category: Musings, Sermon Starter

God, Have Mercy (trigger warning)

By Rachael Keefe

This morning I woke up exhausted. It’s one of those days that I can’t shake the heaviness of sleep. As always, there are reasons for this, not the least of which is a physical need for more sleep. But emotionally and spiritually I’m a bit wrung out. Usually, I have …

God, Have Mercy (trigger warning)

girl-757452_1920This morning I woke up exhausted. It’s one of those days that I can’t shake the heaviness of sleep. As always, there are reasons for this, not the least of which is a physical need for more sleep. But emotionally and spiritually I’m a bit wrung out. Usually, I have really good boundaries and can keep my issues separate from other people’s issues even if they are similar to my own. Not so this week.

Ever since that video tape of “locker room talk” was released, I’ve been inundated with stories told by cis women and trans women, white women and women of color, who have been assaulted. Everywhere I go, someone else is telling me in written or spoken word how, when, and by whom she was assaulted. I truly welcome these stories because I know the power in naming personal truth and speaking it out loud. My problem is that I am also flooded with images from my own story.

The truth is that I don’t remember when it started. I know from an early age I was taught that my body wasn’t mine to control. I could easily be pushed aside, shoved out of the way, forced to comply by those who were bigger and stronger than I was. From the time I entered puberty at age nine, there were the comments and the cat calls. Always. Everywhere. The teachers and college professors with lewd suggestions or inappropriate comments about my body. There was the man my father’s age who propositioned me when I was 17 saying, “I’m sure you’ve been loved before.” Date rape at 19. The senior pastor who responded to my statement that I felt called to seminary with, “So you want to be a DCE (Director of Christian Education)?” The college chaplain I met while in seminary who said, “Why would someone who looks like you go into the ministry?” Followed by countless church-going men who would hug too close, “accidentally” touch me in intimate places, and the few who’ve stalked me assuming I would want them to be in my life. I’ve never walked alone at night without being hyper-vigilant about my surroundings.

After that infamous video, people are talking about misogyny as if they’ve never realized it existed everywhere all the time. Of course, many of us have known through experience that women are objectified and degraded more often than not. Some are still endorsing this kind of behavior with a dismissive, “boys will be boys.” It’s been a long time  since I have felt unsafe just because I am female. But with all the hateful fervor stirred up and made acceptable, I’m a bit more anxious; I’m not as young or strong as I once was and I’m not sure how effective all that self-defense training will be in this middle-aged body.

Then last week a Black man was accosted by a white police officer for doing nothing more than walking down the street in a wealthy Minnesota suburb. The officer truly manhandled the young Black man. The video went viral and suddenly people are noticing that maybe there is something to the claims of systemic racism. Of course, there are still deniers. And there are still those who remain

Last night I spent three hours at the city council meeting where the mayor invited folks to come and enter into conversation. There was powerful testimony as people bore witness to how racism shaped their lives. White mothers expressing fear for the lives of their Black sons. Black mothers in anguish over the lessons of submission they must teach their sons. Black men speaking the truth of their anger, their pain, their having been shamed. White men naming their anger and their shame in the face of systemic racism and white supremacy. The many who bore witness to a demand for truth, for justice, for change. But too many shared the stories of their bodies, their rights, their lives being violated by police officers and “concerned citizens” just because they were driving, walking, talking, living while Black. It’s possible that an apology is coming from the mayor, from the city council. It’s long overdue and it is not enough. But maybe, just maybe, an apology from a white man in power to an innocent Black man victimized by racist police officers will be enough to change the direction of the conversation.

Confession is an essential part of human existence. I think it was Luther who said that confession is good for one’s soul. If we confess our sins, we accept responsibility for them and we can repent and receive forgiveness. Then maybe we really can repair the breach that has existed since the time before memory. We cannot keep acting as if there is a difference between personal and communal sins.

For now, though, there are too many of us who sit in the seat of the Pharisee. We express arrogant thanks for not being the misogynist, the racist, the arrogant, the ignorant, the politician, or that kind of Christian. We follow all the rules set by our church, neighborhood, city, or country. We put our heads down and keep moving along as if community sins were not our sins. It’s far easier for us to point our fingers at the tax collectors among us, than it is to look in the mirror. Isn’t it time that we stop this and beg for mercy instead?

Join me in confession. I confess that for most of my life I believed misogyny was normative and I remained silent when I was a victim of it and when others around me were victimized. I did not confront the men engaging in demeaning, lewd, or abusive talk or actions. In addition, I took out my anger and frustration on some men who did not deserve how I treated them. I confess that I was raised by a racist to be a racist. For much of my life I remained silent when those around me were victimized and I did not confront racist actions or racist speech. I have benefited greatly from white supremacy and systemic racism. God have mercy on me, a sinner.

RCL Year C – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – October 23, 2016
Joel 2:23-32 with Psalm 65 or
Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 with Psalm 84:1-7 and
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Top Photo: CC0 image by Lisa Runnels
Bottom Photo: CC0 image by btchurch

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.