Pastor's Weekly Newsletter

Each Friday, Dr. Daniel Hagmaier posts his weekly newsletter. Catch up on what's happening and plan ahead.

PSALM 55:4-8 | “PRAY WITH ME FORREST”

“PRAY WITH ME FORREST”

PSALM 55:4-8

OCTOBER 8, 2017

 

 

IMBEDDED IN ALL OF THE WONDERFUL, BEAUTIFUL, FUNNY, POIGNANT SCENES IN THE MOVIE FORREST GUMP THERE’S ONE WHERE YOUNG FORREST IS EXPLAINING WHY JENNY NEVER WANTED TO GO HOME.

 

“SHE LIVED IN A HOUSE AS OLD AS ALABAMA.  HER MOMMA HAD GONE UP TO HEAVEN WHEN JENNY WAS FIVE.  HER FATHER WAS SOME KIND A FARMER.

 

HE WAS A LOVING MAN.  HE WAS ALWAYS KISSING AND TOUCHING HER AND HER SISTERS.  THEN THIS ONE TIME, JENNY WASN’T ON THE BUS TO GO TO SCHOOL.”

 

FORREST FINDS JENNY IN THE BACKYARD, AND ASKS HER WHY SHE DIDN’T COME TO SCHOOL TODAY.  JENNY SHUSHES HIM, AND TELLS HIM TO BE QUIET BECAUSE HER DADDY IS TAKING A NAP.

 

JUST THEN, HER FATHER BUSTS THROUGH THE BACKDOOR, BELLOWING HER NAME, KICKING STUFF OUT OF THE WAY, A LIQUOR BOTTLE IN HIS HAND; HE CHARGES AFTER THEM, CALLING HER NAME, TELLING HER SHE BETTER GET BACK HERE.

 

JENNY AND FORREST RUN DEEP INTO THE ADJACENT TOBACCO FIELDS, HIDING; JENNY DROPS TO HER KNEES, PULLING FORREST TO THE GROUND WITH HER:

 

IMPLORING HIM, “PRAY WITH ME FORREST, PRAY WITH ME.”  AND SHE BEGINS TO PRAY:

 

“DEAR GOD, MAKE ME A BIRD SO I CAN FLY, FAR, FAR AWAY.  DEAR GOD, MAKE ME A BIRD SO I CAN FLY FAR, FAR AWAY.”

 

A COVEY OF SCARED MORNING DOVES FLIES UP OUT OF THE FIELD, AND FORREST, NARRATING THE SCENE SPEAKS:

 

“MOMMA ALWAYS SAID ‘GOD IS MYSTERIOUS…’ HE DIDN’T TURN JENNY INTO A BIRD THAT DAY, INSTEAD, HE HAD THE POLICE SAY JENNY DIDN’T HAVE TO STAY IN THAT HOUSE NO MORE.

 

SHE WENT TO LIVE WITH HER GRANDMA OVER ON CREEKMORE AVENUE, WHICH MADE ME HAPPY BECAUSE SHE WAS SO CLOSE.”

 

IF YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE MOVIE, YOU KNOW JENNY’S SOMEWHAT BITTERSWEET LIFE, MUCH OF IT A RESULT OF THE ABUSE SHE SUFFERED AS A CHILD.

 

LISTEN, AGAIN, TO THE WORDS OF PSALM 55, OUR SCRIPTURE READING FOR THIS MORNING:

 

“MY HEART IS IN ANGUISH WITHIN ME, THE TERRORS OF DEATH HAVE FALLEN UPON ME.  FEAR AND TREMBLING COME UPON ME, AND HORROR OVERWHELMS ME.

 

AND I SAY, ‘O THAT I HAD WINGS LIKE A DOVE! I WOULD FLY AWAY AND BE AT REST; TRULY, I WOULD FLEE FAR AWAY; I WOULD LODGE IN THE WILDERNESS; I WOULD HURRY TO FIND SHELTER FOR MYSELF FROM THE RAGING WIND AND TEMPEST.’”

 

TODAY IS DOMESTIC ABUSE AWARENESS SUNDAY IN THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH USA.

 

IN YOUR BULLETIN THIS MORNING, AS YOU MAY HAVE SEEN, IS A STATISTICAL SHEET ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN AMERICA, FROM THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE.

 

THE STATISTICS ARE SOBERING.  THE PERCENTAGES SHOCKING.  THE NUMBER OF LIVES IMPACTED STAGGERING.

 

BUT WHY TALK ABOUT THIS IN CHURCH?  WHY NOT STICK TO “JESUS LOVES ME;” THE GOLDEN RULE; “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

 

AS SOME OF YOU KNOW, MID-WAY THROUGH MY MINISTRY, I SERVED AS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR A CRISIS HOTLINE AND COUNSELING CENTER.

 

WE WERE THE SUICIDE HOTLINE FOR THE REGION, BUT WE ANSWERED CALLS ON A VARIETY OF SUBJECTS AND SITUATIONS, MANY OF THEM NOT PRETTY;

 

NOT THE KINDS OF THINGS SHARED IN POLITE COMPANY; MANY OF THEM, THE DEEPER, DARKER, SEAMIER SIDE OF LIFE.

 

THE TRUTH IS, AMONG THE MANY IMPACTS THIS HAD ON OUR STAFF, OUR WONDERFUL VOLUNTEERS, AND OUR ORGANIZATION, IS THAT IT MADE IT HARD TO COMPETE FOR PEOPLE’S CHARITABLE GIVING.

 

THERE WAS NOTHING WARM AND FUZZY ABOUT WHAT WE DID.  WE COULDN’T POST PICTURES OF CHERUB FACED CHILDREN, OR PUPPIES AND KITTENS, OR VALIANT CANCER SURVIVORS;

 

NO, OUR CLIENTELE WERE OFTEN PEOPLE IN DARK DEPRESSION; PEOPLE WHO WERE SUICIDAL; THE VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC ABUSE; THE LEAST, THE LAST, THE LOST, AND THE LONELY OF SOCIETY.

 

IMAGINE COMPETING WITH RONALD MCDONALD AND THE FACES OF SICK CHILDREN FOR PEOPLE’S SUPPORT…

 

BUT, THERE WAS SUPPORT… MUCH OF IT FROM CHURCHES, FROM INDIVIDUALS, AND FROM FOUNDATIONS WHO UNDERSTOOD THAT NOT ALL THE NEEDS OF THOSE IN THIS WORLD COME IN THE FORM OF BRIGHT, SHINY, FACES.

 

WE ARE TALKING ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE THIS MORNING IN CHURCH, PRECISELY BECAUSE IT’S NOT SOMETHING WE CAN TALK ABOUT IN POLITE COMPANY;

 

BECAUSE IT’S NOT SOMETHING THAT GETS A LOT OF ATTENTION; BECAUSE IT IS SO PREVALENT; EVEN IN THE CHURCH, UNFORTUNATELY; AND BECAUSE, AS BELIEVERS, WE ARE CALLED TO MINISTER TO THE VICTIMS OF ABUSE.

 

“WITH DARK WIDE EYES FOUR-YEAR-OLD M. GAZES INTO THE CAMERA.  A DAINTY LOCKET HANGS AROUND HER NECK. TWO LARGE WHITE BOWS HOLD HER HAIR IN PLACE ATOP HER HEAD.  HER SMILE IS TENTATIVE.

 

BY THE TIME THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN, M.S FATHER WAS ALREADY VERBALLY AND PHYSICALLY ABUSING HER; HE WAS SEXUALLY ABUSING HER AS WELL.

 

PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH KNEW ABOUT THE VERBAL AND PHYSICAL ABUSE, BUT NO ONE INTERVENED.

 

WHEN M. WAS FOURTEEN, HER MOTHER DIED.  THE SEXUAL ABUSE BECAME MORE FREQUENT.  INSTEAD OF ALLOWING HERSELF TO FEEL THE PAIN AND HUMILIATION, M. DAYDREAMED IT WAS HAPPENING TO SOMEBODY ELSE.

 

BECAUSE HER BODY BELONGED TO THAT OTHER PERSON, SHE DIDN’T HAVE TO REMEMBER THE ABUSE LATER.

 

WHEN M. QUIT ATTENDING CHURCH, NO ONE CAME AROUND TO ASK WHY.

 

HER SENIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL, M. STARTED ATTENDING ANOTHER CHURCH.  THE PASTOR WAS SUPPORTIVE, LOVING.  SHE TOLD HIM ABOUT HER FATHERS ABUSE.

 

IN THE PRIVACY OF HIS OFFICE AND HIS HOUSE, HE BEGAN TO TOUCH HER BODY.  THEN HE USED IT FOR HIS OWN GRATIFICATION.  THE PASTOR MOVED AWAY.

 

M. GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE AND TOOK A JOB IN A DISTANT CITY. SEVERAL TIMES, FOR HER OWN SAFETY, SHE ADMITTED HERSELF INTO PSYCHIATRIC WARDS.

 

IN THERAPY SHE BEGAN TO REMEMBER THE HORRIBLE THINGS THAT HAD BEEN DONE TO HER BODY.  HER FATHER WAS DEAD, SO SHE COULD NOT CONFRONT HIM, BUT THE PASTOR WAS STILL LIVING.

 

M. TURNED TO THE CHURCH, DEMANDING THAT IT HOLD HIM ACCOUNTABLE.

 

HER CHURCH RESPONDED THAT SHE WAS MENTALLY ILL; THEREFORE, SHE COULDN’T BE BELIEVED.

 

LATER SHE WROTE OF HER EXPERIENCE IN A BOOK, AND WAS EVEN INTERVIEWED BY A LOCAL NEWSPAPER.

 

THE PEOPLE IN HER NEW CHURCH PRETENDED THEY KNEW NOTHING ABOUT THE BOOK OR ARTICLE.  NO ONE SPOKE WITH HER ABOUT THE MOST DEFINING EXPERIENCES OF HER LIFE.

 

WHEN M. BEGAN TO THINK OF HER FUTURE, SHE FEARED SHE WOULD ALWAYS BE ALONE.  IT SEEMED INEVITABLE, TOO, THAT SHE WOULD HAVE TO SPEND THE REST OF HER LIFE IN A MENTAL HOSPITAL.

 

SHE QUESTIONED HOW MUCH LONGER SHE COULD HOLD ON TO FAITH IN A GOD SHE TRIED TO CALL FATHER.

 

ON AUGUST 22, 2000, AT THE AGE OF FIFTY-TWO, M. TOOK HER OWN LIFE.”

 

WITH THIS STORY, THE PCUSA BEGINS ITS POLICY PAPER AND STUDY GUIDE ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ENTITLED: TURNING MOURNING INTO DANCING.

 

A PAPER THAT CONFESSES THE CHURCH’S COMPLICITY AND COMPLACENCY IN THE FACE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE; BUT ALSO, ONE WHICH PROMOTES POSITIVE CHANGES THE CHURCH CAN MAKE IN ADDRESSING THE ISSUES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

 

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HAS SEVERAL MANIFESTATIONS.  IT IS ALWAYS, ALWAYS A VIOLATION OF THE POWER GOD INTENDED FOR GOOD.

 

IT IS A PATTERN OF ASSAULTIVE AND COERCIVE BEHAVIOR, INCLUDING PHYSICAL, SEXUAL, AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ATTACKS AS WELL AS ECONOMIC COERCION, THAT ADULTS OR ADOLESCENTS USE AGAINST THEIR INTIMATE PARTNERS OR VULNERABLE FAMILY MEMBERS.

 

IN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS, PERPETRATORS USE THEIR POWER IN WAYS THAT INFLICT HARM ON OTHERS FOR THE PERPETRATOR’S OWN NEED FOR POWER AND CONTROL.

 

THIS NEED FOR POWER AND CONTROL OFTEN RESULTS IN VIOLENCE AND CAN TAKE MANY FORMS: PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL (ALSO KNOWN AS PSYCHOLOGICAL MALTREATMENT), SEXUAL, AND NEGLECTFUL.

 

PHYSICAL ABUSE IS THE USE OF BRUTE FORCE, SUCH AS HITTING, BITING, KICKING, SLAPPING, BURNING OR SCALDING, TO DAMAGE A PERSON’S BODY.  SOMETIMES A WEAPON, SUCH AS A GUN OR KNIFE, IS USED.

 

EMOTIONAL ABUSE IS AN ATTEMPT TO CONTROL OR INTIMIDATE A VULNERABLE PERSON.

 

SEXUAL ABUSE IS DEFINED AS A PERPETRATOR’S USE OF A VICTIM FOR PERSONAL GRATIFICATION.  IT MAY OCCUR ON A CONTACT BASIS, SUCH AS INVOLVING THE USE OF PHYSICAL FORCE (BEATING SOMEONE UP, HOLDING THEM DOWN), THE THREAT OF FORCE (SUCH AS THE USE OF A GUN OR A WEAPON), OR OTHER FORMS OF EFFECTIVE COERCION.

 

INCEST IS SEXUAL CONTACT BETWEEN A PARENT-FIGURE OR A SIBLING, WHICH USUALLY INVOLVES PHYSICAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL COERCION.

 

NEGLECT DESCRIBES SITUATIONS IN WHICH PARENTS OR THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CARE OF INDIVIDUALS FAIL TO LOOK OUT FOR THEIR PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL NEEDS.

 

CHILD ABUSE IS THE DELIBERATE HARMFUL ACTIONS BY AN ADULT, GENERALLY BY A PARENT OR PARENT SURROGATE, AGAINST A CHILD.

 

CHILD NEGLECT MAY INVOLVE ABANDONMENT, REFUSAL TO SEEK TREATMENT FOR ILLNESS, INADEQUATE SUPERVISION, HEALTH HAZARDS IN THE HOME, IGNORING A CHILD’S NEED FOR CONTACT, KEEPING A CHILD HOME FROM SCHOOL REPEATEDLY WITHOUT CAUSE.

 

SPOUSE/PARTNER ABUSE IS A PATTERN OF VIOLENT AND COERCIVE BEHAVIOR EXERCISED BY ONE ADULT OVER ANOTHER.  IT IS NOT A MARITAL CONFLICT OR A LOVERS’ QUARREL.

 

ELDER ABUSE, WHILE IT INVOLVES THE COMMON FORMS OF ABUSE, CAN ALSO INCLUDE DEPRIVING THE PERSON OF FOOD OR CLOTHING, WITHHOLDING MEDICATIONS OR HEALTH CARE, AND TAKING FINANCIAL ADVANTAGE.

 

SIBLING ABUSE, THE ABUSE OF ONE SIBLING IN A FAMILY BY ANOTHER, IS SELDOM REPORTED TO THE AUTHORITIES BUT EXCUSED AS NORMAL RIVALRY.

 

DATING VIOLENCE IS ABUSE THAT OCCURS IN THE CONTEXT OF A DATING RELATIONSHIP.

 

THERE’S NO AVOIDING THE FACT THAT VIOLENT BEHAVIOR IN OUR HOMES AND IN THE LARGER SOCIETY IS MOST FREQUENTLY DIRECTED AGAINST SOCIETY’S MOST VULNERABLE PERSONS: CHILDREN, WOMEN, THE ELDERLY, PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES, AND THOSE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS.

 

TO GAUGE THE SERIOUSNESS, AND PREVALENCE, OF THESE BEHAVIORS, LOOK AGAIN, AT THE INSERT IN OUR BULLETIN THIS MORNING.

 

SO WHAT CAN WE, THE CHURCH, DO?

 

THE CHURCH SHOULD BE A VEHICLE OF GOD’S LOVE, JUSTICE, AND GRACE FOR VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS.

 

THIS REQUIRES AN INTENTIONAL PROCESS OF BECOMING TRUSTWORTHY PARTNERS IN THE PROCESS OF MOURNING, HEALING, RECONNECTING.

 

IN MINISTERING TO VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS, THE CHURCH IS CALLED, FIRST, TO:

 

  1. HELP PROVIDE SAFETY;

 

  1. LISTEN TO VICTIMS/SURVIVORS AS THEY BREAK THE SILENCE, CRY OUT, TELL THEIR STORIES, AND DEAL WITH THE MEMORY;

 

  1. BELIEVE AND VALIDATE VICTIMS’/SURVIVORS’ EXPERIENCES;

 

  1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE INJUSTICE AND LET VICTIMS/SURVIVORS KNOW THAT THE VIOLENCE PERPETRATED AGAINST THEM IS NOT THEIR FAULT;

 

  1. RESPECT THE AUTONOMY OF VICTIMS/SURVIVORS, THAT IS, THEIR RIGHT TO MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS WHEN THEY ARE READY;

 

  1. OFFER A COMMUNITY OF FRIENDSHIP AND SUPPORT TO VICTIMS/SURVIVORS AS THEY PLAN FOR FUTURE SAFETY;

 

  1. PROVIDE ACCESS TO COMMUNITY SERVICES;

 

  1. RESPECT CONFIDENTIALITY; AND

 

  1. REMEMBER THAT GOD OFFERS GRACE AND HOPE FOR VICTIMS’/SURVIVORS’

 

SECOND, THE CHURCH SHOULD BE A VEHICLE OF GOD’S LOVE, JUSTICE, AND GRACE FOR THE ABUSER.  IN MINISTERING TO PERPETRATORS, THE CHURCH IS CALLED TO:

 

  1. BE CLEAR THAT VIOLENT BEHAVIOR IS UNACCEPTABLE AND MUST STOP;

 

  1. ENCOURAGE TRUTH-TELLING AND THE ACCEPTANCE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR ACTIONS; AND, IN ANY CASE, REJECT THE ABUSER’S RATIONALIZATIONS OR BLAME OF THE VICTIM;

 

  1. INSIST THAT CONCRETE ACTION, SUCH AS ATTENDING A TREATMENT GROUP BE ESSENTIAL TO VALIDATE ANY PROMISES TO CHANGE

 

  1. OFFER HOPE FOR FORGIVENESS AND A CALL TO DISCIPLESHIP; AND

 

  1. REMEMBER THAT GOD OFFERS ABUSERS GRACE FOR FORGIVENESS AND HOPE FOR CHANGE.

 

IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF ABUSE, THIS CHURCH IS HERE FOR YOU.  WE ARE HERE TO HELP YOU FIND A NEW WAY OF LIVING.

IF YOU ARE AN ABUSER, WE STAND READY TO HELP YOU FIND A DIFFERENT DIRECTION FOR YOUR LIFE.

THIS IS NOT A WARM AND FUZZY SERMON.  THIS IS NOT A SERMON ABOUT BRIGHT, SHINY FACES.

IT IS A MESSAGE OF RESPONSIBILITY; OF ACTING; OF CONFESSING OUR FAULTS; OF REPENTANCE; OF FORGIVENESS; AND OF GRACE FOR NEW LIFE.

IT IS A MESSAGE OF WHAT WE, AS INDIVIDUALS, AND THE CHURCH, MUST DO IN HELPING THOSE CAUGHT IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

WILL YOU JOIN ME IN THE PRAYER WHICH YOU WILL FIND IN YOUR BULLETIN ENTITLED: A PRAYER FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HEALING”

 

WE ARE THE CHURCH.  WE OFFER OURSELVES TO YOU, O GOD, OUR CREATOR.

WE OFFER OUR HANDS.  MAY WE USE THEM TO EXTEND A HEALING TOUCH TO COMFORT SISTERS AND BROTHERS AND CHILDREN, YOUTH, AND ELDERLY WHO ARE AFRAID.  WE OFFER OUR EYES AND EARS.  MAY WE SEE AND HEAR THE SIGNS AND STORIES OF VIOLENCE SO THAT ALL MAY HAVE SOMEONE WITH THEM IN THEIR PAIN AND CONFUSION.  WE OFFER OUR HEARTS AND OUR TEARS.  MAY THE HURT AND SORROW OF THE ABUSED ECHO WITHIN US.

WE OFFER OUR OWN STORIES OF VIOLENCE.  MAY WE BE HEALED AS WE EMBRACE EACH OTHER. WE OFFER OUR ANGER. MAKE IT A PASSION FOR JUSTICE.  WE OFFER ALL OUR SKILLS.  USE OUR GIFTS TO END VIOLENCE.

WE OFFER OUR FAITH, OUR HOPE, OUR LOVE.  MAY OUR ENCOUNTERS WITH VIOLENCE BRING US CLOSER TO YOU AND TO EACH OTHER.  ALL THIS WE ASK THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, WHO KNOWS THE PAIN OF VIOLENCE.  AMEN.

 

 

 

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Pastor Daniel writes and posts a weekly newsletter that keeps members and friends of the congregation up-to-date. His earlier newsletters are also online, so if you missed something, check those past editions.

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