Come Healing: A Lament for Survivors
Episode 15 – October 7, 2018
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*This episode deals heavily in themes of sexual violence. There’s also some swearing. PG13 rating.
First Unitarian Brooklyn
“Come Healing” (by Leonard Cohen)
“You in Mind”
Read by Alana Martin of The Go Project at a kickboxing gym in Toronto.
Love for the World
Part of each episode of the Living Presence Podcast will feature a section where we lift up people and places who can use our alliance, our attention and some hope. (If you are from a United Church, this would be similar to “Prayers of the People” or “Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession”).
The idea and our hope are that listeners from all over can send in the people and places they would like to bring to our attention, and I would love it if YOU would consider sending something in to be aired. You can either a) record something with the voice recorder app on your phone and email it to email@example.com OR b) call 289-903-0019 and leave a voicemail OR c) Leave a written comment and I will read it on the air.
A Prayer for “Me, Too”
by Molly Brewer
For the past few years, I’ve been in search of a decent illustrated children’s bible for my kids. Every time I find a children’s Bible in a bookstore I pick it up and look for two specific things. The first thing I look for is whether or not the illustrator has whitewashed the characters because there weren’t a lot of blond haired and blue eyed people in the ancient middle east. The second thing I do is turn to this story Alana just read for us and see how the illustrator portrays Bathsheba.
Inevitably, I get annoyed and slam the book in disgust. I have yet to find an illustrated Bible that does not portray Bathsheba as some kind of sultry temptress, using her naked body to seduce the poor, weak and unsuspecting King. That portrayal of Bathsheba is painfully steeped in the kind rhetoric telling girls that it’s the length of their skirt that is to blame for boys’ distraction at school, or that modesty is the best defence against rape. It’s the kind of thinking that suggests if a woman has had something to drink, how can she be sure she didn’t actually consent? And all of this is right up there with questioning whether a sexual assault ever truly happened if it took over 30 years to report it.
History has not been kind to Bathsheba, and she is one of the worst examples of victim blaming in history. Never mind the kids’ books; try searching for “David and Bathsheba” on YouTube. It’s pretty brutal. Liz Curtis Higgs has a series of books called Bad Girls of the Bible. Bathsheba isn’t even just a bad girl…she made the Really Bad Girls of the Bible sequel. Why? “Because it doesn’t appear that she put up much of a fight.” There is no other word for this except…bullshit. It’s bullshit.
David was the King.
David had all of the power in this unfortunate situation.
This is a story of cowardice, deceit, murder and…rape. David raped Bathsheba.
Could Bathsheba have said “no”? What would have happened to her if she tried?
We don’t really know what Bathsheba said because she only gets three words in this whole story: “I am pregnant.”
After Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the news media started doing their thing, with opinions about Ford’s credibility running a wide spectrum. For me, the comments made after Dr. Ford’s testimony were even more upsetting than Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination going through. Questions like, “Why didn’t she come forward before? Why didn’t she tell her parents and then go to the police? If this was really so traumatizing, why is it that she can’t remember certain details?”
All of this is just a woefully inadequate understanding of trauma and how systems of power work. It’s hard to see all the moving parts of a vast, moving machine when you’re right smack in the middle of it, and one of the people whom the machine benefits the most. Throughout this week, I have read and heard countless examples of people recounting their assaults: what they remember and can’t remember, etc. But what it is absolutely clear to them is – it happened. I sometimes wonder whether people who have never been assaulted truly understand: the body knows when it has been violated. It knows before our minds and our hearts. And that memory stays within our flesh. These are memories that don’t have words, which can’t give official testimony, but also aren’t affected by the passing of time. Dr. Bressel van der Kolk’s book sums it up nicely: The Body Keeps the Score. David’s sin became etched upon Bathsheba’s flesh, and she has been forced to wear it as a badge of shame ever since.
And as if all of this isn’t enough, not only does history force Bathsheba to shoulder some of the blame, but history also shifts who the victims are. Certainly, there is agreement that Uriah is fully a victim in this story. What we hear later in this narrative is that after David marries Bathsheba, God is…well, God’s pretty pissed at what David has done. So God sends a prophet named Nathan to give David a stern talking to. David immediately admits to his sin…against Uriah and against God. As punishment, the baby who was the product of Bathsheba’s rape dies. It really doesn’t seem very fair: Bathsheba is raped, her husband is murdered, her baby dies…and after David writes a Penitential Psalm — a song of repentance — he seems to come out of this whole affair relatively unscathed. David writes in Psalm 51:
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.
Against God alone. Hmm. I wonder how Bathsheba might feel about that. We don’t know, because, again, she is rather a voiceless character in the whole episode.
But yes…David seems to walk away ok. Bathsheba is dealing with a lot, but David’s life doesn’t seem to be too ruined over the whole thing.
“We can’t let unfounded accusations ruin this guy’s life.”
This was something I heard from Republican Senators and pundits over and over again last week.
Let’s get real here. If Brett Kavanaugh had not been sworn into the Supreme Court, his life would not have been ruined. This was not a criminal proceeding. He would still be a high ranking judge. He’d be pretty much where he was before the nomination happened. Certainly, there would be people who would want to distance themselves from him – for a time – but after the news cycle shifted to something else, Kavanaugh would be back judging and teaching and leading a life of almost unfathomable privilege. Did you see how angry he was as he testified at the Judiciary Hearing? That was a man who assumed he was owed something…and that somebody was about to take that something away. Watching clips of Kavanaugh speak, the entitlement on display was more than obvious. And the fact that he was able to cast himself as a victim, and have the President of the United States endorse and embellish this victimhood…it would be laughable if it wasn’t so maddening. But how much more could we expect from a President who brags about grabbing women by the pussy, or just kissing them whenever and wherever he feels like it because he figures he’s so special that they must want it.
Bathsheba did not do anything to suggest she wanted to be summoned by David. She was bathing on the roof of her home, purifying herself after menstruation as per Levitical Law. She was exactly where she was supposed to be, doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing. David, on the other hand, was being a bit of a lazy layabout, comfortable at home as his troops were off in battle. Watchin’ the game. Havin’ a Bud. The only reason David could see Bathsheba was because, as King, his palace was higher than her roof. Bathsheba didn’t even know he was there and it was David’s job to turn away.
I know that I’m off on a bit of a political rant this episode, but I get worried that the longer Donald Trump is in power, the more normalized this kind of blatant misogyny will become in both the United States and in Canada too. The longer we watch a leader who will publicly mock a sexual assault survivor on national television, the further and further away people may be led from living lives compatible with a life serving and being witness to God’s love in the world. Nobody in God’s kindom is expendable. And if Jesus was alive today, I am 100% confident he would be with those who are hurting, those who are weeping, those who are crying out, and not with the flawed and threatened political leaders inside the temple.
Sometimes, when we ask ourselves “What Would Jesus Do?”, we need to remember that screaming in rage, stomping around and turning over the tables is a valid response.
As I said, on the surface it looks like David is the least harmed by his actions. But this story..it’s sort of the beginning of the end for David. As is often the case with sexual violence, the betrayal of Bathsheba and Uriah has generational implications. David’s daughter, Tamar, is raped by David’s son Amnon. In retribution for this rape, another of David’s sons, Absolom, kills Amnon. This culminates in the division of David’s kingdom, and David needing to flee.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with Justice Kavanaugh sitting on the Supreme Court. As somebody who’s pretty invested in the death penalty abolition movement in the States, I’m very worried. I’m worried about that, but I’m ANGRY at how the women who continue to come forward and tell their stories are being treated by the people they are accusing. But I can also see the unrest that is building, and I can only hope that the outrage over Kavanaugh’s appointment will be something that will mobilize U.S. citizens to show up at the polls next month and elect leaders who have no time for bullshit like this. Because Canada…we’re kind of the U.S. five years behind. What happens there trickles here. These are scary thoughts…
Another thing I’m worried about is that because Brett Kavanaugh identifies as a Christian, people will think The Church – even though I don’t really think there is such a thing as THE Church anymore – sides with him. Certainly, there are some Christian leaders within the evangelical movement who do, but they are mistaken if they see any Good News in this narrative. But the National Council of Churches, whose partner denominations represent over 100,000 congregations in the United States, penned a letter calling for Kavanaugh’s nomination to be withdrawn. In it they say:
We note several reasons [why we ask for the withdrawal]. During his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Kavanaugh exhibited extreme partisan bias and disrespect towards certain members of the committee and thereby demonstrated that he possesses neither the temperament nor the character essential for a member of the highest court in our nation. We are deeply disturbed by the multiple allegations of sexual assault and call for a full and unhindered investigation of these accusations.
Moreover, Judge Kavanaugh’s extensive judicial and political record is troubling with regard to issues of voting rights, racial and gender justice, health care, the rights of people with disabilities, and environmental protections. This leads us to believe that he cannot be an impartial justice in cases that are sure to come before him at the Court.
I sit with a slight unease with the “Me, too” movement, only because it seems to prioritize the experiences of middle and upper class, often white women over others. But that is generally the case no matter what stories you’re hearing…that people closest to the peak of the power pyramid get to have their stories heard.
And I am also aware that I am looking at this story of David and Bathsheba from a modern 2018 perspective. This whole story was written over 500 years before the birth of Jesus. And, Bathsheba’s story does not end with the death of her baby. There aren’t a whole lot of women who are identified by name in the Bible, and there’s a reason Bathsheba gets to keep hers. Bathsheba and David go on to have more children, and she is seen working within the system to influence David, ultimately leading to her son, Solomon, inheriting the throne over David’s elder sons. Bathsheba used the tools she had within the system she found herself to secure the future of herself and her children.
And I hope there are more ways … I don’t even know who I’m hoping will infiltrate out current systems…more people who give a damn? Or is it less about getting certain people into our systems, than getting other people out. I don’t mean we need to get all the rich, straight, cisgendered, white men out. I mean we need to get the people out who are completely clueless about the privilege they’ve been handed, and who use that privilege and power to silence those who need to be heard if it happens to threaten their position and power. That is what we saw happen this week. That is a large part of what is so enraging. The fact that Christianity gets wrapped up in condoning this crap is heartbreaking. As Lillian Daniel puts it, I am tired of apologizing for a Church I don’t belong to.
And so it goes.
And here we are.
Let the heavens hear it, the penitential hymn
Come healing of the sprit, come healing of the limb
God is with us.
Even when we’re angry.
Perhaps especially when we’re angry.
About 45% of our listeners live in the United States. So please, do the world a favour this November, work within the system…and vote the assholes out.
The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada