Grief and Resolutions
Trigger Warning: discussion of abuse.
I’m shaking so badly I can barely type.
There’s a compostable container of chicken pad thai slowly cooling next to me on the table. I live in Portland and every container is compostable. I called in the order when I knew that I had passed the point of being able to make food on my own, but needing to eat immediately. I drove the half mile to the restaurant crying, and as I parked my car, the sky dumped the kind of brief, pounding rain that only spring brings. I didn’t even have the energy to draw a personified parable for the weather; I ran inside and picked up my food.
I’m taking giant, tasteless bites in between typing these sentences, hoping that the protein and carbs will fuel my brain to say what I actually think, because it has been a long time coming.
My best friend called me today and finally spoke the words I’d guessed in bits and pieces over the past few years. My friend named the big words, ugly words, and talked about timelines and acts and the people who did them and the people who knew about them and did nothing.
My friend talked about peeling off another layer of the onion of the healing process (healing’s not a parfait; parfaits are too delicious), and being at the part of the story where you stop letting the darkness rule.
We talked about the Light together.
And of course I was very calm in the moment, because that is what I do when I am faced with truth that is so despicable I cannot even comprehend it.
There is much grief in the Light. There are moments where there are flickers of electricity in the wires of the systems, or even a momentary glimpse from a lantern, and I feel capable of handling that grief.
But then all of the stadium lights come on and there are no more shadows in the arena and you can see the children being torn apart by lions.
Lions are devouring children. This is what abuse looks like. This is what I see when I see abuse. Lions are eating children while the crowds of Good Christians and Good Families look on.
Small precious vulnerable children are offered to the lions because adults cannot handle their own grief or the consequences that their sexual ethics have invited abuse. Families and churches are protecting the lions. The grief that comes with seeing that reality is so overwhelming I do not know how anyone gets up any day of the week. I know that I want to sleep all this week. My stomach hurts, but I do not know if it is from all the slippery pad thai I have just piled into my frantic mouth or if it from the Light of truth.
I have heard that bright Lights can induce nausea.
Ugly is too weak of a modifier for the stories I have heard today. They are Evil and nothing less, and I am pulling out all of my strong words and even they seem too weak. The truth is not ugly, it is
(I’ve got nothing).
I am reminded, through my tears, that this act of grief for and with my friend is not one of mere sadness. It is an act of prophecy.
Walter Brueggemann presents this understanding in The Prophetic Imagination, which some of us are reading this month for #transitlounge. In the third chapter, he talks about grief – specifically tears – as a radical act of hope. In our tears, we are declaring that something is so wrong that it cannot be covered up by the numbness of a sedated culture. Tears are an act of formal complaint against society and to a living, free God. Brueggemann writes, “We know from our own pain and hurt and loneliness that tears break barriers like no harshness or anger. Tears are a way of solidarity in pain when no other solidarity remains.” Sometimes there is nothing you can or should do but cry. I have been crying all day.
Then there is a time to act.
One of my strengths is that I see patterns everywhere. I cannot hear stories like my friend’s without acknowledging that this is not an isolated or individual occurrence. I have learned too much in the past few years of exploring my own demolition and rebuilding of beliefs. I have learned too much about the patterns that other people have identified, and now I see them, too. And in patterns, I see responsibility.
Abuse can hide in plain sight, in otherwise “model” families, and in organizations where much good is happening. But it also does not happen without social encouragement and we cannot end abuse until we are willing to look critically at our culture. We cannot end abuse until we engage the systems and beliefs that help perpetuate it.
We have to reexamine our own behavior. We cannot see individual acts of evil without acknowledging that certain evils are systemic. We cannot pass on the darkness; we have to confront the system with all the Lights we have. We have to act.
I am sitting at my kitchen table, staring out the window at a bright spot in the sky. The spring clouds are moving so fast that the rainstorm of an hour ago is making way for a spot of blue. My own tears have stopped for the moment, though I’m sure they’ll be back. And I have no interest in another bite of this pad thai. But I do have some ideas for what to do next.
I am making three resolutions because of the Light my friend shared today:
1. I commit to being a mandatory reporter. I want to learn to recognize the signs of abuse and how to report them. I will not put the needs of the organization or powerful individual to remain attractive, in control, or in a good standing above the powerless individual or potential victim if I suspect any abuse. I will report or confront as necessary, knowing that abuse is best investigated by those with far more training than I have. I will risk being wrong to protect the vulnerable. I will make the call to call in the authorities.
2. I commit to being a safe person. I know that the first person someone tells about their abuse, whether it is past or ongoing, has a powerful impact on recovery. I know that while listening is shocking, difficult, and invites my own grief, it is nothing compared to the risk of speaking up. Being brushed off, ignored, or poorly questioned can be devastating to the person revealing abuse. It often perpetuates abuse or keeps the shame cycle functioning. With that understanding, I will learn about resources available and I will offer my resources, to the best of my ability, to support the light getting in and the healing to happen. I will listen to the requests of the abused person and believe them, and prioritize their needs as a victim of abuse over my own as a knower of abuse. I know that sometimes, believing and validating a person’s story of abuse is a primary and radical act. I will commit to whatever response the survivor of abuse requests, as long as it includes my responsibility as a mandatory reporter.
3. I will keep speaking up about the damaging ways we discuss sexuality in Christian culture. A dysfunctional, shaming, suppressing view of human sexuality leads to behavior that is dysfunctional, shame-fueled, and abusive. We cannot pretend that there is no connection between these two things. If we are to change this system, we have to actually change the system. We need to listen, study, and do the work. We need to have better conversations for all people of all ages. We need to identify where we’re doing it poorly and be willing to change course, even if it’s at the expense of our own power or platform. I will keep exploring, correcting, and sharing. I will be a piece of change.
Those are the first things that come to mind, but I need your help building on them. I need to know the names of organizations or individuals that are talking about individual and institutional abuse. I need education. I need to know what religious or secular resources you have to share.
I need to know what resolutions you have made for yourself or what your church is doing to confront abuse or what books or blogs you have read that would help me in my own commitments. Please share what you can in the comments. If you are an abuse survivor and I've reflected your experience poorly here, or if you have any form of non-traditional viewpoint to share, please know that I will try to listen and edit this piece as best I can. I may make mistakes, but I want to learn and I am willing to change. I have obtained permission to share this story as I have shared it, but I acknowledge that it will not reflect all stories.
I need your tears and I need your hope.
(Please, also, light candles for my friend, regardless of your faith. This story is not unique, but it is close to me and I know this person and this family needs your prayers for diligence, healing, and hope. They need courage to confront this abuse radically and take drastic measures.)