This week has been particularly painful for many.
The Senate’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing coverage was all-consuming. Once again, without asking for our consent, persons who had others perpetrate acts of violence on them found themselves in the center of this massive national storm. Democrats and Republicans used a public issue, the source of many persons’ most personal, private pain, for political gain. It was shameful.
We couldn’t go to class, enjoy outings with our kids, or even sit down for a little prime time T.V. without being bombarded with horrifying messages. Blaming us. Defaming us. Shaming us. There were misogynistic memes circulating, encouraging violence, using profanity (“F— all the lying B—–s who use their p—–s [President Trump word] to destroy men’s lives.”). We learned more about some of our friends’ bigotry than we bargained for.
We were vilified. Some said we were villains for not speaking sooner, not filing immediate reports with police and keeping society safe. Tucker Carlson of Fox News said victims (including minors), not sexual offenders, were to blame:
“Sex offenders tend to commit serial sex crimes. Doesn’t she have an obligation to tell someone?” he asked. “To stop him from doing that if he is, in fact, a sex criminal? Where’s her obligation here? What about the rest of us?”
Tucker Carlson, Fox News Host
Oh, but others said we were evil if we ever spoke at all (saying we were ruining others’ lives). People resurrected stereotypes we believed were long-dead, and they politicized our painful experiences:
“This is what happens when you go through a trailer park with a $100 bill.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC, resurrecting a Clinton-era quote.)
The vitriol was (and is) palpable. The public is re-traumatizing on a global scale, and massively invalidating. It’s nation-wide betrayal. And it hurts.
Yes, it felt hopeless, like darkness was engulfing from all sides.
Last Friday, I turned on the news (first mistake) and listened while two women confronted Sen. Jeff Flake as he exited an elevator. I was organizing work, and the television was mostly background noise. I didn’t pay much attention to the first woman who spoke. But all-of-a-sudden, the second woman interjected. I stopped and looked up. Something caught in my throat, and I was overwhelmed with emotion. Unexpectedly, there I was on the couch, sobbing with her.
I felt her words from deep inside. And I cried. Not over any political affiliation or women’s liberation group. It’s not likely this young woman and I share many political perspectives. Nevertheless, I sobbed.
I sobbed with her when she said,
“You are telling all women that they don’t matter. That they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them, you’re going to ignore them….You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t matter, and that you’re going to let people who do these things into power. Look at me and tell me it doesn’t matter what happened to me.”
I cried because I have felt those words. Every time someone recasts my own experience, deceitfully whitewashes it to make it more palatable, I still feel those words. I felt those words more recently when others normalized behaviors that were not normal by any reasonable means. So many times and in so many ways, I have felt and still feel those words. That girl was all of us who spent years screaming in a crowded room only to have our screams fall on deaf ears.
Every girl (and boy) who has been ignored, dismissed, or answered with soul-murdering silence has choked back the cry, “Look at me in my face and tell me what happened doesn’t matter. Tell me I don’t matter.”
While I wiped away tears and snot, my kiddos came in the door from school. Seeing my mess of a face, my little girl sat beside me and put her arms around me. She said, “It’s okay, Mama. You don’t have to cry. I’m here.” I looked down at her little face. Her little innocent, freckled face. And despite the darkness, I saw light. Hope.
So little, yet so wise, she comforted me. It reminded me of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words:
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
It’s not senators or even Supreme Court Justices who are truly “great.” Truly great souls are those generated by love. We all know such souls. One cannot help but feel love when around such persons–one sees God in and through them, by their good fruits.
Dr. King was one of those love-generated souls. A symbol for nonviolent leadership, Dr. King was a pillar of hope for the African American community during a period of darkness–achieving more for racial equality in thirteen years than generations of men before him. I can’t help but think that if anyone ever understood what nation-wide betrayal felt like, it was Jesus Christ, himself, and this man, Dr. King. I went back and read through Dr. King’s words. Some he delivered in sermons, some in speeches, some in letters he wrote from prison (like the Apostle Paul). These words brought comfort and light to me this week, and, to any feeling darkness in these recent days, I hope they’ll bring some comfort to you, too.
#1: Do what’s right. On doing not the popular thing, but the right thing, Dr. King said this: “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?
#2: Keep God first. On putting righteousness ahead of personal gain and/or politics: “There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”
#3: Do good when it’s hard. To those who disclosed or reported abuse to protect others, and who feel abandoned or betrayed, remember this. For some, disclosure is not safe. That is a separate issue, and there is no shame in choosing safety when you’re trying to survive and when you lack support. Aside from such situations, though, Dr. King taught us we have a personal responsibility to do the right thing even when it is hard (even when it is costly). Understand some are blinded by cognitive dissonance that won’t allow them to see truth and right. God sees, and He knows. Choose that which is good even if others can’t/won’t/don’t: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
#4: Love your enemies. When we disclose truth, we cannot predict how others will react. Not all reactions will be godly. For all kinds of reasons, people will defame us, spread rumors about us, shun us, possibly wish us dead (only kidding a little bit). Love them anyway. Anger can be put to good use, but unrighteous anger is like a fire. It consumes us, not them. It can sow a root of bitterness, an awful weed that chokes out the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to placate others’ cruelty, but when standing our ground on biblical truths, we must love: “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.'” (
#5: Communicate authentically, without fear. Dr. King said if we were less fearful, we’d communicate more. And if we communicated more, we would know and understand each other better. Many who’ve experienced trauma cope by avoidance (raising my hand here), but little by little, we can overcome those anxieties by facing our fears: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other;they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
#6: To silently tolerate any form of violence is to allow the destruction of others. It’s important to stay centered when chaos surrounds. When people question our motives and use guilt to coerce silence, remember it is not unreasonable to set boundaries. It is not unreasonable to expect others treat us with dignity. It is not unreasonable to expect they respect our right to peaceful, safe existence: “The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.”
#7: Risking status and personal gain to help hurt neighbors pleases God. (See #2: seek to be God-pleasers, not people-pleasers). To do God’s work, to be worthy disciples, we must act beyond our fear. This requires a change of focus: “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
#8: The most abusive systems in society occur absent empathy for our fellow humans and their sufferings: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
#9: Accountability does not seek to destroy, but reform. In the legal profession, often adversaries go after the jugular for sport. That is not godliness, and it is not advocacy. Advocacy isn’t annihilation, “owning” someone, crushing them. Accountability is utilitarian–not Old Testament retribution. It contrasts right from wrong, allows for forgiveness, and rebuilds relationships by “wise trust.” Accountability deters negative behaviors and encourages more desirable ones. It helps persons who commit crimes understand the gravity of their criminal acts, and it restores persons who commit crimes to society. Accountability is not hate-filled vengeance, rather accountability is LOVE: “Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”
#10: Hate is darkness; love is light: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
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