Archive | December 2012

“a small nuisance like rape”

Most of the educated world has been aghast at the latest (published, at least) atrocity to a female in India.  A lovely young woman died on Saturday.  She was just 23.

After years of sacrifice by her family so she & her brother could be educated, this still nameless young woman had come to the big city of New Delhi to follow her dream of studying to be a doctor.   She was engaged to be married, and her fiance & she had gone out for the evening and were heading home by public transport, as thousands do every day in India.

But this bus was different.  Several drunken men were already on board and decided to have a little fun.  They came prepared, it seems, having brought with them an iron rod.  They beat the young woman’s fiance and then, for several hours on the still moving bus (one has to wonder about the driver in all of this) they took turns raping her, including the use of the iron rod, severely damaging most of her internal organs.   At the end of their fun evening, the men stripped both the young woman and her fiance of their clothing and dumped them at the side of the road, probably laughing as the bus drove away.

For two longs weeks this 23 year old beloved daughter/sister/fiancee battled for life, her injuries being so severe that she was air-flighted to a hospital in Singapore that specializes in the transplanting of multiple organs, but she was too brutally injured to recover.  A lovely young woman, whose dream it was to be a good doctor and help the women and children in her country, was dead.

Because of, and only because of, the enormous public outcry from within India and around the world, the Indian government has decided to outlaw rape.   Yup, you heard that right.  Up until this point, rape has not been considered a crime.  In fact, India’s Law & Justice minister was quoted as saying:

“It’s such a terrible tragedy when a small nuisance like rape turns into to something tragic like murder,” Kumar says. “Yes, the government has known that rape is a problem in society. But we always thought of it as akin to smoking: something to be frowned upon, but not criminalized or prosecuted.

“Now we have this horrible event which reminds us that sometimes rape can have negative consequences.”

If the atrocity of rape is only now being considered a crime, it will be light years before domestic abuse will ever be taken seriously in India.   I can only imagine being Kumar’s wife, after he was quoted as further saying:

“We’ve neglected the issue of sexual violence in our society because frankly I think who someone is sleeping with should be a private affair. If the government goes around telling rapists who they can and can’t have sex with, what is next? Are they going to tell me which of my wife’s orifices I should use?

And then, to finish off his eloquent speech, he says: “It”s a slippery slope and one I wish I didn’t have to face. But if rapists can’t behave responsibly we’re left with no choice but to ban rape altogether.”

Remember our sisters in India today, and pray for a family as they grieve the loss of their precious daughter.   No word to date on her still nameless fiance, as his body & mind begin their long journey of healing.

Photo courtesy of the Heifer Project International, a wonderful organization that supports the education and safety of Indian women.  They welcome your donations.

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imagine an educated 1st century pregnant virgin … eh, what?

Imagine … for just a few minutes, lay aside the many things that are keeping your mind from being present right now.  All of those things – the gifts that still have to be purchased, the lunch you have in the crock pot, the relatives coming into town … all of those things.   Lay them aside, and for a little moment in time, just shut your eyes and imagine.

Imagine living during a time in history where there is no running water, where you have to go to a well to get the day’s ration for your family.  For some of you that won’t be too hard, as you were raised on a farm and this is how you grew up.

Imagine living during a time when there was no electricity, where you rose before the sun in order to get your chores done and when darkness came the family settled for the night.  For some of you, this is how your Amish neighbors still live today.

Imagine living in a time when there was no social welfare system, no Salvation Army, no local Associated Charities.   If you were poor, you were on your own, depending on the kindness of farmers to leave grain in their fields for you to glean after the harvest.

Imagine being born a female.  For some of you, this may be a stretch, but give it your best shot.  For just a few minutes, try and imagine seeing the world through the eyes of a woman.

Imagine living in a time where being born female was more of a curse than a blessing.  Many women, especially those in the work force, have tasted a little of this as we have hit glass ceilings.  For millions of women in the world today, however, this is an incredibly harsh daily reality.   You don’t have to travel far … just to China or India … to see that being born female can mean your family grieves at your birth as you are not the longed for son.   They may give you up for adoption or, worse still, abandon you on a hillside for the elements to take you.  For all too many women in the Middle East, being born female means you are considered less than a second class citizen.  Many women are still not given the privilege to vote.  Imagine not having any say in whom you marry – this is a decision made for you by your male relatives.   This still happens today.

Imagine being a little girl, standing to the side, watching your brothers, your favored brothers, going to school every morning, coming home and telling you about learning to read, talking about what they are going to do when they grow up.   Imagine being that little girl and knowing that you will never be allowed to go to school, never learn how to read, or have a decision in your own future.  With no education, there is no job you can do but the one your mother had … to marry, raise the children & keep the home.  When you give birth to children, your husband will name them as he pleases.

Imagine knowing that you could be traded, just like any piece of property – land, money, or cattle – traded at any time in order to procure a good financial deal for your family.  This still happens in the Middle East.

Imagine being a little girl, knowing that if, for any reason, you were considered flawed and unmarriageable, your only future would be to live with one of your brothers or a male relative, for the rest of your life.  You would live in the shadows, in disgrace, because no man wanted you.

Imagine knowing that the one thing you had of value, the one thing you always had to protect until your wedding day, was your virginity.  If you lost that, no man would ever want to take you as his wife, or even one of his wives, polygamy still being the custom in many parts of the world, as you would be considered worthless.

I tell my clients that virginity is not something that is taken from you; it is something you give away.  However, that’s not how the world sees it, especially in the Middle East:

If you were sexually abused as a child, you were not considered a virgin.

If you were raped as a young woman, you were not considered a virgin.  The only man who you might have the option of marrying was your rapist!

If you had sex before marriage with the man you thought loved you, the man who had taken your virginity could then toss you aside as “spoiled goods” … this double standard still survives in the Middle East.

So, imagine living in the Middle East, over 2,000 years ago, and being a young woman, a very young woman.  You are probably very poor, and have no identity other than the fact you are your father’s daughter.  You have no say in whom you are going to marry, knowing that your sole value is your virginity … and the unthinkable happens.

Mary …. We know so little about her.  Biblical scholars are torn even to her tribal lineage.   Was she from the tribe of Judah, so that her children could claim being descendants of King David or, more likely, was she descended from the priestly line of Aaron, as was her cousin, Elizabeth?

We know she was young, very young, most probably between the ages of 12 and 14, as that was the common age when a young woman would be betrothed.   We know she was from Nazareth, a little back woods town in Galilee.   We know she was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, whose claim to King David’s lineage is very clear from two different books of the Bible.   We know that Joseph was a carpenter, which probably meant that he had spent some years learning a trade.  A humble trade.   Joseph was not a wealthy man.   He was most probably quite a bit older than Mary.

We know that, absolutely without any doubt, Mary’s greatest value was her virginity.  It was the key to rest of her future.

So, imagine being a very naïve young woman, already assigned a life’s partner, knowing what your future in life is going to be, just going about your normal daily business and then being confronted … by an angel.  Not just any angel, mind you, but THE MESSENGER angel, Gabriel.

Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, favored woman.  The Lord is with you.”  Scripture tells us that Mary was confused and frightened.   Well, wouldn’t you be?

Gabriel goes on to tell her that God has a better plan than the one her father had chosen for her life.  He was going to make her pregnant with HIS son, and SHE was going to name him – don’t miss this …  yes, Mary, a woman, was going to give her baby a name – Jesus, meaning “Emmanuel, God with Us.”

This baby was going to be very great and would be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord would give him the throne of his ancestor, David … but wait a minute, wasn’t she related to Aaron?  And her son would reign over Israel forever.  Wait a minute … forever?  He wouldn’t die?  His kingdom wouldn’t end?   So many questions she must have had.  But Mary’s first response was … “how can this be.   I am a VIRGIN.”  That was so important to her.  It was her only value, the key to the rest of her life.

Gabriel explains it all to Mary, how she will be overshadowed by God’s power, how her child would be born holy, and called the Son of God.   He tells her about her much older cousin, Elizabeth, barren for so long who is now pregnant, “for nothing is impossible with God.”   Trust HIM.

And Mary, young, poor, confused, terrified, and clinging to her virginity … her response?  “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.   May everything you have said come true.”

Wow.  Imagine getting news like that, but even more, responding the way she did.  Who could she tell?  Did she have a mother to run to and share this news?  Was her father still alive?  Was he the kind of dad a daughter felt safe with?   Safe enough to tell this kind of news?

Scripture tells us that Mary journeyed to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant.  She would understand.   And God prepared the way.  When Elizabeth stood in the doorway and saw Mary coming down the road, she didn’t call out “Mary, how good to see you.  Have you heard MY wonderful news?”  No, what happened when Elizabeth first saw Mary was that Elizabeth’s baby “leaped” in her womb, and when her six month baby did that, Elizabeth  probably did what every pregnant woman in the world would have done and held her stomach.  The Gospel of Luke tells us that she cried out loud the words, “You are blessed by God, and your child is blessed.   What an honor for me that the mother of my Lord should visit me.”  Elizabeth knew before Mary even told her.   “With God, nothing is impossible.”

And then we come to the passage in Luke chapter 3, entitled “The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise,” Mary’s response to Elizabeth:

“Oh, how I praise the Lord.   How I rejoice in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed.

For he, the Mighty One, is holy,

And he has done great things to me.

His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him.

His mighty arm does tremendous things!

How he scatters the proud and haughty ones!

He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.

He has satisfied the hungry with good things

And sent the rich away with empty hands.

And how he has helped his servant Israel!

He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful.

For he promised our ancestors – Abraham and his children –

To be merciful to them forever.”

How did Mary know all these things?  Was she, like most other girls in her day, uneducated and kept in the background, or did her earthly dad love his daughter enough to quietly teach her Scripture?  Was she his only child, treasured and loved, quietly given the educational privileges of a son?

Mary … the mother of Jesus.  An educated 1st century pregnant virgin, who said “yes” to God, willing to face a very uncertain future and the jeers of the world, all because God had asked her to be obedient.  “With God, nothing is impossible.”  A role model for all of us.

Virgin Mary

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when it’s not such a merry Christmas … domestic abuse at the holidays

broken_christmas_ball_by_heart_drops-300x225Mistletoe, stockings hung, Christmas lights twinkling in the dark, presents under the tree …. and a raging alcoholic coming through the front door while his wife and three children hide in the back bedroom.  For all too many families, the stress of the holiday season brings with it even more fear.

Domestic abuse occurs to at least one in every four women during her lifetime.  She might witness it growing up, as in the illustration above, date a teen abuser, or end up in an intimate relationship where she is battered – emotionally and/or physically – by the person she believes loves her.

Life in a financially strapped household is hard enough, but top that with the stresses of gift buying, more alcohol consumption or drug abuse at the seasonal parties and, in some families, the inevitable demand on who will be where at the holidays, and life can be hell.  Then you have the families where divorced parents mean shared holiday times, often resulting in an angry confrontation with an abuser-ex.

The Pixel Project, a campaign in honor of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, has come up with a list of 16 safety tips for women facing domestic abuse over the holiday season.  If you or someone you care about needs to read it, please go to their link here.   (Photo courtesy of The Pixel Project)

don’t let your words of comfort cause more pain

Yesterday found me rummaging around in a musty basement of an old antique store when I got the phone call from my weeping son about the massacre in a kindergarten in Connecticut.   I almost fell to my knees with the news, as we have a precious little 5 year old kindergartener in our family.   I could not imagine the horror facing those dear families, the long journey of pain awaiting them, for their sorrow will never be done.

Little beds that will never be slept in again.  Presents already wrapped and under the tree.  Barrettes found under the sofa next time the floor is swept.  A little car discovered in dad’s tool box next Spring.  Drawings scotch taped to the fridge, now and for always.  Little arms that will never again be wrapped around your neck.   No more whispers of “I love you, Mama.”

Grief.  Inexpressible grief.

Most of us want to help, we long to make it better for our friends who have been crushed by their own personal tragedy.  Sadly, however, too many of us add to the sorrow by saying the wrong thing …. “Heaven needed another little angel.”  Noooo!

I read an excellent article by Rev. Emily C. Heath in the Huffington Post this morning, and am including it here for everyone to read and pass along.  We mean well, but we have to speak well too.  Don’t let your words contribute to the grief, but let them be words of comfort.

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Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT to Say and Five Things to Say In a Trauma Involving Children

Rev Emily C Heathby Rev. Emily C. Heath, Clergy United Church of Christ

We often have no idea what to say in the face of senseless loss. That is especially true when children are the victims of tragedy. Today’s shooting in Connecticut is heartbreaking in so many ways, not the least of which is the staggering loss of children.

My first two years in ministry were spent as a chaplain assigned to the emergency department of a children’s hospital with a level one trauma center. During that ministry I saw so many senseless tragedies. I also heard some of the worst theology of my life coming from people who thought they were bringing comfort to the parents. More often than not, they weren’t. And often, they made the situation worse.

Here are five things not to say to grieving family and friends:

1. “God just needed another angel.”

Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills kids to fill celestial openings is neither faithful to God, nor helpful to grieving parents.

2. “Thank goodness you have other children,” or, “You’re young. You can have more kids.”

Children are not interchangeable or replaceable. The loss of a child will always be a loss, no matter how many other children a parent has or will have.

3. He/she was just on loan to you from God.

The message is that God is so capricious that God will break parents’ hearts at will just because God can. It also communicates to parents and loved ones that they are not really entitled to their grief.

4. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle. And it doesn’t come from God. Don’t trivialize someone’s grief with a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality.

5. We may not understand it, but this was God’s will.

Unless you are God, don’t use this line.

And here are five things to say:

1. I don’t believe God wanted this or willed it.

A grieving friend or family member is likely hearing that this is God’s will from a number of other people. Affirm the idea that it may very well not be.

2. It’s okay to be angry, and I’m a safe person for you express that anger to if you need it.

Anger is an essential part of the grieving process, but many don’t know where to talk about it because they are often silenced by others when they express their feelings. (For instance, they may be told they have no right to be angry at God.) By saying you are a safe person to share all feelings, including anger, with, you help the grieving person know where they can turn.

3. It’s not okay.

It seems so obvious, but sometimes this doesn’t get said. Sometimes the pieces don’t fit. Sometimes nothing works out right. And sometimes there is no way to fix it. Naming it can be helpful for some because it lets them know you won’t sugarcoat their grief.

4. I don’t know why this happened.

When trauma happens, the shock and emotion comes first. But not long after comes our human need to try to explain “why?” The reality is that often we cannot. The grieving person will likely have heard a lot of theories about why a trauma occurred. Sometimes it’s best not to add to the chorus, but to just acknowledge what you do not know.

5. I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I am here to support you in whatever way feels best.

Even if you have faced a similar loss, remember that each loss is different. Saying “I know how you’re feeling” is often untrue. Instead, ask how the grieving person is feeling. And then ask what you can do to help. Then, do it and respect the boundaries around what they don’t want help with at this point. You will be putting some control back into the hands of the grieving person, who often feels like they have lost so much of it.

Follow Rev. Emily C. Heath on Twitter: www.twitter.com/calledoutrev

buying a child’s life … the best of Christmas presents

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat …”   So goes the old children’s nursery rhyme.  Well, for lots of little children, Christmas will never come unless you help them.  According to the following article by Alison Storm, “an estimated 5.7 million children are forced to work in factories, fields, and brothels all over the world.”

As I’ve shared in a previous post, there is no birthday or Christmas gift that compares to knowing that a child has literally been bought out of slavery in your name.  Can you imagine it?  Yet World Vision, on the post referenced, and other organizations such as Mission: Rescue Life, make that possible.

How about it?  Body wash, the newest CD or a child?  Read Alison’s article in Redbook Magazine and find out some ways to make that happen.

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You Can Save a Child From Slavery

An estimated 5.7 million children are forced to work in factories, fields, and brothels all over the world. Help to stop child labor by doing one thing on this list.

By Alison Storm
Child Slavery

Photo Credit: Carolyn Cole

1. Face the facts. Many people think slavery ended after the Civil War, but, tragically, there are more slaves today than at any point in human history. Millions of child slaves — some of whom are sold by their impoverished parents — work in fields, brothels, private homes, mines, and restaurants overseas and even right here in the United States. “I had read about trafficking, but I was completely blown away when I saw young children being sold for sex on the streets of Thailand,” says Desirea Rodgers, 34, who traveled there with friends for the first time in 2002 to see what she could do to make a difference. Unable to shake the heartbreaking images from their minds, they started plotting the launch of a nonprofit that could help young girls and boys. “Rescue workers told us they weren’t able to help as many children as they wanted to because they didn’t have enough safe places for them to live,” Desirea says, so she and her friends created Love146, which runs a shelter in the Philippines, another Asian country with major child-slavery problems. There, victims receive counseling and education that prepares them to return to their families or reintegrate into society on their own. The nonprofit’s name comes from a young girl, enslaved in a brothel, who was known only by the number clients used to identify her, 146. The Love146 founders were never able to track that girl down again, but they’ve helped dozens like her, including Serey, who was trafficked into a brothel without her parents’ knowledge when she was 17. Serey was rescued by local cops after several months and brought to Love146’s Round Home, where she attended school and worked with a therapist for 18 months. “The Round Home is where my life changed,” she says. “It’s where a new me was born. This home heals the broken.” To help more children find a safe place to restart their lives, give at love146.org/donate. Five dollars provides a victim with a new pair of shoes; $15 buys a school uniform; $80 pays for school books for one year.

2. Shop for fair-trade jewelry and handbags at store.madebysurvivors.com. Started by husband-and-wife team John Berger and Sarah Symons in 2005, the nonprofit has helped more than 500 rescued trafficking victims and their children attend school for the first time and make a living by handcrafting the products sold online. “Education, employment, and economic empowerment are so important. If survivors can support themselves without selling their bodies, they’ll never go back,” Sarah says. Without such intervention, less than 10 percent of children born into brothels escape for good, she says. “I’ve seen traffickers wait outside shelters and toss in notes and cell phones to lure girls out.” The program saved Anjali, who was kidnapped from a train station in Calcutta, India, at 11 and was forced to work as a sex slave for two years. “With this jewelry program, my future is brighter because I’m able to support myself and my mom,” says Anjali. Now she attends school for free through the charity’s education-sponsorship program.

3. Find out how many slaves work for you by answering 11 questions at slaveryfootprint.org. You’ll discover how much slavery plays a part in producing the things you buy, from the mica that gives certain eyeshadows their shimmer to the cotton in some T-shirts — some raw materials are mined or picked by children as young as 6. “By understanding just how big the problem is, we can start demanding that companies are accountable for who’s mining their products and working in their factories,” says Amy Nyquist, a 37-year-old mom of two who helped create the tool.

4. Educate a freed child slave in East India for one year. All it takes is giving up a $3 latte once a week for 52 weeks and pledging it to the charity Mercy 29’s Lattes for Legacies program (mercy29.org/lattesforlegacies.html). Since 2009, the group has negotiated the release of 380 children from India’s quarries, where they worked 12-hour days extracting slate and marble.

5. Scan the barcodes of your favorite products using the Free2Work smartphone app to find out which companies are working to eliminate forced labor from their supply chains. Not For Sale, the nonprofit behind the app, has graded more than 300 brands, which include jewelry, electronics, and even chocolate.

6. Give whatever you can to Save the Children (savethechildren.org/donate ), a nonprofit that helps vulnerable kids in more than 120 countries. In 2010 alone, the group trained nearly 17,000 children in El Salvador to protect themselves from traffickers; in Indonesia, they rescued 10,000 kids from dangerous working conditions.

7. Report a potential trafficking situation. If you suspect that a child in your city may be a victim, call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888, or submit your anonymous tip online at polarisproject.org/report-a-tip. “Child trafficking is hard to spot,” says Sarah Jakiel, deputy director of the Polaris Project, the nonprofit that runs the hotline. “The biggest red flags are children who are working when they should be in school, have an unreasonable lack of freedom, and show any signs of physical abuse.” Since the hotline opened in 2007, they’ve helped more than 5,000 victims find safe housing, counseling, and legal help in states including Florida and Texas. “Children are lured here from places like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico with the promise of education,” says Kathleen Morris, who leads the International Rescue Committee’s anti-trafficking programs in Seattle. “They know they’ll have to work a little bit, but they often never get to go to school and are forced into jobs with long hours and no pay. What many people don’t realize is that this is happening in places we see on a regular basis, like small coffee shops and construction sites we drive by. It’s hidden in plain sight.”

one mother’s mission to bring her daughter home

I used to think that it was impossible for me to feel a stronger love than I do for my children, and then my daughter in love gave me three beautiful little grand girls.  The heart just isn’t big enough to contain the feelings I have for them.  There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my family.  Nothing.   So, if I learned one day that my daughter or daughter in love had gone out to run an errand, leaving a precious child in the care of safe people and she didn’t return, you bet your bottom dollar that I would be on a mission to find her, and that there would be nothing I wouldn’t do to bring her home.

That’s what happened to an ordinary mother in Argentina.  One day Susana Trimarco’s daughter, Maria de los Angeles “Marita” Verona, a young mother herself, went to a doctor’s appointment and didn’t come home.  For over ten long years, her courageous mother has been searching for her daughter, and what she has accomplished in the process stunned me this morning as I read the article.  In her hunt for Maria, Susana has rescued literally hundreds of Argentine women from the sex trade, women who were enslaved in misery until this remarkable woman helped liberate them.

Susana TrimarcoSusana has been honored with the “Women of Courage” award by the U.S. State Department and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on Nov. 28. Sunday night, President Cristina Fernandez gave her a human rights award before hundreds of thousands of people in the Plaza de Mayo (photo by Associated Press, Victor R. Calvano).

Susana continues to search for her daughter.  Rumors abound that she has been taken out of the country, that she was sighted just days ago …  This mother will never give up looking.  If she can’t find Maria alive, she wants to bring her body home.  I can’t imagine.

a thought for Advent

My son introduced me to one of his favorite writers some time ago, and I don’t think I’ve been quite the same since.  It’s not too often I am reduced to tears as I ponder the words of another, but Frederick Buechner tends to be able to do that for me.  As Advent begins today, the first Sunday in December, I would like to share a quote from this man, and hope it blesses you this Christmas season:

orchestra-conductor-hands-one-with-baton-black-background

The house lights go off and the footlights come on.
Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise.
 
In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised.  The conductor has raised his baton.
In the silence of a mid-winter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint
   that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself.
 
You hold your breath to listen.  You walk up the steps to the front door.
The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing.
For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been
   and a time you have no words for.  You are aware of the beating of your heart.
 
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment
   just before it happens.  Advent is the name of that moment.
 
– Frederick Buechner