors. They even added back in words about the church’s complicity in protecting perpetrators and perpetuating rape culture that I had taken out in previous drafts (in hopes of making the resolution more politically acceptable to a broad audience).

We still have some hurdles ahead. The modified resolution will be put before the full body of the synod either Monday or Tuesday. Our incredible committee chair, Rev Cheryl Lindsey, will present on behalf of the committee. I cannot say enough about how wonderful Cheryl was in facilitating and guiding the committee’s work. She framed our work with prayer, nurtured and listened to all who were present, gave me time to speak and answer questions, and truly showed what a chair can be.

After the vote by the full synod (presuming it’s a positive decision), the resolution will move to implementation and an entirely different set of challenges will face us – the work of taking BTSS to the wider church.

I ask for your continued prayers. I have been at this such a very long time and it’s strange to think I won’t have to push for this part of the process much longer. That will take some time to get from my brain to my heart, and then an even longer time to adjust to a new and different kind of work of advocacy and supporting survivors.

In the meantime, several people have asked for the text of what I said before the committee today so I include it for you here:

Address to the General Synod Committee, Moira Finley, 23 June 2019
(FYI, the number of stories heard that are referenced below needs to be updated to include seven more stories Lella and I heard today.)

Good morning. Thank you for your time, and your commitment to our denomination, to the work of helping shape the life and ministry of our churches.

And I thank you in advance for what I know is a difficult conversation ahead of us today. Rape and sexual violence are challenging topics for us to talk about because they ask us to be vulnerable with each other, and to face things that many of us would rather not.

I have to tell you that today feels a bit like a moment when the church I love, the one that professes extravagant welcome, will pass judgement on whether or not I, a rape survivor, am truly welcome.

In July 2003 the General Synod met in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I attended as a visitor and had the luxury of lots of time chatting with folks, particularly in the exhibit hall. In one of those conversations, at the Justice and Witness ministries booth I asked the national staff member what the UCC was doing to support rape and sexual assault survivors.

He told me that it didn’t really happen to people in the UCC, and that even if it did it was a personal, private problem that we, a church that claimed to offer a prophetic word and witness to the world, didn’t have time for because it just wasn’t important.

I wanted very much to quit, to hand in my ordination, barely a year old, and go off somewhere without the church, to find life in a place where, even if I wasn’t accepted, if my life and experiences weren’t welcomed there wasn’t the hypocrisy of saying I was while, in practice, I was asked to be silent.

I can say today that I am grateful the dear friend I was traveling with, Sharon MacArthur, wouldn’t let me quit. She said I couldn’t for two reasons, first because I just don’t know how, and second because we, the church, needed me not to. The church, if it was going to be true to its calling to follow Jesus, needed me to stay, to struggle for what I know we can be when we live as fully as we are able.

So here we are today. Sixteen years later, after a lot of pain and tears, and more patience than I ever imagined I had, thanks to the support and encouragement of some remarkable people.

I want to thank my friend, my support pit bull, Lella Baker for taking her vacation time and own money to be here making sure I get snacks and water and tissues.

And I want to thank my Wisconsin Conference minister, the Rev Franz Rigert, who helped me dream up Break The Silence Sunday five years ago, taking off its hinges a door that had felt firmly closed and bolted shut for more than a decade.

In thanking them I am aware that I am here, in many ways, because of the actions, both good and bad, of other people.

The men who raped me set my life on a path I did not choose, and do not want.

I did not ask for this to be my story, for this to be the work of my life, but having it set before me I have chosen to pick it up, and to use the horror of what I experienced, the pain I live with to this day, and the incredible grace of the people who have helped me along the way to do what I can, to do something to further the transformation of the world, in the hopes that my work, however small it might be in the grand scheme of things, might be my part in following in the footsteps of the man of Nazareth.

While I acknowledge that I was set upon this path by men who did almost indescribable harm to me, I have been held together, nurtured, strengthened, encouraged, and loved beyond measure as well.

I owe the greatest debt of gratitude to my momma, Nancy, who found a way to support me despite the grief and pain of seeing her daughter in such physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

And a huge part of why I am here today, why I am so committed to what the church can be for survivors, is due to the love and nurture of some people at the church I grew up in, First Congregational UCC Albuquerque, New Mexico.

They held me and my family together through the most unimaginable of hells, helping with food and rides and more when nothing else could be done, waiting until we were ready to talk despite their million questions, and simply holding us in the light and grace of God’s gathered people.

I have been told I am too hard on the church, demanding we meet an unattainable standard of support for survivors of sexual violence, but I know it isn’t unattainable because I have received – from those folks in Albuquerque – the support I seek for each and every survivor, in each and every congregation in the UCC.

They didn’t get it all right. There were missteps and ill timed or badly worded moments, but they tried, and showed up, and kept showing up over and over again being the living presence, the hands and feet and hearts of Jesus in my life.

And I stand before you today a pastor of three UCC congregations, places where incredible healing and transformation has taken place because we have opened space for stories of the places where our lives haven’t been perfect, where the mask we show the world has fallen away and we have dared to be what we are – fragile, vulnerable, beautiful, and human.

But this resolution isn’t about me, or my congregations. We will continue to speak out, to break the silence. This is about us, the Body of Christ, the church together, and how we will respond to survivors.

Because I am who I am, and I have lived through all that has shaped me in these going on forty-six years, people talk to me, sharing their stories. When Break The Silence Sunday was born, in the fall of 2015, I started keeping track of everyone who told me their story. My list is now 778 stories long, 36 of those being since I arrived here at Synod on Thursday at about noon.

Survivors are desperate to find someone who will listen, who will treat them with dignity, and their story with the sacred respect it deserves, not trying to fix it.

They are looking for someone who will sit with them in the mess, in the uncertainty, with the struggles, doubts, fears, dreams, worries, hopes, and questions.

My survivor siblings, and I, are waiting for a voice from God’s people to say “we believe you”, and we cannot wait any longer. The silence of the church is deafening, and it is killing us.

Conservatively speaking at least a quarter of the people you share your pews and potluck tables with are survivors of sexual violence.

We live every day with the reality of our stories and we need to know, from the church, that we can bring that story to the community to be heard without shame or pity, that what we tell you will not face the victim blaming and shaming, the what were you wearing or why were you there alone or why did you wait to tell someone or why didn’t you try to get away, or all the other questions society is so quick to ask when we disclose what we have lived through.

We want to know that in the church we will find a place where we won’t be offered theologies that reinforce archaic ideas of purity, tired and hurtful theologies about suffering, and simplistic theologies about forgiveness that fail to understand the depths of pain survivors experience, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The resolution before you isn’t a timely response to the #metoo movement in our society, but the work of my life, of more than thirty years of wrestling with being a rape survivor AND a person of faith.

This resolution asks our church to start talking about the reality of rape and sexual violence, but not as something we can fix by teaching consent, healthy sexuality, and constructive means of dealing with anger. Those are vitally important things for us to be doing, but they come too late for me, and for my survivor siblings, because we are here, living with the reality we bear in our bodies and our hearts of the most intimate violation of the body of Christ.

It asks us, the United Church of Christ, to be true to our calling, to truly be Christ’s people, to bind up the broken-hearted survivors in our midst, offering the love and grace of God without judgement or pity.

It asks us to be prophetic, not in the ways we usually understand that word, but by learning to listen, really and truly listen with our hearts and our souls

It calls us to the holy work of lament, of hearing stories that will unsettle us and upend things we thought we knew for sure, hearing pains that can be healed, not through our actions, but through our openness, our willingness to sit in the midst of the mess.

It invites us to be brave, as our survivor siblings are brave each and every day of their lives, to trust, deeply and completely, in the One who calls us each by name, opening space in our congregations, our communities, and our hearts for survivors to share their stories and experience the grace that carries us all.

I thank you for your time, and your prayerful consideration.

Lists, Or Synod’s Almost Here…

2019-Synod-Logo-verse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Break The Silence Sunday Materials

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

~ Ernest Hemingway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

2018 BTSS materials are ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 BTSS PDF

2018 BTSS Word

Time Magazine, #metoo, and supporting survivors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Resilience, Love & Gratitude

A couple of years ago, just as Break The Silence Sunday was being born, a dear friend asked me if I thought I might ever be able to say that I was grateful for what happened to me. My answer, without any hesitation, was a firm “no”. Two years, a lot of work, a lot of advocacy, and the reality of the world we’re living in, my answer is still no, but it’s much more nuanced.

It turns out that, like many things relating to being a survivor in the world today, I need a different word. I’m hoping that in some known language in the galaxy the word I need already exists, but maybe it’s up to me to create a new word. I need something that describes this:

I am not grateful for what happened to me, but I am finally grateful for the person I am today who would not have existed without what happened to me.

This is a strange place to be, this feeling that I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the horrible things I endured. I don’t know if I would have been able to love so relentlessly, to open my heart and allow it to be broken day in and day out, over, and over, and over again, if it were not for what happened to me. It is a peculiar feeling to think that what the men who raped me tried to do failed so spectacularly. They tried to convince me that violence, and hatred were stronger than love, and grace. And they were wrong. The effect of what they did, the outcome of their actions thirty years later is that I understand how deeply I am able to love this broken world because of what they did.

I’m not entirely sure what to do with this feeling except struggle to find a word to describe it, and live into it being my new reality. But it does also have me thinking about resilience and our capacity to love.

In the days since the Weinstein scandal broke, and the #metoo hashtag went viral I have been honoured to listen to more than sixty stories, nearly all of them told for the first time. Women (and a few men) have read my “This Is What A Rape Survivor Looks Like” button and responded with their own stories of dates and partners they thought they could trust, of parents and other adults who exploited them as young children, of things they didn’t even know how to describe until recently, of events that took place in the last few months, and nearly fifty years ago.

Through all the stories runs one unifying theme – the incredible strength and resilience of the human spirit. The people who have shared their stories with me, and all of the survivors I know, are stronger than they can ever imagine. They are taking what has happened to them and not letting it destroy them. Yes, there are hard days (weeks, months, years), but they are all looking for a way to see themselves as more than what they experienced. Most of the folks I’ve listened to are just beginning their healing journey, and are uncertain about where it will lead, but almost all of them want this to be something that changes them, but doesn’t define them.

These are hard days. I’m trying to pastor my parish, stay informed about the world we’re living in, contact my senators and representatives often enough that their staff know me by name, advocate for people being trampled on by the system, listen to survivors, advocate for change, keep the laundry at least under reasonable control, snuggle my kittens, and take care of myself. I cry myself to sleep, and I don’t think I’m doing enough because there’s so much that needs doing.

The odds seem insurmountable, but then I remember that I shouldn’t be here. Seriously. The things that the men who raped me did should have killed me, but they didn’t. I’m still here, still breathing, and still believing in the relentlessly beautiful, gentle, transformative power of love.

I’ve written a poem about this, and it’s still a bit raw. I think I’m inclined to leave it untitled because every title I try to come up with seems to fall short. A writer friend said that the grammatical tense of the poem is a bit muddled – moving between past and present – and I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. What they did happened more than thirty years ago, and I’m only now realizing some of what it means for how I live today. And I must confess that the poem feels ugly to me because I don’t want the images of what they did to me to haunt you, and I live with the shame that many (most) survivors feel, that if you knew, really knew what had been done to me you would think less of me. My head knows that’s irrational, but my heart isn’t so sure, but it’s time to stop playing it small. The system of oppression depends on my silence and I’m done with that. As the writer Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Untitled, 29 November 2017
by Moira Finley

They tried their best,
laying hands on me,
violating,
beating,
breaking,
demanding
what they believed
they had a right to take –
their power,
anger,
control
all trying to destroy me,
break my body,
convince me
that violence and hatred
would win the night.

But they hadn’t reckoned
on the invincibility
of my soul,
that every blow,
every wound
would root me
ever deeper
in a grace I do not understand,
every insult
and intimate violation
would strengthen
my capacity to love.

 

 

#metoo & what can the clergy do?

More than ten years ago activist Tarana Burke created a hashtag, #metoo, with the goal of helping survivors of sexual violence and harassment find solidarity, to know they are not alone. (Please read more about Ms Burke’s work in this article from CNN and you can follow her on Twitter at @TaranaBurke).

Over this past weekend, in response to allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the hashtag went viral and Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms were swimming with #metoo posts. The idea was that everyone who had experienced sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination, rape, and other forms of violence should put this on their status to draw attention to the scope, the reality of the problem.

As with all things, the controversy started immediately. What should have been a movement for survivors to break their silence, to tell their own stories, to feel as if they were not alone in the world dealing with the repercussions of someone else’s actions, turned into a debate about who was allowed to use the hashtag (could men who have been harassed/abused also participate?), and more.

Some people were unprepared, shocked to discover that folks they know and love had experienced this violation. They were overwhelmed to discover that nearly every woman they know has a story.

Some were jerks, claiming people were only doing this to get attention, and contributing to rape culture by saying that if women would only dress modestly, or behave themselves, or not put themselves in dangerous situations then it wouldn’t happen. Mr Eric Trump even went so far as to say that if a woman can’t handle the harassment, she “doesn’t belong in the workforce”. (See reference here).

And for survivors, it was a mixed reaction. Some people were able to immediately embrace the hashtag and publicly claiming their story. Others were afraid, and rightly so, because of the public risk of being outed as a survivor, of the repercussions where they work, and with their family and friends. Some, myself included, felt a bit guilty or shamed if we didn’t immediately jump on the bandwagon and tag ourselves #metoo (and sadly there was more than a bit of shaming of those of us who didn’t make a post, including one person who told me I was “betraying the sisterhood of survivors” by not participating).

There was a lot of ranking of experiences with survivors saying “well it wasn’t that bad” or “my friend had it worse” and “it didn’t matter too much”, all ways we’ve learned to normalize predatory behaviors as part of our everyday life. (For what it’s worth, this isn’t the oppression Olympics … your experience didn’t have to end you up in the hospital for it to be valid, and it’s not a competition on who had it worse. None of us should have to have experienced what we did. Period.)

And then just about every survivor I know was somehow triggered by the posts, their own stories brought back to them in fear, memories we thought we had safely stored away dragged back without any warning on a random Sunday in October, causing us to lose sleep, relive our worst moments, and question everything all over again.

Amid all of this there has been some commentary from church communities. I thank the UCC’s general minister and president, the Rev John Dorhauer, for the words in his blog Into The Mystic.

But, it also brought up something that had been stirring in my mind long before #metoo made it into everyone’s consciousnesses – that clergy need something to say, to have a statement they can post on their Facebook pages, on their church websites, outside their office doors, or wherever they can to make sure survivors know they are someone committed to hearing their stories with dignity, and respect. We needed a Break The Silence Sunday promise from the clergy, a few well chosen sentences that would be our promise – to survivors, to God, and to ourselves – that we will wade into the hard work or honoring survivors, of listening, and of believing.

With the help of some good friends I’ve wrestled this week with the words. It’s not perfect, far from it, but it’s a place to start. I’m including it here, in full, and also a link to a PDF form of the document here: BTSS Clergy Commitment

If you choose to use it, I would appreciate you letting me know how and where you’re using it. If you choose to adapt it, particularly significantly, please check with me in advance. If you have ideas, thoughts, suggestions, questions, or criticisms about how it could be better in its next version please let me know that too. You can send me messages on Facebook or an email here.



Break The Silence Sunday Clergy Commitment

As a Christian pastor, as someone who tries to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth, and as a human being committed to working for the dignity and equality of all people, I declare to survivors of sexual violence that:

  • I am a person to whom you can tell your story of sexual abuse, harassment, assault, violence, and more.
  • I will listen without judgement, and without condemnation.
  • I will hold all you tell me in sacred confidence, within the bounds of law.
  • I will listen to whatever you need to say, and however you need to say it.
  • I will honor your story, and remind you of the dignity and worth you have as a child of God, created in God’s own image, and I will remind you that you are more than your story.
  • I will walk beside you on your healing journey, accompanying you as best as I am able, and as you need to counseling appointments, court dates, or wherever else you need me to be with you.
  • I am here for you, and with you.
  • I stand with you.
  • I believe you.

© Break The Silence Sunday, the Rev Moira Finley, October 2017

 

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.