Mark Driscoll is Speaking at Hillsong

By now you will probably be aware that Hillsong misled everyone about Mark Driscoll contributing to their conference, after they played a pre-recorded interview with Mark and Grace Driscoll at their Australia conference. In response to this, I am organising a protest at their Europe conference taking place at the O2 next week.

I’ve had a few lovely emails from people sharing their appreciation for the protest and petition that I started a few months ago, including from people directly impacted by Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll’s damaging leadership. I’ve also had a couple of emails challenging me for protesting against a fellow Christian. A while ago Premier asked me to write why I thought creating a petition was a Christian thing to do, with Carl Beech offering an opposing view. You can read it HERE.

I thought it might be helpful to post anonymised versions of the email conversations. Hopefully then if I get any other emails, I can just direct them here, and also to offer my perspective on why protesting Mark Driscoll’s continued platform opportunities is so important.

Email 1:

Their email:

I am not a Fan of Mark. I also do not understand the Petition you are signing. Pray for the guys involved, love mercy and do justice. Christians are seen as people who are always against something and always fighting. This petition serves to enforce that perception. You really disagree with what Mark and the Hillsong guys, I get that, but petition is more a political response, I think it does more damage then help. My humble option I guess. I don’t know you so would not want to judge your motives. I am just sad that this is another example of Christians who are against something, this time its other Christians.

I pray that the ultimate result for all this is Love.

My response:

Hi,

Thanks for your email.  I totally hear what you’re saying.

I am for a lot of things.  I am for Jesus’ love, justice and mercy.  I am for the many, many people Mark Driscoll has hurt.  I am for women’s equality and gender justice.

The petition resulted in Mark Driscoll not attending either Hillsong conference.  It enabled the people he has hurt to know that thousands stand with them in their pain.

We live in a digital age and therefore some of the solutions and tools we will use to bring about change are going to be social media and online petitions.  I know lots of amazing women (and men) who will never consider Jesus because their experience of Christians and the Church has been sexism, collusion with abuse or actual abuse.  For them, the petition and other methods to challenge power abuse and woman hating is a witness to a God of love and justice.  It is a witness to a Jesus who said “if a brother or sister sins, go to them. If they don’t listen, take others.  If they still don’t listen, treat them as a pagan.”

Mark Driscoll’s teaching and actions do not exclude him from God’s love and the forgiveness found in Jesus, but they do exclude him from leadership.  There are hundreds, if not thousands of people whose lives have been damaged and even destroyed by Mark Driscoll.

We are called to stand with the last, the least and the lost.  They are the ones Jesus will ask us if we have cared for when we reach eternity.

I desperately hope for a unity in the Body.  For people of one mind in Christ, but Jesus’ teaching and life shows me something radically different to that which Mark Driscoll has brought.  And I seek unity with Jesus and Jesus’ teaching above and beyond anything else.

The world doesn’t need a facade of unity from the church.  In many of Paul’s letters (which were essentially what we would now term “open letters”) he challenged those who were not in line with the Gospel. He even encouraged some to be expelled from the church.  Paul did not collude with sin, neither did Jesus.  As Christians we are called to a higher place and that is what I want to witness to the world.  Not collusion with powerful leaders.

I hope that helps make sense of my actions.  I appreciate you taking the time to contact me.  Many blessings to you,

Natalie

Their response:

 

Thank you Natalie for your very good response. I too will stand with you for those hurt. Thanks for being pro-active and putting your prayers into actions.

 

When few leaders have too much power it often ends with real damage and hurt. May God bring His healing, His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Blessing to you.

Email 2:

Their email:

I pray that God will show you to forgive people. Everyone makes mistakes and deserves a change to explain and be heard. It’s not your place to judge. Christ died for our sins, look at your own sin in your life before pointing fingers. That sin is what Christ died for. please don’t leave anger build up inside or something you will never become completely happy inside.

My response:

 

Hi,

Thanks for your email.  I appreciate your prayers, but perhaps you could have asked me about my views on forgiveness rather than assuming that I am not a forgiving person or that I have anger building up inside me.  I do not.

I am not in a position to forgive or not forgive Mark Driscoll, he has not done anything personally to me.  He has hurt hundreds if not thousands of fellow sisters and brothers of Christ.  What he has done is not a mistake.  Over a period of years Mark Driscoll has misused church funds, unfairly sacked employees, behaved in spiritually abusive ways to many and preached messages which denigrate women.  He has used power in a way that has hurt many.

I am not advocating for anyone to not forgive Mark Driscoll.  Forgiveness is not the same as being given access to one of the biggest platforms in Western Christianity.  Forgiveness does not mean nullifying the consequences of someone’s actions.  The Bible is clear about what Christian leadership should look like, even according to Mark Driscoll’s own teaching on leadership, he has behaved in ways that prevent him leading.

He hasn’t even been away from the platform for a year and already he is re-entering that arena.  His victims are irreparably damaged.  There are many who have walked away from the church because of how badly he hurt them.  The apostle Paul makes clear that as Christians we are Jesus’ representatives, that leaders especially should be above reproach, that we should behave in ways which are in line with Jesus’ teaching.

I have walked many paths of forgiveness.  I was abused and raped for four years.  I do not hold anger towards the man who did that to me.  I have forgiven him.  I hope he changes his behaviour and no longer hurts people.  I hope to see him in heaven.  I am not someone who is struggling with unforgiveness.  I struggle with injustice.  I struggle with Christians wounding other Christians and then being welcomed onto the world stage with applause and celebration.  I struggle with a church that defiles the name of Jesus with abuse of power and collusion with abusers.

I am so grateful for Jesus, for all He has brought to my life.  I have been utterly redeemed and transformed because of Him.  That transformation, and the power of the Holy Spirit is what drives me to stand against abuse, both within and without the church.  I will weep with those who weep.  I am not driven by anger or unforgiveness, but by love for God and my neighbours, the ones Mark Driscoll has hurt.  I am driven by the desire to see the Bride of Christ, pure and white, not defiled by power abuse and collusion with abuse.

Thank you for taking the time to read my response.  We may not agree.  But that is okay.  Jesus died for both of us and Jesus loves us both, and perhaps if we don’t agree on this side of eternity, we will be able to discuss it on the other side.

Many blessings to you,

Natalie

Their response:

 

Thank you for your reply. Thanks you for your openness in Christ, there is true healing.  Forgiveness is a hard thing to overcome I find it hard to do. When Peter denied Jesus three times, it was a big thing to do. Jesus forgave and used him after to do amazing things in his life. I do not know all the story only a few things, I’m just an onlooker, to see Christians disagreeing and putting things on the net about their brothers and sisters that would turn away loads of people from their beliefs also, I think the devil is standing back having a good laugh at the situation. I am truly sorry if I offended you. I did not mean to do that in any way.

My reply:

 

Hi,

I wasn’t offended at all, and really welcome the opportunity to openly discuss differences.  I agree that it is hard when Christians are not united.

I think the devil enjoys seeing Christians misuse and abuse power.  The devil watches powerful (usually) men destroying the lives of their congregations and rubs his hands gleefully as those same men are welcomed with open arms and standing ovations onto new platforms.  We are called to “weep with those who weep” in the body of Christ, and it seems many more are interested in protecting and supporting those in power, than weeping with those who have been hurt by the powerful.

I know many who can’t even consider the church because of the ways they see power being misused. Those who have been subjected to abuse by their husbands are expected to forgive and continue to suffer. People’s lives can be ruined by charismatic leaders who have little integrity.  Churches that preach no sex before marriage while condoning rape within marriage.  If the Gospel is not good news to those who are suffering abuse, it isn’t really good news at all.

I hope and pray that by protesting, it will provide an alternative narrative about Mark Driscoll and those who are colluding with him.

Thanks for being so willing to listen to my perspective, may you have a blessed day!

Natalie

If you would like to join me in protesting, here is the information:

Mark Driscoll Protest

 

Advertisements

Always Broken.

Content Note: This blog talks about self-harm.  

Today was difficult. It was one of those days where my brokenness presented itself to me, stark and true. Fissures in my soul, opening.

There’s been some challenges recently. My mum died in January and my grief is the sometimes realisations that comes with my mum’s terminal illness being less than four months from diagnosis to death. Personal and professional challenges collide in me, not big enough to be a crisis, not small enough to shrug off.

I’ve written before about my ex-husband; about what male violence does to the soul, about the reality of PTSD.

I hated myself. From age eight through twenty-two I was subjected to abuse. There’s specific ways men’s choice to sexually abuse destroys the soul. Shame and self-hatred reign. The feeling of being less than, of being impure and defiled drill deep into a person’s core. I began cutting my wrists when I was sixteen. I legitimised it the first time by making the shape of a cross on my skin. I’d been in church long enough to know “my body was a temple” and that cutting myself was a sin. I’d poured out my feelings on pages and in poems, yet in self-harm I found a coping mechanism that “worked”.

It’s been years since I cut myself, at first because of my children then through my experience of Jesus. Yet, no one tells you there’s no such thing as being an ex-self-harmer. When life is challenging, the desire to cut rises unbidden.

I was shaving my legs today and the razor twisted, an inch long cut, bright red blood. The need rose within me. I panicked. Alone in the house I knew it would be easy to go back to that place. I gathered the razors and rushed to lock them in the car

Out of the house. Out of harms way.

I rarely swear, but the f word forced itself out of my mouth as my brokenness rose from within me. Tears flowed. I wailed. Still broken. Always broken.

My twelve-year-old daughter and I went to the cinema to watch Pitch Perfect 2 this evening. It was wonderful. I left the cinema delighted vaginas had been mentioned, touched by the film’s primary focus on women’s relationships and lives. A scene towards the end with women of different generations singing together left me weepy. As we stood up to leave I was so pleased to have such films for my children’s generation. For me, Ten Things I Hate About You and Cruel Intentions were the most popular movies; the messages within them about gender and relationships are appalling.

My warm feeling didn’t last long. As we left the cinema, a drunk teenage boy and his friends were walking past. He asked me for a cigarette. I explained that I didn’t smoke. As I walked away, arm in arm with my precious pre-teen daughter, this young man shouted, “I bet you those two are twins. I would so bang them.”

Pitch Perfect immediately became a drop in the ocean. A momentary lapse within patriarchy. I drove home hiding the terror rising within me after witnessing one of the many ways my amazing girl is going to be objectified and diminished. In a space where boys have been raised on pornographies and girls are “banged”.

Yesterday my son’s six-year-old friend began objectifying the teenage girl who delivers papers. A little boy shouting after a teenage girl, displaying his understanding that girls are for looking good and being shouted at by boys.

It’s easy to see three isolated incidents. My personal struggles. An offensive teenage boy. A shouting little boy.

Yet the personal is political. The isolated incidents follow a pattern. I am broken because men broke me. They chose to break me. Men who started out as little boys believing that girls are for looking good and being shouted grow into young men who comment on how much they’d like to “bang” a twelve year old and her presumed sister.

Self-harm is very often a symptom of male violence. The man may not be pulling a razor across skin, but he rips her soul into so many pieces that it becomes logical to tear her skin into pieces too.

As we travelled to the cinema today, my daughter placed herself In Charge Of The Tunes. “Clean” by Taylor Swift came on. I’d never heard it before. She sang:

You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore

Hung my head as I lost the war, and the sky turned black like a perfect storm

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning

That’s when I could finally breathe

And by morning

Gone was any trace of you

I think I am finally clean

The Bible declares that Jesus died for our sins. That we are washed clean by His choice to give up all power, coming to earth, living a life of Truth and dying on a cross. We are “washed clean” because of Him.

This teaching has been warped by many. Responses to the Hillsong/Mark Driscoll petition have told me we should be forgiving him, not petitioning against him. Wiping the slate clean.

The Duggars talk of their son’s abuse being resolved in him finding Jesus. Wiping the slate clean.

Yoder’s sex offences are a gap between aspiration and behaviour, his important teaching is more significant than his choice to sexually abuse. He is a “well-known pacifist” despite violating over 100 women. Wiping the slate clean.

Women are not slates.

We are not slates that are wiped clean when an abuser repents, or purports to have. A woman’s healing is not linked to an abuser’s redemption. It simply does not work like that.

As I listened to the Taylor Swift lyrics I realised no amount of standing in the rain is going to make me clean. Jesus can stand with me in the brokenness, but He can’t wipe away the abuse and violation. It’s not Men In Black. There’s no zapping and the memories are gone. Women live with the consequences of men’s violence for the whole of our lives.

I’ll move beyond this day. Life will become joyous again. I will be okay. But the patriarchy continues. Little boys objectify teenage girls. Teenage men want to “bang” girls. Adult men rape, violate and decimate women in every country in the world. And the church colludes. And Jesus weeps.

Questioning “A Theology of Maleness”

After being told about Andrew Wilson’s talk “A Theology of Maleness” in January, it’s taken me a while to get around to watching the whole thing.  But I have now watched the it and will offer some (rather extensive) views on it.

If you don’t know who Andrew Wilson, he is an elder at Kings Church in Eastbourne and is a well known complementarian.  He has an MA and is doing a PhD in theology.

Before I start my thoughts on his talk, I should make clear that he says towards the end of his talk that it’s content he would not deliver to women, so if any men would like to watch the 45 minute talk, and offer their thoughts, please do!  Mr GLW’s response, listening in to the last 20 minutes of it was intermittent OH PLEASES so I don’t think that being female precludes my ability to critique what he says.

So here goes…

He starts by apologising for the “theological” nature of his talk, taking it out of the realms of opinion and into the realms of factual, or perhaps the academic, however rarely within the talk does he say anything that I would consider on an academic level.  I’m sure he didn’t intend for it to be a communication device, but the effect of saying it is “theological”, is that people immediately assume a level of robust research and fact within the forthcoming content.

He uses the John Piper quote, “The question you have to be able to answer is, “What are you going to do when your son says to you, “Dad what does it mean to be a boy rather than a girl?  Or to be a man rather than a woman?””

Personally if my son was to ask me this, I would reframe the question and say, “Well, Joshua, what does it mean to be you?  What does it mean to be Joshua?  Because God made you unique and different to everyone else in the whole world, and there are so many different ways to be a boy or a man that we need to be working out what it means to be who God made you to be and being a boy is only one part of that.”

However, Andrew’s approach is different.  He acknowledges that we need a strong theology of identity, before then choosing to not focus on the macro of identity but rather on the micro of gender.  He talks about the differences between absolute and generalised statements about men and women and says that “we need to be able to generalise about gender in order to articulate what the Bible says.”

He immediately makes generalised statements that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive, explaining that people get upset about statements like this.  “It’s not absolutely true, but is generally true that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive”.  He goes on to evidence that men are more decisive because within academia there are trends which show men get further in academia that women.  He does mention that privilege could come into this; that men might have more opportunities than women, but says he thinks it’s probably more about Christendom and that white men were involved in the rise of Christendom.  He also says that historically women were in the home and men had more muscles so worked as farmers.  Which led to men having more time to do academia.Andrew doesn’t detail how that meant men had more time.  Just that they did.  I would suggest that if men had the muscles to do the farming, women would have been much better suited to academia, what with having less muscles, but anyway…

This section really seems like a response to feminist critique as he begins to talk about  privilege, I definitely felt he was engaging with the issues I would raise in a conversation with him.  However, his conclusion about privilege is that it’s “not necessarily true” that white men are privileged but that it is about taking responsibility and good stewardship of what’s been given to them.

He states the usual complementarian line, that men and women are “equal in dignity but not in function” and uses playing the bass as an example of this.  He says the left and right hand are used in the bass for different things.  The left hand plays the notes while the right hand plucks the strings.  He suggests that the left and right hands are equal in dignity, but their function is different; just like women and men.

As an analogy it is deeply flawed.  People play the bass that way round because that is the way they have been taught to play the bass, not because the left and right hand have been innately designed to pluck strings/play notes specifically.  And the existence of the left handed bass suggests some people still play it the other way round.

He says that men should be talking about FGM, domestic abuse and rape, that these issues are injustices and should be challenged.  That they’re not the same as what he see as inequality of function, i.e. the roles men and women should have are different to violence against women.

Except that every expert in understanding and ending violence against women will tell you that gender inequality is the foundation of violence against women.  That the privilege he has just denied as a real thing is the reason men abuse 25% of women in the UK.  That the position of men as the power-holders and gatekeepers leads to women’s oppression.  These things cannot be separated into “real injustice” and “a God intended injustice  plan”.

He goes onto say something that I actually fully agree with (I know, it’s a shock.  Have a pause before continuing if you need to…).  He says that within the church, the rhetoric about “real men” and (to a lesser extent) “real women” is about what people “ought to” be doing, not who they are.  So, by being a man or a woman, you are “real”.  The existence of your body being male or female makes you male/female, not the need to perform a certain type of masculinity/femininity.

The rest of his talk is about equipping men to know more about what being a man looks like.  Which doesn’t sound that contradictory when he says it, but actually is.

He mentions the feminisation of the church, without giving any examples or citations of how the church has ben feminised and states that some Christian conversations/resources/ideas about manhood have been an “overreaction” to this non-evidenced feminisation of the church.

He says that we should be looking to Jesus for how to be a man, and also for how to be a human being.  Which is weird, because his whole talk is about theological differences between men and women, but he’s saying Jesus is the model for being human.  Which really He can’t be, if there’s particular ways that men are meant to be.  Because either Jesus conformed to the theological way of being a man (therefore not being a model for women) or He was a model for being human (therefore not conforming to the theological way of being a man, which would suggest it might not be all that theological if Jesus didn’t do it).

He explains that since the sexual revolution men are being “infantilised” by society and that even though women have progressed in lots of ways, that they are “not happier”.  He doesn’t provide any evidence that states women aren’t happier, or really explain how society is infantilising men, he just states it as a fact.

He then pitches “very feminist”  and chauvinist as a polarised positions, the two extremes and says people mainly sit in the middle.  This is deeply problematic.  Last time I checked a chauvinist was “a person displaying excessive or prejudiced support for their own cause, group, or sex” whereas a feminist is a person working for “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”  I’m not sure how those two things can be polarised.  A chauvinist is excessively prejudiced, a feminist is working towards equality.  Hmm…

However, polarising those two terms works to the benefit of Andrew’s points.  That being in middle, being a moderate means not being a chauvinist, but also not being a feminist.  Now, I know I’m biased as a feminist, but I would say feminism is the middle ground between hatred of women and hatred of men.  The portrayal of feminists as “man hating” is not from evidence of the feminist movements, but a mischaracterisation by people against the cause.  Chauvinism and misogyny however is evidenced in language and actions.  Men rape women and kill women, men tweet about raping and killing women.  There’s no similar action from feminists towards men.  Women are not as a collective or on a large scale killing or raping men.  It simply does not happen.

Andrew then moves into his 7 points about what a Theology of Maleness looks like.  He explains that as it originates in Genesis and is “bound up with marriage” but is applicable to single people too.  However, he doesn’t at any point during the talk expand upon the implications for single people or how it is practically worked out in the lives of single people. Here are his 7 points, and my thoughts on them:

1. Men = Tohu. Women = Vohu (Genesis 1:2)

The earth as formless (tohu) and void (vohu).  Andrew explains that Tohu refers to men; men bring form to the earth and that vohu refers to women; women fill the earth.  It’s interesting that this verse is mentioned long before men and women are created and that it’s just an idea that he (and perhaps others) have come up with.  It suggests that women’s role in the world really involves birthing children, which creates great problems for single women and women who can’t have children.

It places men as subjecting the earth, being agents in the world; the ones who shape what the world looks like, while women act within the constrains of what men decide.  This leaves me wondering, why did God give so many women gifts of leadership.  Surely, they are anomalies within a world of men who were created to shape?

2. Men = Subdue and Dominion. Women = Multiply and be fruitful (Genesis 1:28)

It’s interesting because this verse is said to woman and man together.  There is no mention within the text that these commands are gender specific.  It is only after The Fall that gender differences are mentioned at all.

He talks about penis and vagina (which obviously I was pleased about, given my goal of making vagina a more acceptable word across society).  He explains that women’s reproductive organs are internal.  Men’s reproductive organs are external.  This mean’s that men are “externally focussed agencies there to protect”.  That seems like a rather large leap in theory to me, but then I may not be theological enough…

He states that men’s “involvement in child birth and child rearing is relatively short.”  As Christians we believe that women and men are equally called to be parents, the biological reality is not the one which dictates how we behave as parents, otherwise men would generally just, “shoot and leave”.  Instead, we hope for integrated family structures, seeking after “the important things of justice and love”.

He mentions the book “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” saying he has “no idea idea whether it’s true or not”. It is not true. The book is based on ridiculously bad neuroscience.  Andrew’s mention of this book allows him to example the differences between men and women, without having to stand by the conclusions of the book as true.

He talks about how until relatively recently men went to war because women were the one’s bearing children.  He fails to mention that those creating the wars were also men. He says that God could have created us to be fertilised like plants or as asexual, but instead, “God did something and in doing so made a statement about how women and men are meant to function.”  All mammals function and reproduce in the same way; so rather than God choosing a specifically unique way for human’s to reproduce (to infer all the special things Andrew wants it to show) it’s actually the way all mammals reproduce (including whales).  Unless we’re saying male whales are uniquely purposed as “externally focussed agencies there to protect” it’s not really going to work.

After this he references a shooting in Colorado in which three men died after having laying over women to protect them from a gunman in a cinema.  He said the men were in no way connected to the women they chose to protect.  In fact (according to Wikipedia) the three men who died were protecting their girlfriends.  Andrew’s point is that men are wired to protect women. That it’s somehow an innate characteristic of men.  He failed to mention in his talk that the person who shot dead 12 people and injured another 70 was also a man.

This section of Andrew’s talk left me crying.

We live in a world where male violence is at epidemic proportions.  Rape, murder, torture, emotional abuse, street harassment, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, sexual abuse; all perpetrated by men in every community and society of the world.  We don’t live in a world where there’s an epidemic of men protecting women, but rather, hurting women.  We don’t live in a society where a woman sees a man in a dark alley and thinks “Oh he’s going to protect me”.  That’s not what our world looks like.

I have argued before with people that I don’t want to be offered a seat or have a door held open for me by a man if they’re only doing it because I’m female.  If they always offer their seat to women and men or they always open the door for women and men, then that’s fine.  But the assumption with those things is that I am weaker, but let’s face it, I am not more in need of a seat than a man.

The belief in women as weaker is what lays at the roots of male violence.  I delivered an assembly to a group of 240 13-14 year old students.  One boy said, “The thing is I think girls are emotionally weaker than boys, that’s why they get upset more.”  Afterwards a teacher explained that this same boy had been abusive to all his girlfriends.

Although Andrew says women aren’t defective or impotent, but instead inherently “precious”, the reality is that if women are weaker, especially when it comes to “dominion” then they should be less trusted than men in relation to those things.

His example of the men who died in the Colorado shooting was used to say that “men immediately knew” women should be protected, but across the world men don’t immediately know that, how do we know those men’s responses didn’t come from how they’ve been raised?  Andrew excluded the information that the women were the men’s girlfriends and at least four of the people murdered in the Colorado shooting were women, not all of the women had men “immediately” knowing how precious they were and jumping in front of a bullet.

3. Man = Guard. Woman = Helper (Genesis 2:15 and 18)

Verse 15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (ESV)

Verse 18: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.””

Andrew introduces both of these verses and explains that although nowhere in verse 15 does it actually say “guard” he is going to use it interchangeably with “keep it”but doesn’t explain his rationale for doing so.  It’s interesting that at this point in the story there were no threats to human beings, so there wasn’t actually any need to “guard” the garden from anything.  Other versions use the word “take care of…” which definitely doesn’t sound like a “guard” type role.  He does say the word is related to that of the priest role in the Old Testament, however the guards in the tribes of Israel were not the Levites.  In fact the Levites didn’t go to war, their role was to enable the community to worship God.

He mentions how women are called to be men’s helpers, and does reference that helper is used as a word in the Bible to describe God bringing help to His people.  Andrew doesn’t mention that it is a word used to describe God on 15 occasions, he also doesn’t explain how God helping His people differs from what he says as men’s role of “guarding”.  To me they sound quite similar…

Andrew talks of how men will always get up to check for a burglar if there’s a noise in the middle of the night.  That men’s role as guard is “why men protect their families.”  That men would always ensure they were first to deal with suspicious noises in the middle of the night.  He didn’t offer any research to back this point up.  Just his assumption that men always protect their families.

Except men don’t always protect their families.  In fact women and children are much much more likely to be at risk in the middles of the night from men they know than from burglars.  Children sexually assaulted by their father or step-father while their mother sleeps unaware.  Women awakening to find their husband raping them or perhaps not allowed to go to sleep because their husband’s abusive tactic is to force them to stay awake all night.  If we’re going to use collective male behaviour to decide that something is innately built into men, it seems violence and abuse is something we should be talking about.

He also doesn’t explain how single women are supposed to protect themselves.  Without a man are single women sitting ducks for burglars?

Also he seems to think protection is solely a physical thing.  I may not be physically strong enough to protect my husband physically (though some women are).  However, if someone was being verbally hurtful towards him, I would be the first to stand up and say something.  If someone was going to try and take advantage of his kindness or support, I would be the first to challenge that.  Perhaps, as women and men we are supposed to protect each other, based on our gifts, rather than some assumption of difference from a word that doesn’t actually appear in the verse being talked about?

Andrew states, “The role of guarding and protecting is always something God has said, “Men I want you to do.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think this is actually a verse found anywhere in the Bible:  “And then God said, “Men! Guarding and protecting is always your job!”

God likens Himself to a mother bear protecting her cubs.  Jesus likens Himself to a chicken gathering chicks under her wings.  Unless I’m mistaken, those are female images of God protecting and guarding.  In fact, mothers are well known for protecting their children.  There are many anecdotal stories of women having “Hysterical Strength”, lifting a car off their father or fighting a polar bear to save their children.  1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love “always protects”.  Protecting isn’t limited to men, it’s a characteristic of love.

4. Men = Beloved.  Women = Beloved (Genesis 2:23)

“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”, for she was taken out of man.’”

Andrew says that Adam “Initiates the relationship” and Eve responds.  He explains, “That’s why a man asks the father’s permission” to marry a woman.  And states, “That’s the way civilisation has worked ever since.”

Where to start with this..?  The reason a man asks the father’s permission is because historically the woman/girl belonged to her father, and the marriage contract enabled the husband to buy the woman so she goes from being her father’s possession to becoming owned by her husband.  That’s not okay.

When Mr GLW and I decided to get married, God told us we should marry each other.  So we had a conversation about it and decided to get married.  Perhaps Andrew thinks this is unBiblical, but that’s how God worked out our marriage and it is no less valid because Mr GLW didn’t initiate the relationship.  In fact, I think the model of having a grown up conversation about marriage, rather than a romantic proposal, might be more useful for lots of people…

He goes on to say that it’s obvious what this means “in a marriage context, but with implications for single people as well.”  He does elaborate further, leading me to wonder how exactly this works for single people.  Men should initiate all things?  Women should stay silent?  I’m not really sure how this works out in the lives of single people even if Andrew is.

5. Man = Christ. Woman = Church

Andrew says that “Christ leads the church” and that the “church responds and submits to him” and that should be the “same with husbands and wives…this is very obvious.”

Setting aside the content issue.  He has used a communication device here (perhaps unintentionally) which says that what he’s just said is “obvious”.  Basically everybody should get this, everybody should agree with it.  The fact that there are many scholars, theologians and others who don’t accept this is what the Bible says, or that it’s actually quite offensive to say that one gender is more like Christ than the other is neither here nor there when you say something is “very obvious”.

He goes on to liken the spectrum of masculinity to having various points on it.  It looks like this:

<—Servant leadership—Apathetic—Controlling—Domineering/abusive—>

He says that Christian men should be at the servant leadership end of the spectrum .  That is what Christ is like.  Though it would seem women shouldn’t even exist on this spectrum, we’re somewhere else, on the “submission spectrum” no doubt.  He explains that his life hasn’t required him to stand in front of a bullet for his wife, but usually involves him having to get up earlier.  He doesn’t really explain why getting up earlier makes him a servant leader, but anyway.

We are all called to “prefer each other’s needs”, as Christians.  Personally, I don’t want Mr GLW getting up early for me every day, I want us to exist in mutuality, where if he’s tired he can have a lie in, if I’m tired I can.  We submit ourselves to God and each other, in full partnership.  It’s not our gender that dictates how much we offer, or how we offer it, but our love for God and for each other and the gifts God has given us.

6. Man = Representative. Woman = Beneficiary (Genesis 3:9)

“But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?””

Andrew explains that even though Eve was the first to eat the fruit, it was Adam who God addressed the question to.  He doesn’t mention that in verse 13 God asks Eve, “What is this you have done?”  But anyway…

He likens this to a civil servant and a Government Minister.  When the civil servant makes a mistake, it is the Minister who is held accountable for it, because they are the representative of the department.  After using this analogy he then says that “boss isn’t the right language to use” when talking about headship, which is problematic when that’s the exact analogy he has used to explain the whole “man is the representative” thing.

It’s interesting that there is actually a verse about being a representative in the Bible, “Therefore, we are the Messiah’s representatives, as though God were pleading through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ISV)  So we see that actually, all of us, men and women are Jesus’ representatives and when I get to heaven my husband won’t have to make account for my behaviour, I will.

He says that he sees headship as who the woman is identified by.  For example when he sees other men in the room he recognises them by their head, not their shoulders or body.  In the same way, he explains, the husband/father is the representative of the woman.  He goes on, “That’s what still happens in many cultures, even now.  The father speaks for the family…he carries the can…he gives the family their name.”

Andrew may not be aware, but male violence against women is also directly correlated to the level of autonomy and control women have over their own lives.  The less autonomy women have (like in the cultures he’s mentioned) the more instances of violence against women.  Because where women and girls are seen as possessions and as less than equal to the men, they are treated and discarded like possessions.

7. Man = ground.  Woman = Womb. (Genesis 2:16-19)

Andrew mentions the curse on Adam and Eve; childbearing pain for women and the ground being cursed for men.  He explains that this is what he sees as men’s and women’s “spheres of responsibility”.

He omits the part of the verse which says, “Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”  This is an interesting section to omit, given his previous mention that men should be talking about FGM, rape and domestic violence more.  Every society in the world is blighted by male violence.  And yet the Biblical basis for male violence and domination isn’t referenced at all in his talk.

What is referenced however as evidence of men’s sphere being different to women’s is the Man Drawer, specifically Michael McIntyre’s portrayal of the Man Drawer.  Yes, this is a theological talk that references the Man Drawer as irrefutable evidence of men’s sphere of responsibility being different to women’s.

Towards the end of the talk he explains he would not be present teaching about gender in the same way to women as it wouldn’t be helpful, especially not for single women as “marriage changes a woman’s life an impacts a woman more than a man.”  He didn’t explain how/why it impacts women more.  I’m not sure it does actually.  Surely if he believes that men are supposed to be the servant leader, getting up early and being the representative in the relationship, it should probably be more difficult for men than women, but as it is, I’m really not sure how women are affected in a greater way than men…

Personally, when I do talks or write blogs, I hope everything is as useful to men as it is to women.  It’s interesting Andrew’s view is that his message to men can’t be delivered with the same content to women.  Maybe that’s because, like me, women see the implications of his message on them, or can see that it doesn’t make sense.

Andrew finished by talking about the Gospel and reminding all the men present that in relation to Jesus they are the “female”; the Helper, the Beloved, the Beneficiary.  It’s confusing how this works out for women though.  Are women the Helper to their husband and then Jesus?  Or Jesus and then their husband?

He said that “in the Gospel we [men] play the part of the wife, we respond with submission and obedience…we are recipients, not agents of…”  Which gets to the crux of the matter.  He seems to see men as agents, women as recipients, which doesn’t look so different to the rest of society.  This TED Talk by Caroline Heldman explains powerfully and clearly the ways the media ensure men are the subjects and women are the objects.  Men act, women respond.  This is not good for men or women.

God implanted free will within all of us.  As male and female beings we are called to make choices and we will have to account for those choices.  No distinction is made between men and women in Jesus saving us and to do so, especially within Andrew’s restrictive terms is not enabling us to be more Christlike, or more deeply rooted in God, but rather to find our identity in our genitals and tenuous links to The Man Drawer.

The truth after the storm

On Friday I wrote a piece articulating my struggles with PTSD.  I’ve only recently begun writing about the ongoing consequences of my ex-husband’s choice to abuse me, mainly because I had this fear of people judging me as incompetent to do the work I do.  That somehow the ongoing impact of male violence on me would preclude me from contributing fully to addressing it.  I guess it revealed to me some of my own fears and prejudices.  That even though I work full time on ending violence against women and wider issues of gender injustice and though I would be the first to challenge language and attitudes which blame women for the abuse men have chosen to perpetrate, deep down the truth has been that I believed I needed to be fixed, no longer affected, in order to offer myself to the cause.

 

I regularly stand up and share my story.  A few years ago I spent time working at a few large Christian conferences for men.  More recently I have begun working with perpetrators.  And in all of those spaces, either telling my story, spending time within all-male spaces or working with perpetrators, I feel a responsibility to represent women well.  To not perpetuate the issues which lead to stereotyping of women, to challenge the misrepresentation of women, and when telling my story, to do it in a way that will challenge misconceptions, preventing anyone leaving after hearing me thinking that abuse happens to “those women, out there”.

 

I once spoke at a conference where I had been billed as “THE VICTIM PERSPECTIVE”.  I walked into the building with some other people attending the same event.  As we chatted about the day ahead, one woman said to me, “I’m very interested to hear the victim perspective.”  I responded, “Oh yes, it will be very interesting won’t it?”

 

After the event that same woman came over to talk with me, she told me I had shocked her, she would never have expected me to be a victim, that she would never hold those same views again.

 

Yet perhaps by sharing a story of being okay I have misled those who have heard me speak.  Perhaps those who are currently dealing with the impact of male violence or those with family and friends who have been hurt, I have suggested that there will come a day when everything is sorted, that being fixed is the aim.  Yet there is a sense that no matter how far we come, how good life gets; the pain of male violence doesn’t end.

 

This is why we must prevent it, why addressing the root causes of male violence; ownership, entitlement and inequality are so important.  Because once the damage is done, life will never be the same.

 

I attended an event called “Woman at the well” run by an organisation called Transformation Powerhouse a while ago.  During the evening one of the women leading the event said she had a word from God for me (I know those of you reading this without a faith may be a bit like “okay…” at this point, but bear with me).  She basically said that God had told her I have so so much love to give, but that fear is getting in the way of me offering it.  She (and God) are right.  My fear of being honest, of being judged too broken, of being patronised or disparaged has prevented me from offering my all.  Thinking that by telling of the pain as well as the victory would diminish me.  And yet the story shrinks if it is not told fully.  The ending of being fixed denies the truth of being broken.

 

I attended a session with a Human Givens therapist on Friday. I only needed one session in which she did something called the Rewind Technique.  It is an effective treatment for PTSD symptoms and basically resets the brain to factory settings and moves the trauma that has led to a serious episode from the lower brain (which deals with trauma) to the upper and then mid-brain which sees the trauma as a memory rather than an ongoing, current event.

 

I arrived at the session unable to communicate much, numb, exhausted and incapable of making decisions (anyone who knows me will realise that’s basically me losing my entire personality).  After the session I was back, my brain worked, I decided to go for food (both deciding and eating were impossible for me to do ninety minutes earlier) and I was able to think, laugh and generally be myself again.

 

Over the weekend I’ve felt quite fragile.  Although I’m back, social interaction is tiring and I’m vaguely subdued.  But I’m on way back to being normal.

 

So many people have offered their love, prayers and kindnesses over the weekend.  Texts, tweets, emails, direct messages, cake and offers drive miles just to sit with me.  Even when I felt unable to respond, the love and care has been much appreciated, so thank you if you are one of the many who have loved me!

 

I’m still the same person I was before I began sharing the downs as well as the ups, the feelings as well as the doings, but hopefully now I’m over the fear of being so vulnerable, I will bring more of the truth to this battle and as we know, it is the truth that sets us free.

Washing Out My Shoes

Yesterday I experienced an onslaught of online abuse. I’ve been called names before, insulted for my faith and/or my feminism on various occasions. Mocked for suggesting it could be possible to be a Christian and feminist, but yesterday was something else. I tweeted a comment on the comedian Jim Norton’s recent article advocating for prostitution to be legalised so his sex addiction could be supported and apparently so as to keep women safer. He then proceeded to reply to me using .@ which invited his 350,000 followers to join in with mocking me and my faith, calling me names and generally engaging in misogyny.

 

You can read the Storify of what happened here: https://storify.com/God_loves_women/onslaught.

 

The impact of this was interesting. For a while I engaged with a few people, in fact with one person we had a really interested conversation and my faith and their atheism, which concluded pleasantly as they went to watch cricket. The tweets continued, with images of male violence towards women and pornography punctuating the comments that I must be unattractive, needed sex, should be making sandwiches and laughing at my stupidity in thinking God was real. And I began to be subdued. Not horrified, not even angry. Just subdued. I had a load of work to get done and two children to look after and actual life to live and in the end I deleted Twitter off my phone and got on with doing actual work.

 

But I was distracted, drained, subdued.

 

That’s how this stuff works. It subdues women, wears us down until we can’t take it anymore and we just exit the space, quieter, exhausted and lonely. Whether it’s a partner using put downs, isolation or violation; harrassment and sexual comments on public transport and in the street; being turned down for promotions and pay rises in favour of less qualified men; or perhaps the constant images of almost naked, digitally altered, underweight young women that leave us feeling totally abnormal, we women are being subdued.

 

Over the last couple of months I’ve spent some time with God reflecting on how jaded I had become. Hearing the stories of those who have been hurt so badly by the church, watching those colluding with people like Mark Driscoll, seeing the pain of violence and abuse day in and day out, it’s impossible to un-know the pain carried in so many people’s hearts. And God spoke to me.

 

Firstly through the story of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. You can read it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Snow_Queen. In the story, Satan creates a mirror that distorts all that it reflects, the bad is magnified and the good is reduced. The demons plan to corrupt heaven by lifting the mirror to it, but as the fly to heaven, their excitement leads them to drop it and the mirror smashes into tiny pieces which fall into peoples’ eyes and hearts, corrupting how they see the world.

 

The story is then told of little boy and girl. The boy ends up with a shard of mirror in his heart and is taken by the Snow Queen. The little girl goes in search of him and has many adventures. She then is told that her power to save her friend “is in her sweet and innocent child’s heart”. The little girl finds the boy almost frozen to death. She weeps over him and her tears melt him and warms him. The little boy then begins to cry also and the mirror shard is dislodged from his eye also.

 

The story ends with this verse: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

 

Women, it is so easy to be subdued by the world, or to be infected by the mirror shards which distort everything we look at, leaving us seeing no Hope, just death and destruction.

 

Secondly, God spoke to me through walking along a stony beach. I had been praying about how negative I was feeling about the Church. Though my own experience of God has been of liberation and love, of a life restored, of gaining more than I ever lost, I see the pain. The lack of healings, the loss of hope, the many feminists who speak the Truth but know God only as an oppressor. And I asked God to help me with holding onto the Light. God said to me to walk by the shore, in the water. I had on some old school jelly shoes and sploshed along in the waves. Yet quickly my shoes became filled with jagged stones, my walk impeded I had to stop, washing out my shoes before continuing on.

 

Every few minutes I would have to stop, wash out my shoes and then carry on. Yet that wasn’t easy. I kept almost over balancing as I attempted to stay upright while taking off a shoe, washing it and then putting it back on, all while on one leg. Over and over I had to do this as I walked the way God had asked me to.

 

As I did this, God spoke to me. The stones were the pain, the bitterness, the anger, the hurt. Jagged little stone after jagged little stone, piling up in my shoes, impeding my steps as I walk where God tells me. “Stop regularly and wash them out.” Says God. “Be vigilant and rest when it gets too much.” As He puts His arm around my shoulder, “Don’t do this on your own, you need people to lean on, while you wash out your shoes, so you don’t overbalance.”

 

After my walk along the beach, with the shoe washing out ritual, my knee began to ache (an old injury gained while running without any training). I began to limp as I walked. Jacob came to mind, the man who wrestled God and was left with a limp.

 

We are told that it is Faith, Hope and Love that will remain. And that the greatest of these is love.

 

The little girl saved the boy through her tears and her love. This reminds me of a line in a song by Kevin Prosch, “Whoever heard of an army of God, who conquered the earth with their weeping and mourning and brokenness?” It is easy to become subdued by the world or to be infected by the mirror shards until all we see is distorted and the stories of Hope are drowned by the darkness and the pain. Yet, even the smallest light cannot be chased away by the darkness.

 

Thank you to those of you who offer your arm for me to lean on while I wash out my shoes every few steps. And to those whose words have been used as weapons, for whom freedom of speech justifies all manner of evil words, I will wash your words from my shoes and continue on the journey God has called me to.

The Church *Loves* a Redemption Narrative

This week my friend Helen shared on Twitter that a church attended by her friend had chosen to pray for Rolf Harris in their Sunday service. They didn’t pray for the girls and women he sexually abused.

 

In June 2014 Leadership Journal published a piece written by a convicted sex offender, in prison, bemoaning how his offending had ruined his life (not the life of the girl he abused or his family or the congregation he pastored). They have since written a thorough apology for publishing the piece after enormous online outrage about it.

 

In May 2014, well known Christian author, speaker and teacher RT Kendall tweeted a photograph of himself and Oscar Pistorius smiling after having had lunch together. He urges his over 3000 followers to pray for Pistorius, who is currently on trial for murdering Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend, whom he shot dead on Valentine’s Day 2013. No mention is made of praying for Ms Steenkamp’s family.

 

The church LOVES a redemption narrative. “We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God”. Isn’t that how it goes? And when those who have fallen far are redeemed, we all feel better, the world is better. It’s in those incredible stories of redemption, of bad made good that we can be confident that God is still moving.

 

Yet the girl sexually abused by the pastor writing from prison is still damaged. The women whose lives have been ruined by Rolf Harris are unlikely to recover from what he did coupled with years of his face, his songs, his power being all over child and adult media. Reeva Steenkamp is still dead.

 

The women and children and their family and friends, the victims of these powerful men are ignored. It doesn’t fit the redemption narrative if someone is struggling with the impact of someone else’s sin against them. They are encouraged to forgive, to pray for the abuser. If they don’t, then we can make them a sinner too. Then they fit the narrative. And they can ask for repentance for their lack of love and grace and we can all feel better that balance is restored.

 

Perhaps it is Disney’s fault? The need for a happily ever after. The capitalist consumerism which sees Jesus as a product to be sold to sinners, to fill their God shaped hole and meet their every wish upon a star. Supply and demand. We get the fairy tale ending where the beast becomes good, the princess is saved and the monsters (not the people) are slayed.

 

Yet real life is not a fairy tale. Cinderella is a domestic slave. Beauty is suffering Stockholm Syndrome. Little Red Riding Hood is an analogy about rape. Those who have suffered; abused and violated don’t fit the happy ever after.

 

How do we begin the devastating work of rebuilding shattered lives, when we’re so busy endorsing the quick fixing of abusers?

 

It turns out the redemption narrative has one massive gaping hole; an analysis of power.

 

Oscar Pistorius, Rolf Harris, the ex-pastor sex offender are all powerful men. Using their power and privilege to hurt others. They may weep in court or write about how sorry they are and their words and weeping may give off an illusion of weakness. But they are powerful and, very often, unrepentant.

 

Jesus did not give up all power as God Almighty to become a human baby, show us The Way, die an excruciating death and rise to life so that we can use Him to collude with, enable and perpetuate the damage done by abusive men. We cheapen all He has done by focussing our prayers on the perpetrators while ignoring the hurting, the damaged, the raped and the grieving.

 

As James tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) We see again and again throughout Scripture the measure of God’s people is their value of the vulnerable, not of the powerful.

 

Let us stand with the hurting, the broken, the damaged. And work towards our community of faith becoming a safe and holy place for the abused and the hurting, for the powerless not the powerful.

The Lost Daughter

As another day turned to evening, she sat on the balcony in the sagging old armchair, her heart and soul weary. In the first few weeks after it happened she had wept every single day. Not a minute would go by when she wouldn’t wonder where things had gone wrong, what she could have said or done differently. As the weeks turned to months the sadness became a knot in her stomach. Occasionally she would laugh, at a joke or something Martha said. Then the sadness would overtake her, combined with a guilt for almost forgetting what had gone before. Martha would see the darkness overshadow her smile and her face would fall. “Everything we do will always be about her.” Martha, the One Who Had Stayed, had spat the words at her the other day. It had been a slap in the face when already the pain of was unbearable. She slowly pulled herself out of the chair, it seemed her body had grown old fast. Soul pain did that. She walked to the railings, squinting into the twilight, hoping that this would be the day things changed. By the time she walked indoors, the twilight had turned to thick darkness.

 

She undressed slowly, her limbs heavy with grief. Once in her nightclothes she looked in the mirror, the woman in front of her no longer familiar. Her lined face and silvery hair, once proudly held high a crown of wisdom now left her feeling old and lost. Her shoulders slumped slightly and the energy she had lived her life with was lost in the pain of the day things changed.

 

The sheets cold against her skin, as, the silence shouted louder than the busyness of the day. Nothing to distract her from the memories, an onslaught of pain that never stopped.

 

“I want it now.” Evelyn had said. Her face hard, her words cold. “There’s a whole world waiting for me and I want to explore it. You’ve always said we shouldn’t be ruled by the traditions. Let me go, give me my share.” Martha’s mouth had hung open. Shocked by her sister’s audacity.

 

As their mother, she had always offered them freedom. Never holding to the old ways of control, she wanted her daughters to know their worth and value. To have choices, make decisions, live in freedom not duty. Never once had it occurred to her that freedom would break her heart.

 

She had heard them arguing later that night. Martha’s voice hissing words while Evelyn’s voice had rung out loud and clear, “It’s my choice, you stay here if you like, but the world is waiting.”

 

As she lay in bed, heart aching, tears slowly trailing down her face, she wondered whether she should regret giving her daughters the power to choose for themselves, to have freedom. She heard the whispered comments of the others; the neighbours, so-called friends and the employees. Her own mother’s words came back to her, “You mark my words Sophia, you’ll regret giving them freedom. Discipline and duty is the only way.” Yet, even in the midst of the screaming memories and darkness, she couldn’t muster any regret.

 

The darkness and shame overwhelmed Evelyn. Regret sat like poison in her stomach, no amount of vomiting able to purge it. She thought back to her dreams, when she thought the world was waiting. The way her money, her mother’s money had opened the doors. The parties, the film crews, her name in the credits, her conviction had grown with every success. She had been right; Martha wrong. Rich girl, famous girl, star of the reality show, living the dream.

 

But the dream is just that, one day you wake up. To find your private sex tape watched by the world. She didn’t know exactly when the regret had taken hold. The topless shots sliding into soft porn movies, if the world wanted to watch her, well at least they could pay her. Her FU to the world was to show she could still make it. Yet here she was sore and degraded, shame filling her head with thoughts of destruction.

 

She’d been given some powder to fix it; so they had told her, “It’ll make it better. It’s no big deal.” Yet, the tiny bags had laid in a drawer, the line she had yet to cross. She wondered whether now was the time. She walked over to the cabinet, took one out and stared at it. Could this take away the terrible poison within? Her mother’s face came into her head. Perhaps, maybe, she could go home. She could offer to work for the business. Find herself a bedsit. It could be better than this porn hell.

 

Sophia awoke, the state of half-awake providing blissful ignorance from the loss of her precious oldest child. The feelings of grief flooded in as consciousness overtook her. She sat up, squashing the ache in her soul. Before That Day she had regularly read the newspaper over breakfast, but with the first sight of Evelyn in the pages, she had avoided it like the plague, as the sickness took hold in her heart.

 

She completed each day on automatic pilot. Meetings, conversations, projects, reports; all of them completed by her body, while her soul wept. She knew Martha struggled. So many times they had gone round the same circle, “Evelyn has chosen her path; you’ve got to move on. Not least because I’m still here. I need you Mum.” Sophia had tried to awaken from the nightmare, for her younger daughter’s sake. But it was so hard. She lived for the evenings where she could sit in the chair on the balcony and hope that would be the day.

 

It had been months since that first night Evelyn considering returning, succumbing instead to the comforting powder. Her soul eviscerated by the photo and video shoots. Man after man, woman upon women. The irony of it being called a shoot. If only someone would shoot her.

 

She used all her pay to buy the escapism powder, living on the sofas of the men who filmed her. In one of her only recent lucid moments she remembered that time, how she considered going Home; after so long, that’s still what she called it. Home. This was the day things had to change, she was better off there as a worker, no matter how menial, than on the sofa of a pornographer. She had no belongings, nothing to pack. She walked out the door and started out Home.

 

Sophia was curled on the chair, the evening air cool. She had almost given up hope. She stood, her joints almost audibly creaking, shuffling to the balcony railings. Staring at the horizon she waited. In those moments she allowed herself to hope.

 

In the distance a speck emerged from nothing, gradually becoming the shape of a person. She gripped the railings and squinted. It was a person. She held her breath, willing herself to stay calm. To keep the hope in check. Yet as the person drew closer, she saw it was her lost daughter. In that moment the heaviness disappeared along with the joint pain and the soul ache. She turned and lunged for the door, leaping down the stairs she shouted through the house, her daughter had come home!

 

She ran down the path, her bare feet thudding on the ground. She needed to reach her daughter; to hold her. She stopped.

 

Ahead of her was her beloved daughter, thinner, older, eyes cast down, trudging forward, she hadn’t seen her mother running. Sophia held her breath for a long moment, tears dripping off her chin, she dared not move in case it was just a dream. Out of her mouth a groan of agonised hope escaped, causing her daughter to look up. As their eyes met Sophia knew it was real. This was it. She ran to her daughter, scooping her thin frame up into her arms, holding her tight as she wept.

 

Evelyn froze. This was not the plan. Her mother shouldn’t be here. And yet she was. Evelyn forced herself to recite the words she had been saying over and over, “I’m sorry. I’ve hurt you so much. I’m no longer your daughter, if you’d let me work for you, that is more than I deserve.” Her muffled words were spoken into her mother’s hair as she dangled in the tight bear hug her mother had enveloped her into.

 

Her mother loosened her grip, stepping back and attempting to look her in the eye. Evelyn kept her eyes on the ground. The shame twisted, squeezing her insides and leaving her wishing she hadn’t come. The silence was thick as she felt her mother’s eyes boring into her. Suddenly her mother grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the house. She allowed herself to be pulled along. They reached the door and her mother bellowed up the stairs, “Evelyn is home everyone, we must have a party to celebrate! She has been lost, dead and yet here she is, we’ve found her, she’s alive!”

 

Evelyn’s heart sank, she didn’t deserve this. She shouldn’t have come.

 

As if her mother knew how she felt, she felt arms surrounding her. Evelyn began to weep, raw pain escaping from her every pore. She had messed up. Yet here was her mother, still loving her. She collapsed into her mother’s arms and sobbed.

 

The people were everywhere, the “Welcome Home” banner declaring to the world that she was indeed Home. Evelyn sat at the edge of the room, not quite knowing what to do. How many of these people had seen the movies/photos she had been in? How many knew what she had done? Yet her mother was smiling, telling the room how wonderful it was to have her home. Every so often her mum would come to Evelyn, telling her how happy she was.

 

Martha was nowhere to be seen.

 

Martha sat on her bed crying bitter tears. How dare Evelyn waltz back into their lives? How dare their mother just throw her a party, after all she had done? Didn’t her mother know how much it had hurt, the jibes and comments? “Sister of the whore!” That’s what they’d called her. The calls from journalists, the way people looked at her. The shame and humiliation. How dare she? How dare Evelyn just walk back into their lives? Then the party! That had been the last straw. She had waited, kept working hard for the family business, been obedient and not so much as a celebration! She could have been out, partying, having the time of her life like Evelyn and yet she had been the dutiful daughter. And where had it got her? Nowhere.

 

The knock on her door brought her up short. Who was bothering with her when the precious lost daughter had returned? Slowly someone pushed the door open and her mother crept into the room. She refused to look at her, watching as her mum’s feet stepped towards the bed. She felt the bed move as her mum sat down. “Aren’t you joining us for the party?” Her mother gently asked.

 

“Join you?! I never left you! And that whore who abandoned you, wasted all you gave her and brought shame on our family’s name is being thrown a party! You never gave me anything.” Her mother recoiled at her bitter tone and harsh words.

 

Her mother smiled sadly, reached out and took her hand. “Martha, you are always with me and all I have is yours. Your sister will live with the consequences of her decisions and the decisions of those who hurt her for the rest of her life, but she has been found and for that we can celebrate.” Martha’s eye filled with the tears, the feelings of unfairness overtaken by a desperate need to feel her mother’s love. She stared at the bed covers, tears overflowing, great drops falling onto the sheets. Her mother moved closer and held her. Martha clung to her mother, great sobs escaping from her mouth. Her mother stroked her hair whispering over and over, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”