The Problem with Redemption: #metoo

Reading Time: 9 minutes

This post is mostly in response to the article posted on GQ The Problem With Redemption in regard to serial abuser and restaurateur, Ken Friedman.

A few weeks ago, as I was rather aimlessly scrolling through my Twitter Feed, I found a link to this article under a tweet by a guy asking how men that have been named in the #metoo movement can, if at all, regain societal standing.

As you may guess, the comment section ranged from brutally honest to downright appalling. But, then I saw a link to an article with an instruction: read this.

The author of ‘The Problem with Redemption’ begins her post with this:

As a graduate of a Quaker high school, restorative justice is near and dear to my heart. The practice, often used as an alternative to stricter forms of punishment, focuses on reconciliation and rehabilitation rather than sending the offender to jail or shunning them from the community. Ideas of community consensus and collective action were drilled into my head by my educators, and when someone did wrong, instead of immediately expelling them, we tried to foster communication and understanding that would help everyone heal. However, any time this happened, the first step was always the same: the offender had to take responsibility for what they had done, and be actively trying to make amends. This was the only way to redemption.

Throughout the article, the author posits this theory again and again: redemption begins with the acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

But what is redemption? Who gives redemption? Does redemption imply a return to “normal life?” And, perhaps dangerously, is redemption always the point?

One of the most problematic pieces for me when considering redemption in regard to sexual assault is that the idea of redemption often centers whiteness and white innocence vis-à-vis a White Christological framework and purity culture.

There is a value system on whom we believe matter and whom we believe are innocent. There is a value system on whom “deserves” to be abused and those whom don’t. Legally, the Justice System values some people over others. It’s in the way we tell the stories. It’s who we believe is innocent. It’s whom we believe matters.

Think Nia Wilson and Mollie Tibbits.

Think Emmett Till.

Think Charlottesville 2017.

Think refugee children in cages.

And, how we learn to value other human beings remains deeply interconnected with our theology and how we understand whom deservessalvation.

To be candid, these tendencies pervade mainstream, Western theology. And, more often than not, whiteness becomes centered and intrinsically interconnected with the salvation message of Jesus. 

Indeed, theological ideology broadens our understanding of how whiteness “establish[es] and defend[s] who and what Whites can be, what others can and cannot do and/or be and what kind of feeling and action by others is allowed or disallowed in reference to Whites.”

It is plausible to suggest that mainstream, Westernized Christian theology as a social institution is positioned as a conduit through which whiteness is calculatingly preserved, fortified, and disseminated as superior.

Consider the ways in which society socializes and sexualizes young women in juxtaposition with the way in which the Church, particularly Conservative and Evangelical Churches, socialize young women with purity culture. While both are inherently problematic, these socialization tactics often center on a white framework by centering white values and white concepts of acceptability.

In her critical work, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School, Monique Morris offers this important insight:

As children are routinely told to “speak only when spoken to” in many cultures, so too were those who occupied the status of minors. To be a “minority,” a colored person, or a woman in this context was to bear the mark of subjugation and relative insignificance. Over time, this wound has deepened through invisibility, violence and objectification, and for Black girls who have lived in ways that align with and result from a castigated identity, the struggle to be a “good girl,” especially in the ghetto, is connected to performances of power.

For Black girls, to be “ghetto” represents a certain resilience to how poverty has shaped racial and gender oppression. To be “loud” is a demand to be heard. To have an “attitude” is to reject a doctrine of invisibility and mistreatment. To be flamboyant – or fabulous- is to revise the idea that socioeconomic isolation is equated with not having access to materially desirable things. To be a ghetto Black girl, then, is to reinvent what it means to be Black, poor, and female (19).

And, while Monique’s book is particularly geared towards the criminalization of black girls in regard to educational settings, I think that her book offers relevant truths which extend well beyond the reach of normative educational settings.

While certainly not a universal or monolithic verity, I have found that my experience as a black woman and as a sexual assault survivor includes finding ways to make myself look more credible. To look more palatable. To look more white/innocent. Because, I know, statistically, what happens to black women and girls in regard to sexual abuse and rape culture. And, I know that society still hasn’t found us redeemable.

I know that if, in my Predominately White Community, I communicate with my “white” English and wear my “white” clothes, that I will receive better service at the mall/doctor’s office/bank/grocery store.

I know that if I wear my “white” hair that I will receive more compliments at work andnobody will grab it.

And, I know that when I tell my stories of sexual assault which include black men as the perpetrator, people will roll their eyes because that is no longer a problem…that is just a “cultural issue.”

When I think about redemption and sexual assault, I find myself – more often than not – reflecting on pieces of my own story. I share the story below, un-analyzed and raw because I think it is important to understand the inherent problematic nature of how rape culture works. Of what voices become centered. Of how “reconciliation” isn’t always reconciliation. I truly believe that until we are able to understand how individual actions remain complicit with a larger rape culture framework, we will be destined to continue to perpetuate and abuse marginalized and vulnerable members of society. 

————————————–* Warning: Trigger Warning*————————————————

Whenever, I think of the #metoo movement in terms of redemption, I often remember something that happened to me back in June of 2009. That summer, like most summers during High School, I worked at Camp Deerpark as a Kitchen Assistant. Because my older brother worked at the camp full time, I often started work a few weeks earlier than the rest of the staff in order to help out with odd jobs. This particular summer was no different and, after a day of cleaning out art supplies, I decided to play some basketball with another staff member, Gerson.

Now, it may be important to note that during summer camp, summer staff were not supposed to be alone with members of the opposite sex. But, it wasn’t quite summer camp. And, the basketball courts were in full view of the main office and surrounding buildings. I figured I was safe.

So backstory: Gerson and I played basketball. I came down hard on my ankle – and I hobbled off the court, ready to make the long trek up the side of the mountain/hill to my brother’s cabin. Gerson picked me up and groped me. I yelled at him to put me down. When he finally does I tried to walk up the hill towards the main office. He followed me asking me “why are you trying to run away?” I walked through the Main Office building and out the back door to put away a paint bucket. I didn’t realize that Gerson was still following me, He followed me inside the shed before picking me up and groping me again. I scream and yell at him to stop, to put me down and to leave me alone before he finally puts me down. I continue my way to my cabin. Gerson continues to follow me up the hill. I report the incident to my brother. A few days later, I have a meeting with Admin. 
I will never forget the meeting with Admin (Ken Bontrager, Veronica Dingwall and Gerson). Mostly, because I took written notes and some transcripts of the meeting. To be fair, what is shared below is strictly from my notes: I thought that sharing a bit of what happened is important in order to understand how rape culture works.

*First, Ken asked Gerson if he knew why he was there and what he understood happened and if he did the things in which he was accused. Gerson said that he did but that he didn’t really think he did anything wrong.*
Ken: Gerson, do you understand where Boni is coming from?
Gerson *slouched, half smirking* yeah
Ken: Do you understand how she could think your hands were in inappropriate places?
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: Okay. did you pick Boni up in your arms?
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: More than once?
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: Did you hear her tell you to stop and to put her down?
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: Did you?
Gerson: After a while
Ken: After a while?
Gerson; Yeah
Ken: Veronica, help me out here. I’m not sure where to go. 
Veronica: *to Gerson* So what do you think about this?
Gerson: Um. I don’t know.
Veronica: What do you understand about this situation?
Gerson: That I was helping her up
Veronica: So you don’t feel like you did anything wrong?
Gerson: No, but I guess I did because you all are accusing me.
*Ken excuses himself to take a phone call*
Veronica: So how are you feeling then? You upset?
Gerson: No
Veronica: You look mad. I mean, if I was accused of something that I didn’t feel was wrong, I would be mad.
Gerson: Well, I’m feeling something…just not mad
Veronica: Okay, then what are you feeling?
Gerson: Not mad.
Veronica: Okay. Um
Ken: How do you both feel about working here together this summer? Like, do you feel like you can both work here? Boni?

Me: …yeah
Ken: Gerson?
Gerson: Um. (slouches more, rubs eyes and rolls his eyes). I don’t know. Not really.
Veronica: Okay, why not? What do you feel? Awkward? Uncomfortable?
Gerson: Uncomfortable
Veronica: Why?
Gerson: I don’t know. I just do. *smiles*
Veronica: Why do you feel uncomfortable?
Gerson: I just do. *talking to me* what did you want outta this? An apology? What?!!
Me: I just want you to stop touching me….like, I want to be your friend. Just stop the touching.
Ken: *to Gerson* Now is the time to apologize
Gerson: *stares* *whisper* I’m sorry
Veronica: Speak up
Ken: Well, are you actually sorry? Don’t apologize for something you are not sorry for
Gerson: Okay
Ken: Are you sorry?
Gerson: Not really
Ken: But you can see where Boni is coming from
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: Well can you be sorry for what happened?
Gerson: I guess
Veronica: We are not out to get you here. Nobody’s thinking that you’re the bad guy
Gerson: *laughs*
Ken: So, you have the floor
Gerson: I’m sorry *smirks*
Ken: See, speak up. You have a beautiful voice. Everybody should hear that voice *laughs*
Veronica: Yeah, it’s a beautiful voice…
Ken: So, do we have peace?
Me: *small voice* sure
Gerson: *rolls his eyes, scowls* sure

Later that summer, Gerson was fired for groping a camper.
In my situation, Gerson wasn’t sorry. And, he explicitly articulated this.

And yet… nothing happened. Because nothing is normative in rape culture.

No one reported it to the Police. No one took it over Ken’s head.  

And, no one confronted Ken for his decision.

This story is inherently problematic for many reasons. Not all of which will I list or elaborate upon. And, its faulty argument aligns well with the disastrous and heinous assumption that there was equal blame, that there was equally “very fine people on both sides”.

While, I have chosen to name where the incident took place and the names of the person involved, I also recognize that telling this story does not simply change the larger culture. Kate Harding, in her critical book, Asking For It, offers this:

Rape culture manifests in a myriad ways…but its most devilish trick is to make the average, noncriminal person identify with the person accused, instead of the person reporting the crime. Rape culture encourages us to scrutinize victims’ stories for any evidence that they brought the violence onto themselves- and always to imagine ourselves in the terrifying role of Good Man, Falsely Accused, before we ‘rush to judgement.’

We’re not meant to picture ourselves in the role of drunk teenager at her first college party, thinking ‘Wow, he seems to think I’m pretty!’ or the woman who accepts a ride with a ‘nice guy,’ who’s generously offered to see her safely home from the bar. Or the girl who’s passed out in a room upstairs, while the party rages on below, so chaotic that her friends don’t even notice she’s gone.

When it comes to rape, if we’re expected to put ourselves in anyone else’s shoes at all, it’s the accused rapist’s. The questions that inevitably come along with “what was she wearing?” and ‘How much did she have to drink?’ are “what if there was no rape at all? What happens if she is lying? What happens to this poor slob she’s accusing? What if he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit?

This conceptualization of how rape culture works helps me to understand how this ideology pervades everyday life in addition to how rape culture functions as a site of public pedagogy.   

Does Gerson deserve redemption? Does Ken? Is that even the best question to ask?
The author of “The Problem with Redemption” would argue that they would not deserve redemption because neither of them provided an admission of guilt and/or wrongdoing.

And, while I would be inclined to agree that they do not deserve redemption, I find myself conflicted with the redemptive nature of Jesus Christ. What does redemption mean? 

Or maybe asking about redemption is the wrong question.

When I think back to myself as a 15-year-old, I often find myself resonating with feelings of anger, intense loneliness, hurt and betrayal. I felt voiceless and powerless and dirty. As a 25-year-old, I can now give voice to that 15-year-old. I can now speak truth for that 15-year-old in ways that I couldn’t then.

As a follower of Jesus and a sexual assault survivor, the idea of redemption has often been one of those topics that have been unsettlingly problematic for me.

I like Jesus. I like His ideology. And, I also find His message unsettlingly and startlingly forgiving.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Forgive. Pray for those whom persecute you.

I don’t know how to reconcile any of that with my experience.

I don’t know if I even want to.

As you know, as someone that is super Type A, I like to have answers. I like rules and regulations, and this messy stuff feels…messy.

So, I’m muddling through this redemption idea.

And maybe, if you’re muddling too, we can muddle along together.

Shalom always,

Room At the Table: Who Is My Neighbor?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Maybe you’ve seen this sign. Or, maybe you’ve heard about it. In an age of ever-increasing political decisiveness, it’s nice to see these signs dotted along the streets in which I work and the locations in which I visit.

But (and really – you knew the but was coming) I can’t help but notice the distressing trend between the physical location of the signs and the socioeconomic status and racial demographics of the neighborhoods.

The places I generally see these signs are in the following places and spaces:

  • Affluent white Mennonite communities
  • Affluent white hipster neighborhoods 
  • White, liberal, suburbia
  • Liberal “ally-oriented” community centers
  • In that one bookish professor’s office. You know- the one that hands back papers with coffee stains on them and smells like, what he affectionately calls, herbal awakening, but you know it’s really just pot
  • At that one person’s house that you really can’t stand because he really is a racist asshole, but he’s got that sign so…you just nod at him glibly and hope he never actually becomes your physical neighbor
Okay, you’re probably thinking – “okay, yeah…but those are just the places that you’ve seen.”  And, you’re right. I haven’t seen everything and I’m not infallible. Originating from Harrisonburg, VA by Matthew Bucher, the pastor of Immanuel Mennonite Church, this sign was and is a response to the hate-filled rhetoric fueled in the 2016 and 2017 Primary Debates.

And yet, I wonder about the implications. Depending on where you live, posting a sign is easy. Living out the implications of the sign is harder.

In the Bible, Jesus consistently emphasizes the importance of loving ones neighbor, and as I thought about the ubiquity of hateful contemporary public rhetoric, I realized that I needed to revisit what it means to love my neighbor. 
As I struggle with racism and being the target of racist rhetoric, I find myself wondering: what does it mean to love my racist neighbor? 
As churches across denominations struggle to reconcile their interpretations of Christ with LGBTQIA, I find myself wondering: what does it mean to love those whose Christ excludes others?

In the wake of #metoo and #whataboutus, and the ubiquity of rape culture, I wonder what does it means to love persons whom are committed to systems that do not and/or are unwilling to address systems and institutions which victimize and sexualize others? 
Part of my practice in the past month, is learning to address others as my neighbor. For me, words are incredibly powerful and so changing the way in which I think about others fundamentally changes my behavior.

For example, I have found that it is much harder to curse out my neighbor than to curse out a stranger.

Rethinking how I engage with others also requires me to think a lot harder about what I hope to achieve from the situation. When I am centered, I find that my interactions with others remain healthier when I am able to check-in with myself first and allow myself to notice my own body and my own expectations.

  • Am I hoping to prove a point? 
  • Am I hoping to convince the other about the stupidity of his/her/it/their(s) opinion? 
  • Am I hoping to gain more understanding or more compassion? 
  • Am I hoping to listen?

When I allow myself to recenter and consider the other person as a neighbor, I also allow room for transformation to happen.

For me, this process requires intentional commitment towards leaning into relationship with others in respectful dialogue. However, this commitment does, for me, also come with precautions.

  1. Are we both committed towards respectful dialogue?
  2. Are we both safe? It is important to note that being safe is very different than merely being  uncomfortable. Additionally, it is important to note that safety and discomfort hold an implicit hierarchy often associated with racial and economic status(es). What 
  3. What are the supports and/or tools which we need in order to facilitate this conversation?
As a Christ-follower, I believe that Jesus fully equips us to have hard discussions with one another, and that as Christ-followers we can be more than conquerors: we can love our neighbor, we can eat with the stranger, we can clothe the naked, we can love the refugee, we can stand up for the oppressed. But, I wonder what happens when our “can’s” are limited to signs behind white-picket fences in “safe” suburbia. 
  • What if loving our neighbors means laying down our idol of safety?
  • What if loving our neighbors means declaring that no body is illegal?
  • What if loving our neighbors means having that hard conversation about race at a family function?
  • What if loving our neighbors means that Black Lives Matter?
  • What if loving our neighbors means that equity can only happen when those with more, go without so that those without have a little more?
  • What if loving our neighbors means believing sexual violence survivors?
  • What if loving our neighbors means that we stop using plastic?
  • What if loving our neighbors means that our churches are no longer physical locations but people?
  • What if loving our neighbors means losing our fear of death?
In the aftermath of the 2011 Alexandria bombing in Egypt, the BBC reported a story about Christians forming a human chain around a group of praying Muslims in order to protect them from the protest crowds. This story is one in which I don’t think that I will ever forget because it illustrates so well the action-oriented call to consistently love our neighbor. What if loving our neighbors means taking a risk and/or protecting those whom hold different religious views?
What if…fear and safety and mere signs are not our centers?
I want to be clear. This blog post is not hoping damn or point fingers at anyone who may have a sign. Loving and welcoming our neighbors is an integral piece of Christ’s call and it provides a wonderfully hopeful atmosphere. 
However, I hope that this post does perhaps nudge forward a response for us to think further than our sign posts. 
I have recently been attending a church who is exploring the theme: “Things I Wish Jesus Would Have Said.” When I think about loving our neighbors, I think that Jesus not only said a lot but his actions aligned with his faith. Jesus said to love his neighbors so he healed the lepers and fed the hungry and talked with the prostitutes and went into the synagogues and spoke his perfect truth even when faced with death. 
I believe that loving our neighbors requires more than a tweet or a Facebook status or a sign or a blog post. 
I believe that loving our neighbors requires more than a rally or a protest or a moment. 
I believe that loving our neighbors requires more than that one time we talked about racism and it was hard and we had our feelings hurt. 
I believe that loving our neighbors requires more than our own strength. It requires consistent, intentional commitment to do that unconditional love thing, that gritty, leaning in relational thing, that Jesus-thing. 
As I move into love, I am continually amazed by how love continues to move into me. I have more and more capacity to love others. I have more and more capacity to stand centered even when it is hard. I have more and more capacity to hold space for grace in the midst of my own brokenness and imperfections. 
And yet. 
I also have more and more questions. Uncomfortable questions. Questions that you can slap a Sunday school answer onto, but still persist: 
  • What does it mean that Jesus was from the line and lineage of King David, a classic sexual predator and murderer, and that God not only used David, but God loved David fiercely. 
  • What does it mean that Esther is continually glorified when really Vashti was an empowered woman committed to not being sexually violated? 
  • What does it mean when the Church, specifically the Mennonite Church, has a contemporary and historic precedent of not listening or believing survivors?
  • What does it mean when the Church has a history of excluding and oppressing black and brown and LGBTQIA voices?
  • What does it mean when the Church becomes an echo room instead of a diverse body rooted in Christ?
  • What does it mean when safety becomes the Church’s first God?
  • What does it mean if we are called to love radically and transformationally all people? 
  • What would it mean if our signs read: No Matter if you are Conservative or Liberal, we are glad you are our neighbor. 
For me, following the call of Christ requires actions. My mom would tell you this is because I am an action-oriented person and it aligns with my Enneagram. She would probably also notice that each person has been blessed with many different gifts, and not each person will “act” in the same way. 
This is true. (But, my mom isn’t writing this, so you’re just going to get my opinion). 
For me, following Christ means naming and stopping hate speech. Naming and noticing lies. Using my body to gently and nonviolently resist all forms of oppression. Using my voice to speak for those who may not be able to. Using my ears to listen more deeply to those whom are marginalized and using my hands in compassionate and life-giving ways. And, guess what? Asking uncomfortable questions and (hopefully) having enough grace to hear alternate views and corrections. 
What does loving your neighbor look like to you? What, if you are comfortable, questions are you wrestling with? And, if you have a sign – what does it mean to you?

Self-Care and Healing

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Some women fear 
the fire
some women simply 
become it…
– r.h. sin
****trigger warning: content includes sexual assault discussion****

After, you go on: picking up bits of your soul from the ground, and dusting them off while your dignity bleeds across the ground and you stumble over your body only to find redemption… and hell in your skin. It still holds you together. Your bones have not disintegrated. You have not ebbed into salt and sand and dust. People will smile at you and pat you on the back. They will look at you like they understand. Like they know. They will tell you things will be okay. They will expect you to stitch yourself back together, close your eyes and sleep and to button your shirt without shaking hands, to zip your jeans without breaking down. They will cage you in sympathies for a month, or two. And then, they will tell you to move on. Get over it. Wear something pretty. Get out. Go on a date. They will have forgotten that your body is a burning tree, a tornado, a hurricane drowning you from the inside. They will tell you that your too pretty to be so sad. Your skin is soft. They know just the guy…They will not see your flames. They will not see your blaze and ruin. They will not see. 
What they don’t tell you is that people expect the details. As if whatever horrors have been committed require justification. They will want to know: Where did they touch? How did they touch? How old were you? Were you drinking? What did you do?  Did you fight back? Where are your marks? Did you scream? Did you tell him no? Did you…?
They will want to know why it wasn’t your fault. They will pretend to ask questions under the guise of sympathy. You will hear them asking in the underlying pause, in the raised eyebrow: convince me why you are the victim. And, you will begin to ask yourself the same question. Did I do something wrong? Did I lead them on? What part of me was saying “attack me?” You will begin to doubt yourself. You will begin to believe that it was your fault. And so, you will tell no one. Or, maybe you tell people and they don’t believe you. They tell you to keep your truth to yourself. They tell you to keep quiet. They know who hurt you and they are silent. And their silence confirms your belief that everything was entirely your fault. 
I have wanted to write this post about self-healing for a long time, but have never felt quite capable of finding the words to write it. I used to think that good self-care required an end goal: healing. And healing, of course, meant that I would come to a place of complete zen where nothing could hurt me anymore. Hah. Needless to say, I’ve changed my mind about my definition of healing. However, I’ve amended it to the following practices: 
1. Be intentionally committed and present in, with and for the journey in its entirety
(show up for the process)

2. Notice my surroundings
3. Refute and name the lies
These practices probably sound easy, but being intentional with each step can be extremely exhausting, frustrating and overwhelming. 
The first step (although, lets be honest – all of them are hard) remains one of my hardest challenges. Staying committed to a journey that is often tumultuous, difficult, sometimes lonely, often painful and extremely intense often requires difficult truths. It means sticking with the highs and the lows; and naming my own questions and doubts while continually analyzing lies that I have believed about my own self-worth. This becomes particularly painful when these lies have only been compounded and reinforced by my community. 
I am a super Type-A type of woman, and I like to have control. For me, part of the process is letting go of control and just showing up; listening; affirming;  unlearning and being. 
Sometimes it is just saying something as simple as “today, I am going to __________ the process.” I usually use words like “listen to/be okay with/enjoy/feel, etc” And then, I step back. Self-care isn’t always about the destination (though, we all want to get there), but sometimes, I think that maybe process is the most important part. 

Sometimes the process takes me outdoors.
Image result for nature
Used from, free photo stock. 
Sometimes the process feels a little rough
OBX 2014

But, try to find peace in the process. 

Life is always shifting, dynamic, intense and wildly unpredictable. But go your own speed.

Today, I affirm my own strength. 
Today, I am proud of who I am. 
Today, I made it. And, I will make it tomorrow. And the next day. 

I’m not sure that I think that healing is a end destination. Maybe instead it is something that we are all continually aspiring towards: becoming more whole, living more holistically. Perhaps, even healing doesn’t always require forgiveness. (Dangerous thought!) Or, maybe it doesn’t require forgiveness in the traditional sense. My journey has meant learning to forgive myself for not loving myself more kindly; for not being more gentle with myself; for not owning myself more completely. This journey has meant unlearning the lies about myself that I believed and it has meant unlearning the lies others want me to believe as well as learning to set and keep boundaries. 
This healing doesn’t mean that tomorrow, I won’t feel like I’m at square one. Sometimes, it does that. You feel like you have had all this progress and then something shitty happens and you feel like a basket case. I’m not convinced that healing doesn’t let that happen. But, I think that for me, knowing how I can not get stuck in some of the lie traps during those times feels like a damn good place to start.