America, Sexual Assault Survivors are Listening. What are We Saying?

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One of the blessings of the work I do is that people turn to me when they don’t believe they can turn to anyone else. They allow me close proximity to their pain. It is a holy place, and even though it is a tremendous honor to be allowed into the deepest recesses of people’s hearts and stories, this also means getting a front row seat to the incredible damage so many live with.

Recently I heard from a woman who I’ll call Emily. A few years ago Emily was raped by a stranger.

She has shared this information with almost no one close to her because of the trauma and undeserved shame she carries. Emily suffers alone every single day and through many sleepless nights, because someone else saw her as an object and ignored her consent and disregarded her humanity.

And yet as horrific as that day was for her, it was only the beginning of the nightmare she’s had to endure.

There have been more fresh nightmares this past year.

This past yeart she’s had to hear friends and co-workers and family members openly defend the words and behavior of Donald Trump, oblivious to the way these things silently wound her and force her deeper and deeper into isolation and sadness, and how their words assault her all over again.

She’s had to hear people like Rush Limbaugh make the issue of consent the punchline to some twisted joke.

She’s seen an alleged Christian leader like Jerry Falwell Jr. say that he would endorse Trump even if he had a history of sexual assault.

She’s listened to other women defend the GOP candidate and give guys a pass and blame victims and openly campaign for a confessed sexual predator.

Over and over and over she’s had to hear that she doesn’t matter. Over and over she’s been told that she’s expendable. Over and over she’s been reminded that her pain is inconsequential.

Maybe she’s had to hear this from you too.

Maybe it’s been your Tweets and Facebook tirades and coffee break conversations and flippant comments that she’s had to endure; bleeding internally, suffering in silence, grieving anew.

I suspect his may not matter to many of you, but I hope you’ll think about it.

Emilys are everywhere.

People you know and love and worship and work with have been the victims of sexual assault, whether you know it or not. They are in your kitchen, your staff room, your classroom, your church pew.

They are listening to you and they are being brutalized again, because people they know and love and worship with and work with were okay elevating a sexual predator to the Presidency and dismissing their trauma and excusing away rape culture as just “guys being guys”. I wonder if that’s something you are okay with.

I wonder if Emily matters to you.

I wonder if you knew Emily was listening to you,  if you would have still said what you’ve said or posted what you’ve posted. I wonder if it would make any difference at all.  

This year, America is speaking loudly to victims of sexual assault about their worth, their pain, their importance.

And honestly, I shudder to imagine what we’re saying to them right now.

To all the Emily’s out there: You matter. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are not defined by what has been done to you. You are not alone. We see you. We hear you.

Be encouraged today.

 

 

If you are the survivor of sexual assault, here are some resources where you can find support, encouragement, and care. You don’t need to carry this alone. 
RAINN
National Sexual Assault Hotline
EROC (End Rape on Campus)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Safe Horizon
INCITE (For Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color)
On Eagle’s Wings Ministries
Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ)
NCLR Nation Center for Lesbian Rights 
Not Alone
Safe Helpline (Victim support for members of Military)

 

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We Need a Softer Faith for These Hard Times

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Look around you.

Take a glance at your social media feeds. Watch the news.

Listen to people. Hear the strained weariness in their voices.

Look at their faces. See the tightness of their jaws and the furrow in their brows.

These are hard times.

Not that they are difficult (they surely are that too), but they are heavy and rigid and unyielding.

Hard times have a way of hardening people, even the most faithful people.

We rack up our battles and our disappointments and our damage, and the scar tissue gradually begins to accumulate on the lining of our hearts. Our soft spaces slowly solidify over time. The tender places of compassion and goodness that we had when we were younger compress and petrify until our very centers become stone.

Here hope gets squeezed out and joy dries up. Only bitterness and anger remain.

And when this happens our faith so easily becomes religion.

Religion is made to be hard.

Religion wants to mark the line between the inside and the outside, to delineate the blessed from the damned.

Religion builds its walls of creeds and confessions. It fortifies its perimeter with doctrine and dogma.

Religion defends its rightness and justifies its arrogance.

Religion fights wars and for that one needs armor. One needs to be shielded. One benefits from calloused flesh.

Yes, these are hard times but they don’t require an even harder people.

In days like these we need a faith that makes us softer.

This softness is not the opposite of conviction or the absence of principle. It is the quiet confidence that doesn’t require anyone else to mirror them. 

This softness is the sacred, supple core of the peacemakers, the forgivers, the healers. It is the holy place that has always been where love does what love only love can do.

A faith that softens us will always make us more like Jesus.

His was a soft soul.

You can tell this because the afflicted sought him out. The broken reached out their hands to him. The wounded never recoiled from his embrace. People knew that their pain was safe in his presence.

From the hard places and the hard people, he was a refuge. His softness was sanctuary to which they ran.

I wonder if this is still what the people of Jesus are known for. I wonder if it’s what I’m known for. I’ve felt the growing coldness in the center of my chest in these days, so sure that it’s been conviction and principle, certain it has been fierce faith—but maybe I’ve let these times harden me too.

The world has had enough of hard, religious people claiming that they come in love while throwing stones; the preachers and the Evangelists and the enthusiastic judges who see their inflexibility as virtue, their intolerance as noble, their abrasiveness as righteous. 

The Church as a building will be perfectly fine being hard. It will welcome the rigidity and solidity that religion promises.

But the Church as a living, breathing, feeling body, will need to hold on to its flesh so that it can be the gentle, loving response to all the hardness around it.

Hurting people never fear faithful people whose hearts are still soft. They will always fear hard religious people.

I am trying not to respond to religion with more religion. 

I am trying to hold onto to the pliable heart of Jesus in the middle of very difficult days.

I am doing my best to not become stone in hard times.

I am praying for a faith that will make me softer.

 

 

The Golden Age of Social Media Outrage

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Life tends to become repetitive. If you look carefully you can see the patterns.

Here’s one:

Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley offers compassion for victims of gun violence in Orlando on Instagram.
Olympian Gabby Douglas doesn’t place her hand on her heart during the National Anthem.
Comedian Ellen Degeneres shares a Photoshopped image of herself on the back of Track and Field Legend Usain Bolt.

Begin immediate and unrelenting social media sh*t storm.

Open up the floodgates for The Internet to be outraged.
Cue millions of us falling over ourselves to fire off the Tweet that will be heard ’round the world the next morning.
Commence the incessant public badgering of complete strangers.
Enter an army of finger wagging, shame-throwing, just-add-water keyboard activists to save the world.

In every case and dozens like them every single day, history repeats itself:

We pile on relentlessly with expressions of volcanic indignation, as those involved explain their misinterpreted intentions, defend the purity of their hearts, apologize profusely, and then limp away battered and bloodied—and we all go back to keeping up with the Kardashians and sharing cat videos, feeling the momentary intoxication of our own self-righteousness.

Then we simply turn our gaze away from the feigned interest we had in whatever deep, underlying issues of humanity we claimed to care about in the moment—and scan the screen in front of us for whatever else is trending.

We aren’t known as a deep people anymore, as much as we are a combustible people.

We’re all brilliant at generating instant, scalding anger and packaging it in 140 characters, but not as adept at doing our homework or sustaining interest. The extent of our historical research tends to involve retweeting excerpts from books we’ve never read or sharing memes we haven’t fact checked and believing we’re authorized to speak—and not just speak, but speak with volume and venom.

Never mind that an entire world is within the reach of our finger tips, and that we could learn and dig deeper and begin the real work of addressing the pervasive ills of our world. But that’s too time-consuming, too laborious, too boring, and not as good at producing endorphins. We’d rather just put people we’ve never met and have no relationship with on blast and soak in the cheap applause of the gathering crowd.

And yeah, maybe it’s redemptive, but maybe it’s just bullying for sport.
It might be compassion, but it might be anger created for public consumption.
It could be speaking truth to power—or it could be just throwing shade to gain followers and grow our brand.

This isn’t a question of whether one or all of the examples above resonates with you or me as insensitive or misguided or dangerous or historically ignorant. Of course it might. It isn’t a question of whether or not we should speak into issues of injustice, bigotry, institutional racism, or any other social sickness. Of course we should. It isn’t a question of whether we get to police what moves someone else. Of course we don’t.

The question, is whether or not we really give a damn in these individual moments or whether we simply want to feel or appear like we do.

It’s about whether the fire in us is for the cause—or whether it’s just to start a fire.

It’s a useful thing every once in a while to ask ourselves if we really care about whatever it is we say we care about in the middle of our daily online engagements, or whether we just need an object for our anger. And we can only answer this question for ourselves. I get worked-up almost every single day, but more times than not what begins as righteous anger quickly morphs into a desire to be angrily right.

This world is broken, friends. People are hurting.

Racism, violence, bigotry, terrorism, poverty, and illness are real and insidious and they deserve our sustained attention. There are a billion things that are calling out to us and asking our hearts to respond, asking our voices to speak, asking our feet to move.

But they aren’t likely to be easy to hear above the din of our self-made social media storms, and they’ll require a whole lot more than the time it takes you and me to share a graphic, compose a Tweet—or to write or read this post.

There is more than enough injustice and suffering in this world to merit our outrage.

May we choose those things carefully, so that our time here isn’t just filled with momentary bombast, but with meaningful, redemptive passion that makes the planet better, not just louder. 

 

 

 

 

 

When Your Children are the Bullies

Danny

Five boys.

Five boys bullied Danny Fitzpatrick every single day.

Five boys taunted and harassed and insulted him—and didn’t relent.

Five boys pushed the 13-year old to believe that his only option was to hang himself in his attic.

Five boys drove the will to live right out of his young heart.

Five boys robbed Danny’s parents of school dances and driving lessons and graduations, and a lifetime watching their son grow and learn and love and be loved.

Five boys cheated the world out of his sweet presence.

Five boys killed this one boy.

And as a father, the question I want the answer to right now is: Where were the parents of those five boys?

What were they doing while Danny was slowly being destroyed by their sons?

This didn’t happen in a day. It wasn’t a single, horrible moment. This wasn’t a tragic aberration that exploded in an instant. This was a brutally violent pattern repeated over time. There was a long trail to be found.

I wonder how they missed it.

Were they so emotionally distant that they weren’t aware of the kind of children they were raising?

Were they so busy that they couldn’t discern the character of their sons, that they couldn’t sense the subtle changes in them as they got older?

Were they so disconnected that they were oblivious to the kind of meanness their children were capable of manufacturing?

Did they see these things and dismiss what they saw as some normal, harmless, male “boys will be boys” rite of passage?

Or did they teach them how to be cruel?

Bullies never grow in a vacuum. They are almost always created by other bullies.

They learn how to be mean by watching other mean people. They see the pain they inflict on others or the kind visited upon them—and they can’t help but imitate it. 

They either subject people to the kind of suffering they’ve endured—or they emulate other hateful people believing them to be normal.

Bullies either repeat the horrors they’ve walked through by making others walk through them, or they follow the horrible path in front of them.

I don’t know the parents of these boys. I can’t speak to whether they helped directly shape their sons into bullies by their behavior or whether they failed to see and stop the bullies their sons had become—but one or the other is likely true.

As moms and dads, our job is to steward the hearts of our kids; to nurture benevolence in them, to foster compassion, to instill in them a reverence for life.

We do this through our example.
We do it through our explicit words.
We do it by watching them and listening to them.
We do it by being aware of the changes within them that no one else would notice.
We do it by seeing the people they surround themselves with.
We do it by being an engaged and consistent presence in their lives.
We do it by talking about how we treat other people.

Parenting well is both teaching our children and watching to make sure that teaching is taking hold in them. Doing only one is leaving them vulnerable to becoming the crowd. This is how one cruel boy can so easily become five.  

Moms and Dads, our very sacred calling in this world is to protect our sons and daughters from pain, to inflict as little of it upon them as we can, and to make sure they are living with kindness, decency, and wisdom when they are not in our presence, so that they do not bring pain upon others.

Talk to your children. Listen to them. Teach them. Be present. Notice the changes in them. Push past their silence. Give a damn. Ask questions. Meddle. Repeat this every single day. It won’t prevent your kids from becoming bullies, but it will make that terrible transformation much less likely.

Live in such a way that they will not be capable of doing what five boys did to Danny Fitzpatrick because it would be unthinkable to them; because they have no frame of reference for it in their own lives. Let that kind of cruelty be foreign to their hearts.

I imagine the parents of these five boys are horrified at what has happened. I imagine they are grieving today. But I know for sure that they’re not going through what Danny’s parents are and this is what matters most.

Because schools are open today. There are five boys or five girls in classrooms right now making life a living Hell for another child, who is having the will to live slowly driven out of their young hearts.

For Danny Fitzpatrick it’s too late but it doesn’t have to be too late for them.

Parents, do all you can to protect your children from being bullied, but don’t forget to protect them from becoming the bully.

 

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