Monday, November 25, 2013

We will speak out - against Sexual and Gender Based Violence

2 Samuel 13:1-21    Common English Bible (CEB)

13 Some time later, David’s son Amnon fell in love with Tamar the beautiful sister of Absalom, who was also David’s son. 2 Amnon was so upset over his half sister that he made himself sick. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible in Amnon’s view to do anything to her. 3 But Amnon had a friend named Jonadab, Shimeah’s son, David’s brother, who was a very clever man.
4 “Prince,” Jonadab said to him, “why are you so down, morning after morning? Tell me about it.”So Amnon told him, “I’m in love with Tamar, the sister of my brother Absalom.”

5 “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be sick,” Jonadab said to him. “When your father comes to see you, tell him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me some food to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I can watch and eat from her own hand.’”

6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be sick. The king came to see him, and Amnon told the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of heart-shaped cakes in front of me so I can eat from her hand.”

7 David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Please go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare some food for him.”8 So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house where he was lying down. She took dough, kneaded it, made heart-shaped cakes in front of him, and then cooked them. 9 She took the pan and served Amnon, but he refused to eat.

“Everyone leave me,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom so I can eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the heart-shaped cakes she had made and brought them to her brother Amnon in the bedroom. 11 When she served him the food, he grabbed her and said, “Come have sex with me, my sister.” 12 But she said to him, “No, my brother! Don’t rape me. Such a thing shouldn’t be done in Israel. Don’t do this horrible thing. 13 Think about me—where could I hide my shame? And you—you would become like some fool in Israel! Please, just talk to the king! He won’t keep me from marrying you.”

14 But Amnon refused to listen to her. He was stronger than she was, and so he raped her. 
15 But then Amnon felt intense hatred for her. In fact, his hatred for her was greater than the love he had felt for her. So Amnon told her, “Get out of here!” 16 “No, my brother!” she said. “Sending me away would be worse than the wrong you’ve already done.”

But Amnon wouldn’t listen to her. 17 He summoned his young servant and said, “Get this woman out of my presence and lock the door after her.” (18 She was wearing a long-sleeved robe because that was what the virgin princesses wore as garments.) So Amnon’s servant put her out and locked the door after her.  19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long-sleeved robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and walked away, crying as she went.

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has your brother Amnon been with you? Keep quiet about it for now, sister; he’s your brother. Don’t let it bother you.” So Tamar, a broken woman, lived in her brother Absalom’s house.

21 When King David heard about all this he got very angry, but he refused to punish his son Amnon because he loved him as his oldest child.

November 25th has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is the beginning of 16 days of  worldwide activism against gender violence.   Today is Speak Out Sunday, a day dedicated to ending Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

It seems to me that this is perfectly timed. October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Wednesday, November 20  was Transgender Day of Remembrance when we remember the many - thousands - who have died simply because of who they were.   

This passage from 2nd Samuel is known as “the rape of Tamar.”  It is one of those terrible Bible stories we hate to preach on.  OK, it’s one of those terrible Bible stories we NEVER preach on. We try to skip over it in Bible studies.  And we sure don’t write children’s books about Tamar and Amnon like we do about Abraham and Sarah or even Samson and Delilah.  It’s an ugly, terrible story and we want to know why . . . Why didn’t David do something? Why didn’t Absalom go beat Amnon to a pulp? Why Tamar was told to be quiet, to not let it bother her?   Really? Absalom actually said, “ Don’t let it bother you?” That would never happen today.

Right.  That ugly scenario happens every day, today.   I could have just lifted a plot line from Law and Order SVU and found all the same elements.  A young woman is subjected to violent rape by someone close to her, her family tries to pretend it never happened, and there is no penalty for the perpetrator. There’s a reason people don’t report rape, why women and men stay in violent relationships even when it’s pretty clear even to them that their very lives may be (are!) at risk.  
 Rape.  Physical Violence.  Stalking. Not by strangers, but by a loved one, an intimate partner, a family member.   In the United States this is a reality for one in THREE women.  And for one in FOUR men!  Those numbers from a 2010 survey by the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey are way up from just 5 years earlier.  And the numbers today are most likely higher.    

Many don’t tell.  They don’t want anyone to know.  They think it’s their fault, that they should have been smarter than that, that they should have prevented it somehow, that they should have found a way to get away, to defend themselves, to avoid the situation altogether.  And no matter how loudly or how often we tell ourselves that those things are not true, it’s hard to believe when it seems like all of society believes that they are true.  

And yes, you heard right.  I said we.  I am also a survivor of domestic violence and of rape.  I also struggle not to believe those untruths.  I am also one of those who never called the police on the domestic violence, whose rape went unreported.   A few months ago I was diagnosed with PTSD, which I’ve learned is a common result of those experiences, and began therapy.   Even though those things happened decades ago, I only recently started talking about it.   I am not alone.  

Tamar had no recourse.  There were no police to report to so she went to her brother Absalom.  There was nothing he could do.  The law was pretty clear.  If the woman was raped within a town or city and wasn’t heard to scream, then it wasn’t rape.   And if she had been married she would have been stoned to death.  In a case of proven rape the rapist was required to either marry the woman or pay her father her bride price, because no one else would marry her.   She was, you see, not a person with rights.  She was property.  By taking her virginity Amnon stole something of value, not from Tamar, but from his father, David, to whom she belonged.   In the Western world the laws granting women rights to own property on their own and even to live on their own are recent - just within the last couple hundred years.  In some places in the East and Africa that still isn’t the case.    Rape and other violence against women are still considered property crimes committed against the father or husband, not against the woman.    

It is hard to believe that in the nearly 3,000 years since these events happened, roughly 978 bce, nothing has changed that much.  Women who are victims of domestic violence and spousal rape are told not to worry, not to pay attention to it - by their priests and ministers!  They go to their pastor, who they are supposed to trust, and are told to go home and submit in all ways to their husband, because that’s what the Bible says they should do.   They might even point to the Law that says a husband can’t use a rod any thicker than his thumb to beat his wife with, which implies that he has every right to beat her if she misbehaves . . .  

Men who are victims are ridiculed.  How can a man let a woman beat on him?  He’s bigger and stronger.  Surely he can control her . . .  If he’s even willing to tell his minister, he’s reminded that he is the head of household . . .His friends, if he tells them anything at all, might tell him he should just deck her, that would teach her who is boss.    

So what do we do?  What’s a Christian to do?   If we look to the New Testament, to the household codes in Ephesians 5 for example, we see that Paul does indeed tell wives to submit “. . .wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ.”  Way too often ministers stop right there, with the instruction to the wife.  However, Paul follows that statement immediately saying As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. . That’s how husbands ought to love their wives—in the same way as they do their own bodies. Anyone who loves his wife loves himself. 29 No one ever hates his own body, but feeds it and takes care of it just like Christ does for the church 30 because we are parts of his body.    (Ephesians 5:24-30a)

This bit follows Paul’s insistence that everyone in the church should treat everyone else well.  He says, “speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; 20 always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. 22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands… and Paul ends this section by saying, “In any case, as for you individually, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands.”  

All of you,  the whole community, submit to each other.  Speak only good things, holy things, to each other.  Husbands, love your wives as you love yourself.  Wives, respect your husbands.   Paul isn’t saying, “Men, treat your property well.”  He’s telling them, “love your wife as Christ loves you.  Treat her with care and respect.”  He tells them, in effect, stop paying attention to the rules of the world and live according to Christ’s law.   In Christ there is no difference between individuals.  Your wife is not your property, she is just the same as you, to be loved and  treated as you treat  yourself - as is every member of the Christian community. He is re-iterating, again, the fact that Christians are to live a different way than all the other folks out there.  Christians are all equal in God’s sight and should therefore be equal in each other’s sight.   Every one cares for and about each other.  

What happened to Tamar should never happen in a Christian community.  The victim should never hear, “Oh, you were raped?  You were beaten?  Don’t worry about it.”  The victim should be nurtured and healed.   Regardless of what the laws of the nation say, regardless of what the people outside the Church might say,  she or he is deserving of love, not punishment.   Remember that Jesus said to the crowd getting ready to stone a woman accused of adultery.  First he wanted to know who accused her - what man in the crowd saw her willingly give herself to a man who was not her husband.  And when no one came forward he said, let the one who has never done anything wrong be the first to throw a stone.  And every person put down his stone and walked away.  Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more.  He didn’t accuse her or preach at her or tell her how bad she was.  He just said, go and sin no more.  

He says that to us all.  He shows each of us compassion just as he did to that woman waiting to be killed.  He models for her the forgiveness and compassion each of us receives from God.  Always and forever, we are given another chance to get it right, another chance to reach out to the damaged, the broken, another chance to help the victim, another chance to heal him or her of the pain and shame that comes with being a victim.  And we are given the chance to teach - that no one should be victimized.  That we are responsible for teaching our children and our communities that each person is equal in God’s eyes and that we are all to love one another as we are loved.  That we are all to respect each other as equally valued, beloved children of God. That no one deserves to be punished just for being who they are, or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for being a victim.  

Submit to each other.  Love one another as you are loved.  Heal the sick, the injured, the broken.  Feed those who hunger.  Speak the Good News where ever you go. Work for justice  And do not judge.

Cross-posted at   

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Prayer on Tamale Tuesday

As I sat in my office this morning I started to hear a bit of commotion in the church hall.  There were tables and chairs being moved around and people greeting each other.  When I looked at my calendar I realized that today is Tamale Tuesday.

On the third Tuesday of every month a Spanish speaking
congregation that shares space with us spends the day making tamales, which they will sell this evening to raise funds for their church. There are both women and men here sharing all the work - cutting, mixing, sorting out the corn husks, and stirring.  In a few hours they will start rolling the tamales.  There will be pork tamales and chicken and sweet corn meal and sometimes they make tamales that are filled with corn meal and cheese wrapped around a large pepper.  I'm not sure what they're called, but I really like those pepper tamales.  

Before they begin all that, however, they pray.  They will gather in a circle, the pastor will say something like "let us pray" and they begin.  When I say "they" I mean all of them.  Each and every person in that circle will pray out loud at the same time that everyone else is praying, saying his or her own prayer from the heart, giving thanks and praise to God and asking God's blessing on the work they will do today.  When I say "out loud" I mean that there is no mumbling, no hesitancy, no wondering what everyone else is saying.  They lift their voices together with confidence, with as much energy as my congregation puts forth when singing a well-loved hymn.

I remember how surprised I was the first time I experienced this kind of praying.  I'm used to having the pastor or some other leader praying out loud while everyone else stands there silently.  Sometimes someone will respond to the pray-er with a "Praise God" or "Thank you Jesus" or "Yes Lord."  But most of the time they just listen and let the leader pray on their behalf.   Now and then a circle will pray the same prayer in unison in that sort of sing-song way we tend to use for memorized prayers and poems. 

So you can understand my confusion the first time I stood in a prayer circle with a group of Spanish speaking Christians.  It took a couple of experiences with this new thing before I was totally comfortable with praying out loud while everyone else was praying, but I grew to like it.  It started making a lot of sense to me that each individual would give thanks and ask God's blessing on their work.  It makes sense that when a group of people are asking God for help for one of their number that each will lift up their own individual plea for that person.  This is the priesthood of all believers in action.

I don't get many opportunities to join my Spanish speaking sisters and brothers in prayer.  But you can be sure that when I hear those prayers begin on Tamale Tuesday I drop whatever I'm doing and pray along.