As I attempt to focus on the death of Jesus today, on Good Friday, I find it difficult. I’d rather check Facebook, read a magazine or stare out the window. Tonight there’s a church service that I’ll go to, but for now the ugly reality of death and violence feels far away.
What happens if I look more closely at that aversion: that sense of yuckiness? Recently, Rachel Halder of Our Stories Untold, shared with me a story that got me thinking about this in a different way. Rachel is a survivor of sexual abuse who has become an speaker and organizer around the issue of sexualized violence within the Mennonite Church in the U.S. She shared this story about an experience working with women in a Mennonite related project:
I brought up the fact that we needed to collect stories of women who have been abused. Again, as they always are, people were very hesitant about this. They were (perhaps rightfully?) worried that older women in the church would be turned off by overt language about abuse and they wouldn’t be willing to talk about any of their stories because of that "yucky" topic.
I too often find myself avoiding the topic of rape, sexualized violence or sexual abuse. These are topics that are extremely uncomfortable. I know they are important, but I’d rather let someone else talk about them. And this is where the yuckiness of the cross challenges me. In Philippians 2:7-8, we read that Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross."
Might following Jesus include engaging with the "yucky" topic of sexualized violence? What is behind the way way I and so many others avoid it?
On On March 17, 2013 the verdict in the Steubenville High School rape case in Ohio brought the topic of rape and rape culture into the spotlight. Two days later, Rachel put out a call for submissions on Our Stories Untold. In it, she offered a specific challenges to Mennonites:
Is the church going to examine Steubenville and see it for what it is—an event that could happen (DOES happen) in our communities? An event that points out the way we favor young athletes and charismatic Christians? The way we victim-blame in our institutions, churches, and congregations?
The resulting posts in "Steubenville Reflection Series" are well worth reading. Here are a few of them:
The number of writers (9 in all) and quality of writing speaks volumes to the need for the space that Rachel has opened. Along with blog posts, Our Stories Untold features stories from survivors of sexualized violence. These are all anonymous accounts. Story 4 – The Ebb and Flow of Healing in particular brought home for me the life long trauma of sexualized violence:
I get angry. I cry. I run home and lock myself in my bedroom. I sob. I run to the bathroom, throw up, come out with a smile and return to the dance floor. I pretend. Because who wants to be friends with someone who is always sad? Who is constantly triggered by sights, sounds, smells of things around her?
The writer goes on to describe the impact of her rape on her relationships with her whole community.
Yesterday, as the sun set on Good Friday, I was reminded that this is the yuckiness that Jesus invites us to face into: the hidden, painful wounds of those on the margins. The case of sexualized violence is particularly important for me as a man, who has the privilege to look the other way: to cross by on the other side of the road. I need to commit to the difficult work of challenging rape culture and the broader sexist culture in which it swims. What will you do?
If you found this post interesting, you might like to read these posts as well:
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