Category Archives: #churchtoo

Certain Chiefs

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Certain Chiefs

How ready are any of us to stand firmly against an angry mob bent on wickedness and oppression?  How willing are we to risk our property, status, or lives for the sake of defending those who are being exploited?  Tucked away in the 28th chapter of 2 Chronicles is a very short story about “Certain Chiefs” of Israel who did just that.

To be perfectly candid, this is one of those stories that I’m sure I must have read before, but had my life depended on it, I couldn’t have recalled a single detail.  Not one.  Until now.  Now I will never be able to read this passage again without also marveling at God’s character displayed through what these “Certain Chiefs” did.  And I will now also be searching out and calling for Certain Chiefs to rise among us with me to do the same.

Background

The kingdom was divided – Israel and Judah were, in fact, warring with one another.  Ahaz, one of the most despicable men to ever reign, was King over Judah.  Not only was Ahaz guilty of flagrantly whoring after false gods, he was leading God’s people to do the same.  He led them into the darkness of pagan practices, and into committing abominations before the LORD, including offering their children as burnt sacrifices.  It was an abhorrent, ugly time and Ahaz had no shame.

Therefore, God handed Judah over to the King of Syria and also into the hand of the King of Israel, whose army did incredible damage to Judah.  In one day, Israel cut down 120,000 of Judah’s warriors.  Judah’s top officials were slain, including the King’s son.  And still fomented by their oppressive victory, Israel’s army rounded up captives indiscriminately – 200,000 women, children, elderly, and infirm.  The soldiers confiscated their possessions and stripped many of them naked.  Then they proceeded to march this humiliated, defeated throng toward Samaria, into slavery.

Though God had given Judah into Israel’s hands because of Judah’s great sin against him, it is clear from the passage that Israel went too far.  They had slaughtered their kinsmen in a blind rage, and it was clear that their lust for domination had not yet been satisfied.

Unfortunately, there are many such stories recorded in the Bible.  The account of one nation ruthlessly defeating another and carting its inhabitants off into bondage is not unique.  But to my shame, and perhaps yours, too, this is also what made this passage one that I didn’t remember anything about.  With a proverbial yawn I can easily read past an account like this.  I can become numb to horrific suffering because there is so much of it and it doesn’t really seem to affect me.  Yet that very fact should stop me in my tracks and shake me to my senses!  The commonness of accounts of brutality is no excuse to fail to recognize the reality of the human drama – and trauma – that is being described in these stories.  In one day, 120,000 valiant men were wiped out, civil order was destroyed, and an army drunk with rage rampaged through the streets gathering up everyone they could, stripping people of everything they had, and driving them into captivity.  Can you imagine the terror?

Courage amidst the carnage

But God is faithful, even when his people are not.  The oppression of his people – especially when it is oppression committed by his people – is something God hates.  He will see to justice – sometimes through the carnage, sometimes because of or in spite of it, and sometimes, in the very midst of it.

We begin to see the character of God revealed in verse 9 when we read, “But a prophet of Yahweh’s was there (in Samaria), whose name was Oded, and he went out to meet the army…”

Prophets’ courage to speak truth to power is well-documented.  It might be easy, again, to miss the impact of this man’s actions because they are not singular, but rather expected among the “prophet guys.”  But listen to what he said to this blood-stained army returning after their shameful conquest:  “Behold, because the LORD, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven.  And now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves.  Have you not sins of your own against the LORD your God?  Now hear me, and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.”

This prophet, this human being, stood up to a horde which had just slaughtered over 120,000 seasoned fighters.  He might have done it shaking in his sandals, but he did it.  He might have done it thinking, “today is the day I die,” but he did it.  He knew the kind of callous disregard for human life they had displayed, and yet despite the risk of being just one more body added to their heap, he went out to meet them and warned them against continuing in their wickedness.  He warned them that their sin had already reached the God whose name they claimed to be defending, and that they were only adding to the enormous guilt they already bore.

Oded said and did all the right things, but the army didn’t listen.  I can’t help but think that sometimes faithfulness seems fruitless.  But it never is.  We need men like Oded today, but sometimes, warnings are not enough.

Certain Chiefs

The story says that “Certain Chiefs… stood up against those who were coming from the war.”  These Chiefs – men who had already been recognized as leaders and who were well-respected in their communities – took Oded’s work a step further.  While Oded warned and instructed the men of the army not to continue in their wicked scheme, these chiefs stood firmly against them and said, “We will not allow you to do this.”

This is not warning alone – this is standing together and saying, “Even if you are willing to persist in this unconscionable thing, we will not allow you to do it.  We will stop you.  We will fight against you if we have to, but we will not just sit idly by and watch you ruin all of us by your wicked oppression.”  It’s the ancient equivalent to “over my dead body!”  We need men like Oded today, but we need Certain Chiefs, too.

When I read this passage through clearer, humane eyes, I was astounded by the courage and integrity of these leaders.  They stood for what was right in the face of great power, great hostility, and tremendous evil in front of them.  They stood firmly and were undeterred by what had to have been the very real threat of their own lives.  But because I also read this passage through the lens of trauma, I wept at what these words must have meant to the 200,000 captives standing there watching their fates being held in the hands of the men before them.

Those who had no hope of being redeemed were suddenly presented with that very hope.  Rescue.  Those who had no power to free themselves from the tyranny of their powerful oppressors probably caught their breath with the gravity of it all – could this really be true?

Redemption

I don’t know what it was that convinced the armed men to scatter, leaving the captives and all their spoils just lying there, but they did.  Was it a steely glare?  The firmness of the Chiefs’ united front?  Was it because the Chiefs were father-figures to these young soldiers, and they were able to shame them into abandoning their plans?  We can’t know from the text why the armed men took off, but we know they did.  And if the righteous actions of Oded and the Chiefs hadn’t already been noteworthy enough, what follows in the account shows the abundant and compassionate tenderness of the God we serve towards those who have been victimized by others.

These Chiefs – these same respectable men of rank and position in their communities – went into the throng of captives and did the unthinkable.  These Chiefs clothed the women and children and the elderly.  They gave them sandals for their feet.  They distributed food and drink, tended to wounds, and assisted the weak and disabled to get them all safely home.  The text could be translated, “the Chiefs took the captives by the hands…”  What a beautiful picture of Christ-like, servant-leadership.  These Chiefs used their power, position, and resources to rescue, and then to serve, to bind-up, to feed, clothe, and to restore.  Like the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, these Chiefs of Samaria knew that the true character of God is revealed when we love our neighbors as ourselves.  And like the wicked, unforgiving servant who had been forgiven a great debt needed to learn, these Chiefs knew that though Judah’s sins were great (and they truly were) there was nothing to be gained in subjugating, oppressing, or grinding Judah into the dust.  Israel had her own sins to reckon with, she could let God deal with Judah’s.

Where are our “Certain Chiefs”?

If this story was only intended to give us a picture into the true and tender character of our God in the face of wicked oppression, it would be sufficient.  The God of the Bible hates the oppressive abuse of people.  There is no doubt that the domination and control of one person over another is an affront to the image of God in that person, and his wrath is kindled against oppressors in a way that little else manages to provoke.  Abuse is never OK with God.  He will mete out justice against perpetrators, and he will do it in a way that tenderly cares for those who have been damaged by them.

But today we are in the midst of a reckoning of our own.  Anyone who is awake has heard of the many, many scandals and stories of all kinds of abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and criminal misconduct coming to light from every sector of society – including the church.  There is no denomination or faith that has been untouched – we are all affected by this wickedness that has been tolerated in our own ranks for far too long.  So many lives have been irrevocably damaged because of the wicked things our own people have done.  It’s been ignored, minimized, and even tolerated across every social divide.  In the name of “protecting reputations” of organizations or personalities, we have collectively permitted perpetrators to oppress victims – our own sisters and brothers – in our churches, organizations, and homes.

So I have to ask the question:  Where are our Certain Chiefs?  Who are the faithful among  the leaders of our own faith communities who will stand firmly against this terrible blight?  Who will be the ones with integrity who already have positions of authority, status, privilege, and respect, who will not only cry out, “This is wrong!” but who will stand together and declare, “Abuse will continue here over my dead body!”?  Who among our current leaders has the guts to risk property, comforts, and life for the sake of the vulnerable, the weak, and the oppressed?  And once redeemed, who will serve, feed, shelter, and protect?

Be assured, it will cost you a great deal.  The vulnerable can only afford to thank you.  Most of them will, but not all of them.  (Some of them might even criticize you for taking so long!)  Before one victim is completely rescued another will appear needing even more help.  Abuse is ugly and evil – it morphs and it dodges behind really, really good sounding words.  It is incredibly difficult to root out.  You will be called to stand against people you thought you knew.  You will be called to hold friends or superiors accountable for their wicked deeds.  You will be misjudged, your character will be maligned, and you will be called crazy, or evil yourself.  But it is right to love your weak, vulnerable, oppressed neighbors as yourself and to seek justice for them.  You will honor God by your lives if you are willing to be like these Certain Chiefs.  In that day, you will hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Master!”

God’s heart is to rescue and redeem.  We reflect his image well when we do the same.

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“Do I matter?”

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“Do I matter?

Have you ever been repeatedly irritated by something someone says?  You know – a quirky phrase misused, or a chronically mispronounced word?  The kind of thing that tempts you to want to correct, even though it’s not really worth embarrassing someone over?

That’s what the phrase “you matter” is for me.

It’s a sort of mantra these days, a slogan, or (if I’m generous) perhaps people intend it to be a conversation starter.  An acquaintance of mine says to me, “you matter” on a regular basis.  And to be perfectly honest, it’s just plain irritating.

I know what she’s trying to communicate – that my life has significance and meaning in the world.  But that is not what she is saying – at least not to me.

I know very little about her – we’re not friends.  There’s no mutuality to the relationship.  I spend time with her on a regular basis because of circumstances, but the level of intimacy required to know whether or not I matter is not there and for her to keep saying it is, well, irksome.  Maybe I’m just being a pedantic jerk – I don’t know – but every time she says it now I want to ask her, “tell me – to whom?”

OK, I get it.  In the great, grand scheme of things, everyone “matters.”  As Christians we believe humans are made in the image of God, and therefore we have inherent dignity and worth.  Human life has significance.  Most reasonable people agree with this even if they wouldn’t put it in these terms – it’s generally accepted that we shouldn’t be indiscriminately killed or consumed as food.  There is a quality about being human that is different from being an animal or a plant.

Apparently, some would argue that taking up space in the world as a human, then, is the essence of “mattering.”

I would not be among them.  Instead, I would argue that “mattering” only makes sense in the context of a relationship.  The significance and importance ascribed to one person must be valued by another.  In other words, the sentence is incomplete if we stop at, “you matter.”  We need to complete it by saying, “you matter to me.”  “Mattering” has to be in relationship to someone else or it’s nonsense.

To matter at all means that you are connected to another human.  Being human carries inherent dignity and worth, but you can have dignity and worth and be utterly alone.  If you matter to someone, it means that they have regarded your dignity and worth as something worth attending.  You are seen – your personality, your strengths, your character, your perspectives and thoughts, your hopes and dreams, and even your fears – as worth investing in, worth knowing.  Your presence will have been noticed – and valued – by another soul.

 

To matter to someone is to be held in a place of priority – to be “special” to someone in some way.  To matter to someone is to be regarded as worth investing time, resources, effort, and care into.  To matter to someone means your well-being is important to them and your flourishing is something they are willing to work toward.  In its simplest terms, to matter to someone means that you are cared about, and cared for.  It may not always rise to the level of love and affection, but it always rises above “the crowd.”

We respond warmly to it and derive a sense of our own significance and worth from it.  To matter to someone is to be significant and important to them.

That is what it means to matter. Mattering is always in the context of a relationship.  It’s absurd to think of it any other way.

So, why does all this talk about mattering matter to me?  Because as a survivor of abuse, I have often wondered – do I matter to anyone?  Is anyone interested in who I am – not just in what they can get from me but for what makes me a person, an individual, me?  It’s a question every survivor asks, so hopefully this public wrestling with words proves at least somewhat valuable to others.

Abuse strikes at the very core of a person’s identity.  It is inter-personal betrayal in the most foundational level of relationships.  Treachery that comes wrapped in the guise of what should be loving, safe relationships but are instead abusive, destroys a victim’s concept of having any meaning or significance in the world at all.  It makes sense that being exploited by the people you should matter to twists and distorts the idea of mattering at all.  Survivors not only struggle to understand the people and circumstances that surround them, but they struggle to understand their own selves, as well.  When those closest to you don’t serve to protect your being, when even your own skin can’t protect the core of who you are, what can?  Children growing up in loving, healthy environments never wonder if they matter to anyone – they know they do and inhale it with the air they breathe.  But this is not so for those who have been damaged and shamed by abuse.

Diane Langberg, PhD often speaks of how we need to learn about the abstract through the concrete.  She talks about how Jesus used ordinary things that even peasants would be familiar with – like water, bread, and wine – to teach us who he is and what he is like.  We all needed Jesus to be a man – the concreteness of God “in the flesh” – to really be able to understand his heart.  I think the same is true with the concept of “mattering” to anyone.

How can an individual understand that he or she matters to an invisible God if they’ve never known what it is like to matter to another human being?  How can they understand that “being used by God” is not the same as being used by those who abused them?  How can a person possibly understand what it means to have significance and meaning outside of a human relationship, if they’ve never known it inside one?

You see, mattering to someone is how we can come to understand that we matter to God.  We need the more tangible experience of mattering to someone “in the flesh” in order to understand that we even could matter to God.  The question, “Do I matter?” can only be answered in the context of a relationship, and the conclusion, “yes, I matter,” can only be arrived at through the experience of a relationship where we are appreciated, valued, and treasured simply because of who we are.

Sometimes people ask, “How can I help you?  What can I do for you?”  when they learn about my struggle.  It’s a hard question to answer because I don’t know if they mean really do something or if they don’t know what else to say.  But If you really want to help a survivor of abuse, let them matter to you.  See them, know them, love them for who they are.  Let their flourishing be important enough to you to pursue.  Don’t look at the abuse only but appreciate their strengths and their character.  Learn of their creativity or depths of compassion.  Care about what is important to them and what they’re hoping for.  See past the damage and the work they need to do to become whole again, and delight in the complex, multi-faceted human being they were created to be.  Let them really matter to you so that they can taste and see the goodness and care of the One to whom they matter the most.  Answer their question, “Do I matter?” with, “Yes!  You matter a great deal to me,” for I have a sneaking suspicion that coming to believe that we might matter to someone is the gateway for believing that we might be loved.  And that, beloved church, is what survivors need to know the most.

 

Somewhere Tonight

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Somewhere Tonight

Somewhere tonight there is a child whose reality will become her nightmares.

Her tender, neglected frame will have forced upon it hauntings that will never leave.

She is learning how tickles can turn to torment and

Breathless laughter to wide-eyed confusion and pain.

 

Somewhere tonight probing fingers and greedy mouths will penetrate her soul

Words and other things of shame and degradation will sear deeply into her forming self

Twisting, distorting her unlived life into invisible disability.

She will limp forevermore from wrestling with Evil personified as trusted foe.

 

Somewhere tonight her still-forming mind is doing the sensible –

Escaping the inescapable – trading wholeness for humanity, soundness for survival.

Somewhere tonight division, though protective, becomes her greatest vulnerability,

And the leaving in her mind a soothing, but self-imposed prison.

 

Somewhere tonight this child-turned-victim will fall asleep uncomforted.

She will wake, and no one will believe the permanent damage being done.

So she will conclude that she is vile, filthy, unseen, unknown, alone –

Accepting lies from those who should be truth-tellers.

 

It is for her I press on, this nameless, precious child.

It is for the knowing of her, seeing of her, and hearing of her silent cries.

It is for her I speak until she can whisper her own story

To her I speak from my own:

 

Though you will search, little one, a life-time from now

For meaning and explanation, none will come, save one –

Evil persists, endures until the end – and you, dear, cherished, beloved child

You will be asked to bring Light into that deep, black pit you know so well

– to rescue, redeem, and lift up another, because Mercy and Love endure forever.

When even the “good guys” don’t get it…

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What do you do when even the “good guys” don’t get it?

Not long ago I had one of the most perplexing conversations I’ve ever had.

While I was waiting to speak with someone else after the morning worship service a man – a leader – came up to me and started a conversation.  He is one of the good guys.  Kind.  Compassionate.  Caring.  His wife is beloved.  His children are happy and stable.  He genuinely works hard – and gladly – for the welfare of the flock.

And that is why this conversation was so perplexing.

He leaned over to me, and in an effort to be lighthearted and engaging, he said, “Did you notice that it was the women who were the ones who commented on what the angels were wearing?”

I blinked in disbelief in what I had just heard.  I couldn’t help but simply stare at him with an open-mouthed lack of response.

He was referencing the sermon text, Luke 23:32-24:53, which covers Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, and the events that followed.  The text mentions that when the women who went to Jesus’ tomb with spices for his dead body, “two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.”

He continued, “Isn’t that just like women?  I can be talking to my wife about something and she can’t remember any of it, but then she’ll say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s the night I was wearing my skirt with the frills on it and the big flowers,’ and then she remembers.”

I didn’t recall it being recorded that the women mentioned this in the text – surely it came out at some point, but the Bible doesn’t draw any attention to the women talking about clothing.  I finally said, “I don’t think the angels’ clothing was really all that important to anyone at the time.”

And then I couldn’t help myself.  Since he was still standing there, willing to continue in conversation, I said, “Actually, what I did notice from that part of the story was that Jesus’ resurrection was revealed to those women first, that their immediate response was to share that glorious news with his disciples, and that the men didn’t believe them.  And it occurred to me that men not believing women, simply because they are women, regardless of the veracity of what they are saying, is still a problem.”

Now it was his turn to blink with an open-mouthed lack of response.

I went on, “_________, with all due respect, and I mean that sincerely, what you just said is offensive.  We have a serious problem with men thinking that women are dimwits who don’t care about serious, theological truths and issues that genuinely matter.  This thinking is such a distortion in the church that it  makes this a place that is ripe for abuses of power and authority to take place.  At the heart of this is an attitude of superiority and a devaluing of women.  While we give verbal ascent to both sexes being equally made in the image of God, we don’t really live it out as we should.  It’s not a joke.”

To say that he was surprised by my response is an understatement, but to his credit, he was willing to continue to engage.  But the way the conversation went after this has sent me spinning for months.  He said, “OK, tell me this.  Don’t you think that the whole #MeToo stuff is going a bit far?  Don’t you think that there’s a lot of claiming of victimhood when it’s not really true?  I mean, guys are afraid to flirt now – what’s so bad about a little harmless flirting?  Everyone is so worried that they’re going to be accused of sexual harassment that they can’t even ask a woman out on a date.  And what can a man possibly say in his own defense?  Don’t get me wrong, I agree that sexual harassment is wrong, and we shouldn’t tolerate it, but I have to ask, in light of all that is coming out with the #MeToo stuff, what about the men?”

The truth is, I wanted to yell at him – rail at him.  I was honestly flabbergasted at what he had just said.  “What about the men?!  Are you kidding me??”  THE MEN?  I’m sorry – did you just say that OUT LOUD?

Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to not want to embarrass either of us, and the inkling that he was genuinely asking me a sincere question.  An annoying question, an ignorant question to be sure, but a sincere one, nonetheless.  And so, I answered him as best I could.  I tried to give him a little education on the scope of the problem.  I gave him a few statistics – and told him that every study done shows that the problems of abuses of power are equally as bad in the church as they are in society in general.  I explained to him that #MeToo encompasses every kind of sexual misconduct from unwelcomed sexual advances (including some of the “harmless flirting” he mentioned) to gang rape and sex trafficking and every unimaginable thing in-between.  And I tried to explain to him that even in our congregation – this group of God’s people that we both love dearly – it has been exceedingly difficult to have anyone understand the nature and impact of being a lamentable member of the #MeToo “stuff”.

His response to all of that made me sad.  Really, really sad.  He said, “I know, I know, but what about the men?”  I had tried to address many of the reasons that sexual misconduct should be taken seriously, but I hadn’t answered his biggest concern – that he might be falsely accused.  I tried one more time.  “___________, false accusations are wrong.  Period.  There is never, ever, an acceptable reason to accuse someone of wrong-doing when it isn’t true.  You will never hear me defend that.  But the reality is that the incidence of that is very, very low.  Yes, we need to be on-guard that men are not also victimized by false allegations.  But please, please don’t get hung up there.  The problem of sexual misconduct is incredibly vast.  Many have been victimized by it and many continue to be. It causes life-long suffering in many cases.  It stems from a fundamental view of women as less than – less entrusted by God spiritually, less intelligent, less wise, less worthy of respect simply because they are women.  It comes from attitudes of entitlement – why should women have to endure ‘harmless flirting’ if it’s not wanted?  What do you say to your daughters when men view them as nothing more than merchandise for their own greedy pleasure rather than human beings with dignity, worthy to be respected?  Please – you have got to look at this differently.  You have to see how un-Christlike this is!  You have to see the opportunity for men to stand up and be the ones correcting other men from viewing women this way – in the work place and in the church.

He said, “Oh, I definitely see where this kind of thing is a problem in the workplace.  But I don’t agree that we have that much of a problem in the church.  We value women here as co-heirs with Christ – equal but different….  Hey listen, gotta run.  It’s been great chatting with you.  Enjoy the rest of your day.”

And that was that.  I have no reason to believe that any of what I said (or anyone else for that matter) has resonated with this man.  There has been no acknowledgement of this, no follow-up of any kind.  And so I am left saddened by the ineffectiveness of my words and the depth of misunderstanding revealed in his.

The saddest part of this for me was that he is one of the “good guys.”  A man who loves his family, is well-regarded in the church and community.  He cares about people – he really does.  He just doesn’t value us all the same way.

This is the level of ignorance we are dealing with – all of us.  Things like male privilege, white privilege, national superiority, and every other kind of thinking that creates an “us” and a “them” are so ingrained in us that it will take a huge amount of effort to fundamentally change the thinking that is involved around these inherent wrongs.  It is profound.  It is not universal, but it is pervasive, and those who are blind to their own ignorance are the hardest to reach with the truth of it, however kind or caring they might otherwise be.

I have puzzled over this conversation many times since it happened.  It has served as a reminder that many of my brothers (and sisters) have a long way to go in understanding so many basic things.  But so do I, for it has also served as a reminder that Jesus has been incredibly patient with me.  He has had to speak slowly and clearly to me because I am frequently too dense to understand what he is saying.  He has had to repeat things many times because I am prone to forget what he just taught me.  And he has had to lovingly rebuke me when my stubbornness (or laziness or arrogance) has interfered with progress on the path of righteousness.  I want to be like him – loving enough to slow down and be clearer, loving enough to be patient and kind in the face of sluggishness, and loving enough to be unalteringly committed to truth and righteousness even when it is unwelcome.

This is what we do when even the “good guys” don’t get it.  This is what we’re called to.

“What do you do when your friends are rapists?”

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“What do you do when your friends are rapists?”  Is a question I ran across in a blog post written by Shane O’Leary on Theology Corner.  I have to admit to being both intrigued and horrified by what I read.

Shane does an excellent job of describing the inner-turmoil that everyone goes through when they’ve learned that someone they’ve known and trusted is accused of (or confesses to) something as heinous as rape.  The swirling fog of dissonance is real and it’s difficult to shake off and gain clarity.

I commend him for putting it out there, really – it’s an honest and accurate depiction of the wrestling match that goes on inside a person’s head.  “What should I do???”  But I was deeply saddened that he never answered his own question.

Shane offers three scenarios (I don’t know if they’re real recollections of actual events or if he made them up for the sake of the piece). Regardless of whether or not these particular stories are real, they are indicative of the kinds of real life scenarios that ordinary people might run into in the course of their own friendships.  Three women in three different settings are devastated by what “good guys” have done to them.  Three women’s lives are forever changed by the actions of “friends.”  Three moral dilemmas that Shane – and maybe you – faced where doing the “right” thing is eclipsed by doing the expedient thing, doing the loyal thing, or in fact, doing nothing at all.  In each of the three cases, Shane knows the rapist as a friend – not as a rapist.  The grappling with the truth of that horrible reality while at the same time trying to figure out what he should do in the face of it all (if, in fact, he should do anything at all) is the whole of the post.  I recommend reading the post yourself.  If nothing else, I hope it makes you think deeply about the times you’ve been faced with (or will be faced with) doing the right thing when it might cost you dearly.

I don’t know this author.  I’d like to think that his choice of leaving the questions unanswered was a stylistic decision purposefully used – to make his readers think, perhaps, or make them uncomfortable enough to ask the questions in their own circles of friendships or colleagues to try to find answers.  But it has become painfully clear that in the face of crisis, most of us don’t know what to do.  We might wrestle with the questions, but often we wrestle long enough that the opportunity to do anything at all passes and our de facto decision to do nothing has been made for us.  These are matters too serious to leave hanging in the thin wisps of theory – we need to start actually offering some concrete solutions to one another.  We need to be prepared for the day when we’re faced with this heavy responsibilities.  We need to know what we will do.

In response to Shane’s repeated question, “what do you do when your friends are rapists?”  I’m posting my response.  Hopefully this at least gets the conversation started:

Dear Shane:

I deeply appreciate the honesty that you share here – the wrestling and the fog are real and you describe them well. I hope these things represent the real inner-turmoil you have had if these are true stories. They are for me.

As a victim I will offer my suggestions – I’m not a therapist, I’m no expert, I have no formal training to say this is what one “ought” to do. But since you ask the open-ended question with such eloquence, and seem to be genuinely asking, I will offer a possible answer.

You do the right thing.

You put yourself in the shoes of the victim and do the right thing. The protective thing. The honorable thing. The God-glorifying thing. You imagine that these girls are your sister, your mother, your close friend if you have to, but you do what Jesus did – bend low, serve the needy, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the wounded. You lift up, you rescue, you resuscitate.

You go back and admit where you’ve failed – where you’ve retreated from standing firmly against sin and shrunk back as a coward hiding behind ignorance. If you’re not guilty of these crimes yourself (and everything you’ve described is a crime) you ask the victims if they want help in reporting the crimes. You ask them if they need help in finding help. You tell them you believe them. You tell them that what happened to them was not their fault. You offer to walk with them through the ugliness of the pain and the torturous path of healing and you keep that promise no matter what.

You do what the Good Samaritan did and set your life aside for a time to help the battered and bloodied victim of criminal activity survive and heal. Oh God! What will it take to wake us up? You do the right thing, Shane. You do the right thing.

Regarding your friends who are rapists? You let the consequences of their criminal activities have their full (hopefully redemptive) effect. You report them. You call them out. You risk the relationship for the sake of righteousness if that’s what it costs, but you do the right thing here, too. And then you walk with your friends, if they’ll let you, through the pain and the ugliness of harsh discipline by a loving Father who loves them too much to let them continue in the paths of wickedness without calling loudly, “Come home! Come home!” If they are really your friends, you will love them too much to let them continue down those roads, too.

It’s not that knowing what the right thing to do is that hard. It’s doing it.

Do the right thing, Shane. Please, do the right thing.

Humbly,
Laurie

Is The Church Ever a Refuge for the Abused?

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Is the Church Ever a Refuge for the Abused?

This question came up in a recent twitter thread in response to outrageous comments which have resurfaced made in 2000 by yet another leader of a major Christian denomination (Paige Patterson, President of the Southwestern Baptist Seminary, part of the SBC).  These comments, similar to John Piper’s comments in response to how women should respond to their abusive husbands, are quite literally nauseating to those of us who have suffered at the hands of abusive husbands.  But they should be nauseating to every decent human being, too.  These statements are inexcusable and yet, both men, prominent leaders in Christianity, refuse to retract their words.

Additionally, new high-profile cases of pastors and church leaders committing, covering up, or being dismissive of the damaging impact of abuse in their churches seem to be coming to light each week.

It makes everyone wonder, is the church ever a refuge for the abused?

While these cases are horrific – I mean truly and thoroughly horrific – it would be wrong to denigrate the whole of the body of Christ with the same broad brush.  We have a shamefully long, long way to go in righting these damaging wrongs against the vulnerable in our midst, but there are some shining examples of loving pastors, elders, and church leaders who are desperately trying to understand these issues and their impact, stand for righteousness, protect the vulnerable, and be the agents of change in this culture of cover-up.

I know – I am blessed to be a member of one such church.

My pastor and elders are by no means experts in the fields of abuse of any kind – they would be the first ones to admit to that.  But they have sought to faithfully – and lovingly – walk beside me on the darkest path I could ever imagine.

They have been humble enough to learn – though the learning curve has been steep and difficult for all involved.  They have been gracious enough to be challenged by a deeply wounded family and yet remain compassionate and kind at all times.  They have been willing to re-think positions they’ve held dear in light of newly acquired understanding of the dynamics and impact of abuse.  And they have wrestled with their own hearts about how to respond in faithfulness to scripture and compassionate care for my children and me.  And because of all of this, they have also had to endure false and ugly accusations against them because of their willingness to stand against evil.

This has not been an easy road for them or for me.  This has, at times, been a torturous process.   It has been years-long, and we’re still not on the other side of it all.  I have had to be both sufferer and tutor on a path that I don’t know how to navigate either.  But these men have been willing to try to see with new eyes what it means to shepherd, protect, and defend one of the flock who was being devoured.  They didn’t know how to fight this battle before I came along, but they have been willing to learn and then learn some more in order to do so well.  My pastor, in particular, has been doggedly faithful in leading them in this.

I know that I am in the minority.  There are too many – far, far too many – abominable stories emanating from pastoral responses like the ones above.  The norm is for pastors, in their woeful ignorance and sometimes arrogance, to think that abuse is a marital problem rather than an insatiable desire for controlling power and domination emanating from an idolatrous worship of self.  Those of us who love Christ and understand his call to all of us to be humble servants in his kingdom need to relentlessly call for our leaders to be knowledgeable and discerning in the issues of abuse of all kinds.  But let us also, with reverence and deep appreciation honor those who, like Jesus, use their power and authority to bend low, protect, deliver, and help set captives free.

Is the church ever a refuge for the abused?  It is grievous that the question has to even be asked this way.  Jesus would take cords and make whips out of them for those dishonoring the character of his Father with such callous disregard for his little ones.  But thankfully, there are faithful, Christ-honoring shepherds who love him, and his flock enough to stand up for the oppressed, stand against their abusers, and defend against harm.

Thank you strong and gentle shepherds – your reward in heaven is great.

Psalm 23 Through the Lens of Trauma

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Psalm 23 Through the Lens of Trauma

When I was little, I ran to Psalm 23 because in it, God promised to provide for me – The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

When I became a young mother, I ran to Psalm 23 because God promised to give me rest – He makes me lie down in green pastures.

In turbulent times and sleepless nights (whether from toddlers or teenagers), I ran to it because God promised still waters and a restored soul and assured me that I had no need to fear any evil even though I had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

But last year, I saw something that I hadn’t seen before.  Last year I revisited Psalm 23 and looked at it through the lens of trauma.  I made a profound discovery and realized that all the things promised – the provision, the care, the stillness and the restoration, the feast set before me and the defense against evil – all of it happens in the valley of the shadow of death – the very place where trauma resides.

I’d always read “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” as if it said, “even when I walk…” as if the peace of the still waters and green pastures were in one place but the valley of the shadow of death was someplace else.  A place, in fact, to be gotten through as quickly as possible to get back to the green pastures and still waters.  But it doesn’t say that.  It says “though” – it could read, “even though I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death” – which can place the whole psalm in the valley.  The first three verses make sense this way, too – pastures are greenest and most abundant – most nutritious and life-sustaining –  not at the wind-blown mountain tops, but in the valleys.  

Still waters are not found on tops of mountains or even the sides of hills – but at the bottoms, in the valley.  Sheep can’t drink from turbulent waters, but they will drink their fill on still waters.  Without water they quickly die, and without enough of it, they have many ailments.  Water is essential for their survival, but plenty of water is essential for a sheep’s health and vitality.  Plenty can only be had in still waters.  The still waters are mainly in the valley.  

And a path is needed because the rocks and trees and debris from all the washing down from the high places settle in the valleys.  The valleys can be treacherous, and they can provide lots of places for snakes and coyotes and leg-breaking-crevices to lurk.  The shepherd must lead the way through the valley.  The deepest shadows, toughest obstacles, and craftiest adversaries are there Open pastures that are smooth or rolling don’t have paths – they aren’t necessary.  It’s easy to see where you’re going.  The path of righteousness that he leads us on goes through the valley.

It is in the valley that he provides for us, gives us rest, restores our souls.  Think about how profound that really is.  In the darkest times – when the stench of death is overshadowing us – his rod and staff – tools of guidance and correction – comfort us.  But again – where would a rod of defense be more needed than in the valley?  And where else would we be more prone to go the wrong way and need to be brought back to the safety of the path that is for our good, but in the difficult terrain of the valley?

 The place to hide from enemies is up in the hills – in the nooks and crannies of rocks and outcroppings.  But he is spreading a feast out for us in a breathtakingly shocking way by doing it in the presence of our enemies!  Right out in the open – in the vulnerable place of the valley where we’re easy targets! – he sets up a grand feast.  Who could relax enough to eat a meal in the presence of someone trying to destroy you except that you’re utterly confident of being perfectly protected?  It’s as if he’s showing us off to the whole army of enemies saying, “See these sheep – they’re mine, and you can’t have them.”  Even in presence of enemies in the valley, we can rest in his care.

This Good Shepherd lavishes on soothing, cleansing oil – he knows how hard the valley is for us – and welcomes us as guests he is pleased to have with him at this feast.  He provides more than we can possibly consume – he is neither stingy nor begrudging.  Those kindnesses are most precious to us when we walk through the valley.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me.  Stubborn grace will hound me, chase after me, pursue me.  All the days of my life – all the days – not only when things appear good and full of mercy, but also in the valley.

And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  This is what good shepherd’s do – they get their sheep home.  They might feed them and water them and protect and guide them out in the pastures, beside the still waters, and through the paths in the valley, but the goal is to bring them home.  

I think I’ve missed the strength of this Psalm all these years.  This is not a Psalm that talks about the highs of peace and provision and then also the lows of threats and fearsome hardships.  It’s about abundant peace and protection in very the presence of threats and fearsome hardships.

It’s not that God is not in the peaceful times of ease and comfort.  He is.  But it seems to me that the real power expressed here lies in the truth that all these things are true for us in the valley, too.  None of the pleasantness of peace, or abundance of his provision, or his rock solid protection can be diminished by walking through the valley of the shadow of death, for we walk through it with him there beside us.  Through trauma we may realize more fully how treacherous the valley is and the unspeakable evil the enemy uses to try to destroy us.  But when we learn to see who this Good Shepherd really is, and how capable he is to protect and provide for us, we can rest in his mercy and care and follow him – joyfully – all the way home, even though we have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.