Can You Go Home Again?

I Will Be Discovering One Answer

Everyone has to leave home eventually (although I do know one fella who never did, he just outlived his parents!). Perhaps what differs is the manner in which we leave.

What was it like when you left home? Did you launch happily, feeling supported and connected, or did you burn rubber on your way out? In my case, an unfortunate event — or yes, a series of them — catapulted me into the ether and sent me into free-fall.

Perhaps some of you have a story similar to mine — you found yourself loving Jesus, but not the church that introduced you to him, and you had to escape. (more…)

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My Unpublished Chapter: Skin in the Game

One of the chapters in my memoir manuscript was pulled before publication because it mentions the “hot topic” of abortion. I was upset that the chapter was cut because it relates an important part of my story —  the moment I decided to leave the church of my upbringing.

But eventually I understood that the publisher wanted to give my work its best chance. They knew their readers would be likely to boycott anything that was open to the possibility of abortion, even in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Now that my memoir has been out in the world for almost a year — wearing a sticker that says it won an award from the evangelical flagship, Christianity Today — it’s time to circle back to that missing chapter.

Sojourners, which is a Christian magazine from the progressive side of things (because there are many ways to be Christian), published the chapter as a stand-alone essay in their August issue. It’s titled “Skin in the Game.” Read it here.

Sometimes Topics Choose Us. Period.

bleeding women & menstrual hygiene

Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer. I just never imagined I would write about rape. Instead, I imagined traveling the world to research “The 25 Most Adventurous Vacations,” or maybe I’d create a brightly colored board book about baby hippos who wear polkadot tutus. I thought writing would be full of excitement, fun and whimsy!

But sometimes our life’s journey makes other choices for us. Choosing to be happy means choosing to embrace the unchosen topics that come our way. So here’s another unchosen topic that has grabbed ahold of me recently: menstrual hygiene in Africa.

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“Raped Perfectly”

the response to victims complicates matters, even from the church

We live at a time when sexual violence is commonplace and even sanctioned in subtle ways. The downfall of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly — followed immediately by his receiving a $25 million severance and new podcast — shows how slick and impenetrable a powerful man can be. Perhaps certain parts of a woman really are up for grabs in America. At the very least, her skin is much more vulnerable than the Teflon suit a high-profile abuser wears.

How does religion fit in? People of faith might hope that churches would respond to victims with compassion, but that is often not the case. Religious leaders tend to focus on the issue of purity — especially sexual purity. Their questions add pain to an already traumatized victim. What were you wearing? How much did you drink? Did you know him? Did you fight him? The underlying message is this: You were in some way culpable.

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When Your Thoughts Are Unthinkable

after sexual assault

I wrote this essay for the blog at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Albany, NY because I spoke there May 20 and 21. What an energetic and responsive congregation!

 

After I got raped, one of my problems was that my thoughts were unthinkable. This problem joined other, more pressing ones. Where could I be safe? Where could I sleep? And how could I get through the impending hours of darkness? I continually felt like I was jumping out of my skin.

I’ll admit that I’d never been terribly comfortable in my skin. I was raised by Calvinists, after all. Everything important was housed from the neck up. But after the rape I couldn’t just escape to my head. My very thoughts—such as they were—became heretical. They weren’t complete thoughts, just words lying in proximity to each other. Profanity. The divine name. Unanswerable questions. I tried to stop the words from lining up, but when I got tired enough, they did, and taunted me: “Where the eff was God?”

To back up — the rape occurred in 1978 when I was a senior at Calvin College. Two masked intruders broke into the home I shared with housemates. They held us hostage for hours, then took turns sexually assaulting us at gunpoint. After the criminals left and we got loose from our bonds, we debated whether or not to call the police. That conversation was a work of theology, although I didn’t realize it at the time. We were trying to reclaim our sense of agency because complete strangers had just taken something that we would never regain.

That semester I was taking Linguistics and World Religion. I was a true believer in the Reformed doctrine in which I’d been catechized. But the sovereignty of God was no longer a comforting thought. Had God willed this awful experience? Who, exactly, took away our agency?

“Put it behind you,” our professors advised. Yes, that was the response of our faith community — deafening silence. Meanwhile, the denomination was embroiled in a fight over the ordination of women. Male pastors debated: What does scripture say on this issue? But I knew what they were really debating: What’s a woman good for?

Eventually I found my way to the Presbyterian church, to seminary, and to ordination. I have been in ministry since 1990. When my own daughters became college-aged, I realized I had unfinished business about the trauma I endured. I wanted to figure out how, exactly, it shaped me. So I began to write. What message did I want to convey to my daughters about living in a woman’s skin? That writing became my memoir, RUINED.

I am passionate about the life of faith, which isn’t a thought exercise. Discipleship is living as God-breathed beings on a God-created planet. We live in bodies, and women’s bodies are too often in peril. The church can break its silence and become a powerful support to victims of sexual assault. There are more of them in your pews than you think.

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Why I’m Glad I Wrote a Rape Memoir

Sexual Assault Awareness Month -- You Are Not Alone

There are times when I feel sorry for myself. You too? I hate having the particular story I have. I hate that I spent years writing it down. Why did I go through all that agony? Then I get a letter like this one, and my self-pity washes away, like sidewalk chalk after a rain. What’s left behind are the stories that need to be told — in print and in pixels — words which will never completely disappear.

Dear Ruth — Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m still sobbing after reading it straight through the last 3 days. Thank you for pouring out so much of your agony and fury onto the pages of your book. It is a perfect document.  I found myself, while reading, getting lost for moments as if I were reading journal entries of my own describing the pains, confusions, and piercing cries of “WHY” to God.  Thank you for not resisting God’s love, and for being willing to be used in people’s lives such as mine… used to offer a ray of hope to hang on.  Reading your words was the first time I knew I wasn’t alone.

You found me and I found you. We are not alone.

Speak it. Speak the truth of our stories.

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“Thirsty? A sermon on the Samaritan Woman at the Well”
by Rev. Ruth Everhart

 

The text is John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman at the well in Sychar.

Thirst is real, and water is a justice issue. When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well, he implicitly challenged every cultural assumption about who is worthy of his time and conversation. But this shift has been slow to percolate through the cultural layers of church and society. Rev. Ruth Everhart considers the Samaritan woman’s story in tandem with her own, because gender still shapes a woman’s world. How did living water trickle through the layers of an oppressive church system and the horror of rape at gunpoint? Because the living water is still available, and still ever-fresh. (Year A, Lent 3)