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A Voice for the Voiceless

A tired trope, isn’t it? a voice for the voiceless. The problem with this is, of course, that so few people are actually voiceless. The problem isn’t their “voicelessness,” it is that we are not listening. We don’t value their voices and so we do not listen.

I have never liked the phrase. Few people need us to be a “voice for the voiceless,” instead I believe it’s more powerful to elevate and amplify the voices from the margins, from the ones we overlook and pass over, to say that everyone is worth listening to and that – regardless of race, socio-economic status, geography, ability, and so on – people get to own their own stories.

There is one notable exception though: the unborn, the babies still in the womb of their mother, they have no voice. These are truly the voiceless.

So I’ll use mine for them without apology.

I am a pro-life Christian feminist. Christians have a long history of valuing the undervalued, saving the discarded from society, and welcoming the differently abled as icons of Christ. Our Jesus came to bring us life and life more abundant. So to us, life is sacred, a gift from God, precious. Every person carries the breath of God. We are made in the image of God.

But there is also a long history of pro-life feminism. In the first wave of feminism, our foremothers believed women deserved better than abortion. They saw that abortion was violence against women by a society who did not value women.

Because of both my faith and my feminism together, I believe in advocating for life, more than ever.

“A voice for the voiceless”: well, this week the voiceless have cried out.

I have made myself watch the Planned Parenthood videos – now I owe the voiceless these small words at least. Not because of the possible sale of fetal tissue, horrifying as that is: but because it told the callous truth of what this medical act is for once and for all. Legal or not, that is not the issue. Telling the truth is an act of revolution. This week has revealed it. Here is the truth of it, here is the truth of what it is, here is the truth of what it means and what it meant and how it will always mean something.

As a woman, as a mother, as a Christian, as a feminist, my entire being revolts against abortion and the Orwellian language with which we excuse ourselves.

I carry no judgement, how could I? This is incredibly complex and I offer only my deep compassion to the women who find themselves here. I carry no easy solutions, there are none. I make no promises and I write no screeds or manifestos or declarations or accusations.

I want women to be safe and I want babies to be born. I want all of the reasons why women abort to cease, to be healed, to be legislated right out.

So I want equal pay and decent healthcare for low-income women that includes contraception and supportive partners and a wide availability of midwives and supportive birth environments and real material support for children who are differently abled in mind or body and at least a year of maternity leave and on and on and on.

Abortion is a sign that we have failed women somehow, I think.

I don’t have much hope of legislated change when it comes to this issue. So I encourage us, Church, to continue to speak out, absolutely, but also to put our money and our time and our compassion where our outrage has risen up. The best way to save babies is to support women well.

Our pro-life ethic has to outlast our outrage. It has to show up in our communities and churches and clinics.

 

This video is by Gungor. As they wrote on their release, “In 2014, a woman tweeted that she would be faced with “a real ethical dillema” if she became pregnant with a baby with Down Syndrome. Richard Dawkins responed “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” Also in 2014, we had a beautiful little girl with Down Syndrome and two heart conditions. We named her Lucette, which means ‘light.” Lucie has taught us how much every life matters. This song is for her and all the beautiful people on this planet with special needs. We think that you make this world a better place.”

For more:

Feminists for Life

You Don’t Have to Be Afraid to be a Pro-Life Progressive by Benjamin Corey

Why Progressive Christians Should Care About Abortion by Rachel Held Evans

On Planned Parenthood and the Language We Use Around Abortion by Hilary Yancey

I’m closing comments on this post. I don’t want careless words to wound any further.

Continue Reading · faith, social justice, women · 10

Say Her Name

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Say her name.

Say it out loud: DaJerria Becton. A beautiful name, let your voice say it out loud.

Scripture tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God – Jesus gives us ears to hear and then faith comes. I think there’s something powerful about our own voices speaking the truth out ahead of ourselves. Our words matter. Our voices matter. What we speak aloud often sinks its way into our soul and our memory and then into our actions.

So here is what we could say today: DaJerria Becton.

I believe that today the crucified and resurrected Christ is saying her name with us: DaJerria Becton.

You are made in the image of God, DaJerria, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are valuable. You are beloved.

She is not “Bikini Girl.”

Not “that black girl in the bikini in that video.”

Not “the McKinney girl.”

Not whatever terrible name she was called that day or in the days since as people cast judgment on her and her friends for the way the day ended: a white man’s knees pressed into her young back, forcing her face into the grass while she cried out for someone to call her mama.

“Someone call my mama!”

Her name is DaJerria Becton. 

She is just fourteen years old, someone’s child, yes, but she is her own person, made in the image of God. And she was brutalized, terrified. No matter what lead up to that moment, this was deeply engrained racially-motivated and sexualized violence. That man’s instinct was to throw her by her braids, a slender teenager in a bikini, to scream, to point a gun, to put the full weight of a culture that believes she is a danger because of her skin and disposable because of her sex right into her back.

There are a million reasons to be outraged: as a feminist, as a follower of Jesus who deeply loves the powerless, as a mother.

If anyone could watch that video and not feel the rage, the impotent need to rescue that child, then I have to wonder: how numb have you become to injustice?

Nameless victims are somehow easier for us to forget. But she’s not a nameless victim.  She’s not what she wore or what she said, she’s DaJerria Becton from Texas and she’s fourteen years old.

From the ancient tribal culture of the Bible to Boko Haram and ISIS to our own “civilized” societies, there are stories of the hundreds of nameless victimized women throughout patriarchy’s history. One after another after another, until our sisters somehow blur together. God’s global daughters aren’t a nameless, faceless sex. We have names. History glosses over us, we’re the collateral damage to the wars of men, and so our voices matter: lift them up and remember, we have names. We have stories, we have families.

Every woman matters. Black women matter, too. Aboriginal women matter, too. Poor women, too.

There’s  litany of names. One woman after another who has been murdered or damaged, made even more vulnerable often because of socio-economics or race or location. Here in Canada, our litany includes our aboriginal women – more than 500 murdered or missing as far as we know. We become numb to their faces, to their stories, it’s always one more one more one more one more in the news.

Let her be a person, not a news story or a litany or a victim. We will learn from the marginalized and oppressed, we will believe their stories. We will incline our ears and amplify voices. We will become educated beyond our own narrow context. We will not become numb and we won’t mind our own business, we will let our hearts cry out alongside of our sisters.

Say a name today.

DaJerria Becton.

We see you. We weep for you. We will carry you. We will pray for you and for your community. And we will never stop labouring for God’s dream for humanity to come true. We won’t give up and we won’t lose hope. 

We will be angry with you and for you – and then we will let that righteousness move us further out into redemption. 

Say a name today (there are too many to choose from, so many names, so many women.)

Jesus, be near to the brokenhearted, comfort the afflicted, bring freedom and truth and reconciliation. 

Today, go on, I dare you, say her name: DaJerria Becton. 

And let your heart break.

 

(This post was inspired by the powerful hashtag #SayHerName to raise the visibility of the Black female victims of police brutality.)

Continue Reading · faith, social justice, women · 22

Don’t turn away now: how to help with peacemaking in Iraq

 

Go read this dispatch from Iraq by Ann Voskamp, my fellow Canadian and dear friend. Go on now, I dare you.

You can walk into any mall and buy a pair of NIKE running shoes for what they are buying a Christian or Yezidi girl from 1-9 years of age — $172 dollars. And she’s yours. For whatever you want, for as long as you want, to make do whatever you want. Sit with that. Yeah, we’re all done living in a world where a pair of shoes can last longer, have more worth, be treated with more value, than a fondled, raped and discarded 9 year-old-girl.

The United Nations reports this week that at least one young girl’s been “married” over 20 timesand forced at the end of each violation to undergo surgery to “restore” her virginity.

So it could be ripped open and destroyed by the next highest bidder.

LookWe’re all done with keeping up with the Kardashians or whatever flash of skin is being flaunted on red carpets — when there are little girls being devoured on bare concrete floors and we will keep company with Jesus and be the ones who do something about the things that breaks His heart.

I sit with 4 Yezidi mothers in a shipping container where they sleep.

They need someone to have enough courage to not turn away.That is us.

That is us.

It sure as hell will be me. My nearly nine-year-old daughter woke up this morning and wandered into the kitchen, her childish voice asking for porridge and a hug. I wanted to clutch her to my chest and howl: now I know. Oh, my God, what if it was you? Now I know what is happening to her sisters in Iraq, to the their mothers, and then I made breakfast and I nursed the baby and I made beds and the whole time my gut was boiling with anger and grief and the need to DO SOMETHING.

I refuse to do nothing.

I won’t turn away and I beg you to stay awake to the pain of it, too.

Let yourself feel it. The howl is caught in your throat, I know.

Don’t turn away now. And for God’s sake, don’t numb yourself to it. Don’t inoculate yourself to this.

You are waking up now. Stay awake! 

Channel that rage and grief you feel, that sisterhood rising, and push it straight into peacemaking and into prayer.

 

And again from Ann:

It begins to end when the world lives what we actually are: We are sisters. We are a sisterhood. We belong to each other. We belong to the women who can’t read, we belong to the women who have been stripped of every hope, who are being sold in slave markets, whose daughters are coming back to them with ripped apart virginity. ISIS doesn’t own these women — they belong to us. They belong to the sisterhood of the world. When we live like we all belong to each other, we answer much of the longing in the world. 

When we understand that we are all made in the Image of God, the Imago Dei, we stand with each other and for each other and about each other. What ends the apathy and the trafficking and the racism and the fighting everywhere — is when we start seeing the Imago Dei in everyone.  

When we don’t belong to each other, we participate not only in the devastation of the world, but a desecration of the image of God.  

I’m going to lend whatever small voice I have to the peacemaking and the healing, to the long-term vision of Iraq through empowerment of women and the education of children.

I’ll be resourcing the peacemaking and I will be praying earnestly.

I’m joining with Ann to ask you to help defy ISIS by JOINING WITH PREEMPTIVE LOVE.

Here is the request:

1. Empower one woman to defy ISIS & start her own business: If we don’t help Sozan, Leyla, Mawra — these women have no help coming. Preemptive Love Coalition wants to empower women like Sozan and set these women who ISIS would like make invisible free to care for their kids with dignity and long-term security, so these mothers can provide food, water, shelter, clothes, and healthcare for themselves. $1,000 will give Sozan a business startup grant. How many women together can we empower? Our sisters are literally counting on us to give anything, something. 

2. Defy ISIS and give these kids the power of an education. Mohammadin with his red pen? Preemptive Love Coalition aims to put 22,000 kids like him back in school by this Fall. If a child loses more than one year of school, we know their chances of ever succeeding are severely diminished. Girls are especially vulnerable — invisible inventory.And boys who are not in full-time school are vulnerable to further radicalization by groups like ISIS. We can put 10 kids back to school this Fall for $100. How many kids together can we put back into school and defy ISIS?  

This is all our possible choice. 

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*Update*

In just a short amount of time, we crushed it.

Instead of raising $120,000 as was the goal, together we all raised more than $616,000 in just three days – and we are still counting.

JOIN OUR RESPONSE: www.preemptivelove.org/lovefirst

 

Continue Reading · Iraq, social justice, women · 8

The Story that Makes Room for All of Us

Sarah Bessey :: The Story That Makes Room For All of Us

You’re here to be light, bringing out the God colours in the world. Matthew 5:14

A few years ago, as I wrote Jesus Feminist, I found myself struggling to land the book – and my own self – in the hinterland between “Everything is getting better! Girl power forever!” and “It’s a cesspool of despair, we going to need way more sackcloth and ashes!” which so often permeates discussions about women in the church and in the world, particularly for people of faith.

For every woman I found who had been empowered, there was a woman who had been terribly silenced. For every woman who had a beautiful and redemptive love story, there was a woman who had been terribly and horribly abused. For every “win” there is a “loss.” For every church that affirmed women in leadership, there was a church that did not. For every story of global women who rose up together to end war or deforestation or cultural evils, there were women who died broken, alone, and unmourned by the world due to civil war or systemic injustice and evil. It’s so complex.

The temptation is to listen to only one perspective or the other. We choose sides, and often that “side” depends on the place from which we engage life. Whether it’s to do with women’s issues or race or religion or whatever.

The temptation is to say that our own narrow experience trumps all other evidence or the experiences of others.

The temptation, particularly for those of us who operate from a position of privilege, is to gravitate towards the good and ignore the very real and true cries of the oppressed and marginalized or even just-plain-different-from-us of our society, to retreat into the worlds of our own making and the brightly lit aisles of a shopping centre, and then point to the good stories as good enough for us. We seek our convenience and comfort and safety. Surely these stories of abuse or injustice are anomalies, right? And we carry on.

Or the temptation is to gorge ourselves on sorrow and anger and victimhood, to fill our hearts and minds only with the tales of hate and evil and horror, until we forget the beauty and peace and justice growing and rising like yeast among us. We keep our face towards the darkness, weeping or raging, and we miss the candles bravely flickering around us.

And then our temptation is to turn the other side into a straw man argument to blithely ignore or burn in effigy. (Either way, we don’t have to listen to a straw man.)  I don’t think that this is unique to women’s issues or to the Church or to the Internet: we do it in every corner of our life or with any issue.

Yet the word “right” or “wrong” isn’t the proper word for our human experience. Whether it’s a story I love or a story I hate, whether it’s a story that grieves me or a story that angers me, whether it’s a story that inspires me or a story that sickens me, whether it’s a story with a happy ending or an unresolved ending, we often don’t get to decide whether or not it’s right, it is simply what happened. It is the story.

It is real. It is true.

In our broken world, injustice is just as real as justice.

They are both true: the darkness and the light along with the reality that most of our lives reflect both. There is no consistent either-or or even if-then to real life.

I find comfort that in Scripture, we don’t see the typical Christian-bookstore version of redemption and justice with tidy bows and fairy tale endings. No, we see the mess of the truth of redemption and restoration.

It’s all true. The beauty and the pain, the suffering and the overcoming, the defeat and the victory, Friday and Sunday and the life lived between, the Now of God’s Kingdom and the Not-Yet of that same Kingdom.

The hard work of peace making takes place in the tension between both stories. I want to be a better listener, a both-and listener, because I believe that listening is an underestimated expression of love.

I don’t want to ignore those who are happy and settled, who are empowered and strong and thriving.

And I don’t want to ignore those who are angry and hurting, who are disempowered and marginalized and yearning.

We can learn from each other. This isn’t a story of one side “saving” another side or of one side “opening the eyes” of another.

The tensions of holding the word “Both” in my heart has changed my definition of a “right” story – not only for women but for a lot of the tensions we see around us in the world today. All stories matter because all people matter.

Listening to both of their stories and holding them all gently with intention – and hopefully a bit of grace – has transformed me because it’s made me realise that the right story is always the real story, God’s overarching story that Love wins.

Love has won, love is winning, and love will win. Hope does not disappoint. Faith comes by hearing or listening to the right story, it’s true: and the story that I look to for context for it all is the story of redemption and renewal, of restoration and hope that rests only in Christ.

To me, the right stories are in the Word of God – Jesus – as revealed by Scripture, by the community, and by the Holy Spirit – and He is a story of life and love and hope for us all, for all the Boths and the Ands and the Neithers and the Eithers. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one!

The right story is the old, old story of heaven breaking through, of redemption arching, of justice rolling down, of deserts blooming flowers, of exiles planting gardens, of swords into ploughshares, of life instead of death.

The right story is the one to listen to because it’s the one that makes room for all of us, this is the story that holds all our stories with the promise of life and hope, joy and renewal.

I don’t want to be swallowed by the darkness. Nor do I want to be blinded by the light. No, I want to be part of a people who see the darkness, know it’s real, and then, then, then, light a candle anyway. And hold that candle up in the winds and pass along our light wherever it’s needed from our own homes to the halls of legislation to the church pulpit to the kitchens of the world. We’re a people who build bonfires outside on the shore and send up a few signals to light the way for the ships still coming across the water and the pioneers weary in the walking from the east. We set up tables in the wilderness and invite everyone to come, we’re the people who listen.

As Michael Gungor wrote in his book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse, faith comes by listening to the right story.

It’s true. And the right story for me, the ones I turn towards when I’m tempted to choose one side or the other, is the Great Story that holds all of them as precious and worthy of love.

It’s the story that ends with these words: “And then all things were made right.”

*image source: Lightstock.

edited from the archives.

Continue Reading · social justice, women · 21

The Women of Haiti

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A woman passed me on the sidewalk with an entire table on her head. It looked like she had put everything she wanted for her journey onto a table, crawled underneath it, and then stood up. She moved down the street with her neck straight, her eyes forward, because carrying the burden takes focus. Nobody seemed to think she was remarkable.

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Little girls balance bags of rice, women twice my age carry full washtubs, men carry bananas in baskets. The movement of goods happens on the streets, resting just a head above us.

Everywhere we go, I have found the women of Haiti to have incredibly straight posture. They move with dignity and steadiness. Perhaps it’s because they have spent their lives achieving the balance required to transport their lives on their brow, and this is no metaphor. Blessed is the woman who carries the burden.

The women of Haiti are straightening my spine.

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A young woman stood at the pulpit at church. Beautiful in her white suit, she lead us in worship, singing strong like Exodus’ Miriam. No whispering, no false shyness, her back was straight, her face was forward, the microphone was on, and she sang the roof off that church. We followed behind her, straight into the throne room of God.

The front two rows were taken up with the women’s choir, all in black business suits. When they got up to sing, they moved easily through their steps, singing Hosanna for Palm Sunday. I sat in the wooden pew and tears filled my eyes. Erika leaned over to me and said, “I bet the angels wish they were here for this.” But I’m not convinced they weren’t there. Blessed are the women who sing.

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The rows of the school are filled with boys and girls. Together. Same classroom, same opportunity. The blue satin hair ribbons, one after another, crowded onto benches, just about laid me out on the dirt with their beauty and determination.

These girls are getting an education. These girls will be able to read a deed to make sure they aren’t getting swindled. Their backs are straight on those tiny benches. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask. Nurses. Teachers, Singers. One dream after another. These girls will lift Haiti, I think.

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These two women cook for 150 children every single day. Think about that for a hot second. For many of the kids in Drouin, it’s their only meal of the day. The conditions are primitive to my eyes – water must be fetched and carried and then boiled before use. The tin cooking pots are four times the size of my kitchen sink. There is no light and no fan, just a cook stove and the women.

But those fresh beans and rice, straight off the stove and ladled into a tin plate were the best meal of the week. She grinned at me, her sinewy arms stirring, her headscarf a gleaming white. I thought of Proverbs 31 – she rises while it’s still dark to provide for her children, this virtuous woman. Blessed is the woman who provides for another woman’s child.

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Rosna grew up in a girls’ orphanage herself and then she went on to become a nurse. She got married and her husband planted a church in the same town where she grew up. And now she is the director of Ferrier Village. The first “family style” orphanage in the area, there are five homes filled with 26 children, all of them rescued from trafficking, under her care. Each home has a mother and four or five children. Their mother makes sure they are clean, they are fed, they sleep well, they are seen, known, loved here. Rosna is three years younger than me. Her back was straight, her floors were swept, her work is done well, and her children are healthy.

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When the children first arrive from their rescue, they are often malnourished, their black hair the colour of dried orange straw. But give Rosna a bit of time, because look – this rescued baby’s roots are coming in dark. She’s going to be well because Rosna is a high-capacity leader with hustle and peace for days. Blessed is the woman who leads.

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Wherever I go, children burrow into my mama-belly. It’s a bit soft, never recovered after those three babies in four years, but when I’m around children, I’m thankful for my softness. We mamas from the north, we stood around with their children in our arms, toddlers balanced on our hips. The sway of a mother’s axis crosses cultures, it seems. We met eyes over whiny toddlers who won’t cooperate and shrugged with a grin – we’ve all been there, we’re mothers.

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When we gathered around the women to express our thanks for the meal. “Thank you for cooking for us,” Amber said with a smile. “We have a lot of children and we’re mothers and nobody ever cooks for us!” They laughed and said they understood that.

One woman after another, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the pulpit, sometimes in a home, sometimes singing a song, sometimes on the street with her stand of mangoes to sell, sometimes at the blackboard wearing a blue uniform, sometimes sitting in the classroom.

What a privilege to witness these women work.

What a privilege to talk in their kitchens, hold their babies, hear their stories.

What an honour to learn from their leadership.

Blessed are the women who remain unbowed.

 from the archives

***

It’s been a year since I was last in Haiti. I had plans of returning again this year but then along came little Maggie Love and so travel is at a stop right now. But in the meantime, the work continues – my presence certainly isn’t required by anyone – in Haiti.

Want to help?

You can be a child sponsor in Drouin whose kids are vulnerable to trafficking and or host for a Garage Sale for Orphans to build a preschool for children who have been rescued from trafficking.

And as always, pray for our sisters worldwide who are quietly doing the work.

 

All these photos were taken by Scott Wade and are used with permission.

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice, women, work · 6