(First, a warning. I am going to say some pretty frank things in this note. So, if you are not ready for the conversation, come back next week.)
I took a couple of Sabbath days earlier in the week. It was wonderful to rest mind and body and walk in the woods painted in fall colors and look out on a lake that was calm and glistening in the sunlight. It rested my weary soul.
As I thought about my weekly PW, I decided to reflect on how sabbath can help us recharge open up our spirit. However, other events this week have crowded in, and I decided to give us a chance to think together on a more difficult topic.
This week, we have, once again been part of a national conversation about sexual assault. The reason it has gotten so much attention, has to do with the profile of the alleged perpetrator–a Supreme Court Nominee. Let me be clear, in case you think the pastor is about to go all political on you, that I am less worried about the political ramifications, than the moral ones. I have read, listened, and had conversations with a wide number of folks about the allegations of Dr. Christine Ford against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Why now? Why did she wait so long to report? Why should allegations from so many years ago even be relevant? Aren’t people presumed innocent until proven guilty? This could ruin a man’s future! Think of the damage this is doing to his family!
Yes. I get it.
But the part of the conversation I want us to focus on is at the very core of who we understand ourselves to be—as a nation, as a democratic system and as people of faith. Do we believe that some people are of more worth than others—their safety, their past, their future, their success? Do we believe that women, girls and vulnerable men and boys should not have to endure sexual assault and harassment—even if the perpetrator has a bright future ahead of him or her? Should their voices be heard? Believed? Taken seriously?
I read this morning that the phone calls to national sexual assault hotlines had increased by over 200% this week. The hashtags #metoo and #whyIdidn’treport have flooded social media. Every woman I know has a story. Every. Woman. I. Know. (This is higher than the reported national average.) Think about it. Every time we get a story like this in the news, women (and many men as well) have had to relive some of the worst experiences of their lives. Some of us end up telling stories to each other that we have never told before. Why didn’t we share them when they happened? Why didn’t we “call the FBI?” Why didn’t we tell our caring parents? Why didn’t we report the behavior to a teacher? Why didn’t we yell, scream, struggle, fight, make a scene?
Ah. Let me count the ways. Let’ start with the questions: What were you doing at that party in the first place? Were you drinking? What were you wearing? Were you flirting? Did you encourage him in any way? Did you scream? Did you fight him? How many times did you say no? Did you say anything at all? You know, if this goes any farther, it could ruin his chances at…
Guys tend to get carried away at this age. He didn’t mean anything by it. He couldn’t help himself. It wasn’t that big a deal, he didn’t manage to go all the way, did he?
There are lots. Lots. More.
Over the years I have had conversations with many girls and women. They (we) feel shame, responsibility, and fear when it comes to unwanted advances, aggressive behaviors and sexual harassment and assault. For as much advancement women have made over the years, there is still a huge stigma attached to “allowing” yourself to be a victim. “I should have….” “Why didn’t I” and, of course, “No one would believe me.” (He’s young. He’s old. He is a nice guy. You must have misunderstood.)
This just has to change.
A social researcher named Jackson Katz poses this question to groups of men and women;
“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.
Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? “
Want to guess the response? Yup. Except for a bit of nervous laughter, there was none.
He repeats the question to the women in the room.
(Try it. Ask any woman you know. Any.)
Look in the backseat of the car when returning from shopping. Carry car keys with the keys pointed out, to use as a weapon. Avoid parking garages. Don’t walk alone at night. (anywhere). Lock the windows at night, even if it is hot outside. Don’t ever put a drink down and come back to it. Watch your drink getting poured. Own a big dog. Carry pepper spray. Don’t get into an elevator alone with a strange man. If you walk alone and hear someone walking behind you, cross to the other side of the street. Don’t hike/camp/drive cross-country alone.
So beloved. This is hard. I want to change the world. For me. For you. For my kids, your kids, everyone’s kids. For our nation, that can do better—that must do better. I believe we are created to be people in relationship and community. If we are to connect and belong in the way in which Christ invites us—we better make sure that it is a safe place for everyone.
There are some fun advantages to doing unexpected things. The odd surprise gift. An unexpected card written by a friend. An unexpected thank you from someone we barely know. Flowers that show up for no particular occasion. A random act of kindness performed by a stranger. I love giving moments to others like this. And I certainly love receiving them
Several weeks ago, I was leaving an art gallery with my friend, Judy. We had a great time looking at the work of local artists. The arrangement and design of the building was soul nourishing. But, there was something even more soul nourishing right out the front door. Along side the entrance was a row of carefully cultivated roses—they stood at least five feet tall. There were bright reds, deep pinks, and an absolutely gorgeous yellow, that had the barest touch of pink at the center. And they smelled just as a rose garden should smell. We both stopped to reach out to the roses and inhale deeply. Glorious! Just then a man came out of the building, and in a teasingly gruff voice said to keep my hands off the roses! I smiled at him, and said we couldn’t resist.
He walked over to us and gave us a bit of history about the gardens, then he reached over us, and plucked a single yellow rose. He smiled, handed me the rose, and said, “It’s okay, I know the gardener.” It was a moment of kindness, grace, and gave us both a moment of joy—that held us all day.
Over the weeks since that small moment happened, I have been thinking a great deal about kindness. It really doesn’t take much time, effort, or thought to provide that indefinable experience of caring for someone or something that you might not be expected to care for or about. A number of years ago, there was a short spurt of activity spurred on by the phrase—“perform random acts of kindness.” It was a great thought. And for a short time, there did seem to be more people being attentive to those random moments of opportunity—to hold a door, give away a parking space, carry someone’s groceries to the car.
But lately, I’ve been thinking that kindness needs to be a bigger part of my intentions than just something that happens randomly. I think we may need to bring out the BIG INTENTION—and live in a place of kindness. Every moment. Not just when I happen to remember that being nice is polite, or courteous, or could make a stranger’s day better.
Kindness isn’t something that gets a lot of press these days—although there are plenty of human interest stories on social media and the news that attempt to focus on something other than all the bad news. And this is good. But what if…
What if, I, what if we realized that what we put in the world matters. The words we use. The way we walk through the grocery store. The kind of conversation we have at the bank counter. Our 3 minute conversation while we are waiting in line for coffee. The way we answer the phone when we don’t know who is on the other end of the line. The way we notice and respond when someone looks lost, afraid, uncertain.
One day I was contemplating the concept of “being Jesus” in the world. Kind of silly, really. None of us, especially pastors, should try to be anyone else’s savior. It is unhealthy for us, and irritating to everyone else. But I think there is something there that calls to me. I don’t need to replace Jesus, pretend to be Jesus, or even dress like Jesus. But I can be Jesus in the sense of looking through the eyes of God on those who co-habit the planet with me.
I can make generous assumptions about the actions of others, without assuming that they are out to make my life difficult. I can choose to believe that others are just trying to get through the day the best they can-just like me. I can acknowledge that sometimes ,we all need a bit of grace. I can practice Kindness. Attention. Intention. And although it might not bring about world peace, it might bring a moment of peace, joy, and relief to someone who needs it. And if enough of us do this, who knows what else might happen?
What do you think? Blessings dear ones. See you Sunday. Pastor Nancy