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.

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.

 

 

#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.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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