Finding Your Own Way

There is no shortage of grief and loss in our world. Hundreds of people in California have lost everything, many have lost their lives and there are still hundreds missing, many of whom are presumed dead. There have been over 300 mass shootings in the US this year, each victim leaving behind shattered families and friends. As the “holiday season” looms larger all the losses come into clearer, sharper focus. For some, the loss of what never was and never will be is the greatest sadness of the season.

The language most often heard on the heels of loss is about “moving on.” And it is usually said way too soon and is way too shallow to mean anything.  The language of moving on neglects the reality that grief is a process that takes time.  There is no magic formula for getting through grief, no handbook and no one way to find one’s way.  It’s why the language of moving is so hollow. 

Grief is a multi-faceted and complicated process that is as unique as each person’s loss.  It never ceases to amaze me how some people assume they know more about your life than you do. People “should” all over you:

 You should keep busy.  
 You should get out more. 
 You should be with people every day.
 You should get an anti-depressant from your doctor.
 You should be feeling better by now.  
 You should be grateful his/her suffering is over and s/he is in a better place.  
 You should try and keep your chin up. 

There is no end to the stupid things people say in an attempt to be “helpful.” Mostly people mean well, but they are often overwhelmed at the enormity of your pain and don’t know how to just be with you in it.  This will take a lot of energy out of you, so marshal your time with people who “don’t get it.” The people who can show up to your pain are not always the people you expect and sometimes the people you assume will be there aren’t able to be, for reasons that are not clear. It’s one of the things that can complicate grief.

When it comes to the holidays, do what feels right for you.  There is no right or wrong answer regarding how to survive the first, the second or the fifteenth holiday season.  There is your way, and that way may change from year to year and that’s okay.  Realize that no one is an expert on your life but you.

People also blab out all kinds of pious platitudes that fail to honor loss:

 It was God’s will.
 His/her suffering is over.
 He/she is in a better place.
 All things are better in time.

Death does not come as punishment or reward for how one lived or failed to live.  Death comes because we are created human.  We all have expiration dates.  Don’t let anyone sell you some theological garbage about God’s will when it comes to dealing with loss.  Find people who can help you think through what you believe and don’t believe, what works for you and what no longer works.  Sometimes long held beliefs fade when life falls apart, and you are left to rework your faith in light of your experience.  There is no one way to look at the Divine on the other side of loss.  Find people who can be with you in the questions and back away from people who have answers.  You need to find your own answers.

Ultimately the meaning you make out of loss is up to you.  It isn’t work someone can do for you, and the only way out is through. If the truth is told, in some ways grief lasts forever. It is the price you pay for deeply loving someone.  The good news is that grief changes in acuity as time goes on.  It isn’t always like a jelly fish stuck to your face.  There will be times when you ache with loss and it feels like yesterday even if it has been years.  There are other times when you glimpse a different life and it is okay.

Mostly, I hope you will be gentle with yourself in this season of (often artificial) cheer.

This Is What Makes America Great

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: at 29 she is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress
  • Jared Polis: First Openly gay Governor of Colorado
  • Jenny Durkan: First openly lesbian Mayor of Seattle
  • Danica Roem: First transgender woman elected in Virginia statehouse
  • Andrea Jenkins: First openly transgender black woman elected to Minneapolis City Council
  • Vi Lyles: First black Mayor Charlotte, NC
  • Kathy Tran: First Asian American woman and daughter of Vietnamese refugees elected to VA House of Delegates
  • Tyler Titus: First transgender person elected to public office in PA
  • Sheila Oliver: First black Lieutenant Governor of NJ
  • Sharice Davids: First openly lesbian Native American woman elected to Congress
  • Deb Haaland: First Native American woman elected to Congress
  • Kim Reynolds: Iowa’s first female Governor
  • Rachel Rollins: Massachusetts first black Attorney General
  • Janet Mills: Maine’s first female Governor
  • Marsha Blackburn: Tennessee’s first female Senator
  • Catalina Cruz: New York’s first DREAMer elected to public office
  • Susan Ruiz and Brian Woodard: Kansas’s first openly gay lawmakers
  • Eliza Guzman and Hala Ayala: First Latina women elected to Virginia House of Delegates

This incomplete list represents the growing number of legislators and leaders in the United States who are GLBTQI, culturally diverse, female, or people of color. What is significant is not the number of seats won and where they were won, it is a commentary on the changing political landscape of the United States.  It is a hopeful sign in the midst of much that seems hopeless.  It is a step toward a government of the people by the people and for the people.  The election of such diverse national and state leaders is a clear signal that how we do business as a nation is going to change.  The under-served populations are finding and claiming their voices. 

We are a nation of immigrants, children of immigrants, slaves, children of slaves and native peoples.  We have not been well represented by white patriarchy, big business and profit making corporations.  We have not been well served by back room business deals and quid pro quo politics which make promises that benefit a few.

By changing leaders we change the narrative.  When we elect single mothers the conversation includes affordable child care and housing. When we elect Native peoples the conversation includes righting historic injustices.  When we elect people of color the conversation includes combating the racism that still runs through the fabric of our society. When we elect LGBTQI people the conversation includes equal rights. When we elect educators and health care professionals the conversation includes public education and health care as basic human rights. When we elect people who represent values over political alliances, country over political party and responsible world citizenship over narrow nationalism, we begin to ask different questions:

  • How do we live as responsible global citizens in a global economy?
  • What kind of planet do we want to leave to our children and our children’s children?
  • How do we embody a public ethic of love and respect for all people?
  • How do we build a sustainable economy that benefits all people?
  • How can we be responsible to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our country and our world?
  • When will we learn to work together for common sense gun control and hold the out of control gun lobby and its bought and paid for legislators accountable?

Mark Twain said that politicians and diapers need to be changed regularly, and for the same reason.  This is a move in the right direction.  Our political system works when we participate.  If you voted, thank you.  If you didn’t vote, think about why and remember it is a right denied to many. 

If “your” candidates didn’t win, don’t withdraw from the political process.  Continue to ask the questions that will make our world a better place for everyone.  Think beyond “you” and “yours” and include those whose needs are different from yours.  Realize you are a citizen of a global community. Practice generosity. Seek the well-being of others.  

 

 

Values You Can Take To The Polls

It seems the loudest voice in the Judeo-Christian tradition is the white “evangelical christian” voice.  The problem is that this voice is not evangelical in the true sense of spreading the life giving word of God.  Neither are they Christian in their following of Jesus’ words and teachings.  They are a socio-political block with a conservative political agenda designed to roll back human rights (especially women’s rights), reproductive rights, care for the poor and disadvantaged and stewardship of the environment while catering to the richest members of society.

As we go to the polls on Tuesday, here are some thoughts to ponder:

  • “The arc of the universe bends toward justice.” (William Sloane Coffin)
  • Love is the essence of every major religious tradition in the world.
  • Spirit is the holy in all of us and in creation.
  • Creation reveals God.
  • We are God’s agents of love, peace and justice in the world.
  • The teachings of Jesus are our guide and guard.
  • Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew. There is no room for anti-Semitism in the Christian faith.
  • Jesus was a person of color. There is no room for racism in the Christian faith.
  • Mere tolerance is a low bar for people of faith.
  • The first and second testaments stand on equal ground.
  • The Bible inherently favors the poor and disadvantaged.
  • Jesus’ harshest judgements were focused on the wealthy and the religious leaders who colluded with them.
  • The Christian life is a life of dissent against the injustice of the world.
  • All paths to God are equally valid; those who claim the name of Christian choose one path among many.
  • We are called to preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, to use words (St. Francis of Assisi).
  • Healthcare is a right not a privilege.
  • Those working full time should earn enough to support their family.
  • There is enough for everyone’s need, not everyone’s greed.
  • The world would be a better place if humans practiced what they preach when they claim the name of Christian.
  • The gospel agenda is non-partisan.
  • We cannot give into the politics of despair, fear and powerlessness.

Vote the values of the gospel.

 

Living Into the Mystery; Why Gender Can’t Be Legislated

Last week the Occupant hinted at legislation which would narrowly define gender by the genitalia with which one was born. It reflects the rising tide of intolerance for any group outside of white heterosexual cisgender males.    

The Occupant’s mindset reflects one theological school of thought, that of many white evangelical fundamentalists. They maintain that LGBTQ people, especially the transgendered, are particularly broken and are on roller skates to hell. However, people of faith, particularly the mystics, have known for centuries that sexuality and gender in all its diversity are holy gifts. 

Clearly the mystics are the minority report in the world of faith; their perspective is often far too radical to maintain the hang ups Christianity has about sex.  In the mystical tradition sexuality is imbued with holy blessing, a sacred part of our humanness, given to us for mutual delight and fulfillment.

The scriptures used to condemn the LGBTQ community are narrowly read. They are interpreted through a particular contemporary cultural lens that leads to assumptions about biblical texts that simply are not true.  The ancient world did not have words like homosexuality (the word was invented in the 1800′s), transgender, gender fluid or gender queer.  In reality the bible has very few verses about sexual behavior. The ones most commonly cited have to do with sex in a patriarchal society, power dynamics created by socio-economic status and property ownership.

Cherry picking specific verses out of context is not a faithful rendering of the text. Biblical interpretation requires understanding of ancient near eastern history, exegesis (you can look it up) and contemporary theological commentary. Judgmental comments fuel hate and intolerance and the Occupant needs no help to do that. Educate yourself about the faith you claim and join the resistance to the rising tide of hatred and intolerance.

We need to look closely at our sacred texts to elicit themes that can inform our thinking. We must take the overall message of Scripture and use it to define our actions in the moment.   Here are a few themes to consider: God’s love for all people is unconditional.  Period.  All people are created in the image of the Divine, not just straight white males. God created us as sexual creatures. We honor the holy when we enjoy the good gift of our bodies in ways that honor each person. Our bodies are temples of the Spirit, not just straight white male bodies, but all bodies.    

Spirituality and sexuality are two sides of the same coin.  They live in the deepest part of our being. It is the deep emotional intimacy, companionship, steadfastness and tenderness through time that bring the deepest satisfaction in human interaction.  True intimacy is a spiritual connection with another that may or may not be expressed through sexual contact. We live fully into the mystery when we discover who we truly are and choose to share our bodies with someone who honors us as we are. 

Gender identity cannot be legislated.  Almost one and a half million people identify as transgender; they cannot be legislated out of existence.  Instead we need to bring the informed resources from our sacred texts and our faith to the public sphere. We must speak up and speak out for those whose voices are silenced by misunderstanding, hatred and prejudice.  If we keep silent, hatred wins. 

Intimate Partner Violence, the Bible and Hope

The bible is full of violence.  It’s tempting to think violence is only in the Old Testament but there is plenty in the New Testament.  Jesus comes to mind.  There is also the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned, the murder of Steven and the repeated imprisoning and beating of the disciples. 

Much of the violence in the bible is against women and sadly this violence rarely finds justice. The ancient world was a patriarchal and oftentimes violent place. That’s another blog post for another time.  This week we focus on biblical texts that are taken out of context as a way of excusing intimate partner violence.  The worst offender is from Ephesians 5.

“Wives obey your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22). Like most verses taken out of context, this one has a wider perspective that is essential to faithful interpretation.  The segment begins in verse 21,

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives be subject to your

husbands as you are to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife just as

Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.  Just as the

church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, subject to

their husbands.” 

 

I know; it is hard to take.  Remember this is the first century C.E. and things were different. In order for these verses to make sense the next part of the passage must be included:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for

her…In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. 

He who loves his wife loves himself.” 

 

It’s important to take this all together.  Being subject to one another presupposes the covenant relationship of marriage, property rights notwithstanding.  The verses acknowledge mutuality between women and men. It assumes the husband will consider the wife, love her and honor her body.  The obedience of the wife is dependent on the man keeping his part of the relationship.  In fact, there are more instructions to the husband about how to treat his wife than there are instructions to the woman!  Taking one verse about the behavior of women out of context is an unfaithful rendering of the text. 

Another text that is often misquoted and misinterpreted is Jesus’ teaching on divorce found in Mark 10; it has a corollary in Matthew 19.  The Mark passage sets the stage with a question from a group of Pharisees (they were religious leaders).  “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

According to the Rev. Graham Van Keuren, Pastor and Teacher at the Congregational Church of Somersville, Somersville, CT, “Judaism in Jesus’ day was split down the middle regarding what justified proper divorce. There was one school, following a teacher named Hillel, who taught that a man could divorce his wife for almost any reason, such as being a bad cook.  There was another school of thought, following a rabbi named Shammai, who taught that infidelity was the only reason a man could divorce his wife.” 

It was a trick question designed to scope out which school of thought Jesus followed. And Jesus was having none of it.  His answer was another widely quoted bit of scripture often found in wedding ceremonies; “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.  So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The passage goes on, and in verses 11 and 12 Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” We get caught up in the adultery language and lose the shock of the passage in its original context.  According to Pastor Van Keuren, women weren’t even allowed to divorce men, so for Jesus to mention it was completely radical.

The point of all this is that Jesus equalizes the relationship between women and men.  He refuses to participate in the patriarchal property-based understanding of marriage and affirms the rights and equality of women. Jesus always speaks for the most vulnerable.  He refuses to play by the rules of violence and power.  His teachings say that the powerful should give up their privilege to the vulnerable.  The abuser should stop using violence against those who are powerless to resist. In the ancient world the wife was vulnerable to her husband.  As such the husband was not to use his power to victimize or violate the wife. In the way of being in the world that Jesus teaches, power is only used well when it enhances someone else’s freedom. 

Scripture cannot be used to justify intimate partner violence.  It is unfaithful to the text and unfaithful to the God we claim to follow. There is no excuse for intimate partner violence. 

October is Domestic Violence (intimate partner) Awareness Month.  If you, or someone you know is suffering at the hands of their husband or partner, get resources at the National Domestic Violence Hotline website (www.thehotline.org) or call 1-800-799-7223 or TYY 1-800-787-3224.  Help is available, and so is hope.

Spiritual But Not Religious

I hear it a lot: “I am spiritual but not religious.”  When I was a full time church pastor, these words bugged me.  They don’t so much anymore.  Now that I am retired, I don’t always go to church and I see things from a slightly different perspective.

I am familiar with all the arguments against church participation.  The church is full of hypocrites. Truth be told, few of us are completely consistent in our actions and professed beliefs. The church can be petty. The church often bears witness to people at their worst, especially when there are conflicts. The church can be exclusionary. Often the church is not a place of hospitality for those in need but a place where you have to conform to be accepted. The church is sometimes irrelevant. The more the church stays the same, the more irrelevant it becomes.  As the old saying goes, “the church fiddles with her skirts while Rome burns.” The church and its language are anachronistic at best. It’s hard for many to get excited about worship when most of the music is by people who have been dead for two hundred years, and the dust in the rafters is almost as old as dirt.   

 Still, there are things about the church that I value. For example, learning from people I don’t particularly like isn’t easy. However, the only hope we have of learning to live together in the world as a whole begins with the people who get under our skin. Being with people who are different than we are is a lesson in unity which is not to be confused with uniformity.  I value the sacraments and the reminder that I my life is about more than “me and mine.” In baptism we become part of a wider community. Every time I witness a baptism I commit myself to the child and family to help them grow to maturity in faith and actions. Sitting at the communion table, sharing cubes of bread and thimbles of grape juice is a reminder of the community of people around the world who are joined together by similar beliefs and commitments. In communion we re-member and put together what has been broken apart. We focus on what makes us one and not what makes us separate. The church at its best is a community that calls us beyond the hypocrisy, pettiness and irrelevance to become the beloved community.

Sure, all of this may be just nostalgia and BS on my part.  Let me know what you think about this.  But I think there is more to church than the nonsense of the institution and the pettiness of its people.  At its best the church is a gathered community where people come to be encouraged, challenged, comforted and spurred to growth.  If we “do” church “right” we see that all the great religions of the world lead to the same place. The message is universally about love, care for one another and God’s creation and a world where everyone has enough. Most of the time we don’t do it right, so we build walls of prejudice and misunderstanding instead of bridges of commonality and a shared vision for humanity.

There is a danger in going our separate spiritual ways, because there is little to challenge and ground us in something larger than our own beliefs.  We are set adrift in a complicated world with just our own little rubber raft floating in the small sea of our own understanding.  Church is one answer but there are others.

I believe we need communities of practice where we find the kind of nurture and confrontation that helps us see our blind spots.  I believe we need to be with people who are like us and people who are different from us. Consistency in what we believe and how we live matters. Being spiritual but not religious has its strengths and limits.  The church also has its strengths and limits.  We each have to find what is right for us.  Anyone who seeks a vital faith needs others to keep growing.

Protest, Resist and Pray

I am tired.  I am tired of old white men making decisions about women’s health care when there are no women in the room.  I am tired of politicians trying to control women’s sexual behavior by limiting their access to reproductive choices and birth control. I am tired of old white men trying to govern my uterus. I am tired of a political system that marginalizes women by limiting access to affordable child care. I am tired of old white men protecting their own, hiring their own and lying for each other.  

I am tired of protesting, writing letters, and calling my legislators (who are old white men). I want to hang up my Handmaid’s Tale garb and my clerical collar and take a break from it all.  And I think that is exactly what old white men are hoping; they want us to get tired and go away.  I, for one, refuse to do that. 

I will keep writing my blog as a way of encouraging my sisters.  I will keep donning my Handmaid’s Tale garb or my clerical collar and attending every protest I can.  I will write and call until I am blue in the face.  I will, with countless other women who are also sick and tired of it all, vote on November 6th.  If the old white men want to grab us by the pussy, let’s grab them by the midterms.  Every vote counts. 

Sure, I know what it is like to face sexism.  I am a woman in a historically all-male profession.  I have been told that I was a “good woman minister,” “a good preacher, for a woman.” I have been asked “when I was going to have a baby,” and “why I wasn’t married.” 

What I don’t know is what it is like to be a woman of color and face these same issues.  I do not know what it is like to face all the issues of sexism and the hatred and confusion foisted on a woman who was born in the wrong body.  I do not know what it is like to live into society’s sexism and be sent to conversion camp where they try to “beat the gay away,” simply because someone cannot face the fact that some women love women.

We live in a patriarchal society but we are also live in a racist and cisgender society.  What is hard for me is harder for my sisters of color and my non-binary sisters.

I am a white woman of privilege.  I am educated, have access to resources and a role that is respected in society.  I choose to use my privilege for a good greater than my own.     

We need to be in this for the long haul.  We have to stick together and care for each other.  We might take a lesson from migrating geese.  They fly in a “V” formation and take turns in the lead position, breaking the wind for the ones who fly behind them.  As the “V” unfolds each one breaks the wind for the one behind them. The ones with the greatest fatigue are in the back where the wind break is greatest.  They work as a team and care for each other.  They take turns out front according to their energy and strength.   

As one who is also fed by the richness of the Judeo Christian tradition, I also find sustenance in the words of the prophets like Jeremiah who said “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)  Words from Isaiah remind me of the work that is mine to do: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, whom shall I send and who will go for us? Then I said, Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)  “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn.” (Isaiah 51:1)

These words are not sentimental thoughts from an ancient book of poetry. They are marching orders for people of faith in every age.  They are words of direction and encouragement when it would be easier to hang up the Handmaid’s Tale garb and ditch the clerical collar for a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt and sit in front of the TV watching reruns.

In the real world problems are not solved in 46 minutes.  They are solved by every woman doing the work that is hers to do.  Together we can change the world for the women in the next generations.  “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings of eagles.  They will run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)   

One is a Tragedy, Thousands are a Statistic: The Invisible Face of Sexual Assault

She is 30 and doesn’t jog alone anymore.  She is a non-verbal 84 year old nursing home resident who screams when “the” aide enters her room. She is 12 and doesn’t want to visit her uncle anymore. She is 32 and doesn’t park in a parking garage. She is 41 and doesn’t take the stairs anymore. He is 17 and terrified of going into the locker room. She is 20 and was drugged at a fraternity party. She is 57 and accepted help from a man when her car broke down.

Sexual assault is no respecter of age, physical appearance, social stature, educational achievement or physical ability.  We may think it will never happen to us, but this is a defense against the epidemic of sexual assault in our society. We may be quick to blame the victim. This too is a defense by which we assure ourselves that it will never happen to us because we don’t engage in risky behavior. This allows us the luxury of not being outraged.  When someone we love is sexually assaulted, we no longer have the option of not being outraged.

Every 98 seconds in the United States someone, usually a man, makes the decision to violate the very essence of another human being in an act of sexual violence.  It is time to start talking about how many men assault instead of how many women are assaulted.  The public narrative about sexual assault needs to change from an emphasis on women who are violated to the men who violate them.

There is a need for ongoing conversation about how sexual violence diminishes both women and men.  Women who are sexually violated are changed forever. They often hide in silence and shame because society blames victims.  Men who are sexually violent are diminished in their masculinity because they confuse power and brutality with strength.   It is time to shift the blame from women to where blame belongs–with men who commit sexual assault.

The way male children are raised needs to change.  From an early age boys need to be taught about consent, respect and shared power. Instead of teaching women to avoid being assaulted, men need to be taught from a young age not to assault women. The structure that has encouraged and protected men who engage in sexual violence needs to be dismantled.  It takes mature men to reach inside to the essence of their humanity and meet women as equals, and to respect their essential humanity.  

There is a need for honest open conversation about rape culture and the ways in which it influences women and men with skewed cultural messages of masculinity and femininity.  Misogynistic language, the use of sexual violence as entertainment and the objectification of women’s bodies create an environment where women’s rights and safety are disregarded. 

New definitions of masculinity and femininity that are not based in stereotypical gender roles of power and submissiveness are needed.  We are all influenced by rape culture whether we realize it or not, whether we are men or women, regardless of age, social stature, educational level or physical appearance.  To be raised in this time and place means being steeped in invisible norms which are the essence of rape culture.

Our assumptions about the women who are assaulted and the men who assault need to be questioned. We can raise our awareness of how we use language to speak of offenders and victims.

Although faith traditions have done much to inflict damage on survivors of abuse, there are ways faith can encourage healing. Those of us who identify with the Christian faith hold a theology of incarnation.  We believe God is not only among us but also within us.  This means that there is something holy within us all, even those who commit sexual assault.  There is a deep need for healing the image of the divine in both those who are wounded and those who do the wounding.  I’m not suggesting a free pass for offenders; there are plenty of judges who are doing just this.    

The place that is shattered by sexual assault is the place where the divine and the human come together. People of faith can be powerful healing allies when we take the time to learn what we need to learn. We have to show ourselves worthy to receive survivors’ truths.

We all know someone who has been sexually assaulted, whether we are aware of it or not.  If we are not aware, it is only because survivors don’t feel safe enough to tell us.  They fear we will look at them differently. They fear we will judge them and blame them.  They fear we will ask questions they are not ready to answer.  There are many things we say, some without our realizing, that indicate whether or not we are safe persons to receive a disclosure.  Learn what these things are.  Don’t ask the women you love if they have been assaulted.  They will tell you if and when they are ready, and if and when they feel you are a safe person to tell.

Young women and men are listening carefully to what we say about sexual assault, rape and the current conversation.  We are educating our sons and daughters, our children and grandchildren, and our nieces and nephews.  What are we teaching them?

Sexual Assault and Theological Baggage

The women bringing allegations of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh are facing predictable responses. We have come to accept that these women, like countless women before them, will be raked over the coals by most social and news media outlets.  They face the same questions all survivors of sexual violence face: how much did you have to drink, what were you wearing, what did you do to encourage him, did you say no?  Women are blamed for being inebriated, dressing “provocatively” and not saying “no” loud enough to make the assault stop. The ways women are blamed for their own victimization are so predictable that we have lost our capacity for outrage. Let’s be clear, no woman asks to be sexually assaulted.

The same questions are not asked of the men who are accused.  Seldom are they asked how much they had to drink. If they were inebriated it is common to use this as an excuse for their behavior. After all, “boys will be boys.” No, rapists will be rapists.  According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 27.8% of men completed their first rape at age ten or under.  At one university, 63.3% of men who self-reported acts of rape or attempted rape admitted to multiple acts of violence against women. And this is at just one university. 

 Just this week the Rev. Franklin Graham stated that Judge Kavanaugh’s history of sexual assault is not relevant to his confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.  He also stated that Kavanaugh had “respected” Dr. Blasey Ford by stopping the assault.  According to Dr. Blasey Ford, the assault stopped only when she was able to escape and lock herself in the bathroom. Graham’s misunderstanding completely misses the truth that sexual assault is so much more than actual penetration.  Sexual assault is also about emotional, psychological and spiritual trauma. A “religious leader” is excusing and minimizing sexual violence against women and in so doing misuses the authority of his office and the power of the media to spew his skewed theology. He reinforces what many women report in the aftermath of rape, a feeling of being abandoned by God.  Add to this the overarching images of God as male, and rape survivors are left with significant spiritual trauma. Graham’s uninformed and abusive words only add to the pain.

Women’s reported experience with sexual assault suggests that traditional theologies of suffering, sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation are desperately in need of radical revision. There are few stories of sexual assault in the Bible. The rape of Dinah (Genesis 34:1-31) and the rape of the concubine (Judges 19:22-30) were not treated as a violation of the women. These women were owned by men, so the rape was viewed as a violation of the man’s property rights and the community in which the women lived.  No help for women here. 

For centuries women who were sexually assaulted or raped were told it was their fault. They were told their flagrant expression of sexuality was sinful because it was too tempting for men to resist. Women were blamed for the failure of men who became rapists. When pastors, as authorities who speak for God, blame women for their victimization, it has the unintended consequence of making God a party to their abuse. Such a perspective isolates women and robs them of the healing and spiritual support that can help them heal from sexual violence.  Further, if God is to blame, it assures that the abuser is never brought to accountability or to justice.  Let’s be clear; sexual violence is never God’s will.

Forgiveness is another theological and relational construct that is distorted in ways that do further damage to women.  Women are told to forgive their rapists. They are told to “forgive and forget” as if these words are in the Bible.  In reality these words are from Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Few women receive justice for their sexual violation by men; healing is a lifelong process. If or when forgiveness happens, it is the private process of the survivors. It is not for anyone to judge. Forgiveness cannot be commanded by another. It cannot be used as a litmus test of faith to further punish survivors.     

 Judge Kavanaugh and the women who have accused him deserve an impartial and complete investigation into the allegations.  Unfortunately, with all white men comprising the questioning committee, it is highly unlikely this will happen.  The cycle of blaming the victim will continue.  

However, there is cause for optimism.  The #MeToo movement, education about sexual assault and rape and feminist theologies that reshape traditional models all contribute to shifting the public narrative. Courageous women coming forward chip away at the rock of denial and blame that for too long has held women hostage.  I salute their courage, their tenacity and their willingness to speak. May others be encouraged to speak their truth.

Come to the Quiet: Reclaiming Sabbath

The average American spends about 52 minutes a day without noise.  Fifty two minutes where there is no whir of the printer, kids calling, orders being taken, the background din of a workplace, bosses ordering you around, the radio or the blast of the TV. No noise at all. It is a rare commodity in our culture.

Chances are good that even if there is no noise, your head is filled with things that have to be done, stuff you can’t forget, stuff you wish you could forget, and what’s next on the calendar.  Absence of noise doesn’t necessarily mean quiet.

On top of it all there is just too much to do: working two or three jobs to make ends meet, trying to exercise, not eat McDonald’s or KFC every night for dinner, getting the kids where they need to go, cleaning the house and trying to get to bed before one in the morning.  And then there is the “To Do” list. 

Here’s a news flash; that “To Do” list is never going to be finished so you might as well take a few of those 52 minutes without sound and make them minutes of true quiet. A time to take care of your soul; it’s called Sabbath Time.

Sabbath Time is a break from it all.  Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you go out and join a church (though that certainly is an option).  Rather I am suggesting that you create at least a few minutes of Sabbath Time every day.  Even ten minutes can change your outlook on life. 

During Sabbath time you can recognize that even though it feels like you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, not everything in the world is your responsibility. It is a time to ponder something larger than yourself and the enormous burdens you carry every day.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve thought about God, prayed or tried to figure what you believe and what you don’t believe.  God isn’t petty like that, despite some of the crap we learned in Sunday School or Catechism.

A good place to start Sabbath Time is to try just ten minutes. Engage your head and your heart with the words “God is.”

Wherever your pondering takes you is okay.  Any relationship needs to start with what is and not what you think it should be.  For some of us God is an SOB who didn’t answer our prayers when we prayed for someone to get well.  For others, God is a pissed off old white guy just waiting to zap you if you step out of line.  Most of us don’t start with an image of a wholly loving God.  Much of that is thanks to life experience and really bad theology when growing up.  If you never went to any kind of religious instruction after you were confirmed or baptized, your spiritual development may have stopped at about the seventh grade.    

Good news; you can start by claiming a few minutes of Sabbath Time every day to ponder who God is for you and who God might become for you at this moment in your life. 

Sabbath Time is the doorway through which most people pass on their way to a deeper more authentic faith.  It won’t change what is true about your life but it may help you notice things you’ve not noticed in a long time–things that bring a smile to your face.  A sunset, a flower, the pure laughter of a child, the list is endless. 

A spiritual director of mine from years ago gave me homework to “notice what I noticed” and write it down.  It was an exercise in paying attention to the beauty that existed in the world in the midst of the craziness.  

Most of us are hungry for something that makes sense in this troubled and troubling world.  These are scary times and life is complicated.  Sabbath Time won’t fix this, but it will make it bearable.