Reality Vs. Distraction

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Reality Vs. Distraction

So needless to say, the South is deeply embroiled. As the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina last week, now all the traditional symbols of Confederate power are being questioned. Groups across the entire region are petitioning to have statues removed, even digging up graves of Confederate soldiers.

And of course there are a loyal few who are protesting these removals. I get it, in some ways – I mean, if we remove these symbols how will we remember where we came from? And if we are in danger of forgetting history, aren’t we doomed to repeat it?

I grew up hearing all that, too. I grew up believing that flag represented heritage. My cousin sent me a private message the other day, informing me of my own grandfather’s great-grandfather, who was a soldier in the Confederate army. My cousin claims he never owned slaves, never was interested in politics or whatever, that he just fought to protect what was his. (I never knew this ancestor, and I’m pretty sure my cousin never knew him either, so I’m not sure how he is able to make those assumptions, but those are his words, not mine).

On the other side of this is one of my Facebook friends, Ladale Benson, who wrote yesterday:

What does it mean for me to know that my Great (3x) grandfather possibly died in the trail of tears? My genetic and physical make-up being predominantly influenced by my African heritage, with a touch of native blood, situates me in time and space a certain way, that automatically challenges the norm. This simple analysis is where I find the instinctual calling to resistance. This is one place I find my spiritual cry for justice.

Ladale identifies as Black, but recognizes the diversity in his heritage, and the point of his post was to acknowledge the pain within both of parts of his ancestral heritage. He shares in the pain of his Black grandfathers, who were brought to this country in chains and built this country as unpaid slave workers. He shares the pain of Native American history, in which Red bodies were driven out of this country by bullets and ammo. Yes, these things happened prior to our existence, but the signs and evidence remain with us – Native American people are all but extinct. Black persons in America are still being imprisoned and still face systemic and institutional oppression simply because they are Black.

So I stand in the midst of this – on one side are my white friends and family who take pride in our heritage. Having a soldier who fought bravely in the Confederate army is a symbol of power and pride for white families in the South. But for persons of color the realities of that War meant pain and suffering.   Black families were separated by force in the building of this country; white families chose to divide themselves over the right to exploit Black bodies. Native American families were completely eradicated because they did not “fit in” with manifest destiny.

To me the flag is an easy symbol, right? Sure, take it down, but I can still fly it on my car or on the front of my house, and I will, says the white Southern. You can take a flag, but you can’t take my pride in my family heritage, or, in other words, I still hold power in this country and I still have the right to view our history through my own privilege. That privilege tells me that the Civil War was necessary to protect our freedoms – a freedom that included and was built upon exploiting and oppressing Black and Native bodies.

But – but – but – they exclaim – our country was founded on “Christian” principles. Um ok, think that if you wish, but also understand that it was money and wealth that brought whites to this side of the Atlantic.   Religion became a convenient cover.   The founding of America quickly became a cesspool of human trading – the routes of trafficking thousands of African peoples is well-documented and the South is located squarely in the middle of those routes. And there is nothing Christian about the ownership of bodies.

So religion and this flag become the distraction from reality. In the end, removing the flag will do very little to change reality in America. Religion will do very little to change reality in America – if it made a difference then founding America as a “Christian nation” would have never included owning Black bodies or massacring Native bodies!

But, my cousin says, our forefather never owned a slave. Yep. Perhaps that is the truth.   But here’s the cliché of the day – you never had to own a slave to be complicit in the economic system that relied on slavery to function. This soldier, Berryman Glasgow, had to buy feed and seed from someone. Any horses or cattle he owned, came from somewhere.   The flour he used to bake his bread came from somewhere, processed from some plant somewhere. And the wood he built his house with, also was more than likely bought from somewhere else. All those industries were reliant on slave labor. Unpaid slaves built the railroads themselves, which were the primary means of shipping supplies. Slaves who never received a penny of reimbursement for their labor, and who are barely recognized when we view the Confederate flag.

Years ago I worked for Forsyth County, the seat of which lies in Winston Salem, NC, and happens to be home of RJR Nabisco. RJR = Reynolds Tobacco, Winston brand cigarettes, Winston cup racing. RJR built an empire in this little area, and tobacco money built the roads, tobacco money paid the taxes for the courthouse to operate, tobacco money kept this economy afloat. When I worked for Forsyth County employees could still smoke at their desk – because tobacco money paid for that desk. When Hanes Mall proposed a smoke-free policy, people boycotted the mall – because tobacco money built that mall.

All the white people in Winston Salem supported the tobacco industry. Many of them had parents and grandparents who had worked in the tobacco industry for years, had retired from tobacco industry, had generated wealth from tobacco industry. I’ve come to realize that RJR was a white empire – Winston’s white people worked there, held blue collar jobs there, took pride in their work there. To be sure, RJR never paid people very much, and you sure can’t say that anyone who worked in tobacco was wealthy, and most of the people who worked in RJR were actually quite poor.

But tobacco and furniture were the mills that white people could work in and still have pride. I know this first hand. My grandparents worked tobacco and furniture. North Carolina in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s was mostly tobacco and furniture and textiles. That was what you did if you didn’t go to college. You worked the mill life. It wasn’t going to make you rich, but you could live off that and if you were lucky, you might get a pension. In the 1980’s, the furniture industry collapsed and my grandparents lost their pension. They had worked for White’s of Mebane for 20+ years, and Hickory White bought out White’s in a capitalistic venture. In the process of that buyout, they conveniently let all their long-time employees, the ones closest to pension, go.

Everything my grandparents had worked so hard for was gone. There was no generational wealth to pass along. Their retirement possibilities vanished before their eyes.

Now don’t get me wrong.   Black people worked in those mills too.   I was always amazed that Grandma worked with Black people, but she still used language like, “Oh no, you don’t want to be friends with those people.” My Grandma was known to be the one who prayed all through church. She prayed for everybody. She loved everybody. But the big secret was that she still saw Black people as “those people.”   I wondered how she could work with Black people, but not be their friends and not talk with them. But truthfully, she didn’t work “with them.”   The Blacks held different jobs than she did. They worked different hours than she did. She could hold herself as better than them, because the system allowed her to.

This is where it gets tough, my friends. As poor as my grandparents were, they told themselves at least they weren’t Black.   We might have been poor, but we didn’t live in the ghetto. We might have been poor, but we didn’t need food stamps. We might have been poor, but at least we had weekends off to go to church and at least we worked first shift.

What the hell does any of this have to do with that damn flag? Well, we justify our existence and our “heritage” in order to build ourselves up. In the process of flying that flag, we rewrite history, our own personal family histories, as something to be proud of. My family’s work history is something to be proud of – my grandmother spent many years sanding beautiful furniture pieces by hand. She would never be able to afford those beautiful pieces she worked so hard on, but she had pride in her work. But even in her hard work was a painful reality. She was complicit in a system that allowed her to see herself as better than others, simply because she was white.

Regarding the flag, we do the same thing. Having family members that gave their lives in the name of freedom is something to be proud of. But we tend to forget that the Civil War was not fought for freedom for all, nor did it mean freedom for all. And we especially tend to forget that whether the war was fought over slavery or tariffs, it still was fought in order to uphold an economic system that was based on exploiting and othering bodies for monetary profit.

And when we insist on flying that flag, knowing that Black and Native bodies were killed over it without the promise of freedom, we deny that painful part of our history. You know, the painful part where we have to acknowledge that we are part of a system that abuses people. And then we have to admit that we are all abused, somewhat, by this system. My grandma was never paid fully what she was worth. But it was ok, because at least she got to do the honorable work (ie, she didn’t have to mop floors or pick cotton). So that flag represents a sort of false honor – at least our (white) ancestors fought with bravery for freedom and what they thought was right, never mind the bodies they abused in that process.

In fact, we deny so much that persons of color were abused in this system, that we still refuse to hear them when they insist that flag being flown is an insult to them. We deny their reality, in order to build our own (false) reality. This is why removing that flag won’t really change anything – we will find other ways to deny that reality so we can make up our own reality. We already deny reality in many different ways, every single day, just driving to the grocery store. We deny it simply because, in our inner selves, we still consider persons of color “those people.” That has never really changed, even two generations later.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

An Open Letter to Pastors, Chaplains, and Lay Leaders: Please Help Our Women

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***This post references miscarriage and early infant loss. It is my hope to bring about conversations that will enable healing and empowerment for women throughout their experiences, but if these topics are particularly painful for you, this post may be difficult. Love and light to you.

I’ve spent the morning in my quiet time praying and meditating over this lovely article that appeared in my newsfeed: article.

This article, written by Anne Zimudio, should give us all pause for thought, but I especially would like for our pastors, chaplains, and lay leaders to ponder these writings in the context of pastoral care and within our theological settings.

I have long been burdened by the lack of recognition within sacred spaces of miscarriages and early infant loss. The Church, which claims to love babies and claims to love life, embraces live births. Babies are celebrated through baptism and first communion; mothers are celebrated via Mother’s Day. But in my forty-one years of life, I can perhaps count on one hand how many times a miscarriage has been openly acknowledged or prayed over within our sacred spaces.

And even more disturbing is the reality that in the seminary space, miscarriage and early infant loss were never mentioned in our pastoral care classes. The physical and emotional needs that mothers face in these life circumstances often go unnoticed by pastors, chaplains, and lay leaders, and in our sessions on grief and loss the topic was entirely forgotten.

I know at least in part why this is the reality. The Scriptural reality is that Biblical texts are not kind to women who do not bring babies into the world. A deeply androcentric text, written in large part by men and motivated by a desire to prove a divine genealogy, women in the Bible must go through extraordinary, miraculous lengths to birth babies. Sarah, who was infertile until her old age, required intervention by the Holy Spirit in order to birth a child. Rachel and Leah are pitted against each other, because one is able to have children, and the other is not. Scriptures are not kind to women who cannot bear children, particularly male children who will be heirs.

In the process of becoming a mother to my own biological children, I experienced three years of infertility. My husband, along with his first wife, also suffered many years of infertility while waiting and trying for their two children, which are now our shared children. We both, as part of earlier marriages, went through the tears and fears and the procedures and the monthly reminders of how our bodies had failed us. Those experiences never leave us, and as Zimudio so poignantly reminds us, they affect us for our entire lives.

During my process of infertility, I became part of quite a few online communities of women who were in similar places as me. I met many women who were trying to conceive, who experienced miscarriages, who went on to have healthy babies, and many who are still waiting on their miracle baby. These women were pillars of strength and love and support, and still mean the world to me as we bonded over those experiences. Where the sacred communities had failed us, and often the medical communities had failed us, we joined together to love on each other and to hold each other.   Communion looked an awful lot like comparing charts and obsessing over basal body temperatures, and witnessing looked an awful lot like “here’s what to expect when you go in for this procedure.”

Together we formed the communities of the Holy Spirit, intervening for one another to help create life. We created lives together.   We ministered to each other in love and compassion through the joyous big fat positives, and mourned and wept with each other through the magnanimous losses.

But the Church refused to acknowledge those losses. Many of these women were devoted Christians, who truly believed it was their God-given ability to give birth and to raise children who would also be devoted Christians.   They wrestled with the endless Mother’s Days, where their pain would be silenced. We learned from each other to never deny another’s happiness and joy, but we also learned the pain of being silenced in our sacred spaces.

So to you, dear pastor, I implore your presence on this matter. The Church can be an incredible place of healing and grace, but it can only do so when it is willing to acknowledge that pain. Right now there is no sacred service to honor miscarriages.   Right now early infant loss and miscarriage and infertility are not words often heard from the pulpit on Sunday morning, and for many it feels as if God is silent on these matters. You yourself may not even be aware of the sheer numbers of women you preach to and worship with every Sunday, who have experienced miscarriage or infertility. And you may have no idea how those experiences still affect that person’s life.

These conversations need to happen. They need to happen now, and often. The sacraments only validate live births through baptism and full term death through funerals. What sacrament can we create to affirm mothers who are mothers in their heart? This is a call to action within the sacred space: how can we bring the presence of God to women who are experiencing infertility and to women who have experienced early infant loss?

I am grateful to all the amazing mothers (in arms and in heart) who supported me, and who allowed me to support them during our journeys. You showed me the Spirit, and I pray the Spirit will be shown to you as well. And I move that our sacred spaces begin to find ways to show the Spirit to us as well.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

On the Corporatization of Rape

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Many years ago, very early in my career as an Interior Designer, I worked in a rather large government building in Winston Salem, NC.  During an average ordinary work day, I had received yet another inappropriate email from the Clerk of Courts, and then word spread through the building that he was being arrested.

 

Gary Thomas was arrested somewhere around the year 1999 on charges of embezzlement and misappropriating funds from the Estate office.  He had told me of these misappropriations.  I had worked with him for almost two years on the three-phase design project of remodeling the second floor of the Hall of Justice.  He regularly came to me with budget requests, and all of them had to be approved by my boss.  My boss frequently denied the requests that did not fall under the category of “capital improvement,” and Gary would tell me, “Oh that’s ok, I think I have some funds in Estates I can use.”

 

But Gary had other bad habits, in his work life.  He regularly sent me e-mails that would be considered inappropriate in a work setting.  He regularly called me in for meetings, “Please bring your plans and wear that cute shirt I like so much.”  I would enter his office and he would lock the door, put his phone on Do Not Disturb, and push the plans aside.

 

Gary had a private restroom in his suite.  He showed me the side closet in that restroom, and the massive amounts of Playboy magazines he kept in those shelves.  There were blankets, although I never realized why the blankets were there until much later.

 

Gary knew I was married, but I now know he was grooming me.  There is no telling what might have happened, had he remained in that office for longer.  But there were some uncomfortable moments in those “meetings,” and there was no denying he wanted more from me than some revisions to drawings and some art work for his office.  Sometimes he asked me for more than revisions and art work.  Sometimes I had no choice but to give in.

 

I can’t really speak about what went on behind those locked doors.  It’s highly demeaning to me because I was seriously only 27 years old.  While everyone was required to sign the form stating they would not commit sexual harassment, no one ever spoke with me about what harassment actually looked like.  No one ever told me what I could or should do when he locked those doors, or when he showed me his magazines.  Everyone told me never to send inappropriate emails, but no one ever told me what to do when someone sent them to me.
I was deeply embarrassed by what was happening to me in that building.  I was even more embarrassed when the SBI went through his office and his emails, and when they seized his office equipment, and it was revealed that he had magazines and blankets in his private restroom.  I was embarrassed that my emails were on his computer, emails he had sent to me, a digital trail that linked me to other presumed victims.

 

None of the other victims came forward.  I never spoke a word about what I had experienced.  Gary was charged with his crime of embezzlement, but never did any word come out about his indiscretions with women.  He called me before he went to prison, wanting me to come visit him before he went away.  He was mad at me for not coming to see him.  He regretted misusing those funds, but he still thought he did the right thing in getting the needed equipment for the Clerk’s office.

 

The Forsyth County Hall of Justice was filled with stories about harassment and inappropriate behaviors.  Men came on to me often in that building.  Harassment was an ever day occurrence, and even though this was 15 years ago, I doubt much has changed.  Of course nothing has changed, because an elected official can do white collar time for embezzlement and no mention ever made of his harassment of women.

 

I had no idea what was happening to me, or why I was being singled out for his gross behavior.  I had no idea what I was supposed to do – who would I report that to and how would they respond to my allegations?  Gary had a LOT of influence in that building, from judges to bailiffs to attorneys and clerks.  He was an elected official!  People had actually voted for him!  Nobody had ever voted for me.  What power did I have against him?  Nothing.  I had nothing.

 

I have been following the women who are accusing Bill Cosby of raping them.  I have read and supported them in large part because I can relate.  I know what it is like to have that person praise you for your hard work, and then ask you to demean yourself by pleasuring themselves.  I know what it is like to hear the door close behind you, and to feel like someone different as you go about motions that aren’t what you ever wanted.  And I know what it is like to feel like you have no ability to stand up for yourself, because you know that person will publicly embarrass you and make your life a living hell if you don’t cooperate.  I don’t know what it is like to experience that while being under the influence, but I do know what it like to realize, years later, how you yourself became complicit in rape culture.  To understand how the corporatization of rape means that women (white and Black women) are at risk of being harassed and raped at their places of work, and if they wish to keep their jobs they must keep quiet because no one will believe them.

 

In seminary I wrote a heavy paper on this topic, about how women are pursued in the workplace by men in positions of power.  Used to be, in the 1950’s and before, that white men kidnapped Black women and used Black female bodies for sexual pleasure.  The white women were the ones to meet mama and to marry, but Black women could be victimized and no harm would come.  At some point, kidnapping and raping Black women by white men became less common, although Black female bodies are still exoticized and pornographed as sexual images, while white women are viewed as “pure and marriage materials.”  But when Black women and white women enter the work force, all women become targets for harassment and victimization through the corporate structure.  Men have much power, and use that power to gain access to women’s bodies, and there is nothing women could do about it, because if they speak, they could lose their jobs.  If they lose their jobs, they would lose good references.  So men hold power above women, corporate power above women, and use that power to sexually abuse them.

 

This reality continues today.  It happens every day.  Sadly, harassment policies do very little to help, because they simply say “Don’t harass,” and they never inform employees what harassment actually looks like.  I’ve never seen a harassment form that included a description of “grooming,” the process that perpetrators use to prepare a victim to become complicit in sexual abuse.  And very little language is ever mentioned beyond “document what is happening” and “report to human resources.”

 

Even writing this post is extremely difficult.  There are many who will be shocked, who will criticize me for doing what I did, or will criticize me for not coming forward.  There are many who will criticize me for writing about it at all – if it was so many years ago, why does it matter now?

 

It matters a great deal.  It matters when victims speak out, because as others speak out, victims listen and process their own victimization.  As others hear the sly ways that men practice corporatized rape, women become aware and will learn what it looks like.  Only then can women feel empowered to step back, unlock that door, and run like hell.  Only then can women feel empowered to report those emails.  Only then can we change a corporate culture that empowers rape and victimization of women.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

When I Was…..

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When I Was…..

When I was six…they told me my life was forever the property of God’s, so wherever I went and whatever sacrifices I had to make were for God and God alone.

When I was 11……I could not speak of my experiences growing up as a missionary. My Dad could, and my Mom could, but I could not. No one cared that I was even there, except to say “What a cute little girl.”

When I was 15…..they told me I could not play the piano in the services because I was just a kid.   Even though I was light years better at it than my Mom. (Sorry, Mom, but you know it’s true.)

When I was 17…..they told me I could be a Piano Major and that would be nice for a pastor’s wife to know how to play. You know, just in case.

When I was 18…..they rejected me because I went to a secular college and decided not to become a pastor’s wife.

When I was 19….they never called me back after God took my Dad’s life by a sudden heart attack.   They never checked to see if I was ok.

When I was 33…..they reminded me again that God had taken a life. They reminded me that I had a Father in heaven, but not a Mother.

When I was 37……they said sure you should go to seminary. But then they refused to allow me to serve. They allowed me to sing on Praise Team, but gave me no microphone. They reluctantly tolerated me leading worship, but rejected “my style of praying.”

When I was 38, 39, 40, and 41…..I spoke often in Sunday School, expressing different interpretations of the text. I questioned the typical interpretations we had heard so often for so many years, and I was berated. I was sent out of the classroom in tears. More than once.

When I was 39….they asked why I was even in seminary. They told me the UMC had too many pastors.

When I was 40……I preached my first sermon. I preached with words that only the Holy Spirit placed there. My aunt wrote to me that I was only “preaching” and no friends or family came to hear or support me. No one ever asked to hear me preach again.

When I was 41…..they ridiculed me and told their friends not to sit with me. They refused to invite me to preach, even though every Senior was expected to preach during their last semester. They offered no viable career options to me. When I experienced crisis in the classroom they refused to return phone calls.  Alls they could do was close the door behind me and wonder what really happened.

Is it any wonder I am afraid of the future? I am afraid to enter church doors. I am terrified to walk into the class room again. I cannot bring myself to sit in Sunday school and smile unbearably while being silenced because what I say does not want to be heard.

This is what a crisis of faith looks like. This is what it sounds like, what it looks like in the Church. These are the words that create faith crises. Just in case you ever wondered.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

I Know Which Parties the White Kids Crash

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I Know Which Parties the White Kids Crash

Over the weekend some people had a pool party. Sadly, when underage uninvited guests showed up, the hosts of that party called cops.   And mayhem ensued.

I cringe because there’s a whole awful lot of hypocritical people who spew their hatred even though they know that white kids act the same way, but white kids get away with it.

You see, I know a little bit about our hometown. I know a little bit about the neighborhood where the white kids in our hometown grow up.   I know a little bit about the lake, and the high school, and I know a little bit about what it’s like to be one of the privileged ones. You know, to have the right skin color.

See, I know where all the white kids go on Friday night to crash the golf course. I know how they sneak through the woods to cross the broken fence in the back, so they can trespass on the greens.  I know where they collect all the stray golf balls, and then sell them back to the golf club members.

I know where they all go so they can sneak a swim in the lake. I know where they park their cars and where they drop their clothes, and I know the spot where they skinny-dip across the lake to get to the other side.

I know where those same white kids end up camping for the night. There’s a secluded little camping area with a shelter that’s perfect for lighting a fire and getting high.  I know how they get back there without being spotted by the park rangers, and I know how late they hang out back there, beer and alcohol served to minors, and drug paraphernalia that can be found left behind, in broad daylight.

On the rainy nights I know where they drop their canoe into the lake to fish, late at night, even though no one is allowed to fish in that lake.  But you go out in the rain, because that’s when the fish bite the best.  (And because the park rangers don’t like to be out in the rain, so they won’t bother you.)

And I know which judge they call when they drive home, after their late night shenanigans, so they can get bailed out of jail for their fifth DUI.

That is the crap that the white kids who live in our hometown do. But this party that is in the news, was in broad daylight, and these kids showed up during the day. And the hosts of that party, rather than call their parents, called the cops to have them arrested like thugs. The white kids do it at night and no one ever calls the cops on them, no one ever so much as bats an eyelash, and they go home scot-free. The white kids are no more invited onto the golf green at midnight than those children were invited during the daytime. The white kids have no business skinny-dipping in the lake, or midnight fishing on that lake. But no one ever had them arrested and no one ever called authorities to rough them up and no one ever followed current laws on trespassing, when it was the white kids.

And those same white kids speak up in the public forums, supporting the officers and claiming that those hosts had a damn right to be angry and those cops were “just doing their jobs.”

There’s also a big theological problem, if we happen to be reading this story and we happen to claim to follow Christ. The problem is not that Black kids crashed a pool party. The problem is not that white kids trespass after hours and get high on the lake. The problem is that we thought the Black kids did not belong there.

Lemme back up a bit and give some theological reflection. Let’s talk about this Jesus guy for a minute. See, Jesus had a habit of going around the local places and drawing out the people who had no privilege. The man in the cemetery, who people claimed had demons, was chained up so people would feel safe. That man couldn’t work a job.   He was dependent on someone having enough compassion to bring him food, just so he could stay alive. Do you think you would have been the person to bring him food? No! We would all have been cultured to stay far away. That’s why people said he had demons – so people would stay away from him.

But Jesus showed up and healed him that day. Jesus didn’t show up and perform a miracle so that God could show how good God was.   Jesus showed up and healed that man and released him from his bondage so that people would stop being afraid of him and so that man could be a part of society again. Jesus healed him so he could work a job and have a family and so he could be part of the Temple worship that was a central part of Jewish life.

We do this all the time, people. We determine all the time who are the people who should be here and who shouldn’t. Every person we see, we question whether they have a right to be there or not. One of the biggest atrocities of white supremacy is an automatic assumption that whites belong there. No one gets upset at the white kids on the lake, because it is assumed they have some sort of right to be there. Nevermind the posted laws and regulations that forbid swimming and skinny-dipping.   If they happen to be the sons of the judges or of the county commissioners, then of course nobody’s going to say anything because who wants to mess with a judge?!?!

But when Black people are present, their presence is automatically viewed with suspicion. No one thinks, oh they must be such and such members so just turn the other way. Maybe they are the judges’ kids so just let them be. No, when Black people are present, they receive the tenth degree.   Why are you here? You don’t have any business being here. Go away and go back where you belong (wherever that is, since it is assumed they don’t belong here).

There’s a funny thing that happened in real estate in my hometown. See, years ago, before the rich neighborhoods were built, lakes were built. Those lakes were only placed in certain areas of town, far away from the railroad tracks, if you know what I mean. Those lakes were built and aggregated and stocked and the dam was built to keep the waters only in certain locations. And now all the land around those lakes belongs to the wealthy. Classified as “lakefront property,” it gets the biggest draw for the biggest buck. Wealthy folk who want the best school in Guilford County move in there.

Funny thing that the other side of the railroad track doesn’t have a fancy lake, no dam to keep the water in certain places, and no “lakefront properties” to be found over there.   And that is where the Black folk must stay. That must be where they “belong.”   They aren’t invited to the pool, because they don’t belong at the pool.

So what about this Jesus guy? See, Jesus never bought into an idea that certain people only belonged in certain places. He had this novel idea that even women (who bleed!) belonged in the most holy of holy places, so he ripped the veil. He had a brilliant social structure that put the bottom on the top, and the top on the bottom. The last would come first, the first would come last. Those who lived furthest away from the lake would be the first to claim prime real estate in the new social order.

And then he called for the Kingdom of God to be brought to earth. He called for the last to be first, God’s will, even on earth as it is in Heaven.

So that means all the Black folk, who were denied entry before, now deserve and are owed the same access. So if we aren’t going to bat an eyelash over the white kids crashing the green, we can’t be upset over the Black kids crashing the pool party.  Jesus lifted the veil of suspicion over Black bodies, my friends.  Black skin is not to be feared, Black persons are not to be kept out.

Jesus invited the tax collector to dinner. I’m sure everyone else was like, But Jesus, I don’t want to sit next to him because he reeks of all the times I had to pay that dude! I pay him my taxes, I don’t eat dinner with him! And Jesus gently reminded everyone that when it is Jesus’ table, all are invited. When the golf course belongs to Jesus, all must be invited. When Jesus runs the pool membership, it’s open day.

We humans don’t feel very safe when all are invited. We are likely to think that the little girl wearing a yellow bikini, must be a very big threat so we must chain her up like the guy in the cemetery. She didn’t belong there, so get her out by any means necessary. By any means necessary.   Keep the lines drawn, people, so we can all feel safe. So white people can maintain their property values.

But Jesus called a different social order, my friends. Jesus called a social order such that, when those showed up who didn’t belong, we are called to invite them in. We are called to share our privilege. We are called to roll the red carpet to those who were kept out. We are called to feed those children who showed up, and we are called to make sure they get home safely when the party is over.   Calling cops on Black bodies never ensures anyone gets home safely, of this we can be assured.

How can Christians be peace-keepers and peace-makers? View this incident through a different lens, my friends. Remember your own mischievous self at the tender age of sixteen: new license, new friends, new privileges that you were eager to see just how far you could bend the rules. Let me show you where the white kids go to break the rules and let me show you how many rules they can break in one weekend, without ever getting caught.   And then remember that the uninvited ones, the ones we kept out, are precisely the ones Jesus invites in.   May we open doors, rather than call cops. May we extend generosity and friendship, rather than police.  May we make dignity, rather than humiliation and escalation, the mark of the Kingdom.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

A Theological Response to Matt Walsh (From a Survivor)

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A Theological Response to Matt Walsh

I just got finished reading Matt Walsh’s latest piece concerning the scandal that has erupted within the Duggar family, particularly of Josh Duggar’s sexual misconduct towards women in his own family.

I’ve had to step away from the screen for a while and regain my composure a bit, Walsh posits, rather harshly and vitrioliously (is that a word? It is now), that progressives are hypocrites because they only care about sexual misconduct when it is done by conservatives. He claims that progressives only wish to use sexual misconduct to disprove Christianity.

I must strongly beg to differ with his viewpoint, and must offer my own Scriptural basis for why I disagree.

See, there’s this big problem in the Church, when Christians demand that Christians forgive and when Christians hold up sexual abusers as “forgiven,” as in Look what God did – God forgave him or her and we should too. The problem is that in instances of abuse, forgiveness is a strange thing.

I have spoken to many survivors who are unable to forgive. Coming to terms with what happened to them requires a long, difficult, painful struggle. A lifetime is simply not enough time to be able to forgive, especially when rape and sexual abuse was so early and so subtle that the victim didn’t even know what was happening to them while it was happening. So even just the learning of what really happened takes many, many years.   Never mind the forgiving.

And see, here’s the thing.   Forgiveness sounds great. We all look for forgiveness that only God can give, when we do wrong. Only God can give forgiveness. In the Christian tradition, whether you are conservative or progressive, it is Jesus who died on the cross, and it is God who offers the final restitution.

Here’s the bigger problem that often gets forgotten, whenever forgiveness is suggested or demanded: it is impossible to forgive someone who doesn’t think they did wrong or someone who does not wish to ask for that forgiveness. Many abusers (as in the case of Bill Cosby) think what they did was consensual. Many abusers think they did absolutely no wrong! Many abusers, in fact, deflect their horrible behaviors onto the victim themselves, convincing the victim that it is her fault!

I don’t know if Josh Duggar has sought forgiveness or what the dynamics are between him and the sisters he abused. But I do know this: the girls he abused have been required to be silent about their abuse for all these years. In order to grow a television show and a giant organization and a family persona, his victims have had to keep their trauma under wraps, unable to speak clearly and openly about what has happened to them. And, even worse, they have been unable to heal.

I think this is the point Matt Walsh misses completely. These women (do we even know how old they were? I read Duggar was 14, but how old were the girls – 13? 12? Younger?) were forced to keep this horrible family secret so that the family could make money. So the family could keep their honor. This is considered a secondary rape by the entire organization – the silencing of victims in order to maintain a wholesome front.

And here’s what Walsh gets wrong about progressives. Like me or not, I am a progressive and I speak out (loudly) against sexual misconduct.   All sexual misconduct, by conservatives and liberals alike. I have seen and I have experienced for myself sexual misconduct by those who were in positions of authority and leadership. By those who were in positions of power telling me my body was something to be ashamed of, and then leading me into a conference room to fondle my breasts, making me an outlet for their own sexual pleasure. I speak against sexual misconduct not because Duggar is a Christian, but because he held a position of authority in the church. I also speak against his misconduct because he required his own sisters to remain silent about their abuse, he sold them out for his own financial gain and his own popularity.

Let me make that clear: as a feminist, as a progressive, and as a Christian, I speak out against sexual misconduct in any case, and I speak louder against those in positions of authority because they hold power. Not because they are Christian, but because they abuse their power.

I am reminded in Scriptures of the text of terror in which Tamar, daughter of King David, is raped by her own brother, Amnon, also son of King David. Tamar serves her brother dutifully while he is sick, and he rapes her.   After he rapes her, he throws her out, bleeding, shamed, her innocence and sexuality stolen from her in an act of willful aggression. She goes away devastated, in tears, bleeding from his horrible deeds, and she is never the same. Victims are never the same after the violation of their sexuality. Victims who are abused by leaders in the church are never the same in the church, especially, because then rape becomes part of their reality that they must grapple with in the context of Scripture and the cross. Victims must grapple, struggle, wrestle with why God would allow rape to happen to them, good Christian girls who were saving themselves and who were doing what they were told to do in order to be good girls, only to have that stolen from them? How could God allow rape to happen?

I read the story of Tamar and I wonder how could rape be part of the Scriptural tradition? Did God wish for Tamar to be raped? The text tells us later that Amnon was avenged by his own father. Amnon’s misdeeds were covered up by King David, a king who struggled with his own sexual misconduct (the rape of Bathsheba and the killing of her husband), a king who was ruler over a nation that was supposed to be set apart.   Israel was supposed to be a holy nation and a priestly kingdom. Can rape be a part of a holy nation and a priestly kingdom?

When those texts are interpreted through the eyes of Tamar, as a victim, we must stand against an ideology that enables rape and sexual abuse in a theological context. No, God does not wish for women to be raped.   There is no place for sexual misconduct in our sacred spaces, by our religious leaders, when all were created in the Divine image of our Creator.

Matt Walsh asserts that Duggar’s behavior is no longer relevant, since it happened so long ago.   But indeed, it is relevant. It is relevant to the victims, who deserve to work through their pain. The victims deserve for the family to be honest about what happened and they deserve to speak from a place of honesty about the heavy burden they have been carrying. They deserve to work towards healing.

The women who continue to work with Duggar also deserve to know what happened. Why is that? I know Walsh disagrees on that. But I think Walsh speaks from a position of privilege – I doubt Walsh knows what it’s like to be in that conference room and to be viewed as a sexual object for someone else’s pleasure. I doubt Walsh can identify with women who, every day, are sexually assaulted, harassed, and victimized by church leaders and by those in positions of authority.   Duggar’s church and organization should be operating out of transparency and accountability, and hiding sexual misconduct is NOT transparency and is not accountability.

Duggar has stepped down.   This is entirely appropriate right now.   I pray for healing for the victims.   Duggar will be ok. He is ok, he has a long trail of supporters (including Matt Walsh) who will give him plenty of opportunities to speak, to serve, and to continue doing what he does.

But the victims face the long arduous process of recovery. That process will include shaming and blaming. It will include the humiliation of others like Walsh, who cannot understand or relate. It will include the theological dismissal, as it has for years, by a long tradition of church leaders who have skimmed right past Tamar and Bathsheba, denying that rape even exists in the theological sphere. Denying that there is even a victim. These victims of Duggar have been denied.

So I strongly disagree with Walsh and feel his blog post was severely misguided. I encourage Walsh to read up a bit on sexual misconduct in the sacred environment, and then I encourage him to get to know a few survivors.   Hear their stories. Listen to their pain and their struggle. And then we must all push and fight and stand for transparency in the church. We must, with Jesus, overthrow the tables when innocent women are abused for their most personal, private bodies. We must reveal the misconduct in the Scriptures themselves, so we can learn.

And may these victims find healing. In the quiet of the evening when their tears fall hardest and most silent, may the comfort of a loving God wrap them in grace, depending on the grace of the cross to be able to move forward.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

The Powerful Role of Mothers (and Mother Figures)

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People often ask me if I am such an advocate for victims and survivors then how would I propose to solve the problem of domestic and intimate partner violence?

That question is not easily answered in one conversation or in one blog post or even in one seminar or one Ted talk or one single person.  But people are often shocked when I answer that we all play a part and we all participate in a society that brings this about, even the way we raise our sons and daughters.

Many women go through life and never experience physical violence against themselves.  Most of us are never taught to even recognize violence against women when we see it.  Most dialogues around intimate partner violence focus around physical violence and isolation and seclusion that most often marks a violent, abusive relationship.  Those are relatively easy to identify and discuss, but those discussions always seem to serve as a barrier for the truly difficult discussions that identify the abuse we have all witnessed.

And sadly, most discussions around intimate partner violence allow each person to continue denying the abuse they have seen themselves.  If we only talk about the worst bruises, or the most blatant instances of intimate partner violence, then we can deny how bad it really is.  It’s easy to look at the recent campaigns against intimate partner violence (even the recent billboards that work to raise awareness, such as this one from the Salvation Army about the famous dress) and say, “Oh, well I never looked like that, so it must not be abuse.”  I never looked like that either.  My abuser knew very well not to leave marks.  He became the expert at keeping me in my place without even a word being spoken.

Perhaps the reality is that most women have never experienced physical violence against themselves.  That is a reality I and most survivors can’t relate to, because for us physical violence was a part of our existence, and often was one thing we could actually control in our abusive relationships.  And many times, the physical abuse was the one thing that made us finally get out.  (Victims learn early on there are aspects of the violence that they can control – they can control how quickly the violence comes on and they know how long the violence will last, and they can somewhat control how often it even happens.  Alice Walker discusses this at length in her book, Battered Woman.)

Yes, if not for physical violence, we might have stayed for many more years.

Indeed, by the time physical violence occurs, a long pattern of emotional and verbal abuse has already occurred.  Often that pattern of emotional abuse begins in our families, by our fathers and brothers and uncles and grandfathers, when we are most vulnerable and still learning about the world.  And since we grew up with it, we participate in passing it down to our own sons, continuing long family lines of emotional abuse against women.

Many women can easily identify physical violence, and continue our own denial of abuse, because we cannot easily identify emotional and verbal abuse against ourselves.

I have long conjectured that physical violence begins with emotional abandonment.  Long before a hit is ever executed, the abuser has walked out on the victim, the abuser has been emotionally unavailable to her, the abuser has distanced himself from her.  (I fully acknowledge that sometimes the abuser is a woman.  In my blog the abuser will be male because that is my personal experience in a traditional gender based violent relationship where my abuser was male.  This is the experience out of which I write and study and speak.  I welcome any and all dialogue on intimate partner violence that exists in GLBTQ relationships, or intimate partner violence that is instigated by women.)

And even long before the emotional violence, women experience patterns of linguistic violence against them by the men in their lives – their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and brothers – who set them up to feel less than and who contribute to making women vulnerable to abusive relationships.

Allow me to rephrase that: women often grow up in families where the patriarchs talk down to them, demean them publicly, ridicule them and shame them, dismiss them easily, and keep them in a bound space and expect certain behaviors from them.  It is these environments that make women already bendable and pliable – and vulnerable to abuse.

Women are taught early and long to do what men tell them to do.  Men expect women to tell them what to do.  I have long been known for expressing my own frustrations with my own tendency to jump up when a man says to, by voicing loudly: “Since when do I do what a man tells me to do?”  And I am frequently made fun of for that – what do you mean, you’re not going to do what I say do?

Sometimes I even catch my sons trying to tell me what to do, or questioning me when I insist something is reality when it is different from their perception of reality.  Even at ages of 11 and 10, they somehow think I jump when they say jump.  Even at ages of 11 and 10, they try to talk down to me and are beginning to experiment with their own male privilege (read: their own ability to bend and ply their feminine counterparts).

My therapist has warned me, somewhat glibly, that boys at this age have absolutely no use for their mothers.  This is why many boys completely rebel, why many boys of single mothers go to live with their fathers at this age.  Part of me wept with the matter-of-factness she delivered this news to me.  This doesn’t bother anybody else?  There’s not a big social problem right there, when boys are cultured to reject their mothers at age 11, and no one bats an eyelash?  Oh, that’s right, mothers are optional after all.  We don’t need our boys to be like their mothers, we need them to be like their fathers.

Wait!  Stop!  No, we do need our boys to be like mothers, too, and we need to be able to connect with our boys and still retain some sort of influence over their lives!  What is wrong with us, that we are giving boys such anxiety, such a dichotomy of existence between the positivity associated with masculinity, and the less-than associated with femininity, that boys around age 11 reject the femininity in order to save some sort of face.

This is happening when we even say things like “Stop crying like a girl,” or “Stand up and be a man about it,” as if being female was the worst thing in the world.  Our fathers taught us this, as they made fun of us for screaming like girls and they ridiculed us for playing with our pink toys and our own fathers rejected our desires to have tea parties and our own fathers rejected nail polish and playing in our kitchens.

We became used to a rhetoric, a quiet subtle way of living that meant the feminine was something for men to avoid.  And when our sons hit that age where they were testing their own masculinity and discovering a deeper understanding of the world, they too picked up on rejecting the feminine.  Mothers and daughters were rejected in that process, and, because we weren’t taught any different and we weren’t taught to notice, we became complicit in this reality.

In theology we call this “binary opposites.”  The idea is that even as early as Genesis, the world is seen as split in two – the good and the bad.  Everything falls into a category, either good or bad.  Masculinity is good, femininity is bad.  Adam was good, Eve was bad.  If I think I’m good, then you must be bad.  If sons are good, daughters are bad.  White is good, black is bad.  American is good, foreign is bad.  You get the idea.  Good vs. evil.  Heaven vs. hell.

What is most fascinating about being a survivor is that I learned that there is both good and bad in each of us.  My abuser has much good in him – he is a hard worker and he has much compassion for animals and he believed he was a family kind of man.  There was much good in me – I was, and still am, a good mama and I work hard and everything I do is to the best of my ability.  But there is also bad in both of us – he cannot handle anger very well, he was cultured and raised with a mistrust of women within a family that routinely makes fun of his own mom, he was repeatedly denied the opportunity to take responsibility for his own actions, he is deeply enslaved to a substance in his life, and he is unable to see the problems in his own actions that keep him continuously enslaved in patterns of negative behaviors.  The bad in me is that I believed I could help him, I believed and was cultured to believe, that a good woman, a good wife, would always stand by her man, even if her entire world crumbled around her.  The bad in me was that his anger sparked my own deep anger, and the bad in me was that I learned to deal with my own negative feelings in very negative ways.

None of this should serve to blame women for the patterns of behavior and abuse that steal their very beings every day, for years on end.  We cannot blame victims, and we cannot make victims solely responsible for the horrors that happen to them.  The discussions always get heavy and difficult when we turn the conversation to the victims themselves and ask why they stay?  That question can only be answered by turning into our own selves, and analyzing what we all do, that keeps victims in their place?  How is it that we are actively, even today, raising sons and daughters who will be victims and perpetrators?

One of the most frustrating things in my experience has been hearing how many times victims watched their perpetrators abuse their own mothers..  We’ve come far enough in our society to know that how a man treats his mother can directly show how he will treat his wife.  One woman I have spoken with who wishes to remain anonymous, told me how they had been married for one week, and her husband pushed his own mother in her own kitchen.  Then the mother turned to her and said to her, “I hope he doesn’t treat you that way,” as if she were to blame for that incident.

Rather than let him know that his actions were unacceptable, she turned to the victim and against the victim.  She had long been disempowered by her son and her own husband to speak against them.  She had long been made fun of by them at the dinner table and every time she made a mistake – she was the absent-minded one that everyone blamed if something went wrong, she was the blonde one at the table, it was surely “mom’s” fault.  She had long covered for her son’s misbehavior – years of hauling him out of jail when he received three DUI’s before he even graduated college.  Years of driving his angry butt around town to work and to community service and still giving him the key, still opening her home to him even while he criticized her and disrespected her.

It’s easy to wonder, omg how or why would she put up with that?  Because if his dad found out, hell would be paid.  When my own abuser overturned and destroyed our own kitchen in an angry outrage, his dad came the next morning and tore up our garage out of his anger at his son.  Violence only beget more violence.

So mom intervened to keep peace.  Mom took and accepted blame to keep peace.  Mom became the interceptor of the violence.  And Mom became the complicit one, the one who upheld the family honor even at her own demise.

This is not the happy Mother’s Day post where mothers experience peace and happiness within their family homes, my friends.  This is the introspection of realizing my own participation in a system where women bear the burden of keeping peace among men who reject femininity, and who struggle with the brutality of their own humanity.  You see, men only continue to act this way, because women continue to allow them to act this way towards them.  I often wonder what would happen if women simply stopped showing up?  If women stopped jumping at the sound of men’s voices, if women stopped laughing with the jokes when the jokes demean them, if women stood up for themselves and each other when men de-humanize them in public and in private?  Oh the struggle.  May we raise sons who know to respect women, and may we raise daughters who refuse to take their shit.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

The Theology of Strangers

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So this video has been going around about some guy who does a social experiment to show how easy it is for strangers to abduct children.  And of course a national online debate has been sparked about what can we really do, as parents, and what can we help our children learn to do, to avoid being abducted.

You know these debates remind me of the endless ways we tell women not to get raped.  You know these lists – don’t wear pony tails or mini skirts, keep your keys out, be aware of your surroundings, and on and on.

Just like those lists sound like victim-blaming to me, these lists of how not to get abducted also sound a little like victim blaming.  Oh, don’t get me wrong – we should always practice safe measures and we should always be teaching our children to be aware of their surroundings.  Most importantly, even moreso than stranger danger, we should be teaching our children how to listen to their gut feelings.  If something doesn’t feel right, come and tell an adult.

And just like with rape victims, it is important to help children know that they will be heard and taken seriously.  The greatest gift we can give our children is to help foster their own “gut feelings” and listen to them when they are expressing themselves.  One of the most difficult social issues to deal with when working with survivors of intimate partner violence and rape, is always that women have been taught, cultured, that no doesn’t always mean no.  And men have not been taught adequately that no means no.

But the sad reality is, that when someone wants to do harm, they are going to do harm, by whatever means necessary.  So even if you do everything right, if someone wants to take your child they are going to take your child.  In fact, it seems a bit ridiculous to expect children to be able to stand up to an adult and say NO! and be able to single-handedly avoid being abducted.  It has happened, and kudos to those kiddos who have been able to accomplish that, but it seems unreasonable to expect all children to be capable of that.

So I thought a little about the theology of strangers.  Actually Jesus taught his disciples to go to all the nations and preach and heal and minister, not to friends but to strangers.  Jesus spoke with strangers all the time.  In fact, Jesus went out of his way to encounter the woman in Samaria.  He purposely traveled around the Sea of Galilee and found her at the well.

I realize we aren’t all Jesus and we don’t know people inherently as Jesus did.  But I have thought about the many kind strangers I have encountered in my own life, and many of them have been like Jesus to me.  There were kind strangers on motorcycles who helped me push my car across four lanes during traffic.  There were kind strangers in the subway of NYC, helping us figure out where we were going and which train to take.  There were the kind people of Germany, when we landed in a foreign country and could speak no German, who assisted us in acclimating to a strange land.

Strangers have changed my life, altered the course of my life, people I did not know showed me the kindness that is Jesus, time and time again.  A few weeks ago a lady stopped in me my car.  She was in a wheelchair, and she flagged me down.  I rolled my window down and heard her asking for just a few dollars so she could buy her Albuterol prescription.  I know enough to know that Albuterol is a medication that helps one breathe.  And I was embarrassed that I had absolutely no cash on me.

I went to the bank, and drive back to try to find her and try to help her, but she was gone already.  I will never forget how much I felt like I had let her down.  The verses rang in my head loud and clear: “I was hungry and you did not feed me.  I was naked and you did not clothe me.”  I needed medication and you didn’t even have a few dollars on you.

Most people would be like, oh what do you even care?  Who was she to you, anyway?  She was a stranger.  What was she doing stopping your car in the middle of the street anyway?  Desperation looks like that, my friends.  I vowed to always carry some cash in my purse from that day on.  The guilt of how I failed her motivated me – this wasn’t just some panhandler on the side of the road, my friends.

A few days later I came out of Target, and there was someone else, approaching me for a few dollars.  She spewed out her story, quickly, before I ran away.  I already knew what I was going to do, I already knew to give her just a few dollars and bless her.  And the funniest thing happened, because I had already promised to give – it really didn’t matter what her story was, it didn’t matter who she was, it didn’t matter what she was really going to do with that money.  All that mattered was that I helped.

These are the encounters of the Jesus kind, my friends.

I’m not telling you to abandon all the things we know about keeping ourselves safe, and about making judgment calls about what feels right or what doesn’t.  Sometimes we feel horribly uncomfortable when strangers approach us – especially if I’m in a strange city or I don’t know my way around.  I don’t think we are kicked out of Heaven because we don’t help everyone, or because we don’t feel safe enough to roll down the window.

But we are financially empowered to help and assist strangers in many ways in our society.  Sometimes helping others looks like donations to United Way or by creating food drives or by writing checks for the pastor’s benevolence fund.  Sometimes helping strangers means voting so that the city/county/state/nation can expand healthcare and children’s services and veteran’s benefits.

We have a sense of distrust in our strange neighbors already ingrained and cultured into us.  We don’t want our taxes to go to strangers who we think are abusing the system.  We are automatically suspicious, even of a woman in a wheelchair, when people ask for assistance on the street.  But Jesus calls us to a greater awareness.

Last week I went out to lunch with my husband.  It was just a quick bite as he had calls to be on, but we sat and listened to a guy next to us, and his conversations with another woman.  The woman was eating her lunch alone, and this man just walked up to her table, sat himself down, and began a conversation with her.  They were both older, both from a different generation than my own, and while the conversation was just about every day stuff, I noticed patterns in the man’s language towards the woman.

He repeatedly talked down to her, talked over her, dismissed her opinions, and I’m not really sure she really wanted to eat lunch with this guy, but he remained seated in her booth talking to her!  I’m not even sure if she knew she wanted to eat with him, but she did not know she could politely ask him to leave.  I’m not sure she recognized how he was subtly demeaning her with his language, but Alan and I both heard it and both shook our heads at his attitudes towards this woman.

These are the types of strangers who make me very uncomfortable.  The types of strangers who impose themselves upon you only to talk down to you, and often we aren’t aware of what was going on until they walk away.

Jesus calls us to awareness of these things when he encounters the Syro-Pheonician woman.  Her repeated requests to Jesus, asking for her daughter to be healed, go unheard.  She is not going to stop until grace is extended to her, and finally she calls Jesus out and says, “Jesus, even the DOGS get to eat the crumbs from the table.”  In other words, Jesus we have been treated like and we have been called dogs for years in our own community, this isn’t grace this is hell.  Extend grace to us, Jesus, even to those who are less than dogs.  She experiences the intersection of racism, classism, and sexism every day in her life, and she stands strong.

A few years ago we sat in a restaurant and heard a guy tell his son,who didn’t want to sit next to his sister, “Oh come and sit over here, I know you would rather your sister sit outside, if you had your way.  So you don’t have to sit next to her.”  I was appalled at what the sister, a little girl who was maybe 7 or 8 years old, had just heard, from her own father.  On my way out the door I handed that man a note that simply said, “Every girl is a princess, and every girl deserves to hear from her father and her brother that she is important enough to sit at the head of the table, or anywhere at the table, but never EVER outside.”

He followed me out the door and proceeded to tell me in the parking lot how he was only just kidding and he wasn’t really like that.  And I was like, then you go back in there and you show your daughter that.

Those are the kinds of strangers I am wary of.  The likelihood of our children being abducted is pretty slim, but the likelihood of strangers needing our assistance happens quite often.  And the likelihood that strangers are going to demean and degrade women and steal from their self esteem and take away their abilities to say I’d rather have lunch in peace and quiet, thank you, occurs every day as well.  In the end, our children act the way we model to them.  When they see us helping the stranger who needs assistance, they too will be the ones who stop what they are doing and assist.  When they see us discussing with others what it means to treat women with respect and dignity, they too will treat others with respect and dignity.  And when we empower women to say no, and teach men to listen to the word no, we teach consent and we teach mutual respect.  Stranger or not.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

On the Hypocrisy of the Abortion Debate, and of Mary, Mother of Jesus

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So earlier this morning, this article showed up in my newsfeed, and it caught my eye: The American Taliban.  Perhaps the author of this article, Michelle Krabill, shocks us on purpose, calling us to pay attention to control tactics used by our own government (and often times, our own churches).  And I think she has a very valid point.  There is one thing that jumps out at me, that I wanted to continue the dialogue on.  Krabill asks a poignant question of why would Republicans withdraw funding of a program they know is working to reduce abortions?

I agree whole-heartedly with her, and ask the same question, and I always come back to the realization that it really isn’t about stopping abortions, it is about controlling women.  But what jumps out at me in Krabill’s article is where she says that the Bible didn’t practice birth control – and this is a good place to talk about that.  Because actually the Ancient Near East did practice birth control, but not in the medical sense that we think of today.  Birth control was attained by socially controlling women, and while it wasn’t about abortion during that time, it was about retaining paternity and a pure bloodline (also known as eugenics, my friends).

I think it is important to know and recognize that medical knowledge in the ANE (Ancient Near East) was sparse.  Particularly understandings about birth and women’s bodies were wrecked with superstitions and old wives’ tales, and a plethora of religious rites were created in order to combat those superstitions and to try to control women’s bodies and women’s fertility.  In fact, Israelite faiths came about partially in response to the Canaanite practice of fertility worship – in order to set themselves apart from goddess worship and pagan rituals, Israelites created their own system of worship one god, a male god.

Eve’s story itself presents women’s bodies, and their ability to create life, from a view of extreme suspicion – she acquires her ability to reproduce through punishment by the divine (an act of domestic violence against her) and thus began an entire faith system based on the mistrust of women and women’s bodies.  In an area of the world where goddesses were worshiped for fertility purposes, Israelite women were forbidden from worshiping goddesses and instructed only to worship a male god who punished them for their fertility.

This is worth knowing, because this establishes a pattern of thought that continues to hold women in suspicion for their ability to create life.  Rather than view women as partners with the Divine in bringing life into the world, and rather than empower women as co-creators with the Divine, women continue to be controlled when it comes to their fertility and their sexuality.

While Eve is a fascinating study in the control of women from a Biblical perspective, there is one woman in the New Testament who is of particular interest in the discussions of abortion.  That would be Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

One of my tremendous privileges in seminary was the ability to study and analyze some of the sacred texts that exist outside of the canonized Scripture.  One of those texts is called The Protoevangelium of James.  The link will take you to the full length of that text, and I encourage you to spend a little time especially on Mary’s story.

Yes, this text is not considered a part of the canon of Scripture, and so I realize that it is not considered a reliable source.  But it offers a fascinating look at Mary’s story, and more importantly, it offers a narrative that perhaps represents what women went through during that time, when they became pregnant before they were married.

I will summarize this text a little bit, because there are certain important points to consider.  James is telling the story of who Mary was and what happened to her.  He tells it a bit different that the Matthew and Luke texts we are accustomed to, and he offers some fascinating details.  Mary is presented as a young virgin dedicated to service in the Temple, and a scandal ensues when she turns up mysteriously pregnant.  It’s important to note that in real life, something really awful happened to Mary that she became pregnant.  She is brought to a Tribunal to testify, and she sounds like she doesn’t even know herself what happened.  This would make sense – rape victims often cannot recall precisely what happened, and when children are raped they don’t know what happened because they don’t even know the words or actions yet.

Mary’s pregnancy created a scandal.  She and Joseph were both brought before the Tribunal to figure out what was going to happen to her.  She and Joseph are both forced to drink the bitter waters.  In case you weren’t aware, the book of Numbers 5:24 lays out a ritual where a woman who is suspected to have committed adultery is brought before the priest and asked to drink bitter waters to prove whether she is guilty or innocent.  The idea is that if she is guilty, the waters will cause her to miscarry and be infertile for the rest of her life.  If she is not guilty, everything will be exonerated.

We don’t know exactly what these bitter waters were.  But clearly it was believed if the baby she was carrying (or was she even pregnant? who knows?) was not her husband’s, those bitter waters would take quick care of it.  This was considered an abortifacient.

We have to pause right there, and consider, what might have happened if Mary had miscarried, or if Mary had been given a forced abortion by the priests of the Temple themselves?  I doubt that is something many of us have dared to consider.  But there it is.

What is fascinating to me is how the text in Numbers, and even modern discourse about the IUD and whether it is an abortifacient or not, places the woman under suspicion of guilt without even knowing if she is pregnant or not.  With Mary, I think it was clear that she was pregnant and when I read the Protoevangelium, I sense the panic it caused.  I also see a giant cover-up for what really happened to Mary.

We can’t give answers on the behaviors of men over 2,000 years ago.  But what of our behaviors and attitudes towards women now?  What strikes me in the story of Mary, is that she had to go through this horribly embarrassing, humiliating, demeaning process just to get healthcare.  And we still make women go through horribly humiliating and demeaning processes to get healthcare.

Oh, if you have privilege and health insurance, it’s fairly easy to go to the OB/GYN and get your script filled for birth control.  And you never have to tell anyone about it.  No one ever has to know what method of birth control I personally use.  I speak from privilege when I say it is no one’s business what method I use.  I have the privilege of my privacy because that is what health insurance buys women of means – the ability to use birth control and never have to tell anyone.

But for women who struggle with poverty and unemployment and an overburden of having too many children already, and women who live within the intersection of racism, classism, and sexism, this privilege is removed.  Women who are dependent upon public healthcare systems have this privilege removed from them, and they must undergo the humiliating government and court processes to retain access to healthcare.

When that privilege is given by people in power who already have a sense of suspicion against women ingrained into their consciousness, then the discussions around women’s healthcare becomes centered around abortion.  I get incredibly frustrated when we reduce women’s healthcare to simply one issue – abortion – as if that were the only medical procedure that women need in order to maintain their health.  It belies the complexity of our bodies and our healthcare needs, as human beings who happen to have vaginas and uteri and Fallopian tubes and ovaries.

I think that many men feel anxiety around women’s bodies, and feel a sense of lack of control when it comes to female sexuality and female fertility.  There’s a part of me that gets that, because I respect men’s rights to be active parts of their children’s lives.  I also think that whenever we talk about women’s choices, we tend to forget that men have choices too.  Men have the choice to walk out.  Joseph himself wanted to walk out, and required intervention by the Holy Spirit to keep him in the picture.  And when we read the stories of Jesus’ ministry, Joseph is missing, inactive in his son’s life (we don’t know why, it is possible that Joseph died).  And what about women who do not have the Holy Spirit to intervene?  What if the Holy Spirit hadn’t intervened to Joseph, on Mary’s behalf?  Are men intervening on women’s behalf now, or are they persecuting women under suspicion?  Is it fair to withhold healthcare under suspicion, to those we deem immoral or those we only view as sexual objects?

This lack of trust, this inherent fear, places every woman under suspicion that if given the ability, all women might choose abortion.  If left to our own devices, we would all choose that medical procedure, as if we had no ability to make moral decisions for ourselves.

I’m not sure that we are truly honest about the Bible’s role in these dialogues.  Biblical personalities have long placed women’s moral value within their sexual value, at the extreme cost to women themselves.  These two have become so intertwined that women cannot even worship without someone sexualizing them.  And usually these judgments are made, much like Mary’s judgment, without the woman’s full awareness or consent.

So why am I writing all this?  What does any of this mean?  I think we owe it to ourselves and to women around the world, to be aware of the horrific practices that have been instituted against women, in the name of religion or faith or Jesus.  When we require women to be demeaned or humiliated in order to receive healthcare, to go through lengthy processes to be treated with human dignity, we perpetuate Mary’s story and continue to participate in systems that unfairly disadvantage women.  Any and all women become fair game, and the cost is human life.

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

My apologies, to the author of the article linked in this post, Michelle Krabill.  That is her correct name!

Why We Are Still Talking

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Photo credit: Theresa Moxley, Spring 2014

Photo credit: Theresa Moxley, Spring 2014

Ok, so I’m seeing and hearing a lot around the interwebs about why Black people are dwelling on the past, and why they don’t just get over it already.

I cringe whenever I hear words like that.  I think every Black person who just spoke their every day experience of loss and fear and oppression cringes at the insensitivity and the pure cold nature that lies in those words.

I can’t claim to know fully the experience of Black people in the country of America.  I can’t write for them or to them, I can’t tell Blacks when to just get over their oppression.  I think it’s pretty ballsy, actually, for white people to do that to Black people, because it reeks of privilege.

It is also very anti-Christ.

I’ve heard those words myself whenever I speak about my experience as a survivor of domestic abuse.  I can’t compare the two situations, but I can express how it feels when I have become vulnerable and brave enough to express my pain, and someone knocks my breath completely out by asking me why I don’t just get over it.  It happened so long ago, they tell me.

Whenever I read the gospels, as different and unique as each one is, I never find that Jesus tells anyone to just get over it.  There is tender compassion when he stops what he is doing, and demands the children come to him.  There is a gentle listening when the woman touches his hem, and he asks who touched him.  Who are you, and what are your needs?  What is your suffering, my dear woman who braved the ridicule to show up?  Jesus rebukes those who stand in his way.  Jesus rebukes us for standing in the way.

There is one woman who put Jesus in his place – the Syro-Pheonician woman who reminded Jesus that if salvation was for all, and if healing was for all, then salvation and healing must even be for the ones who have been named dogs.  Or thugs.  Or hoodlums.  Or the horrible n-word.  She throws it in our face – hey, don’t be calling people that.  Don’t be denying grace to ALL.  And we are left to wonder, is this what God sounds like, when God refuses to see people as human?  Does God stop viewing people as human, simply because of the color of their skin?

I see in Black people a courage and a vulnerability, even when expressed through riots and burning, right now.  And I see some white people who dismiss them, who ask them just to protest peacefully – hey, why aren’t we making it so they don’t have to protest at all?????  Don’t you hear the absurdity in that request?  Haven’t you ever been so angry that you wanted to burn something down?  No?  Well then, consider yourself highly privileged, my friend.

And then, the most difficult words of all to hear, those that demand you just forget what happened, and here are your two choices: you can sit and bitch about it, or you can move on with your life and show them different.

Again, words of privilege and insensitivity.  Words that cut like a knife.  Oh, yeah, because it’s that easy to overcome the decades of housing markets that have been redlined so Black neighborhoods aren’t worth what white neighborhoods are.  And oh yeah, because it’s easy to overcome your dad, your uncle, your brother, and your son, all carrying lifelong records of crimes they did not commit, or of crimes that were non-violent, but crimes that render them unemployable and unhouse-able for the rest of their lives.  Sure, that is as easy to overcome.

What a gross over-simplification those comments are.

And I argue there is even a third option: we discuss honestly and painfully, so people are allowed to heal, and we continue speaking and advocating for others, so they can heal as well.

Black people are speaking their pain, my friends.  Honest, raw, vulnerable pain that white people have caused.  It is awful to hear.  It is necessary to hear and to make safe spaces to hear.

Ah, safe spaces.  That’s hard, isn’t it?  White people don’t consider the spaces where Blacks speak, to be “safe.”  White people see the labels on Black music, and perpetuate the warnings of Black neighborhoods, and carry a tradition of fear against the color Black.  The only reason these fears exist is that being in those spaces makes white people painfully aware of the strange dichotomy that exists in our nation right now.

It’s as if America is a big family, and there are two kids – the white kids and the Black kids.  And the Black kids are saying, gee this family is horribly dysfunctional for me.  I can’t breathe.  And the white kids are holding the mouths of the Black kids and saying what, it’s warm in here!  It’s lovely in here!  Just get up and move on!  You can’t breathe?  I can’t hear you!  Look at how lovely it is in here!  Look at all this wealth!  Look at all these opportunities!  Just get up!  But the hand is still over the mouth.

Being survivors is difficult work.  I am a survivor of my own micro-cosm of pain.  Blacks are survivors of multi-generational oppression that has gone on for centuries now and continues to keep them locked in patterns of human behavior that mean their children are marked for life.  No one can tell any person how to grieve, or how to heal, and simply pushing it off on Blacks completely erases the responsibilities of white people to assist.  The white kids in my example have to actually recognize their hand is on the mouth.  Their hand is on the mouth because they know if they release, they must share all the goodness, and they don’t want to share.

Jesus, give us ears to hear.  And willing hands to turn around long enough to ask, who are you?  What are your needs today?

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom.  Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things

Theresa Moxley, Survivor and Advocate of Intimate Partner Violence, Writer, Artist, Mom. Thinker, Dreamer, Creator of Good Things