By Pastor Anita Peebles
A few weeks ago I preached a sermon called “Sticks and Stones” considering the challenging Scripture of James 3, which exhorts us (especially those of us in authority) to be mindful of our words ... because our words matter. That oft-used adage “sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us” is simply not true. And whether it is words, or more, we must be mindful of the collective pain that any community holds. A lesson from the author of James 3 is that we must be accountable for our own words and actions, as well as hold others accountable for their words and actions.
Right now, our national community is holding a lot of pain, specifically related to sexual violence in the news. And within Washington and within Seattle and, yes, within our own congregation, there are surely far too many stories related to what we are receiving from national news media regarding the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s personal experience. Though we as a congregation strive to be welcoming and inclusive and know no circles of exclusion, we also must recognize that the Church is not exempt from dangerous and violent behaviors. All too often, it is the site of violence. And far from providing respite, churches can even be places where survivors are dismissed from sharing their stories. We must be honest about this. I gained this wisdom from another young clergy woman recently: “Yes, all are welcome. But not all behaviors are welcome.” And this is true, because harassment, assault, and violence of any type is not welcome here.
The past few weeks my heart has been breaking hundreds of times every day as I see the #metoo and #churchtoo and #whyididntreport hashtags in almost every post on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds. As a young woman in this world, I know what it means to be sexually harassed, to have my personal boundaries not respected, to have people look at my body for a little too long and catcall me on the street and force hugs on me, among other things. The experiences shared in thousands of #whyididntreport posts illustrate how survivors did not believe any action would be taken against the person who harmed them. And it breaks my heart. #believesurvivors #believewomen
It also breaks my heart to know so many (SO. MANY.) of my women-identifying and transgender and non-binary friends’ stories of harassment, assault, and physical violence. I am holding these people in my heart every time I read that Senator Someone excused sexual violence as “boys being boys” (with no thought to how teenage boys of color are not given the same breaks as white teens). I am holding the stories of people in my own family, people who raised me in my home church, clergy women assaulted in the course of their work caring for their flocks. And I have to note that I am also holding the stories of men and boys who are survivors of abuse. Though they are often left out of the conversation about sexual violence because their experiences are different than those of women and transgender people who are targeted in systemic ways, they are no less important.
A post on Facebook recently said “Most of the women and survivors I know have been on the edge of crying or screaming for the past two weeks, and they probably will be in the weeks to come. So don’t play devil’s advocate, don’t talk over people trying to tell you their experiences, don’t minimize someone’s hardship. Shut up and listen. We all have a lot to learn from these brave people who are sharing their stories.” So friends, do what you need to do to take care of yourselves. It’s OK to take a break from the news, from social media, from interactions with people that can be triggering. It’s OK to cry. If you have people who form a safe(r) space for you to share your truth, access them.
At a recent meeting of Seattle-area clergy, I heard a local pastor talk about how hearts break. They can break by shattering, she said, so that a heart is unrecognizable and the parts are disparate and seem irreparable. Then she shared that her hope is that our hearts always break open, so that we do not shut ourselves off from the world in fear and apathy and weariness, but that we are open to receiving stories that help us stretch and learn and grow. It is my hope that our collective heart does not shatter under the pressure of all of the stories, because each story is unique and must be honored. I hope our hearts break open to teach us about our own behaviors and the ways we uphold systemic violence against women and nonbinary people, that we might repent and go forward in our lives as accomplices in the fight against sexual harassment, abuse and violence. I hope our hearts break open enough to maintain healthy boundaries and call out abusive behaviors. I hope our hearts break open to teach mutual consent to our children and respect children’s physical boundaries. I hope that our hearts break open enough to take each other seriously, to listen with non-judgment and to respond with grace. I hope our hearts break open, so that we receive what we need in order to grow towards witnessing God’s love and justice for all people. As the Sanctuary Choir sang in the moments before I preached on James 3, “we can do better.” And better we must. There is no other way forward.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
By Jim Segaar
Fall seems more beautiful in Seattle
Brighter than it used to be
Simply having time to appreciate it?
It could be my age
I’m 60 now
The golden years
And my brother just died
Death is getting more personal
Colors mean more to me now
Riding bike in 60-degree weather
I don’t care if it rains tomorrow
Temperatures are fresh
The sun is a spotlight
Leaves dress in garish shades
They’d never wear before Labor Day
Fall might be the beginning of the end
With cold, quiet Winter just around the bend
Or is it just another step
Along the path
Fall seems more beautiful this year
Brighter than it used to be
By Jim Segaar
My brother Dave died suddenly last Sunday. Dave had many medical issues, and had been close to death several times before, so his passing was not a surprise. But it is still a shock. A shock that is morphing into a reminder, perhaps even a lesson.
Death is not a new experience for me. My parents died a decade ago. I’ve lost most of my aunts and uncles. I’ve been in the hospital room when dear friends died. I lived through the early years of HIV/AIDS when so many others around me did not. And yet Dave’s death is different. Each has been different. But this one feels more personal.
Maybe it’s more personal because my older brother was my hero when I was a kid. I was a scrawny fifth grader, one of the smallest kids in the class, and he played linebacker on the high school football team. When he met his future wife Kris, I tagged along with them fairly often to softball games or on errands. But as I grew older I moved away from Lynden, and they stayed. The path I found into adulthood took me further and further away from Lynden, from my family, from Dave.
Maybe it’s more personal because this is my generation, and we are all getting to be an age where “natural causes” is a valid cause of death. It’s hard to not speculate. Did Dave open the floodgates for the passing of my siblings, for me? Who’s next?
Miraculously, my siblings and our partners in life gathered for a reunion two weeks ago. We met at the little house the Jim Ginn and I have been building in Methow Valley, and we had a good time together. We laughed. We prepared way too much food. We ate. And as our family does, we sang together. Old hymns that we (mostly) knew the words to by heart.
One of those hymns was “It is Well with My Soul.” We forgot a few of the words in the middle verses, but sang lustily on verses 1 and 4. “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight…” In the quiet after singing, Dave spoke up.
“You all know I’ve done some things in my life,” he began. We’d been ribbing him earlier about some of his more notorious youthful pranks. He continued in a faltering voice. “But I want you to know, if anything happens, it is well with my soul.”
My sisters, who’d been weepy during the whole reunion, bawled out loud, and we guys joined in. And then we went on with our reunion, most of us knowing that for some reason this would be the last time we’d all be together in this life.
And now Dave is gone. We are seven instead of eight.
So what’s the reminder or lesson that I mentioned? Death is not the end of life, it is part of life. If we spend all our time and energy trying to avoid death, we will never really live. If we avoid getting close to people because we don’t want to risk losing them, then we will miss out on the riches of their love completely.
My sister-in-law Kris had to beg the emergency room medical staff to stop CPR on Dave on Sunday. They’d been at it for 40 minutes when she intervened and told them to “Just stop.” Only then could there be peace.
And so goes our twisted culture. Two things are true about all of us. We were born. And we will die. And as a culture we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to avoid the latter. I’m not in favor of suffering. But neither am I in favor of extending “life” at any cost.
In Deuteronomy, Moses is credited with a magnificent final opus. It includes the following:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live… (Deuteronomy 30.19 – NRSV)
Choose life, knowing that life includes death.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist