“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away . . .” The start of a story, one that apparently goes on and on and on with prequels and sequels and somewhere postquels??? What about, “Once upon a time in the middle of the forest there lived three bears . . .” “Once upon a time there was a dear little girl (Red Riding Hood) . . .” “Once upon a time there were three little pigs . . .” They all start fairy tale stories many of us remember as children from the Brothers Grimm. What about “In the beginning when God created . . . (Gen. 1:1). Or maybe, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . .” (John 1:1). We perhaps know better, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered . . . (Luke 2:1). All the beginnings of stories. A movie, fairy tales, biblical beginnings – all starting the chapters and verses and ups and downs and perpendiculars of lives and relationships and interactions. All eliciting in the writing emotions and intrigue and piques of interest and questions about facts and truths and truths beyond facts. All of them inviting interpretations of themes and sidelights and what is allegory and what is metaphor and what is literal and what is spiritual and what is hyperbole and what is communal and what is individual and who is the reader and what impact does that have.
Stories. We all have them. Once upon a time, you were born – maybe during a snowstorm, maybe in a taxi, maybe after 36 hours of labor, maybe after one, maybe with other people in the room, maybe with just your mom and a doc and a nurse; but once upon a time your life on this earth began – and the story started to take shape. What are your chapter titles? I’ve heard folks tell me a number of times that “x year was the year from hell.” Do you have one or two of those chapters? I’ve had folks tell me that “x was the best moment of their life.” Do you have one of those? When I ask people what things shaped their lives and who they are today I always hear different answers, after probably hundreds of times I’ve asked, never has there been an exact same answer – there wouldn’t be, right? We’ve all lived different years in different places meeting different people and being invited to or confronted by situations for which we planned and those which took us completely by surprise. And we live through each of those and come out differently, sometimes noticeably, sometimes in ways we don’t quite know for many years, but every situation somehow shapes who we are and the story we live.
A valued colleague shared a story recently of having been horribly mistreated and harassed by a male supervisor in ministry in the early years of her career. She expressed how hard it was to share and her understanding of how someone can have that story and wait to tell it for so many different reasons. Not the least of which are the negative reactions and responses and the trend we have in our culture not to believe women, or even if we believe them, we skewer and vilify them for not telling it the way we think it should be told or how it should be told or when it should be told.
A valued friend who I’ve known for a number of years also told me her story this morning. I’ve known her quite a long while, and it’s the first she’s shared it. She too was harassed by a supervising colleague very early in her career. She described the process it took for her to move forward, and she took it forward at the time it was happening, and even with multiple amounts of horribly concrete evidence in her hand from the perpetrator’s own writing, the process was obtuse and biased and fairly secretive and did not end up in an immediate dismissal but in a “moving” geographically to prevent any contact. She’s as strong and smart a person as I’ve ever known, and it was stupefying how it was handled in a well-respected secular institution.
We talked about how the “boys will be boys” glib and over-used phrase in the human story is such a cop out. You tell me… are ALL the boys in your life given to harassing women? Your husbands? Your sons? Your dads? Your brothers? Your co-workers? How dare I even suggest such a thing, right? So then why are we willing to use that excuse if it’s not true of ALL boys and/or men? Do we not have a right to expect mature and respectful behavior from men and women? Shouldn’t that be the go-to meaning so that when we say “boys will be boys” what we mean is that they are, as a rule, respectful and appropriate and able to control themselves around all kinds of other people in all kinds of situations but most particularly if they are stronger and bigger and in supervisory positions?
I wonder if many of us know what it feels like to have the truth of our story not believed. Both my colleague and my friend are trustworthy people. One had too much hard evidence to not be believed all those years ago, the other had her truth shut down by those in authority all those years ago. Each of them has been shaped and their story partly defined but what happened. When they tell their story and are heard, they are taken back in a way that I can only imagine, to feelings and fears and frustrations and anger and disbelief and harsh realities that justice does not always come in an instant or even in a lifetime. And yet they both are still walking and working and relating and loving and caring and serving and laughing and rejoicing with tender hearts of courage that most will never completely know or understand but are blessed to be recipients. I’m one of those blessed recipients. To each of you, whether you read this blog or not, thank you. Thank you for your story. Thank you for trusting us with your truth. Thank you for not letting the harrassers win, whether they were/are ever punished or not, your lives both witness to the fact that those that would have broken you, did not. Thank you.
We have much work to do in a society that somehow accepts that groping and harassing women is acceptable for people in positions of power, and even that it is probably the woman’s fault. I believe the first step in that work is to listen. Can we create ourselves to be trust-worthy listeners? Can we create around ourselves a spirit and environment of safety so that someone’s vulnerability in telling the difficult parts of their story is treated with respect and tenderness? If we cannot create those places in the faith community, then I fear we’ve lost our way. The paradox is that a high percentage of folk believe a faith community is the last place they would tell their story for fear of judgment and condemnation. Please help me change that perception. We are Grace. That’s our name – may it also be the heart of our story, our spirit, and our way of being in life because that’s how we best witness our love of and being loved by God.
What is your story? What are the stories of those around you? What will be the story we will leave, most particularly on this day, the story we will leave our girl-children to live into and have a right to expect in terms of their treatment in this world? Help me write it in a way that helps them and our boy-children live into healthy and whole lives and relationships that maybe, just maybe, in not too long a time and in a galaxy not too far, far away, will have wonderful beginnings, meaningful middles, and of course, happy endings.