Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Outing Victims Is Just Victimizing Them All Over Again

I have thought about sitting down several time and putting my thoughts to keys here on the recent talk about the son of a well-known TLC show family who has been accused of molesting underage girls when he was a teenager.

This is not an easy topic to write about.

Honestly, no sin should be easy or cavalier to share feelings or write about. However, I think it's safe to say that most people consider sexual sin to have greater weight to it than your garden variety of gossip, adultery or lying.

As a Christ-follower, I know that in His eyes, sin is sin. There is no quantification or degree involved. 

That is both humbling for those who have blown it big, and disturbing for those who have not. The idea that my ugly words could be seen as "murdering" someone's character is a hard pill to swallow. But this non-distinction keeps us from becoming proud and uttering the obvious, "well, I would NEVER ....", because honestly, in God's eyes, it's all the same.

That being said, I do believe that the fall-out, damage and consequences of some sins is greater than others. A child who loses their father to a violent murder has to grow up and spend a life with a father-shaped-hole in his or her heart. That's a tremendous amount of pain for a long span of time.

Likewise, victims of sexual abuse are not only traumatized, used and abused in that very moment (or sadly moments), but they continue to be haunted by that event over and over. It effects every aspect of their life and spills over into their relationships, their self-confidence and trust in humanity.

Suffice it to say, they have a very long road ahead of them. The healing takes place in tiny micro steps and it's multi-layered. They are faced daily with the choice of whether to forgive and move forward. It burns and stings and cuts.

But eventually, life comes back into focus. Years pass and it doesn't hurt as much. Progress is made and the world feels less menacing.

Unless something happens to put you right back there in that place and time.

And this is what is breaking my heart about this ongoing "scandal" that the media, social media and bloggers are so aggressively trying to "crack wide open."

The victims. These young women who are now being victimized all over again. 

Except now they are being victimized on a public platform and their faces and names are being published with the labels, "victim," "incest," "sexual abuse," and more. These words will be forever cached on the world wide web for their children and grandchildren to find on Google.

What ever happened to protecting the identity of the victim? 

Or did that pass out of fashion along with good manners and finding out the entire story before publishing it?

Believe me, I am not condoning sexual abuse in any form --whether it be rape by a stranger or fondling by a sibling. It's wrong and harmful either way.

However, I do know that there can be healing and restoration after experiencing a hurt like this. It is possible. It's not easy. It's something that has to be fought for and cried over. But it is possible.

What this young man did was wrong. I'm sure he is grieved even now to see his sin splashed out for the world to see. I know he is now a father of daughters and I am sure he feels the weight of what he did when he looks at their sweet faces.

What would I do if my worst sin was published on Facebook for all to see? What kind of integrity and strength of character would I have then?

I hope I never have to find out.

I also don't profess to know the situation and whether or not anything was covered up or swept under the rug. I don't know if lines were crossed with the police and if records were in fact shredded.

However, I do know that sometimes victims of sexual abuse do not wish to proclaim it to the world. They would rather not go to the authorities or turn someone in because they do not want to expose the incident to public scrutiny. They do not want to live with the label: victim.

Or it could simply be that even though they have been hurt by their abuser, they still love him. And not in a sick twisted way, but in this difficult ugly-beautiful life where we are all sinners and guilty of something.

Because you can love someone and still hurt them. And you can also love someone and still be hurt by them.

And then what?

Some may choose to cut off all communication and contact for awhile...or forever.

Some may choose to bury it deep and never speak of it again and go on as if nothing happened.

Some may choose to forgive and try to restore a broken relationship because of love and grace and all the things that Christ asks of us to do that are really, really hard to do when we are in pain and have been hurt.

I don't know the situation.

But I would guess that it is the latter that these young women have chosen. It's maybe the hardest and bravest thing they have ever done, but for the sake of love and family, I suspect they have chosen this difficult road.

And if that is true. And if it is true that somehow by the grace of God this family has walked through this pain together and wrongs have been acknowledged and pain has been acknowledged and tears have been shed and relationships have started to be mended...if all of this is true, then this must truly be a nightmare for all involved.

Maybe the way I hope it happened isn't the way it actually happened. It could be pure conjecture on my part.

However, regardless, I do emphatically believe that no matter your feelings on whether or not this young man "got away with it," or the young women "need justice," or the authorities "participated in a cover up scheme,"...no matter your feelings on the matter, I hope we can all agree that these young women deserve their privacy.

These young women deserve to live their lives without fear of being forever labeled or forced to re-live their deepest pain.

No journalist or blogger should think they are simply "fighting for the victims" and are not contributing to the hurt when they publish these young women's photos with labels that they have continuously fought against in their own heart and soul.

In my opinion, this is sensationalist and only serves to highlight the author's profile or bump their page views.

We have a great responsibility to give these young women and all victims privacy and respect and stay out of their business. Because ultimately, it is their business. Although they have opened up their lives on television, and it makes us feel like we know them and can therefore weigh in. 

We don't know. 

We can't know it all.

But we can know and do know what it is like to be human. And to be hurt and be hurting. To feel exposed and a little raw.

And although these young women may not have been safe or protected in that singular moment, we can offer them safety and protection now by keeping their names and faces out of the news and news feeds.

It's the very least we can do....

Monday, May 25, 2015

Radical Transformation Always Requires Dying

Our church as been following the television show, A.D.: The Bible Continues on NBC as part of a campaign to get churches to both support the show and provide some framework for teaching on the book of Acts.

While I will admit to some skepticism at first on whether or not the content would be accurate (or Hollywood sensationalized), and whether the acting would be cheesy, I have been pleasantly surprised.

As our pastor says, it's not a 100% telling of the Bible. There is some supposition involved and subtle changes. However, it hits the mark more often than not and as a Christian it is a blessing to have a major network tell a story dear to my heart and with great acting and special effects.

The depiction of this angel of the Lord is so cool!

The only minor issue with it is that it sometimes stops short of the full radical impact of the scripture. In the last full episode we watched (our family is a bit behind and catching up on the DVR), it showed the preaching and stoning of Stephen. It was greatly diminished and watered down from the scriptures -- so much so that I read from Acts the entire story so the kids could hear what they missed on the screen. (Acts 6 and 7)

Again -- as long as the viewer is watching it with a good foundation of scriptural knowledge, he or she can easily tell when story lines have been embellished or truncated. And for this reason, it is helpful for my kids to hear the scripture along with the series so they know the difference.

However, last Sunday at church, the clip we watched was a powerful one that showed the story of Saul of Tarsus' interaction with Jesus on the Damascus road (Acts 9 and 22).

Things get real for Saul on the Damascus road

It was very well done and actually seeing it on a big screen reenacted brought a freshness to a story I've read and heard many times.

"As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 
Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink."

I never noticed before the parallel of the period of time where Saul of Tarsus was dying and Peter the Rock was emerging.

I never noticed that it was precisely three days that his blindness persisted.

I cannot believe that this time frame mirroring Jesus' death and rising again is a coincidence. I think that the parallel of these three days was part of Saul's conversion into Paul. Much like Simon Peter's "do you love me" conversation with Jesus (John 21:15), Paul needed a time of transformation from unbeliever to zealot.

Most sources agree that the human body can only go without water for three days. So I am guessing that by day three Paul was closer to death than he had ever been.

I wonder what was happening to his physical body and his spirit as this was happening? After all, he had that staggering experience on the road and then had to be led by hand to a different city from his original travel plan. He was a stranger in a strange place. Blind. Not eating or drinking. He might have been hallucinating a bit. What was going through his mind?

I wonder if Stephen being stoned before him was playing in his head. If he saw the faces of all the followers of The Way whom he had persecuted with great zeal.

He must have been so appalled and confused and scared. He must have wanted to die.

But on that third day. God sent someone to help. (Acts 9:17-19)

"So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength."

And then Paul the Apostle was born from the ashes of Saul, the Persecutor.

Every time I read stories of how God takes a flawed, frail, sinful human being and makes him or her into a pillar of the faith, I get excited. Because I know that He can do that with me -- a person who is also all of those things.

It may take a death of sorts to get there. Maybe even days/weeks/months of hardship as He makes us over into His image.

But I am confident that He will never leave us in that vulnerable and blind state without the invitation to change and new life.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Dear Open Letter...

Does anyone remember when Facebook was about seeing your friend's and family's pictures and updates and quirky little minutiae where everyone spoke about themselves in the third person.

Updates like, "Rachel is seriously considering cheating on her diet," and the occasional cat meme?

How I miss those days.

I'm glad we've made the leap to first person narrative. At least we are now honest about our fascination with ourselves in the lead role of our own piece of social media. However, now it seems like my news feed is chock full of videos of crazy You Tube antics, photos of people's food, and a ton of viral (or trying to go viral) blog posts or even "news outlet posts" of someone or a group calling out and shaming another person or group that they feel is overstepping.

At first they were couched in an "open letter" format.

I did a bit of research and found the open letter format is fairly old. Martin Luther used it while he was in jail. Ralph Waldo Emerson has used it, and so has Bill Gates. Historically open letters have been written and published publicly as a way of sorts of having a voice where you don't have the opportunity to speak, or to speak out against or draw attention to an perceived injustice.

Like the American Revolution, the Cherokee removal order or a call for medical reform.

Until lately.

Now the open letter has been hijacked by bloggers and even guest writers for news outlets to share their feelings of exclusion or judgement for their life choices. What is worse, in my opinion, is that the standard format of titling your words "An Open Letter to...." has disappeared and now these "letters" (really, diatribes) have just become a targeted attack on someone or a group you don't agree with or...or annoy you.

In the last week, I've read open letters from a mom to other moms who hover over her children and their children at the playground; a letter from a pro-vaccine family to an anti-vaccine family; and many in regards to the events that occurred in Baltimore last week.

And I've also read a letter that a father wrote to his child's principal in response to her informing them that their week-long trip to Boston would be counted as an unexcused absence.

However, I don't have a problem with this last letter. For one, I totally agree with the father's perspective (don't get me started). However, his letter was written in response to one he received.

And here is the crux of what bothers me about all these open letters.

No one mailed one to you. No one took the time to sit down and either type or pen their thoughts about how you do or do not interact with your children at the playground. No one put a postcard in the box to you about how your child's vaccine card is too full or too empty.

We are spoiling...literally spoiling for a fight and we will pick one and start raging just to vent and be heard and "stop the judgement."

But in reality, these open letters are all about judgement. Because the person writing them is in full judgement of someone else's actions, words, glances.

And, if you think about it, the ones that are positive can usually be classified as true open letters to strangers who helped or didn't judge and now the recipient of that kindness is reaching out afterwards to say thank you. Yes, they may have some measure of knowledge impartation to them (for example, thank you for interacting with my unruly/bored/special needs child on the airplane and not rolling your eyes in frustration instead), but for the most part they are a kudos of sorts.

But this is not what I have seen clogging my news feed of late.

Yes, we all have opinions. Obviously, I'm sharing mine right now. You might even be saying, "aren't you judging and shaming open letter writers right now?"

And maybe you could look it at that way. Maybe I am sermonizing a bit. Maybe I need to take my own advice. And maybe, just maybe that judgey part of me is as ready for a cease and desist as yours is.

Life is difficult enough with putting our passive-aggressive thoughts out there for all to see and ultimately be brought down by. Because negativity doesn't beget change, it begets only more negativity.

So, I am turning over a new leaf. I am pledging to refrain from clicking on anything that looks like an open letter post -- overt or otherwise. And if I find myself reading something like it, I will stop and go pick up my Bible and read 1 Corinthians 13 and other encouraging words to replace the negative ones.

But before I do, I'd like to send off one last open letter of my own:

Dear Open Letter, 
I cannot wait until your popularity fades and you settle into the obscurity of time. Your subject matter is vague and passive-aggressive and you sway public opinion too easily. Most often you come off as superior and judgmental and make me feel bad. 
The current over-used format of you in social media also makes me feel bad about the state of the world. I would much rather read your cousin, Editorial, or estranged-relative, Reliable News Sourced Article. 
I confess I will not miss you when you are gone. Wherever you go, please feel free to stay there. 
So Done With You

Saturday, May 2, 2015

...and it is well with me

Today I had the privilege of sitting with my beautiful friend, Leah, who is literally struggling to breathe without assistance.

After some time of reading together, and listening to worship music, etc, it was time for the respiratory tech to come and try taking her off the machine to allow her lungs to work on their own and work towards getting off the ventilator.

It's a struggle for her because of fluid that has built up around and in her lungs. The tech described it as trying to do a hard core work out but only being able to breathe through a straw.

As you can imagine, facing this, Leah was a bit nervous. But determined. So determined.

As we waited for the tubes to be unplugged and for the test to begin, this song came on and I got to witness what was one of the most beautiful moments I have had the pleasure to see firsthand.

I have a special handful that I keep close to my heart and I bring these mental snapshots out from time to time and reminisce and rejoice over them. This one joins them.

Let me see if I can paint the picture for you...

As we both sat there waiting, I reached over and somehow stumbled upon this song ...and by "stumbled," I mean God found it for us. (I encourage you to play it and listen as you continue to read and then you'll have the full picture of this moment....)

...this beautiful moment where my friend lay in a hospital bed with myriad tubes and monitors connected to her precious body.

This moment of bravery as she prepared to do battle with her lungs.

This moment where more than anything she just want to be done already and home with her boys.

This is the moment my beautiful friend with a beautiful voice -- a voice that has been temporarily silenced, looked at me and made a heart with her two hands (she loves this song!) and then lifted her hand toward heaven and used it to pass back and forth across her body in worship.

This was a moment where the ugly beautiful of this life pierced my heart. Because if anyone has a reason to rage and complain, it's her. Instead, she chose to lift her hand and "sing,"

"through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you,
and through it all...it is well,
through it all, through it all, my eyes are one you,
and it is well with me"

And yes, I cried those tears...those tears that just leak out of our humanly fragile eyes that are part sorrow, but mostly full of awe at the grace of God for a beautifully profound moment.

I cried for Leah. I cried me for me. I cried because no matter if it's a hospital bed or a bed of depression, an empty bank account or an empty home, the truth is....it is well.

It absolutely is.


Leah...you will never know how much that moment touched my soul and how much I love and admire your tenacity of faith and spirit. "This mountain that is in front of you WILL be thrown into the midst of the sea!" I know that as you continue to plant your feet and stand on Christ the Rock, He will resurrect your very breath. And I believe that one day, not too far away, you will STAND and you will SING this song with your breath and lungs. I just want to be there when you do!