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]

 

Lists, Or Synod’s Almost Here…

2019-Synod-Logo-verse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Break The Silence Sunday Materials

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

~ Ernest Hemingway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

General Synod Advocacy – Update & Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want that PayPal address again? breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com

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

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

Time Magazine, #metoo, and supporting survivors

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.