The Boomerang Effect: Prison Rape Jokes Harm The Victim not the Perp.

Time-to-StopSo, have you heard the one about the guy who sold foot-long sandwiches going to prison? Of course you have. Everyone has. At least 3,000 times. Since the news broke about Jared Fogle’s arrest for child pornography and sex with minors I have yet to see a story that didn’t have, “He’s gonna get his foot-long…” (or some variation thereof) in the comments section (and sometimes in the story itself).

Stop it. Just stop. It’s not funny. You’re not funny. And what’s worse – you’re hurting the very person you claim to be standing up for – the victim of rape or abuse. Jokes and “I hope he gets what he deserves” kinds of comments don’t make you witty, insightful, outraged or even righteous in that Old Testament “eye for an eye” kind of way. It just makes you someone who is  either fixated in the adolescent world of fart jokes and Dick’s Last Resort or who doesn’t think about what you say for more than 3 seconds. Either way – grow up, and wise up.

Rape is Never Okay

Let’s just be clear:

  • It is not okay for a child to be raped.
  • It is not okay for a college student to be raped.
  • It is not okay for a spouse to be raped.
  • It is not okay for strangers to be raped.
  • It is not okay for police officers, prison guards, or judges to be raped.
  • It is not okay for the homeless, the helpless, or prisoners to be raped.

When you suggest otherwise – when you rationalize your bad humor or horrible human rights thinking with, “well, that person should get what he/she gave others– it’s justice. Let the perp see how it feels.” What you are really saying is rape is okay.

  1. Rape is okay if it teaches you something. The message is that violating someone’s body in the most foul way can actually do them some good because they will now have empathy with their victims or at least feel what the victim felt. That’s idiotic. You aren’t creating solidarity with victims. You are just creating another victim. Many people are in prison because they were child victims who were already “taught by rape.”
  2. Rape is an acceptable form of punishment. Rape hurts – the body, the mind and the soul.To suggest rape is some kind acceptable way to punish anyone – even a rapist – is to not only advocate cruel and unusual punishment, but to reinforce the idea that authority (either by badge or by mob or by strength) has the right to inflict this on another human being. No one has that right. Ever.
  3. There are people who deserved to be raped. For the victims of sexual assault this is the worst message you could possibly be sending. Victims already question themselves and blame themselves for what happened to them. Unfair and untrue, their wounded minds bombard them with statements like:
  • “I shouldn’t have been wearing that.”
  • “I shouldn’t have gone to that party.”
  • “I shouldn’t have argued with him about the credit card.”
  • “I shouldn’t have stayed home from school sick.”
  • “I shouldn’t have let him give me that ice cream.”
  • “I shouldn’t have sent that Snapchat.”
  • “I shouldn’t have said, ‘no.’”

At the deep bottom of those questions is this one sick statement over and over – “I deserved to be raped.”

So – along comes Internet Iggy with his dumb joke about prisoners “deserving” to be raped and all it does is give more fuel to the victim’s already raging internal fire. Guess what? You got 30 likes on your funny comment and re-victimized a person struggling with recovery. Bravo.

Learn before you burn

Before you jump on the jokester express and send a survivor of rape back into the flames for a reminder of their brutal experience, take a moment to learn to something.

  1. “Eye for an Eye” – even in its biblical glory – did not mean people got to poke out each other’s eyes. Jewish laws stated that you must “compensate” someone if you take something. So – if you poked out someone’s eye – you have to, in some way, repay that debt. A perpetrator being raped doesn’t give anything back to the victim but more regret.
  2. Your frustration is showing – A big part of the comment has to do with America’s continuing dysfunctional relationship with the justice/prison system. We want people who rape others to be punished and we are never satisfied that sitting in a jail cell for five years, or five hundred years, is enough.
    1. It isn’t. There isn’t enough time in the world to make up for rape. Prison time is a case of “we do the best we can with time – one of the only tools we have.”
    2. Prisons are not lush. Much of public frustration is the TV/Movie fed notion prisons are some kind of weird country club where inmates sleep all day, have cable TV and get free everything. That’s a huge myth. As a pastoral care provider and HIV/AIDS tester I have been many jails and prisons. They aren’t lush. They aren’t comfy. Everything costs. Some prices are higher than others.
  3. Real change happens in policy making, not pain. You don’t like the way the system we have works in terms of rape, prison, and punishment? Fix it – by voting (in those small local prison board and mid-term elections you have to leave your house for), by advocating for real justice, by learning about what the judges you elect believe, and by being active in state politics. That’s how things get changed.
  4. Jabbing at the perp doesn’t do shit for the victim. Remember those people? The ones who got hurt? They don’t need you out there laughing it up or saber rattling about the rapist (who seems to be getting all the attention). They need you:

To listen to them.

To hold their hands.

To encourage them to seek help.

To remind them you still see them as the vibrant wonderful people they are, not just “rape victim.”

To help them journey from victim to survivor.

To help them journey from survivor to thriver.

To advocate real justice.

To love them and be loved by them.

I realize this personal blog isn’t going to challenge the big wide world of the comment section any more than people discovering the Kardashians have no viable talent is going to keep them from being written about online every day forever. But, like all people of good mind and conscience, I hope. And I hope it can make you think about messaging, and at least stop saying or stop “liking” or “forever reblogging” this painful boomerang.

If you read this all the way through – you are probably already in the category of “I don’t say that.” or even “I don’t say that, anymore.”  In that case – teach it to someone who still does.

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Leaving Christianity: An Exit Interview

interviewTypically, when someone leaves a large corporation they are given a form or interview to explain why they chose to go somewhere else. Corporate big-wigs long ago realized that people staying with the company aren’t as likely to be open about the reality of what’s happening. The view from someone who no longer has a reason to hide their feelings is valuable to help those who remain. In a way, it is a last gift of the departing to the co-workers staying on the job. I hope my Christian friends see the heart I have for them and their road, even as I leave with some clear observations.

I toyed with this post for months – because I didn’t feel like I had anything to say anyone would care about and it can be seen as a rant. Okay, some of it is a rant. Pretty much, the response of Christian leaders and friends once you turn in your gold cross lapel pin is – “well, that’s just sour grapes” or “that’s your experience – OUR church isn’t like that.” So, why bother? Besides, I was taught it is rude to point out what you don’t like at a buffet (and Christianity is definitely a buffet) – just take what you want and sit down.

I decided to write after some good and heart-felt conversations with friends after I announced I was taking refuge (formally declaring myself a Buddhist) a few weeks ago. Many have suggested it was the Christian wailing and gnashing of teeth over gay marriage, or that vomit-inducing fake post about the red on the Confederate flag being the “blood of Christ” (REALLY?!), or just a bad experience with a church here in Virginia. None of that is true (in fact, the last Christian church I was in – The Gayton Kirk – was probably the best church I could have ever been in – except, I was already walking away from Christianity by the time I got there.). I’d been studying dharma, meditating and journeying for a few years now. It wasn’t a new decision – or even really a decision. I can’t name the day I said, “I’m not a Christian anymore.” I just looked around and began to slowly notice, I was somewhere else. But, there were things that cut the brush and made a path that led away more clear. This post is about those things.

In the end – it wasn’t the bigotry, the battles or the building fund that cut the trail leading me to a new place. It was all the fear.  So – the Exit Interview. It’s not about “You” – the individual Christian, or “You” a certain church, or “You” a certain denomination, political bend (I find very little difference between the vocal/rigid conservative right and the silent/ineffective liberal left), or specific type of belief.. It’s “You” – Christianity – the whole uniquely American/Western shebang. It’s not personal – and yet, it is.

You are afraid to follow Christ.

As I’ve told many in the last few weeks, there is a person that Jesus taught people to be – and I want to be that person. But Christianity has failed to follow those instructions and I am not able to become or awaken to that person within the present environment. I have been very clear, though. I did not leave because Christianity was failing me. I left because I was failing to be me within it.

Western Christianity seems to have given up following the words and teachings of Jesus and swapped it out for the extreme worship and adoration of him. Whether he is on the cover of Time, headlining a movie, or appearing the chorus of country song – Jesus is an object of love and pure devotion.

Jesus cover

The problem is, that wasn’t why he came. While we’ve been busy making him some sort of First Century rock star – the poor have been hungry, the prisoners abused, the sick denied medical insurance, and Samaritans of all kinds left on the side of the road to die. Following Jesus is different than worshiping him. It’s work, and it sometimes means being mobile, generous and uncomfortable. It means:

  • Instead of crying tears at a revival because we are overcome by His glory – we are crying tears in the street because we mourn the dead killed because of their race, their social status or their mental health.
  • Instead of moralizing and complaining about the working single mother who gets $76 a month per kid to feed them, it means opening your wallet and giving her $24 more so she has $100 – and maybe ensuring she gets some health care and the right to birth control, too. (“If someone makes you walk with him one mile – walk with him two”).
  • Instead of donating to wealthy politicians (of either party) and filling church parking lots with signs and bumper stickers for the best candidate to create economic growth on the backs of the impoverished or at the expense of the earth – it means calling out the rich and being a voice for equality, dignity, and loving action on behalf of leaders and the community.
  • It means stop expecting other people to “deserve” things/love/respect – feed them anyway.

Let’s face it – we all love John the Baptist for calling out the powerful on hypocrisy in the streets and paying with his head – but how many of us are really willing to be him? Which leads me to:

 You are afraid to be Different

The bible tells us over and over that Christians are not supposed to be like the rest of the world. We are told to be “Strangers in a strange land” – “In the world but not of the world” – “Give Caesar his and Give God his.” But that isn’t how we see it in these days. Instead of living our beliefs even if they don’t fit the world – Christianity has decided to change to world to fit its beliefs. The fake “persecution complex” had gotten out of hand. A store saying “Happy Holidays” isn’t hurting you and the manager isn’t going to storm into your house and say “Kiss this Pagan Yule Log or you can’t have 30% off!” If other people in the world have “holidays” and you have Christmas – freaking have Christmas! Reason your season until your manger overflows with kneeling sheep and really clean shepherds. But don’t try to force the whole country to do it with you. Christianity was designed to be a city on a hill – a light – not a police force.

fight for fiath

That goes for marriage, school prayer and every other Christian trope currently trying to be legislated into law. Your kids can’t lead the math class in a prayer to Jesus? So what! Is school the only place your kid can pray? Give your kids a home filled with prayer, and a life filled with actions of goodness and heart. It’s not the job of schools to accommodate YOU. It’s your job to keep your faith even when others don’t. Jesus talked about praying in a closet – not at a chalkboard. There are places all over the world where Christians are murdered. That’s persecution. The inability to shop at Penny’s cause they ran an ad with a gay couple is not.

We weren’t designed to be a “Christian nation,” we aren’t one, and we aren’t going to be one. Christianity should be something you choose because you want to be a Christian, not because the majority population pressures you into it or makes it illegal for you to act in ways that “aren’t biblical” (like any two Christians can even agree on what that is).  Don’t try to make the world a nice place for your ideas. Keep them, walk them, and strive for them in a world where you may be different from others – because that is the point! (note: People in the Judeo part of the Judeo-Christian tradition have lived this way forever – and still they thrive.).

You are afraid of your own God.

If Pentecost were to happen in most Christian churches today, the Holy Spirit would have to try to time it between Upward Basketball and the taize worship service, get a permit from the Buildings and Grounds committee, and submit a plan for who would clean up the sanctuary when it was over. Church’s cling to order as a form of oxygen, instead of having a system that is strong enough to hold and flexible enough to withstand the spontaneity and creativity of a powerful God. Christianity is shackled by the ego, vision, budget, and polity of leaders and lay people rather than being freed by the willingness to follow what Jesus said.

You’re afraid God will let the church die. I won’t even start on the number of blogs and church seminars hysterical about the death, change, challenge of the modern church. Death is change. The church’s old model – huge buildings, full time pastoral staff who makes a living wage just from ministry, and programs, programs, programs simply isn’t working any more. Yet – with scholars in almost every denomination heralding this truth as the dawn of a new form of Christianity – lighter, relational, mobile and powerful in action and message – the mainline church is still functioning with 16 committees (for a 200 active member congregation) and claiming to be on the fringe because of that coffee shop/bar/mall/bookstore worship it now offers. Here’s the thing: Holding the same old bible study with the same old ideas in Starbucks isn’t innovation – it’s relocation.

starbucks

The “wrath of God” has become a frequent Christian chorus. Gay marriage? “Let us pray this country doesn’t suffer the wrath of God.” Tornado? “God is letting us know God is unhappy with..,” Some Hobby Lobby worker needs birth control to regulate her hormones, “That will make God unhappy.” This “fear of the Lord” has nothing to do with the respect the Bible commands. I have respect for a lot of people, but I’m not afraid they will slap me with a plague, tornado or fire roasted chili just for doing something uniquely human. I am starting to think forgiveness plays such a key role in Christianity because there’s so much fear of God that we have to keep being assured we’re not heading for a smack-down. The belief in dualism – that we are somehow separate from God and require blood, prayer and methods to be acceptable or embraced is not something I can support.

A few years ago I left the Christian church and began a journey of meditation and study with a focus on rest, mental health, creativity and freedom from fear. I walked until I was in a field that expressed compassion, embraced life and death without fear, where mistakes happen and it’s okay, where reality is the focus, and where those things the words of Jesus taught me were actually being put into personal practice – kindness, mourning, joy, generosity, effort and embracing the basic goodness in myself and others. When I heard my meditation teacher say, “Buddhism is the path of being human.” I knew the name of the road I was on.

This wasn’t easy. It can be hard, and sometimes heartbreaking, to strip off long-held ideas and habits. I have grieved certain changes, and celebrated much baggage released. I cherish the friends I’ve made, the memories I’ve decided to keep, and the things I learned.

There is a story in the bible of the Magi who find the baby Jesus and are supposed to go tell Herod where he is. Realizing that funny thing they smelled on Herod was the stench of his fear, they were warned in a dream to go home by another way.   That’s what I’m doing. So pray for me, and I will send my love to you. Let’s be different, together.


A City of Two Tales: Dealing with the Dissonant Narratives of Bill Cosby

I’ve been silent about the accusations and media surrounding Bill Cosby because there are so many voices clattering the sound of mine is unnecessary and unlikely to be heard.  I’ve also been engaging in my own process of shock-grief-acceptance.

My process looked like this:

Eye Roll: I saw a trending article on facebook that comedian Hannibal Burress called Bill Cosby a rapist.  Reaction: “Geez, that’s low.”

Curiosity: The next day I asked some friends if they had ever heard that Bill Cosby might have raped someone. One of them said, “No, I love him.” The other, an 82 year old woman nodded. She said quietly, as if confessing a deep secret, “I’ve heard that before.”  Reaction: “I want/need to know.”

Research:  Google: Bill Cosby Rape. Read many documents from credible sources – the kinds of places that research and fact-check – not just “Cracked”. Different women, each with the same story, with names, dates, times. Let’s face it – there is more circumstantial evidence of this than there was of WMD’s when we voted to invade Iraq. Reaction: “I’m shocked.”

Reflection:  Trying to combine what my head tells me (This man is probably a serial rapist) with what my heart tells me (This man made me laugh and think). Reaction: “I am so sad.”

Resolution:  Humans sometimes do beautiful things. Humans sometimes do ugly things. And many times – it’s the same human doing both.  Reaction: Acknowledgement of this very human tale.

We are Books, not Stories.

This isn’t the first story to be given an alternate view:

  •  Every Martin Luther King Day some know-it-all grad student posts articles talking about Dr. King’s known problems with plagiarism and women. They are schooled quickly that there are 364 OTHER days to discuss the issue.
  • Columbus Day has become an out-and-out war over the story we are told in school about the discovery of America and our growing awareness of what an inaccurate tale that is and the monstrous truth of that conquest.
  • A new translation of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales reveals the Pied Piper actually drowned the children, and the queen in Snow White was forced to dance to death in hot iron shoes.
  • My own city of Richmond is struggling to cast Shockoe Bottom as the entertainment district and family center of town so voters will approve a baseball park there. Except, there are a lot of people reminding us that the place designated for the kid friendly fun zone is actually the spot where the slave market and jail that sold Solomon Northrup stood.

The problem is the cognitive dissonance (that uncomfortable feeling when a story we tell ourselves doesn’t match the facts presented to us) between the story of the Bill Cosby I knew and the stories I did not.

My first memory of him was watching Fat Albert on Saturday morning, not Bill Cosby the jet-setting actor who hung out with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Club.

  • He was the Jell-O spokesman.
  • He was the kindly, smart, funny Cosby dad.
  • He was a huge proponent of education and scholarship provider.
  • He was a curmudgeonly old man telling parents to get with it and kids to pull up their pants.

Then, in a matter of a few weeks – He was a serial rapist.

No – that doesn’t match.

At. All.

This is NOT the way the story goes.

Except, it is.

There were clues to this hidden narrative. Some crew members said he was hard to work with and had a temper. A few characterized him as controlling (often calling it “he’s his own man.”). Scholars and advocates in the African American community complained he was pandering to popular opinion (largely the opinions of white people) in his criticisms of culture and dampening a young generation’s experiments with identity as a way of making the majority clap for him

But now – this new narrative isn’t just an add-on or sour grapes – it’s a whole different story!

The truth is – human beings are not just one story. We are books, made of more than one narrative. In some of our stories we are kind. In others, we are cruel. In some stories we are passionate. In others, we are too tired to care.

We are the brilliant respected electronics visionary who didn’t give a dime to charity.

We are the peace loving song poet, martyred in death while young, who abandoned his first wife, slapped women, and treated his first son with total contempt.

We are the football star and luggage jumping airport runner who was on trial for murdering his wife and in jail for armed robbery.

We are human beings and our books contain many tales.

How do we Deal with this New Book?

There are several methods to discovering someone you admired is not a novel, but collection of wildly different images:

Catch and Release: Some people will pick one story out of a book and ignore the others. For some Bill Cosby will always be the role model. For others the rapist.

Not My Circus:  Other people will just toss the book away and read something else. Collections of short stories aren’t very popular. Anyone who has queried a literary agent has seen “We do not represent short story collections” a million times.

Elementary, Dear Watson:  Some will reach for psychiatry, interpretive sociology and any expert they can find to attempt to explain the differences until they are more comfortable with the details.

Accept the Struggle as Part of the Journey: People of any faith are used to the idea of conflicting narratives – because faith life is full of them.

Christian people spend time trying to deal with the idea that the God who says, “I am your God and you are my people” is the same one shown playing a game with the devil and saying, “Sure, you can torture my servant Job.”  Jesus tells us the story of a God who forgives (and want us to forgive) but doesn’t really address the God who kills a guy with lightening for breaking a rule while saving the Ark of the Covenant.

Buddhists who like bacon and have affirming views of the GLBT community have to struggle with the ancient ideas about eating and sexual behavior. Decisions across the spectrum have been made to reconcile modern practices and dogma.

Muslims struggle with the Quran – a document (like many sacred texts) both beautiful and savage.

Dealing with conflicting narratives is the fire that refines our metal. Bill Cosby’s story(ies) gives us a chance to show compassion for all who are hurt, to stand against rape, to encourage the truth, to comfort and to learn. We can’t un-know and we aren’t going to be able to separate one story from the other. But we can move forward – a little bit wiser for having read this book.

Book