Bill Hybels and #churchtoo

“It’s not that big of a deal.” “Just let it go.” “Stop rocking the boat.” “Maybe you should wait until your fully ordained to say anything.” “It wasn’t that bad.” I’ve heard all these things. I’ve heard of these sentences surrounding male United Methodist clergy.

In the last week, Willow Creek had its annual gathering called the Global Leadership Summit, which was originally planned and organized by Bill Hybels. Well, as we all now know, this seemingly beloved Christian leader, considered to be one of the top pastors of his generation in American Christianity also sexually harassed/assaulted and preyed on women in his church, his publishing house, and women on his staff, and only God knows who else for decades. For those decades, the church of Willow Creek has attempted to cover up the transgressions of its ‘beloved’ leader.

In the very same week, news broke that the Pennsylvania Catholic Church has been hiding and covering up sexual abuse by clergy at least five decades. Hundreds and hundreds of victims and it was covered up. Why? Supposedly to protect. To protect the ‘good work’ that these people were doing. Yes, do I believe that God works good works despite broken and sinful leaders, as we are all broken and sinful leaders, but some sins are far more damaging and UNLAWFUL than others. God redeems, and we are all sinful, but sexual abuse or harassment and assault CANNOT be tolerated. God calls us to accountability and repentance. Neither of which I have seen from the Pennsylvania Catholic Church or Bill Hybels and Willow Creek. And God ALWAYS calls us to truth.

“The truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32B) But first, sometimes the truth must break us apart. It must kill. It kills the sin so that righteousness can take its place. The church is afraid to be honest when it comes to the truth of clergy sexual abuse and assault because we are afraid it will kill the ministry. We are afraid the truth would damage the witness of the church to the world, but a truth that has been hidden, covered up, or silenced is far more damaging to the witness and the kingdom of God. It kills the spirituality of the victim. It causes an even deeper wound. When we are silent on this issue, we tell the victim and the world one of two things: these occurrences are rare and that the church and God don’t care. Neither of these statements is true. Lies, untruths, cover-ups, and victim-blaming does more damage to the kingdom of God than the truth ever would have done. We tell the world that the church isn’t interested in truth, while simultaneously telling the world that we possess the truth.

Why is it more harmful, first of all, hundreds more are victimized while the church hides the truth. More and more people are silenced and hurt and told that God doesn’t care about the pain done in God’s name. How did the church forget that we are the incarnation of Christ, God with flesh and not speak up? The spiritual damage of an institution trying to protect predators instead of prey is tenfold. Now they are also betrayed by God. If we choose to comfort those in power and forget those who have been made powerless, then we are not displaying a God who came to set captives free. They are betrayed by the God that told the church to go to protect the widow, the child, and the outsider. We stand and speak on behalf of God and if we choose silence or hiding, we are silencing God as well.

This sexual abuse/harassment/assault is not just a Willow Creek problem or a Catholic problem, this is church problem. This irreprehensible behavior has been going on for decades or centuries in churches. Right now, in our current societal climate, Hollywood producers are held to a higher standard than American clergy. Let that sink in. Two weeks ago, James Gunn, the director of the extremely successful Guardians of the Galaxy movies, was fired for rape jokes he made years ago on Twitter. It is ludicrous that Hollywood is cracking down more than the church against church leaders. Clergy are called to be ‘set apart’, anointed by God to lead the people of God. And we have allowed clergy to lead the people into a trap to touch, grope, fondle, rape, and vilify.

I’m a United Methodist clergy and I’m fully ordained, and with that, I now feel like I have the power to speak out against this. Last Monday I was interviewed by Jason Micheli for the podcast “Crackers and Grape Juice” and he asked how I navigated sexual harassment and being touched inappropriately as a female clergy person. I didn’t have a satisfactory answer, because it hasn’t really happened since I ordained. Before I was always afraid that if I did I could lose my chance at ordination, get a punishment appointment, or jeopardize my future or call in some other way.

I have served in no less than five UM annual conferences as a staff member, pastoral intern, or pastor and I have been sexually harassed in all of them. I have been told I would look good on a stripper pole and should work at Hooters, fondled, caressed, groped, touched, and backed into a corner where I narrowly escaped what I fear was a rape attempt all at the hands of United Methodist clergy. If I have heard and seen from other female clergy comparable stories. If it has happened to me in 5 annual conferences, it is happening in them all. This isn’t a Catholic Church problem, this isn’t a Willow Creek problem, fellow United Methodists, this is our problem too.

The fact that clergy or Christian leaders violate those in power isn’t new, it’s Old Testament, and so is a cover-up. Just a few weeks ago, the lectionary texts were on the story of David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was taking her ritual cleansing bath on her own roof. She was attempting to be made holy in order to enter the Temple, and because of the roving eye of King David, the most unholy thing happens to her temple, her body. It is clear in scripture that this is non-violent rape. A woman would have no power to deny consent to the King.

David is shocked by his own horrendous behavior and tries to cover up his assault. When it doesn’t work, he orders not just the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, but his entire platoon. The Bible tells us just how far this Christian leader fell. It doesn’t hide it to protect the name of God, it reveals the truth to display the glory of God and the need for God in all of our lives. Covering up his sins and assault sets David, Bathsheba, and Israel on a downward spiral that they never fully recover.

Rape still your identity, I know, I have been raped. Bathsheba was stripped of her clothes, agency, body, and name by David. However, God redeems and resurrects. In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus in chapter 1, Bathsheba is listed, but she is listed as Uriah’s wife, her rightful identity. Scripture gives her back, at least in part what was taken. Scripture doesn’t shy away from the truth, even when it’s ugly because it sets us free. If we are truly followers of Scripture, then we to must be truthful and believe victims and hold perpetrators accountable, even if they are the leaders of our largest churches. Let’s protect the name of God as a place where the broken are made well, not try to protect the institution so that it can continue to break. UMC #churchtoo.

When Words Aren’t Enough Proof

There was a time when I was sexually assaulted, groped, and harassed by a supervisor several years ago. I desperately tried to get people to listen to me, to believe me. I consistently heard that he was a ‘good guy’, a ‘good pastor’ and would never do such a thing. My word and description of the events were ignored. I began to think I was crazy. Some of his touches could have ‘seemed’ as compassionate or ‘not over the line’, but they made me feel small, afraid, and unclean I cried out for someone to take my feelings and thoughts seriously. Most didn’t.

The aggression of the man became bolder every time I he successfully touched me without reproach. When I finally confronted him, the conversation became how I was disrupting his life, how I was callous and upsetting the situation, how I should think twice about making such extreme allegations without proof.

To this day, five years later, I wonder what “proof” I could have offered that would have made the authorities believe me. He touched me under the table surrounded by people where no one could see or made remarks and sexual innuendos in my ear during what was a hug. He cornered me in a room I was walking through and groped me when no one else was in the room. I didn’t have witnesses, I didn’t have photos, I didn’t have sworn statements, but I did have anxiety and a strong feeling that I was dirty and disempowered. I had my fear and my MANY attempts to be heard and removed from his supervision, but proof besides my words - I had none.

No DNA was present to test, no one could corroborate my story, or even think that it was as bad as I was reacting. I couldn’t seem to yell loud enough or change the perception that I was overreacting, in fact, the more I tried, the more ‘hysterical and emotional’ I seemed. Suddenly the conversation flipped from centering around his inappropriate actions to MY emotional and professional ‘performance’. Was I truly fit for ministry? Was I too emotional or unstable? Was I able to be a minister to men? I was dumb-founded. How did we go from talking about his inappropriate and frankly illegal behavior to MY fitness for ministry?

My words were the only proof I had. I didn’t have bruises to show on my skin, and the marks left on my self-esteem unseen. I didn’t know how to show the bruises to my ego or how my body felt like it was the culprit in the entire situation. It wasn’t the first time that I had experienced sexual assault and just once, I wanted someone to believe me and stand up for me.

My words weren’t enough as my perpetrator had words of his own, words that made me look crazy, vindictive, ‘slutty’, unprofessional, power-hungry, hateful, or conniving and deceitful. My words that were meant to help save me from the situation were twisted and my tears were my only way to express my rage and pain, as yelling made me appear less reliable.

Years later, I am no longer surprised that my words weren’t enough ‘proof’. Words of women describing events are not enough. This isn’t new, in fact, it’s ancient. Mary was a virgin and conceived a child in a time, where her pregnancy could be punishable by death. Her words of innocence and description of her experience with God fell on deaf ears. If it weren’t for an angel appearing to Joseph, her life would have been very different. Joseph didn’t believe her without proof. Fortunately for Mary, the proof was given to Joseph and he was able to protect her from reproach and gossip.

One morning Mary and Martha went to a tomb and saw a risen Savior and an empty tomb. They immediately went to tell the disciples of Christ’s resurrection. They had no proof besides their words as an eye-witness account. This wasn’t enough for the disciples. They needed proof, they needed evidence, they needed to corroborate their story, they needed to investigate for themselves.

These two women weren’t believed as they were the first to tell the world of the incarnation and the resurrection. Arguably the most important events in the history of God in the world were told by women who had no proof besides their words. Even when they weren’t believed, they continued to proclaim the truth. The truth they had an eye-witness account to offer as evidence and proof. It wasn’t enough to convince the men in power then and it still might not. That doesn’t mean we stop speaking and proclaiming the truth and demanding that our eye-witness testimony be accepted as “proof”.

We can still demand to be heard and offered justice years after the fact, even when the event becomes ancient history. As Christians, we deal in ancient history and what happened many years ago still affects our lives today. We are saved, sanctified, redeemed, and offered eternal life by events that happened thousands of years ago, and we are still affected by actions committed against our bodies years and decades after the hands have moved on to the next victim.

Fellow survivors hear me. Speak your truth if you desire, share your eye-witness testimony. There are people that will believe you and find your words enough and we will hold you and fight for you against those who want more ‘proof’. Not being believed is not the end of your story as you still get to write your story in a way that makes your perpetrator nothing more than a footnote, a blip in your path to survival and resurrection. They might be the villain in one chapter, but you are the hero/heroine of the story with God’s reign as the final chapter. You're unheard “No” is also God’s final word to your death, God says “No” and redeems and resurrects. Yes, it may take years and lots of work, but you will have ‘proof’ of God’s victory over evil.

The Burden of Perfectionism and the Cross

“It’s not that big of a deal.” “Just let it go.” “Stop rocking the boat.” “Maybe you should wait until your fully ordained to say anything.” “It wasn’t that bad.” I’ve heard all these things. I’ve heard of these sentences surrounding male United Methodist clergy.

In the last week, Willow Creek had its annual gathering called the Global Leadership Summit, which was originally planned and organized by Bill Hybels. Well, as we all now know, this seemingly beloved Christian leader, considered to be one of the top pastors of his generation in American Christianity also sexually harassed/assaulted and preyed on women in his church, his publishing house, and women on his staff, and only God knows who else for decades. For those decades, the church of Willow Creek has attempted to cover up the transgressions of its ‘beloved’ leader.

In the very same week, news broke that the Pennsylvania Catholic Church has been hiding and covering up sexual abuse by clergy at least five decades. Hundreds and hundreds of victims and it was covered up. Why? Supposedly to protect. To protect the ‘good work’ that these people were doing. Yes, do I believe that God works good works despite broken and sinful leaders, as we are all broken and sinful leaders, but some sins are far more damaging and UNLAWFUL than others. God redeems, and we are all sinful, but sexual abuse or harassment and assault CANNOT be tolerated. God calls us to accountability and repentance. Neither of which I have seen from the Pennsylvania Catholic Church or Bill Hybels and Willow Creek. And God ALWAYS calls us to truth.

“The truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32B) But first, sometimes the truth must break us apart. It must kill. It kills the sin so that righteousness can take its place. The church is afraid to be honest when it comes to the truth of clergy sexual abuse and assault because we are afraid it will kill the ministry. We are afraid the truth would damage the witness of the church to the world, but a truth that has been hidden, covered up, or silenced is far more damaging to the witness and the kingdom of God. It kills the spirituality of the victim. It causes an even deeper wound. When we are silent on this issue, we tell the victim and the world one of two things: these occurrences are rare and that the church and God don’t care. Neither of these statements is true. Lies, untruths, cover-ups, and victim-blaming does more damage to the kingdom of God than the truth ever would have done. We tell the world that the church isn’t interested in truth, while simultaneously telling the world that we possess the truth.

Why is it more harmful, first of all, hundreds more are victimized while the church hides the truth. More and more people are silenced and hurt and told that God doesn’t care about the pain done in God’s name. How did the church forget that we are the incarnation of Christ, God with flesh and not speak up? The spiritual damage of an institution trying to protect predators instead of prey is tenfold. Now they are also betrayed by God. If we choose to comfort those in power and forget those who have been made powerless, then we are not displaying a God who came to set captives free. They are betrayed by the God that told the church to go to protect the widow, the child, and the outsider. We stand and speak on behalf of God and if we choose silence or hiding, we are silencing God as well.

This sexual abuse/harassment/assault is not just a Willow Creek problem or a Catholic problem, this is church problem. This irreprehensible behavior has been going on for decades or centuries in churches. Right now, in our current societal climate, Hollywood producers are held to a higher standard than American clergy. Let that sink in. Two weeks ago, James Gunn, the director of the extremely successful Guardians of the Galaxy movies, was fired for rape jokes he made years ago on Twitter. It is ludicrous that Hollywood is cracking down more than the church against church leaders. Clergy are called to be ‘set apart’, anointed by God to lead the people of God. And we have allowed clergy to lead the people into a trap to touch, grope, fondle, rape, and vilify.

I’m a United Methodist clergy and I’m fully ordained, and with that, I now feel like I have the power to speak out against this. Last Monday I was interviewed by Jason Micheli for the podcast “Crackers and Grape Juice” and he asked how I navigated sexual harassment and being touched inappropriately as a female clergy person. I didn’t have a satisfactory answer, because it hasn’t really happened since I ordained. Before I was always afraid that if I did I could lose my chance at ordination, get a punishment appointment, or jeopardize my future or call in some other way.

I have served in no less than five UM annual conferences as a staff member, pastoral intern, or pastor and I have been sexually harassed in all of them. I have been told I would look good on a stripper pole and should work at Hooters, fondled, caressed, groped, touched, and backed into a corner where I narrowly escaped what I fear was a rape attempt all at the hands of United Methodist clergy. If I have heard and seen from other female clergy comparable stories. If it has happened to me in 5 annual conferences, it is happening in them all. This isn’t a Catholic Church problem, this isn’t a Willow Creek problem, fellow United Methodists, this is our problem too.

The fact that clergy or Christian leaders violate those in power isn’t new, it’s Old Testament, and so is a cover-up. Just a few weeks ago, the lectionary texts were on the story of David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was taking her ritual cleansing bath on her own roof. She was attempting to be made holy in order to enter the Temple, and because of the roving eye of King David, the most unholy thing happens to her temple, her body. It is clear in scripture that this is non-violent rape. A woman would have no power to deny consent to the King.

David is shocked by his own horrendous behavior and tries to cover up his assault. When it doesn’t work, he orders not just the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, but his entire platoon. The Bible tells us just how far this Christian leader fell. It doesn’t hide it to protect the name of God, it reveals the truth to display the glory of God and the need for God in all of our lives. Covering up his sins and assault sets David, Bathsheba, and Israel on a downward spiral that they never fully recover.

Rape still your identity, I know, I have been raped. Bathsheba was stripped of her clothes, agency, body, and name by David. However, God redeems and resurrects. In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus in chapter 1, Bathsheba is listed, but she is listed as Uriah’s wife, her rightful identity. Scripture gives her back, at least in part what was taken. Scripture doesn’t shy away from the truth, even when it’s ugly because it sets us free. If we are truly followers of Scripture, then we to must be truthful and believe victims and hold perpetrators accountable, even if they are the leaders of our largest churches. Let’s protect the name of God as a place where the broken are made well, not try to protect the institution so that it can continue to break. UMC #churchtoo.

February 2019 and the Illusion of Uncertainty

“I don’t know if we should think about that, we don’t know will happen in 2019.” These words are everywhere in United Methodist circles. If you get a group of United Methodists together, in a matter of minutes the conversation will undoubtedly turn to General Conference 2019. As a clergy couple with an infant, I understand the fear of both a personal and economic level. I have cried and grieved the great divide in our denomination, a denomination we have vowed to follow and lead. I have wept over the words tossed at fellow members of the order on both sides of the divide. I mourned when I heard my close clergy friends say, “I can’t wait to only be in a denomination with like-minded people!”

Gutted and left bleeding, I wanted to make a petty remark that “Jesus said some pretty negative things about only hanging out with people with think and act like you.” What worries me most isn’t how uncivil the debate has become or the fact that the Body of Christ is mutilating itself and attacking other parts and even rejoicing in inflicting pain to the Body as they say, “Eye, I don’t need you,” it’s that we believe that the future is uncertain.

Yes, we do not know what will become of the denomination as a whole, but we are far from uncertain of the future. The future of denominations, institutions, powers, principalities, are always in danger of falling. Maybe this is a good thing. If the church isn’t in danger of failure, then we begin to worship the cross and flame and not the man that hung on that cross or the Spirit that burns inside our hearts.

Yes, we do not know what, if any of the three plans will pass, or what logo will be on our buildings or church websites, but we are NOT uncertain of the future. I have had countless conversations with clergy and laity alike that are afraid to begin a ministry or project that would build the kingdom of God or have vision casting sessions and retreats to find ways to bring the Gospel to those in need of the good news, or churches withholding apportionments until ‘this whole debate is settled.’ This paranoia states we don’t hold the answers of the future state of the church after GC 2019, but we do. That future was never in question. God will continue to reign and will ask the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. One annual conference voted down buying property for a thriving church plant, because of the fear that the lien might go unpaid after 2019.

We are letting our fear of the unknown cloud our sense of certainty and paralyze our ability to do ministry and bring out the kingdom of God. We are called to be kingdom-builders, not castle-maintainers. We are called to set the captives free, not allow ourselves to fall captive to our anxieties. We are called to proclaim the good news, not fear that only bad news follows. If we stop DOING ministry while we wait for the outcome, are we leading God’s people? Or are we implicitly teaching them that God isn’t faithful, and the future of the Kingdom of God is dependent on an institution and not the power of God that we are graciously invited into taking part?

Scripture is filled with times that people did not know the immediate outcome of their lives or tribes but continued to proclaim God’s good future despite the unknown. This is not the time to slow down on ministry and ‘wait and see,’ it is the time to proclaim that God reigns despite division and that through Christ all things are held together. Instead of shying away from bold ministry and visioning, it should be the time we tell the story of God the most. Our entire society is unsure, uncertain, worried, uncivil, unjust, and divided. As a church, we are called to be counter-cultural. What would be more counter-cultural than proclaiming Resurrection when it appears to be Holy Thursday or even Good Friday? The world needs to hear the end of the story, hear the hope of the Gospel and the freedom of Christ, but if we as church leaders wait until we gain certainty in our institution, has the institution already failed? If we don’t proclaim that hope is found in the God who makes all things new in times of trouble, are we offering the world a message that transforms, rejuvenates, and ultimately saves?

What a witness it would be to instead boldly proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand, no matter what path the UMC takes because God is still God and still resurrecting the dead. We should not fear that our institution will die, because even if it does, we believe in the resurrection. We believe that what dies with Christ will also be raised with Christ. We believe that God is still moving and active in our world and our actions as church leaders should reflect that conviction. Is our orthodoxy different than our orthopraxy?

Maybe now is the best time to start that new service times, to go to the border and share the love of God to the those in need, to believe that God has begun a good work in each local church and will carry it on to completion. Maybe now is the perfect time to increase the church budget to reach the refugees in our communities, or to hire that missions and outreach minister, instead of waiting until we feel secure. We must let go of the illusion that we are uncertain. We are people certain of God and God’s love and grace and supreme reign over our lives and churches.

Dangers of Comparison

Do you ever wake up and feel like you can take on the world? You look around at your life and projects and think, “I’m crushing this thing called life?” In that moment you are self-assured and a ‘put-together adult.’ Then you pick up your phone or laptop, log on to social media, and suddenly you drop from the top of the world to seemingly insignificant in a single instant.

Every scroll through the newsfeed or glance at someone else’s work weakens my self-esteem and self-image. I let doubt seep into my soul and compare myself to someone else. One minute I’m awesome and the next I’m too heavy, not cool enough, lazy, not a good enough parent, have too few followers, and an all-around failure of a human being.

Comparison affects all people, but social media has made that fear of being ‘less’ so much worse. Suddenly I can see in real time how I have ‘less success’ in whatever silly area that someone’s post points to. If it is a fellow clergy, I think, “God, I’m sorry their ministry is more powerful, vital, and worthy of you.” If it’s a fellow writer, “God, I’m sorry they have more bylines and Facebook follows.” If it’s a fellow parent, “God, I’m sorry I’m not the parent that my child and you deserve.” If it’s a fellow woman, “God, I’m sorry I’m not as pretty/strong/elegant/thin, etc.”

When we compare ourselves to those around us, we go from feeling inadequate to resentful in 2.5 minutes. That sense of failure morphs into the insidious emotion of jealousy and instead of celebrating another’s a success, we are angry about it. The belief becomes that their success either diminishes our triumphs or worse they are taking out the entire market on achievement. It seems as though they took from us the ability to succeed or our degree of accomplishment is eclipsed by them. Rage and possibly hatred for that person festers within us.

Comparison isn’t loving. It feeds competition and envy. It’s a beast demanding it’s pound of flesh. Here’s the thing, the beast takes it’s pound of flesh from us and not from the person to whom we feel inferior. We hold our phones or keyboards with daggers in our eyes. We want what we believe was ours back again. We give them a side-eye or eye-roll and mentally say things like, “They aren’t that great,” at best and, “I can’t believe they were given…” at worst. We rationalize why they are undeserving, and we are better, in a desperate and vicious attempt to restore our self-image that social media dismantled.

Reality check, they didn’t take anything. They don’t hold a monopoly on victory OR failure, because yes, they have failures too. When we view a person through the lens of comparison, we stop seeing them as a person, and we perceive them as an enemy to be annihilated, a threat to be neutralized, an opponent to be outshone, or an obstacle to be overcome. Compassion for their story, their struggles (which we might not know), their humanity is stripped away from them in an attempt to assuage our own thoughts of insufficiency. Life has turned into a zero-sum game. That isn’t rejoicing with those who rejoice it, it is tearing down, and it tears us down as well.

When I rip apart someone else’s accomplishments to make myself feel better, it doesn’t work. The thoughts that I’m lacking remains but now is accompanied by vitriol and malice. This isn’t love, it’s war. I gave into my own fears and chose competition over and against loving our neighbor. We convince ourselves that didn’t fight, claw, scratch, or suffer to be the best at whatever we determine them to be better than ourselves. Odds are they succeeded the same way we do. Hard work, perseverance, and a lot of grace from the Holy Spirit. That person also has low moments when they want to give up, run away, quit, or give up their integrity to get ahead, just like you do. They look at every discouraging ‘failure’ and choose to keep going. Just like you do.

Social media exists as a weak picture of the entirety or character of a person. It is a glimpse, a snapshot, not a full tapestry that displays every ache, every tear, or every success. Even if it was, someone else’s success does not diminish yours. We are all on the same team. We are members of the same body and created by the same master craftsman. They bear the same image of God that we graciously possess. How do we take our resentment and competition and turn it into a celebration?

I think the answer lies in remembering they are a person and not a villain in the story of your life. We all are lacking and by grace we are can all be made well. I am forcing myself to give thanks to God when I see someone I view as competition succeeds. I sit intentionally in prayer to the Living God that made their perceived or real success possible and that God would continue to bless them, both as a person and in whatever endeavor I deem them as my adversary.

Who the Heck Am I, Anyway

 Growing up I thought that I would have life figured out by age 30. I would have a job, family, and know who I am and who I want to be. As I approach yet another birthday in my thirties, I now think that who I am and who I want to be is a fluid concept. Recently I have been reflecting on Psalm 139 and realized that I don’t really know myself as well as God does. In fact, in the last few months, I haven’t been sure I even know myself at all. I find myself in a similar time of rebirth and discovery that I experienced in my early 20s.

In the winter I discerned that God was calling me to embrace parts of my personality that I have hid or shied away from. Most of the life I have felt confused by who I am. I seem like mismatched pieces, incongruent and paradoxical parts smashed into one body. I love Star Wars but hate science fiction and fantasy, with the exception of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I can ride roller coasters all day, but I am afraid of fast cars. I am an extreme extrovert, but I can read quietly for days at a time. I am ethically against divorce, but I have been divorced. I love pretty things, but I hate clothes shopping. I’m an incredibly strong and independent woman, but I ask my husband to fill up my gas tank.

 I thought I had myself all figured out prior to this year and prided myself on my self-awareness and introspection. And maybe I did know myself, and simply grew and changed in the last year. It’s entirely possible as I had a baby and changed churches and roles from associate to solo pastor. God’s sudden call for me to expand my ministry and identity felt like I lost myself at best, a betrayal by God at worst. I argued with God and cried in the middle of the night. I didn’t know who I was outside of my call to ministry and I narrowly defined what ministry was. God did not. I wasn’t ashamed of my past, but I didn’t really share it for a variety of reasons. I didn’t want people to look at me with pity, I hated how people would see me differently knowing I had been a ‘victim’ of domestic violence and sexual assault, and I never wanted to hear “God is going to do amazing things with you, because of your past.” Why that statement made me crazy is a whole other blog post for another day, but I separated my ministry from my story, and I wanted it that way.

 God knows every thought and every part of who we are. I believe that God is calling us as disciples to be on a constant journey to know ourselves. The good and the bad. The good so we can embrace it and the bad so that God can redeem it. A strange thing happened with I started to write and reclaim my WHOLE story. I felt more like myself than I had in a very long time. I found myself when I didn’t even know that I had been missing. I found that if I went too many days without writing I felt anxious and separated from the Divine. Once I started rediscovering myself, I couldn’t stop. I got new glasses, launched a website, wrote a book, and dyed my red hair blonde. I joked that I was going through a quarter-life crisis, but I was lovingly reminded that I’m a little too old for it to be a quarter-life crisis.

 In my self-discovery, I rediscovered the beauty of God. I fell in love with my Creator in a deeper way, because I had a deeper understanding of my own heart and life and who I am created to be. God already knows all that I am, have been, will be, and could be. The beautiful and the ugly. In my teens I thought I would know who I was in my 30s and in my 3os, I now believe that I will never fully know myself, and that’s a good thing because I am evolving and learning. The good news is that God knows and loves me, even when I don’t know who I am because God is the I Am.

Why Women Don't Report

Note that this blog is somewhat honest and graphic and a trigger warning is advised for those whom discussions and descriptions of sexual assault affect.

 Last week several politicians claimed that if Ford’s claim of sexual assault was in any way true, then she should have gone to the police 30 years ago. Twitter and social media immediately lit up with stories of why sexual assault survivors didn’t report. Let me be clear, this conversation is hard for me and seeing the thousands of tweets of attempted assault or successful assault wore at my heart. I was under the weather and mostly off of social media, but I couldn’t miss the barrage of stories ranging from 50 years ago to a few days ago.

Women do not report for many reasons, and questioning their reasoning is further assaulting them. I’m going to attempt to cover some of the reasons in this blog, but it will not be a complete list and it cannot cover the many nuances and rationales for all women. I pray it is a good start to understanding the complexities of reporting sexual assault even after it immediately happens. I am only covering sexual assault to non-minors. Child abuse is an entirely different conversation and should be addressed as such. I have no experience or training besides mandatory reporting as clergy and cannot speak to rationales or experiences of those victims.

 As a survivor and as a pastor trained in pastoral care for survivors of sexual assault, I never, NEVER encourage or guilt a person into reporting. I ask if they want to report and file charges, and if they say ‘no’, I move on. Period. That person (most often a woman, 1 in 4 women reportedly have experienced sexual assault, although that number is probably more like 1 in 3 due to lack of reporting) has just had or is still living the effects of someone taking their choice and agency away in the most grotesque way possible. By encouraging or guilting a victim into reporting is NOT giving them their choice back. If they say ‘yes’ I offer guidance and support, but if they say ‘no’ I let them. Why do I let them, besides letting them regain agency? Because only they have to live through the process of reporting. And I do mean live through.

 The average woman that choices to report a sexual assault in the first 48 hours (it’s extremely unlikely to get an indictment after that window), sees six men before ever encountering a woman. Statistically speaking, most cops and doctors are men so this stands to reason. Have you ever considered what exactly is the crime scene of a sexual assault? It isn’t the place it occurred, it is the body that suffered the assault. Notice I said, body, not person. The bruises are measured, the victim is questioned like a witness and not a victim, and samples are taken. Rape kits are filled to test for DNA, but because sexual assault so infrequently goes to trial and is so hard to convict, most kits are never actually sent off to crime labs. Crime labs are backed up for years, and police and prosecutors focus on crimes they believe they can solve and gain a conviction.

 Secondly, the vast majority of sexual assault does not occur in dark alleys by strange men in masks like Law and Order SVU leads you to believe. It is most often by a close friend, acquaintance, or intimate partner. This makes it doubly hard to prove lack of consent and the burden of proof is on the prosecution. Most victims that go to a trial state that the trial itself is worse than the assault. As they are attacked by a team of lawyers and their character assassinated. Every decision from their attire to previous relationships is held against them as if that has in bearing on being a victim. Last week, a man was tried in Alaska for strangling a woman until she became unconscious, then masturbating on her, after offering the woman a ride. He was given mild probation and the judge said, “This is your one free pass.” FREE PASS?! When did sexual assault and strangulation get FREE PASSES!! He was found guilty, but walked away a free man and the victim is further traumatized and basically told that her body or life wasn’t worth “ruining a good man”. A good man does not sexually assault someone. Someone can appear to be a good man but hide a dark side. Remember Bill Cosby, we now know that he was guilty years later.

 Thirdly, even when convictions are handed down, they are rarely to the full extent of the law. Just think of the Stanford rapist. Nuff said. This tells victims that there is no point in reporting when nothing with occur.

 Fourthly, It’s dangerous. Many victims were threatened with bodily harm or the perpetrator’s friends threatened silence (this is not uncommon in college fraternities).

 Lastly, public shaming. Sexual assault feels shameful to the victim. They feel violated and dirty and that it might somehow be their fault because it happened to their bodies. Someone good and pure was taken from them and they are ashamed and fearful they will never get it back. Many perpetrators chose victims that are less reliable witnesses or less likely to believe. The things that people have said about Ford are horrible and awful and she has had to move to protect her family after receiving thousands of death threats and internet trolls releasing her personal address and phone number.

 Franklin Graham stated that the mistakes made by a 17-year-old shouldn’t be held against a 53-year-old. Um, sexual assault is not a minor crime, the depiction of her assault is assault in the 1st degree in most states and punishable for up to 25 years in prison. A seventeen-year-old in most violent crime lawsuits are tried as adults, so he wasn’t ‘just a kid”. One former female senator stated, “What hormonal 17-year-old boy hasn’t done something like this. It’s no big deal.” Um, no. This is never ok, and I think most of the seventeen-year-olds haven’t sexually assaulted a woman. Another female senator in the same interview said, “Really. This is what she is complaining about? There wasn’t even penetration. She needs to let it go.” Trauma haunts a person, and no one gets to decide what was traumatic to another person. Women are called liars, opportunists, sluts, whores, and attention-seekers trying to destroy a good man’s life.

 People say, “What if she is lying?” Statistics state that on the whole, women do not lie about this. I’m not saying it never happens, but it is extremely rare. It’s more statistically likely that a woman stays quiet than a woman lying about sexual assault. Shouldn’t it be scarier to the world that a woman might be telling the truth, and a good man go unpunished, or worse become a Supreme Court judge?

 I didn’t report one of my attackers. I still haven’t a decade later, because of the reasons listed above, but if he ever runs for office or any position to lead or victimize, I would break my silence. I wouldn’t undergo the public-shaming for justice for myself, but I would like to protect the others or my country. I think it says something very powerful that I don’t deem my own body worthy of the rigors of reporting or worse trial.

Fasting From Distrust

What if Lent were more about trusting God, then fasting? I’ve been asking myself this question since the season began less than a week ago. I often feel that I have to ‘earn’ the love of those around me. The inherent fear with that thought process is that if I mistake or don’t meet other’s expectations then they will cease to love me. When I say that out loud it sounds ridiculous. Yes, this may be true for some of my superficial relationships, but not most of them. Being an achiever of other’s love makes me a Lenten ninja. I can fast and make myself disciplined to prove to God that I am worthy of God’s love and grace.

Does this sound tiring? Yes, it most certainly is. I know I’m not alone because I’m a pastor and I hear so many people feeling like they didn’t do ‘enough’ to earn God’s grace and forgiveness. However, we all can say that God’s actions on the cross were ‘enough’. I preach in a denomination that considers grace to be the main characteristic of the heart of God, but I don’t trust my own theology. Do I believe it? Yes, however, I still work to hedge my bets to get gold stars from God for being the BEST, MOST AWESOME Christian.

A good friend recently pointed at that this mentality is not trusting people or their love for me. If I trusted their love, then I would trust their forgiveness and grace and assuming they are people who don’t keep their word. That wasn’t a truth I really wanted to hear. It made all my accomplishments and gold-star faith, not faith at all. Faith without works is dead but works in place of faith and trust in the Divine is exhausting. It isn’t intentional that we as Christians strive to impress God with our ribbons, trophies, and committee membership, we simply find the concept of God’s unconditional love to be audacious. It is. That doesn’t make it untrue.

 Lent provides a season in which Christians fast in some form to truly seek after God and remove the worldly things that take our eyes off Jesus. It isn’t the season that we enter a religious death match of righteousness or holiness. It is meant to drive us to the holy by admitting we need it. If we try to achieve it, then we haven’t fully admitted our brokenness and need for Holy Week.

 Lent isn’t a test of my ability to stick to a fast but is a holy time that acknowledges I will ALWAYS fail in saving myself and maintaining a pure heart. When I treat God’s love as something to be earned and not received, I am not trusting. My life preaches a theology that my mouth claims as untrue.

 Lent takes the structure of life and shatters it. Lent means when we repent, we are forgiven and loved beyond measure. The world is set up with the Newtonian cause and effect that sin will lead to death, but Lent tears that universe apart and gives grace to those who ask for it. The season culminates in the cross and resurrection that split the veil and I don’t have to pretend to live in a world where a veil still exists.

 No fast or sin can make God love me any more or any less. Lent comes to remind us to trust that God is wandering in the desert with us and desires to offer atonement and forgiveness. Lent is our journey to the cross where we die to ourselves and are raised again with Christ. Perhaps dying to ourselves is declaring that we can’t save ourselves nor can we perfect ourselves and choosing to trust in the One who creates, redeems, and sustains. This Lent I’m not “fasting” in the traditional sense. I’m fasting from the pressure to be perfect and relying on myself to be worthy of what the cross freely gave-life.

“Forgive Those That Trespass Against Us: But Not Letting Them Trespass Again”

God’s forgiveness a concept that I simultaneously love and hate. I want God to forgive my sins, mistakes, and shortcomings; I count on grace. However, the fact that God offers forgiveness freely to those who have harmed me drives me nuts.

 I was once in a toxic romantic relationship and his words cut like knives and left wounds that bled for years to come. His verbal assaults left scars and battered my heart and self-esteem. I needed out of the relationship as it suffocated and stifled my personality and voice.

 After finally breaking free, my inner voice and critic told me constantly that I had to forgive him. My inner dialogue argued that Good Christians forgave, and God required me to reconcile. My self-preservation instincts told me to grab onto anger and never let go. Bitterness and hatred for my former love and for my God swirled in my heart and slowly wrapped me in chains of dissatisfaction and a thirst for retribution.

 Did I have a right and a reason to be angry and want justice? Of course. I believe that we as humans should be righteously angry at the same things that make God angry, and verbal abuse certainly angers God. Realizing that forgiveness was necessary was not an easy pill to swallow. I wanted God to make them pay and withhold forgiveness. If I had to live with the consequences of his words, then so did he, I rationalized. Apparently, I can hold a grudge that includes eternal damnation.

 Eventually, the emotions and anger poisoned me, and I began to shut out those around me and damage my healthy relationships. My soul desired to be free of the bitterness, which was actually pain disguised as rage. So, I did the only thing I could think to do. I prayed for him. I prayed for God to break his heart and change it so that other people would never suffer from the vicious words of his mouth. I prayed for God to show him the error of his ways.

 I thought of Jesus hanging on the cross literally dying at the hands of those who should love him. People that only a week prior lauded him were now hurling insults and ridicule. This sounds like a verbal assault to me. On that cross, Jesus looked up to the heavens and pleaded for the hearts and souls of those who betrayed him. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus died because we are all sinful.

 I realized that forgiveness was the only way to truly heal. It was a slow process and a repetitive process as I would decide to no longer extend forgiveness. In time God healed my broken heart and letting go of my anger was a result.

 I forgave a person that hurt me for my sake, not his. His forgiveness between him and his Creator is not my concern, as that is between them. Let me be very clear. I forgave, but I would never, ever, put myself in a position to ever see him again. I can let my residual anger go and move on, but I have not and will not ever speak to him again.

 God called me to forgive and gave me the strength to do so, but God has never asked me to make myself vulnerable to his attacks ever again.

 Each one of us has been in a toxic relationship of some kind. Whether it is a family member, friend, romantic partner, co-worker, dog walker, whatever. Toxic people exist and find their way into our lives sometimes or they already exist in our lives. God does NOT want us to be perpetually wounded and caught in dysfunctional relationships. God may want us to forgive, but martyrs.

 Reconciliation does not always mean that we have to interact with our perpetrator again. When someone crucifies us, and we are resurrected by God, sometimes in cases of verbal abuse or toxicity, God sets us free from that relationship. Jesus came to set the captives free, and captivity can come in a myriad of forms, including interpersonal relationships.

 I continue to pray for those who trespass against me and ask God to be merciful unto them. Why? Because if God is softening hardened hearts and transforming damaged and violent souls, then the world will always be broken and never look like the kingdom of God. I pray for my enemies not simply for the sake of the bitterness infecting my soul, but so that their brokenness doesn’t continue to infect the world. I hate that God forgives those who hurt me freely, but I always love it, because it will redeem and save when nothing else can.

Becoming a Beginner Again

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Over the past few months, I have felt woefully inadequate. I finally answered God’s call on my life to write and I penned my first book. Writing and being an ‘author’ was almost as easy as breathing. I planned the book for almost five years and putting the pen to paper and accepting that God created me to use the written word felt like a relief. I embraced finding myself and living into God’s call. The freedom of ‘being’ me lead to other changes, like new glasses, clothes, and I dyed my signature red hair blonde. It was exciting and comfortable.

 But, and this is a big ‘but’, publishing is tough, ya’ll. It is a big business and connections and networking REALLY matter.

 I started to second guess everything and feel liked I failed because I didn’t have the credentials. I thought, “I don’t know the ‘right’ people.” “If I was only better at …I could succeed.” “I wish I was more like so and so, that would do it” “Am I in the wrong circles?”. And so on. I thought I was ‘wrong’ or ‘not good enough’.

 All of this negative self-talk angered me. It isn’t like me and it became self-hatred for being so hard on myself. Not a cool cycle. Upon reflection, I uncovered a deeper truth, I hate being a beginner.

 It isn’t that I don’t know the right things, people, skills, marketing techniques, connections, or editors because of course, I don’t. I just started in a new world and a new ministry. It is my first day of school in many ways. I have to start somewhere. And unfortunately, we all start at ‘square one”. I’m not inadequate, I’m a beginner. I hated this, but maybe, this is grace. Maybe the Christian life is a constant state of being a beginner, dying to self and rising again in Christ.

 Starting over is hard. I know. I reminder the last time I really ‘felt’ like I was starting over. I left my abusive ex-husband and everything in my life from my name to my house to the car I drove, to the size of clothes I wore changed. I barely had a dollar to my name, and I was a 22 divorcee in a big scary world.

 I had to rebuild my life brick by brick and stone by stone. Thus began the most frightening and invigorating chapter of my life to date. I was undefined by any label apart from free in Christ. A key component of domestic violence is isolation and control. I didn’t know how to pay any of my bills, had very few friendships, didn’t know where to change my car oil, and was unsure if I would have to leave college and move in with my parents.

 Slowly, piece by piece, I learned. It was a victory every time I ‘adulted’ or managed to accomplish a new task. Every day the world around became less intimidating and more familiar; every day my self-assurance and reliance grew. I did it. I started from scratch and emerged a fully functional and self-reliant adult. Did it take time? Yep. Was it always easy or comfortable? Not even close. Was it a means of grace? Undoubtedly.

 As Christians and people proclaiming the gospel, we must learn to be content to become beginners. Every day we wake up in need of grace and forgiveness and in state to be welcome to rediscovering God anew. “Behold I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5b, ESV)  Means that we are being made new as well. Being new means being a beginner. Unsure, unsteady and uninformed. Our hearts must be open to the majestic, the divine, the bold, and the Holy. This takes admitting that we are less, in need. In need of grace. In need of salvation. In need of mercy. In need of love. In need of knowledge. In need to learn.

 Where in your life are you starting over? Where are you a beginner? Where are you discontent with the status of ‘amateur’? How might you allow God to make you new and walk you through the process of becoming a ‘veteran’? Where do you need to become a beginner again?