News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  10 June 2016  •  No. 76

Special edition
Sexual assault

        There is no subtle way to have a conversation about sexual assault and rape. Nevertheless, we must endure the discomfort.
        If you can read no further on this page, I urge you to read the statement by the Stanford University campus rape victim. She remains anonymous, but she had the moxie to not only write this but also to read this missive (and it is long)—in court and in the presence of her attacker and the case’s presiding judge.
        This is a modern-day epistle, a dispatch from the traumatized trenches of gender bias. See “Make a new name” below.

Above: “Heart of the Dragon” by Beth Moon. These remarkable trees grow on the island of Socotra, off the horn of Africa. See more of her duotone prints of exotic trees.

Processional.Till it Happens to You,” Lady Gaga.

Invocation. “I was tortured in the desert / I was raped out on the plain / I was murdered by the high way / And my cries went up in vain / My blood is on the mountain / My blood is on the sand / My blood runs in the river / That now washes through their hands / I am lost unto this world.” —Emmylou Harris, “Lost Unto This World

Call to worship.Men: Our hearts sag with sorrow when the history of such misery is unveiled. / Women: Such truthfulness comes at a cost. But worthy is the truth. / M: What good can come from such vile remembrance? Can we not safely and silently dispose of such memory? / W: No, not safely. Heaven still hears. The roots are deep. The seeds are dormant. The brutal harvest continues.” —continue reading “Limb by limb: Repenting and repairing a legacy of violence against women,” a litany for worship

Make a new name. “What makes this particular moment uncommon is the action of one character: the victim of Brock Turner’s rape, whose name is still not publicly known but who has been anything but silent.
        “Her letter, read in court at Turner’s sentencing, is one of the most articulate pain-soaked statements I have ever read. The sheer fact that she rose above her trauma to say anything publicly is amazing by itself.
        “But her letter is not only about pain. There is an anguish-transcending majesty in her narrative.
        “What she says is must-read material.”  —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Make a new name: One unnamed woman’s contribution to confronting a culture of rape

Hymn of praise.All My Tears (Be Washed Away),” by Selah.

Sexual assault in the US.

        •Sexual assault occurs every two minutes.

        •1 out of 6 females will be victims of attempted or actual rape. (3% of men experience the same.)

        •Well over 60,000 children are victimized each year.

        •Each year nearly 20,000 military personnel reported unwanted sexual contact.

        •More than 80,000 inmates are assaulted.

        •It’s estimated that some 20% of women in college suffer some form of sexual assault.

        •Rape has been an intentional war tactic in places from the former Yugoslavia to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Afghanistan, women who are raped are imprisoned.

        •It’s impossible to say accurately how many assaults are not reported. The estimate is usually around 67%. But the US Department of Justice estimates that 80% of campus rapes go unreported.

        • In 97% of sexual assaults the perpetrators never serve time in prison.

        •Approximately two-thirds of rapes occur by someone known to the victim.

        •Males and females experience sexual assault—but not alike. The overwhelming percentage of victimizers are men.

        •Many sexual assault victims remain silent because of many, often overlapping reasons: trauma, shame, fear of retaliation, disbelief by authorities.

        •In 2012 Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate in Indiana for the US Senate, said in a debate that pregnancy after a rape was “something that God intended to happen.” (Later he issued a press statement saying that he had “misspoken.”)

        [Sources: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network); US Department of Justice, “Raising Awareness About Sexual Abuse: Facts and Statistics” ; US Department of Justice, “Rape and Assault Among College-age Females, 1995-2013]

Right: “Gaia” by Angela Yarber,  from her book, “Holy Women Icons.”

A note to pastors. Judges 19:1-30 does not appear in the lectionary cycle. Chances are you’ve never chosen this text even when you left the lectionary reservation. I’m not at all sure children should be exposed to this story. It’s likely this is the most brutal in all of scripture. But it’s one we simply must confront.

Mission idea for groups of men. If your congregation doesn’t already have ties with a local women’s advocacy organization—attending to and/or sheltering victims of domestic violence—make this a priority. At some appropriate season (e.g., October is Domestic Violence Month), organize the men in your church to pool personal contributions to support this work in your area, challenging your local congregation to match from its mission budget an amount equal to what you as men are able to raise.

For more information on Domestic Violence Month, visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence” website.

The best book I know surveying neglected or undervalued stories of women in scripture is Joyce Hollyday’s Clothed With the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice & Us. This is an excellent resource for group study or personal devotional reading (particularly if you prefer devotional material that is more substance, less sentiment).

Language matters.

        •“El Shaddai” is one of several “names” given to God in Scripture. El Shaddai is a feminine noun, which can be translated “God of the breast,” conveying the quality of nourishing, satisfying and supplying needs. It is used seven times in Scripture (see Genesis 17:1).

        •The English translation of “El Shaddai” as “God Almighty” is misleading, because “almighty” suggests omnipotence, the capacity to overpower or destroy. Whereas “Shaddai” infers sufficiency and nourishment (i.e., “blessings of the breasts and of the womb”) and implies a certain fecudity.

        •In Hebrew the words for “compassion” and “womb” derive from the same root. God of compassion (Exodus 33:19 and 34:6) use the Hebrew word “rehem” which can be translated “womb-love.”

        •Also in Hebrew, the divine presence (“Shekhinah”) of God is feminine.

Feminine images of God.

        •The Creator God of Israel is also imaged as the shaper, maker and mother God who formed Israel in the womb and birthed Israel with labor pains: Deut 32:18; Ps 90:2; Prov 8:24-25; Isa 43:1,7,15; 44:2, 24; 45:9, 11; 51:13; 54:5.

        • From the word “womb” (rehem) comes the verb “to have compassion” (raham), and the phrase “Yahweh’s compassionate (rahum) and gracious” repeatedly appears in the Hebrew scripture to describe the merciful and saving acts of God in history.

Right: “Divine Wisdom” by Shiloh Sophia McCloud.

        •Deut 4:31; 2 Chr 30:9;  Neh 9:17; Ps 78:38; 86:16; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8; John 4:7 – images of God who demonstrates “womb-like compassion” for her child Israel.

        • Num 11:12 – “Was it I who conceived all this people, was it I who gave them birth that you should say to me, carry them in your bosom like a nurse with a baby at the breast?”

        •Prov 7-9 –“Wisdom” (“Sophia”) who was present before the foundations of the world were created

        • John 7: 38 – From his breast shall flow the fountains of living water

        • Gen 1:2 – nesting mother

        • Ex 19:4 & Deut 32 :1-12 –  mother eagle

        • Hos 13: 8 – “I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs.”

        • Ps 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 61:4 – Refuge in “the shadow of [God’s] wings”

        • Job 38:28-29 –  “Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?”

        • Luke 15:8 – A woman tirelessly sweeping for her lost coin, for what is important to her

        • Luke 13: 34 (Matt 23:37) – “How often I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”

        • Gen 2:7, Ps 104: 29; John 3:8 – “Ruah” presence gives life; feminine Hebrew word meaning breath, wind, inspiration or spirit

        • Gen 3:21 – seamstress

        • Isa 4:4, Ps 51:7 – washerwoman

        • Ps 22:9 – 11, Ps 71:6; Isa 66:9 – midwife

        • Matt 13:33 – woman baking bread

        • 1 Thess 2:7 – The apostles described themselves as “nursing mothers

(Much of the above material was drawn from “’Biblical proofs’ for the Feminine Face of God in Scripture,” Mike Morrell )

Left: Illustration of the woman of the Apocalypse in Hortus deliciarum (redrawing of an illustration dated c. 1180), depicting various events from the narrative in Revelations 12 in a single image.

¶ “In the divine economy it is not the feminine person who remains hidden and at home. She is God in the world, moving, stirring up, revealing, interceding. It is she who calls out, sanctifies, and animates the church. Hers is the water of the one baptism. The debt of sin is wiped away by her. She is the life-giver who raises men [sic] from the dead with the life of the coming age. Jesus himself left the earth so that she, the intercessor, might come.” — Jay G. Williams, “Yahweh, Women and the Trinity,” Theology Today 32 (1975) 240.

¶ “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

¶ “You, beloved daughters, serve as reminders / that life cannot be had on the cheap; / that every new future foreseen in joy / will endure all tearful failures; that strength / of hand and valiance of heart must be / coupled with wombish welcome to that / unnameable (and thus unmanageable) / Promise that death’s ascendance will / be crushed. / Such vision persists; such milk flows; / and by it we are kept from perishing.” —Ken Sehested, “On the flow of tears

Can’t make this sh*t up. “[T]he church must recover biblical manhood, Christian masculinity — what we might think of sanctified testosterone.” —Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., Baptist News Global

Confession. “She hides her shame / Like she hides her face / Locks away the pain / In the secret place.” —Zoë Bestel, “Just Another Girl” (click the “show more” button to see all the lyrics)

Words of assurance. “All the weary mothers of the earth will finally rest; / We will take their babies in our arms, and do our best. / When the sun is low upon the field, / To love and music they will yield, / And the weary mothers of the earth will rest.” —Joan Baez, “All the Weary Mothers of the Earth

Hymn of intercession.Her Demon,” Hollow Hearts & Infectious ft: Callie Kathleen.

Right: Ricardo Levins Morales, ©RLM Art Studio

Preach it. “The Bible may be the original ‘reality’ show. The mess we now get on TV is there in this ancient literature. If you happen to think the Bible is loaded with uniformly nice, sweet, godly characters, you haven’t done much reading. Misogyny, among other morally-debased activities, is all over the place. I happen to think just such a body of literature is what helps us see and resist the violent and profligate culture in which we now live.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “She was not: The Bible’s most vividly violent story, and why we must read and remember it

Call to the table. “Only those with wombs of welcome / to heaven's Annunciation / can magnify God and heal the earth.” —Ken Sehested, “Anunciation

Altar call.I Told Jesus (be alright if he changed my name),” Roberta Flack.

Benediction. “When wounds heal on the world’s face / and in the pits dug by shellfire we have planted trees / and in hearts scorched by conflagration hope sprouts its first buds / and the dead can turn over on their side and sleep without complaining / knowing their blood was not spilled in vain, / this is peace.  —Yannis Ritsos, “Peace”

Recessional. The Parting Glass,” The Wailin’ Jennys.

Lectionary for Sunday next. We love to quote the first verse of Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for flowing water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” We often fail to note that it is connected with verse 3: “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’”

Just for fun (and in time for summer). “Long Hot Summer Days,” Sara Watkins.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Make a new name: One unnamed woman’s contribution to confronting a culture of rape"

• “Limb by Limb: Repenting and repairing a legacy of violence against women"

• “She was not: The Bible’s most vividly brutal story, and why we must read and remember it,” a sermon

• “Remembering Jephthah’s Daughter,” a litany for worship inspired by Judges 11:29-40

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