Being Fully Human, college, education, rape, sexual assault, Title IX

5 Steps Toward Ending Sexual Assault on College Campuses

campusLast night I had the opportunity to be participate as a panelist after screening the movie It Happened Here. This moving documentary explores sexual assault on college campuses through the personal testimonials of five survivors who transform their experiences into a springboard for change. Find a screening near you! For those of you in West Michigan, Loutit Library has a copy you can check out.

Our young people are simply inundated with adult sexual content – without being given the tools to deal with their own sexuality and the repercussions of their choices. We have traditionally framed our approach to sexuality in the context of shame based teachings. Shame is not an effective tool for experiencing healthy sexuality. If we are going to reduce sexual assault, we need to talk realistically about sex in a way the builds a foundation of self respect. People who respect themselves, do not disrespect other people.

  • Sexual assault and abuse need to be criminalized. Young people need to know that their actions will be taken seriously. They need to know that there are stiff criminal penalties and real life consequences awaiting anyone that violates another human being.
  • Our culture needs to stop glorifying male sexual conquests – that only creates an unhealthy need to prove one’s manhood through sexual encounters.
  • We need to recognize that college students are watching and using internet pornography and that this affects their world view.  We need to talk candidly about the differences between pornography and reality. We need to understand that pornography provides a lens for objectifying human beings so that we can present forums that re-humanize people and offer tools for healthy relationships.
  • We need to talk realistically about sex in a way the builds a foundation of self respect because people who respect themselves, do not disrespect other people. When we use shame-based teachings, we tell people that they are not safe sharing their true thoughts and feelings. We take away opportunities for insight and growth and drive unhealthy thoughts and behaviors deeper underground.
  • We need to make it clear to young people that there is never an excuse for abuse and it should never be tolerated. We need to give them tools to identify abuse in their own lives so that they choose to make healthier relationship choices.

Society is polarized between the idea that sex is a sin and sex is a sport. We need to find that healthy place where we celebrate our sexuality and treat it with moral integrity – a place I call Sextegrity.

Namaste!

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Being Fully Human, cycle of violence, divine within, domestic violence, Easter, emotional abuse, Jesus, mary of magdala, partriarchy, resurrection, sexual abuse, shame, social isolation, women

A Call to Resurrection

Surviving Domestic ViolenceIn my book Sacred Sex I retell Will Willimon’s experience preaching in a croweded auditorum. He was given an introduction that far exceeded what he thought he would deliver and he remembered a teacher saying something like if you aren’t sure you have enough to say, say it louder. So he got up before the congregation and said, “And what is the most significant event our faith has to offer?” Then he bellowed out the answer, “The Erection!” Now that’s one Easter message I would have enjoyed hearing!

My message won’t be quite that provocative. I believe the Easter story and the Easter myth itself transcends the barrier of religion and that even if we don’t follow the Christian calendar, we can still find value in its premise. So I want to approach this story through the eyes of Mary of Magdala and dedicate this message to the women who have struggled throughout history into our modern times to find a place of genuine acceptance and inclusion as equals in society.

Mary at the Empty Tomb

What a poignant Easter text we find in John 20:10-18, so sad and so beautiful. Mary has come to the tomb of her beloved Jesus. You can imagine how she must have felt. Numbness fighting to still the shock still reverberating in her. Going through the motions of preparing the body, the one last way in which she can feel close to the teacher she followed and the man she most certainly loved. Feeling lost and alone and yet finding some comfort in these rites and rituals.

And then even that solace is taken from her. There is no body to touch or to cry over. There is no last time to speak her sorrow while gazing at the face she held so dear. Instead there is the certain knowledge that the joy has gone out of her life, that feeling of hollow emptiness and despair. The sense of being small and insignificant and utterly alone.

Indeed, 2000 years ago, women as a whole were considered small and insignificant. Women were nobodies. Women were property. They had few of the rights of men. They could not be witnesses in court or file for divorce. They could not be taught the Torah. They were to be nearly invisible in public. Public meals were for men only, and if a woman did show up she was assumed to be a prostitute. Women lived on the margins of society.

Jesus’ Treatment of Women was Scandalous

And for a brief period of time, Jesus elevated Mary and the other women he interacted with to a glorious height of equality. His actions toward women were nothing short of scandalous. He defended them, spoke with them, healed them, ate with them, and even learned from them. Mary was part of the intimate group that traveled with Jesus. She knew personally the warmth of his unconditional love.

And now so profound is her despair that when Jesus speaks to her she doesn’t even recognize him… until he speaks her name. When she is named, when she is recognized for who she is at a time when she feels again as if she is nothing. When she is recognized for who she is at a time when she has lost everything. When she is recognized for who she is, she recognizes her Teacher. She is filled with new life. In a very real sense it is Mary who is now resurrected.

So why in this moment of mystical reunion would Jesus torment her further by telling her not to hold onto him? Shouldn’t he have swept her into his arms and held her as she wept? Shouldn’t he have offered her words of comfort and peace, assuring her of his presence, promising her this was real and that he was there, right there with her?

John wrote the most mystical of the four Gospels that were included in the official Canon. In it Jesus is always using common language to say something beyond the obvious. So when Jesus says, “Don’t hold onto me.” Was his statement as obviously cruel as it sounds or could it be that this man who so often used common language to point to the spiritual is at it again? “No Mary, you don’t have to hold onto me. You don’t have to cling to me, because everything you saw in me is now in you. That same divine presence that you sensed in me, I now challenge you to see in yourself. This is what I came to teach and show you. See in yourself the Spirit you saw in me.”

Mary’s Call to be Fully Human

In the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, a Gospel that did not make it into the Canon, Jesus tells his followers that the son of Man dwells inside them. And Mary responds by saying that Jesus is calling them and us to be fully “human.”

Perhaps to be fully human is to recognize that what Jesus says is true. To understand that it is within our humanity that we are all resurrected. Perhaps it is only in fullness that we learn not to belittle ourselves and dismiss our gifts and abilities. Perhaps it is only in human fullness that we come to realize that we are also fully divine.

The Terror of s

I’d like to tell you now about another women. I was returning with a group from Extended Grace from a Renaissance Festival when we stopped at a gas station. One of the teenagers with us went into the restroom where she was approached by a young lady asking her for help. Her name was Tanika and she looked barely 16 years old. Tanika explained that her boyfriend had beaten her for the last time and that she had finally left him for good. But he had followed her and when she stopped at this station for gas he took over her car with her child in it. I called the police. I left Tanika with the police officers and my card and told her to call if she needed any help connecting with legal assistance or a shelter.

None of us expected to meet Tanika that day or to find ourselves face-to-face with the terror of living in abuse. More often we can ignore the problem. More often it stays behind closed doors. But as unusual as our encounter with Tanika proved to be, there is nothing unusual about domestic violence. In the United States, someone is beaten by their intimate partner every 9 seconds. For 12.4 million people, home is not a safe place. Today even many teenagers view violence as an unavoidable aspect of their relationships, and 1 in 3 will experience physical or sexual abuse or threats during the year.

The face of abuse is shared by all races, all ages and all socioeconomic classes. Domestic violence has severe physical and emotional consequences for its victims. And while 1 in 3 women will be victims of abuse sometime during their lifetime, studies also show that as many as 1 in 4 domestic abuse victims are men. The FBI reports that 2/3 of all marriages will include violence at some point. Domestic violence is just as real and just as prevalent in heterosexual and same sex relationships.

“People Like Her Just Like to Get Hit.”

I never heard from Tanika again. According to the frustrated police officer, her boyfriend was in a lot of trouble for a lot of things, but in the end Tanika never pressed charges. The officer was angry with her – and obviously ill-educated about abuse. I was dismayed when he said to me, “People like her just like to get hit.” I tried to explain. I tried to help him see. I hope I made some impact.

Why would anyone stay in a violent relationship? This is probably the most commonly asked question – and for good reason. It seems so logical and obvious that these victims should just get out of the house. But the reality is that there are a lot of barriers to freedom. The reality is that the most dangerous time for a person who is being battered is when they leave. A full 75 percent of women who are killed by their partners are murdered after the relationship is over or as it ends. But that’s only one of the barriers to freedom.

Another is that many women and men don’t think of themselves as being abused. Abuse is generational and those who have grown up in abusive homes are far more likely to become the victims of the perpetrators of violence when they have grown. Abuse at its core is about control. It’s one person scaring another person into doing something. And it’s not just physical abuse but sexual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse and financial abuse. Domestic violence may include insulting and name-calling, isolation, intimidation, and threats, which may be directed at children or other family members.

Cycle of Violence

Another important concept to understand is the Cycle of Violence. The relationship doesn’t start out being violent. In fact, the abuser most likely begins as a seducer, buying presents and showering praise and attention on their partner. Eventually, though, this calm gives way to a tension-building period. In this phase, minor incidents begin and communication breaks down. The victim feels the need to placate the abuser and “walk on eggshells.” Eventually, the tension is released in an incident, which may take the form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

The next stage is a return to seduction as the abuser apologizes and may cry. A honeymoon stage ensues complete with gifts. And promises are made that it will never happen again. But at the same time, the victim is blamed for provoking the abuse, subtly planting the idea that it was their fault and that they can keep it from happening again. As time goes by, the abuser denies that the abuse ever took place — or at least that it was as bad as the victim claims.

In the calm that follows, the incident is forgotten. Some of the promises are kept and the victim is left with hope that the abuse is over. As the tension building stage begins again, the victim remembers that it is their responsibility to behave in a manner that will not bring about the abuse — which eventually recurs no matter what they do. The entire cycle may take more than a year to complete – or as little as a few hours.

Another barrier is religion. We all know that you cannot possibly use scripture from any religion to justify abuse. Nevertheless, we also know that scripture can be misused. Citing passages to “submit to your husbands” or to “turn the other cheek,” Christian men and women often feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships because of their marriage vow. For this reason, victims of abuse often feel doubly abandoned by God.

Beating Ourselves Up

When all is said and done, I find the best explanation for why people stay in abusive relationships was captured by Don Miguel Ruiz. He said that if you are with someone who is beating you up more than you beat yourself up, you will leave. But if you are with someone who is beating you up just a little bit less than you beat yourself up, you will stay forever. I also believe that people who beat up other people, never beat them up more than they beat themselves up emotionally.

I know Ruiz named my experience. I used to believe in my own unworthiness. My life was so flawed. I was so flawed. There was all this crisis and trauma in my life. I had failed at so many times in my life. I wanted somehow to make a difference, but realized that I probably never would. Then I met Dr. Rudy Featherstone, a truly incredible man. He as a retired professor of theology. A proud black man with snow white hair who spoke glowingly of his wife, his children and his grandchildren. And most joyful person I think I have ever met.

Recognizing the Divine Within

Rudy really shook me up that day. I couldn’t argue with him. Whatever energy permeates our universe, I am part of that universe and that energy is necessarily part of me. When I am fully human, when I am fully me, then I have to admit that the package of body, thought and emotion that is Barbara Lee is not all I am. When I am fully human, I realize that I am also divine.

This is the Good News of the Easter story. It is the refreshingly good news that has been proclaimed throughout the history of all faith traditions. It is the life giving good news that we can never be separated from God because however we define God, we live in THAT and THAT lives in us.

Odds are you know someone who is being abused – even if you don’t know it yet. There’s a good chance that someone hasn’t glimpsed the divinity within themselves. As helpless as we often feel, there are things you can do to help. Let them know you understand domestic abuse. Tell them clearly that it is not their fault and that there is NOTHING they can do to prevent the violence. If they choose to open up, listen nonjudgmentally. Offer to help with childcare, transportation and storage of valuables. Encourage them to contact Every Women’s Place or the Center for Women in Transition or to call the domestic abuse hotline.

A Reason to Hope

Try not to get discouraged. And above all, try not to blame. Victims of domestic abuse are suffering already from a great deal of shame and a sense of hopelessness. Don’t blame yourself if they don’t make the decision you would choose for them. Your role is to offer friendship, hope and a space for the possibility of change. It isn’t your responsibility to fix someone else’s world. More than anything victims need you to model what a loving relationship really looks like. They need a reason to hope.

I am pretty public now about my own history of abuse because I have met too many people who only trusted me with their story after I shared my own – after they knew that I would not judge them for the circumstances they were in.  As a result of my experience, I ended up founding and chairing the Muskegon County Domestic Violence Healthcare Initiative. In that role, I gave a presentation on Domestic Violence at the Lion’s Club. After presenting all of my information, I opened it up for questions. A man sitting in the middle of the room who didn’t even bother to stand up said, “I know someone whose wife won’t let up on him until he hits her. Sometimes there’s just nothing else you can do.” And a number of others seemed to nod their heads and murmur their agreement.

There is NO excuse for violence. Not against women, not against men, not against children. There is NEVER an excuse for one person to use violence in any form against another.

Domestic violence alters the landscape of our lives and the lives of those we love. Violence by an intimate partner, rips deep valleys through the sense of self; builds mountains of shame and guilt and isolation; twists, bends, and distorts notions of love and relationship, and shatters into rough and jagged pieces the spirit of hope.

A Prophetic Voice

We need to be the prophetic voice. We need to be the voice of Jesus and Dr. Rudy Featherstone for Mary of Magdala and Tanika. We need to call all of those who suffer at the hands of abuse by name so that they may also be resurrected to new life.

Individually we can make a dramatic difference in the life of a friend or loved one. Together we can create a society in which we will no longer ignore or excuse acts of domestic violence. It begins with us, it begins here and it begins now.

Namaste

Spiritual Inquiry Discussion Question:

Is domestic violence caused by the patriarchal values of our culture, or is domestic violence caused by individual socioeconomic and/or psychological factors (e.g. substance abuse, mental illness, unemployment)?

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Being Fully Human, childhood sexual abuse, Children, darkness to light, healing, listening, sexual abuse, sexualized violence, shame, survivor, vulnerable

Bound By Shame

Barbara Lee survivorHappy New Year! How many of you celebrated? I wanted to go see Jack Leaver perform at the Highway Inn, but I didn’t feel well enough to go out. Were any of you there? Did you hear what happened there? One of the waitresses announced that it was time to get ready and that at the stroke of midnight she wanted every person standing next to the one person who makes their life worth living. Well, it was kind of embarrassing. As the clock struck, the bartender was almost crushed to death.

Leif and I spent a quiet night at home ourselves. I had an interesting dream the night before that Leif had given me a diamond necklace as a New Year’s Eve present. I asked him what he thought it meant and he told me I would find out that night. At midnight, as the New Year was chiming on his grandfather clocks, Leif handed me a package. I was so excited, I ripped the paper off and there in my hand was a book entitled:  ‘The meaning of dreams’.

There was something much less funny posted in the news during the holidays. I know that some of you saw it because I was so appalled I posted it on Facebook. Someone in a bar posted a sign on the door that said, “We like our beer like we like our violence… domestic.” It was eventually taken down, but it served as a sad reminder that despite our holiday merriment, there is much pain that people are somehow managing to endure and that we have a responsibility as human beings to try to bring to an end.

Darkness to Light

As you know, today we will be having Darkness to Light training after the Gathering and I hope you will stay for it. This training is specifically about recognizing and responding to child sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where this training is critical. I wish it weren’t so. I wish this nation lived out the ideals it says it does.

  • But the reality is that half of all music videos on MTV feature or suggest violence, present hostile sexual situations as acceptable, or show male heroes abusing women for fun.
  • The reality is that there are 4 times as many peepshows and adult bookstores in the US than there are McDonald’s.
  • The reality is that one in eight Hollywood movies depicts a rape theme.

Can you imagine what life would be like if we were not such a civilized and morale people? Clearly we human beings continue to make a mess of this world we’re living in.

And we know it. Retired Republican Congressman James T. Walsh said, “The sexual abuse and exploitation of children is one of the most vicious crimes conceivable, a violation of mankind’s most basic duty to protect the innocent.”  That failure to protect the most vulnerable among us has deep and lasting consequences. And it happens far too often. At least 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

The Legacy of Abuse

Most people who are sexually abused as children experience difficulties related to the abuse. They can experience strong, sometimes crippling emotions, even decades after the event.  These emotions include:

  1. Fear: of recurrence, of sexual intercourse, of intimacy.
  2. Anger, with God, with the molester, with people in general.
  3. Guilt, thinking they caused the act, that they didn’t fight hard enough, that their body betrayed them by responded to the act.
  4. and perhaps most debilitating of all, Shame.

So what is shame? Have you ever felt as if there was something happening in your life over which you had no control? Clinical Psychologist Gershen Kaufman describes shame in this way. He calls shame an impotence-making experience because it feels as though there is no way to relieve the matter, no way to restore the balance of things. There is no single action that is wrong and can be repaired. Shame isn’t about feeling like you did something wrong, it’s about feeling like there is something inherently wrong with you. Shame arises out of the belief that one has simply failed as a human being.

And shame is a binding experience. Shame is the painful feeling of being exposed, being made vulnerable, being uncovered and left unprotected, being naked and looked at by others. Shame implies that we were at some time vulnerable to the scorn, disrespect and even the hate of another human being and that no repair followed.

Shame leads to self-shaming, to rejecting our self before others can reject us. Shame brings distance between people and even within parts of our self. As a result we may find ourselves raging at others, mistrusting people, striving for perfection, striving for power, or internally withdrawing all in an effort to protect our self from further hurt.

It’s hard for me to think of anything more binding in our culture today then the painful reality of sexual abuse and the shame that too often results. Any activity that a person feels violates her or his boundaries may fall within the realm of sexual abuse, but today we are focusing on childhood sexual abuse. We’re especially aware of the children in our lives right now having moved through the holidays with our own children, grand children, nieces and nephews. And now we are more than ready for them to return to school. And we would do anything to keep them from being hurt.

Unwanted Sexual Attention 

Child sexual abuse includes any experience during childhood or adolescence that involves inappropriate sexual attention by another person, usually an adult, but sometimes an older child, teenager, or even a same-aged playmate. The behavior may be forced, coerced, or even willingly engaged in by the survivor, but it is understood as abusive because a child cannot truly give free consent.

Fear, anger, guilt and shame influence behavior, causing irrational, sometimes hostile reactions to natural life situations.  Often, a person is bound in their own secrecy, ashamed and afraid to share this part of the self and the past with others.

I was bound for 22 years before I could claim publicly that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I was bound by shame that set in when a traumatic silence followed the abuse. As with most child sexual abuse, my perpetrators were not strangers, but the son and the daughter of my father’s friend. When my father learned about the abuse, nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. In the end, it was that lack of any noticeable reaction at all that was more damaging to me than the abuse itself.

I was confused and puzzled. Was it really acceptable that this had happened to me? Apparently, it was. I internalized a sense of being deeply flawed and I filled my emotional warehouse with a great reserve of shame.

Suffering in Silence

People who are bound by shame suffer in silence that they cannot break. So it is up to us to speak. We need to speak the truth about their experience. We need to say out loud and regularly: You did nothing to deserve sexual abuse.  There was nothing in this act that God or anyone else willed. This abuse hurt creation because you are creation’s precious child. Love wants you to be healed, to be loosed from your bonds and to once again stand up tall and straight. You can feel whole and clean and joyful again.

And if a survivor is able to break his or her own silence, then we need to be able to listen. Victims of sexual abuse struggle with trying to find a sense of universal love and compassion in the midst of their horror. We need to listen to their stories if we are to appreciate the reality of that horror and confront the hard questions about sexuality and violence in our culture. More than easy answers, they need us to listen carefully, to not assume that we can easily understand their pain and their grief.

And if we are to really take seriously our task of healing the binding results of abuse, then we cannot only pay attention to individual victims and their recovery. We must also act to heal the ills of our society. Frankly, we live in a rape culture in which primarily children and women receive messages every day that their bodies are meant to be used as commodities and that violations of their bodies will be ignored, tacitly condoned or blamed on them.

Confronting Sexualized Violence

It is natural for us to recoil from such a harsh truth, to close our eyes to the pervasiveness and the horror of sexual abuse in our own backyard. It is much more comfortable to redirect our attention to the outward and reprehensible abuses of other people in other lands because acknowledging the cold, hard truth of our own country’s atrocities forces us to question our belief that we are part of a democratic society that is both rational and decent, as well as our desire to believe that we as a people are loving and kind.

We need to face up to the reality and horror of sexualized violence in our media, in our neighborhoods, in our lives – not try to cover it up. And we need to monitor our own actions, our language, our choices in this life so that we do not contribute to a society that continues to harm, to bind and to cripple our sons and our daughters.

Shame is a biding experience, but it is not a life sentence. Even the bonds of shame can be untied. And that starts with us. With our actions, our words, and our awareness. Please be part of the untying and the healing by joining us for the Darkness to Light training today. An unknown author wrote, “You can’t fight the dark. You can wait for the light, you can look for the light, you can share the light, or you can shine.” Today I invite you to shine.

The light in me recognizes and bows to the light in you. Namaste.

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