Tell Me the Story of Trauma

INTRODUCTION:

The statistics are grim. RAIN reports:

  • Every 73 seconds another American is sexually assaulted.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted).
  • About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.[1]

But rather than only nameless, faceless statistics, the #MeToo movement has assisted in bringing to light stories of sexual assault. These types of stories have appeared in all sectors of life from Hollywood to the Olympics; from politics to religion; from universities to seminaries; and among pentecostals. It is a part of pentecostal history as in the public story of Recy Taylor, a young black woman who was walking home from a pentecostal church service when she was kidnapped by seven white teenagers and raped by six of the seven in 1944.[2] More recently, many stories were heard at the first gathering of #pentecostalsisterstoo at the 2018 meeting of Society for Pentecostal Studies as many women and young men indicated that they, too, had been sexually violated. Some women indicated that such violations continue in actions and innuendos as well as through the lack of respect from their male counterparts. These stories may be called “countertestimonies,” as described by Stephen Torr. According to Torr, these are laments that are aided by the Holy Spirit.[3] It is necessary to lift up these voices in our cultures and churches for we as a culture and a church remain incomplete without them. For too long, survivors of sexual violence have been silenced, their voices marginalized as the perpetrators continued to remain in power. Today these voices are beginning to be heard.

With that being said, it is now time for stories that speak of the courage to heal from sexual violent acts. In an interview, Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too movement, states she wants to move beyond the stories of trauma to stories of healing.[4] It is here that I believe pentecostal theology may be helpful. It goes without saying that pentecostals are known for their theology of healing, and they are also known to be people of stories. This is evident as some pentecostals have begun to relate their stories of healing from sexual violence.

  • Amy Farley, an Assemblies of God missionary, was brutally raped in her home in Senegal in 2014. After spending time in daily counseling for eight months, she traveled to Vietnam to be with missionary friends and is now serving there. She stated, “I’m not the person I was before the attack, even through all the grief and pain. I like much better who I am now. My love for the Father is so much deeper, my love for people is so much greater, and my faith is so much stronger.”[5]
  • Another pentecostal, Jeanette Salguero, who is an associate senior pastor and chief operation officer at Calvario City Church in Orlando, speaks of ongoing healing: “As a Pentecostal pastor, I know about the laying on of hands and the sprinkling and the handkerchiefs and all that good stuff. But it’s a lot more than that . . . We cannot link hands and say, ‘Woman you are healed go.’ ‘Man you are healed, go on your merry way.’ This is a process.” About her own healing process she said, “I’m not denying the power of the Holy Spirit, but I do know, as a thriving victim, that therapy is a must.” [6]
  • For others, there is healing that includes a divine intervention as I presented in Who Is Present in Absence?: A Pentecostal Theological Praxis of Suffering and Healing. One of the participants of my study experienced theophastic prayer, receiving a powerful experience of healing as he envisioned Jesus Christ being present during the abuse that he experienced as a child.[7]

It is in the spirit [Spirit] of this type of healing, that I am seeking out stories (testimonies, if you will) of healing from sexual violence, be it an ongoing process and/or a supernatural divine intervention. If you are reading this, I am requesting your help.

WHAT:

Seeking personal stories of pentecostals/Charismatics who have experienced healing from sexual violence

WHY:

  • Recently, the MeToo Movement has assisted in bringing to light a silent epidemic of sexual violence that permeates our country, and this movement is now spread internationally.
  • In response, other groups have been started, such as #MeTooChurch #PentecostalSistersToo.
  • The MeToo Movement also is calling us to hear stories of healing as Tarana Burke, the founder of MeToo Movement, stated in an interview, published in the New York Times, that she wants to move beyond the stories of trauma to stories of healing.
  • For pentecostals/Charismatics, such a call for healing stories beckons for us to inquire, “In what manner is healing demonstrated in the lives of pentecostals who have experienced sexual violence?” and “How may we participate in Christ’s healing ministry to those who have been sexually assaulted?”
  • These stories may include experiences of healing that are ongoing OR those that are the result of an instantaneous divine intervention.

WHO MAY PARTICIPATE:

  • A male or female adult over the age of 21. Please note that this research is not limited to those in the West.
  • Those who currently classify themselves as Pentecostal/Charismatic
  • Those who have experienced sexual violence (such as rape, sexual childhood abuse, etc.)
  • Those who have started their healing journey

HOW: 

If you meet the above criteria and you have questions or are interested in participating in this research project, please contact me by April 30th at healing101.research@gmail.com to begin the screening process. The screening process includes a questionnaire, which is followed up with a short phone conversation. If you are selected as a participant, you will be invited to tell your story in an extended interview via a video call (such as Zoom, FaceTime, etc.). Any information that is obtained in connection with this process, which can be identified as you will remain confidential and will not be disclosed. This includes such information as names, dates, and locations.

WHAT IF I’M NOT A PENTECOSTAL/CHARISMATIC AND/OR HAVE NOT EXPERIENCED SEXUAL VIOLENCE:

You can:

  • Pray
  • Spread the word

As a matter of integrity and due to the sensitive nature of this study, I will not be approaching individuals and personally asking them to participate. Instead, I am making a general announcement about this research project, hoping that people will volunteer. This also means that I am relying on the assistance of others to help spread the word about this research project; therefore, I request that you share this post on social media or with other friends and family members so that a wider audience may learn of this project.

WHO AM I:

My name is Pam F. Engelbert, PhD, and I am ordained with the Assemblies of the God and am currently a pastoral caregiver/teacher/researcher/author. I previously interviewed Classical Pentecostals who had experienced extended suffering while hoping/expecting/praying for a divine intervention that did not come to pass and published their stories in a book Who Is Present in Absence?: A Pentecostal Theological Praxis of Suffering and Healing.

Regardless of your interest in being a part of this study, I appreciate the attention that you give to this request. I look forward to hearing from you.

#metoo #pentecostalsisterstoo


[1] “Scope of the Problem: Statistics,” RAIN, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem (accessed March 18, 2021).

[2] Sewell Chan, “Recy Taylor, Who Fought for Justice after a 1944 Rape, Dies at 97,” The New York Times December 29, 2017, accessed April 5, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/obituaries/recy-taylor-alabama-rape-victim-dead.html?fbclid=IwAR27MauSvas3wKCpuPK2BN4hsHyx_t3r3e4cFDfgtfU5CU34d0z9Kyipyyo.

[3] Stephen C. Torr, Dramatic Pentecostal/Charismatic Anti-Theodicy: Improvising on a Divine Performance of Lament (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2013).

[4] Aisha Harris, “She Founded Me Too. Now She Wants to Move Past the Trauma,” The New York Times, October 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/15/arts/tarana-burke-metoo-anniversary.html (accessed May 27, 2019).

[5] John W. Kennedy, “Back from a Traumatic Experience,” News, Assemblies of God (August 1, 2019) https://news.ag.org/News/Back-from-a-Traumatic-Experience, (accessed August 16, 2019).

[6] Morgan Lee, “ Max Lucado Reveals Past Sexual Abuse at Evangelical #MeToo Summit,” Christianity Today (December 13, 2018) https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/december/metoo-evangelicals-abuse-beth-moore-caine-lucado-gc2-summit.html (accessed August 16, 2019.

[7] Pamela F. Engelbert, Who Is Present in Absence?: A Pentecostal Theological Praxis of Suffering and Healing (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2019), 112-113.

The Good Tears of Grief


The Blog That Speaks: The Good Tears of Grief

I’m sorry.

I have commonly heard this phrase while facilitating grief groups. Although tears are a regular (and expected) part of grief support groups, someone inevitably will have a griefburst and apologize to the group for it.

And you know . . . I get it. I, too, have apologized for crying.

Photo by Javier Martínez on Unsplash

The reasons for such apologies could vary. Perhaps we are feeling embarrassment and/or shame because we need assurance that these tears are acceptable and normal. Possibly, we are feeling concern for the other that he/she will feel uncomfortable, so we are taking responsibility for his/her feelings. Or maybe it is actually we who feel uncomfortable with our tears because our family system and culture have not created space for them.

 Whatever the reason . . . Many of us experience a certain amount of pressure in our Western culture to appear strong, particularly amidst our grief. A contributing factor to such pressure is having heard people evaluate a person’s grief journey in the days, weeks, and months following a death. They may say, “He is struggling with his loss,” or “She needs prayer. She is not so doing so well.” But what precisely do we mean by these phrases? While a person more than likely would cherish additional prayer support, what exactly is the defining standard for doing well after a loss?

  • No tears or lots of tears?
  • Happiness or sadness?
  • Acceptance or shock?
  • Moving forward in life or moving backwards?

Now, all of these are expected as each one may be a part of various grief journeys. But it seems to me that one particular cultural measuring stick for doing well with one’s loss is based on the volume and/or frequency of the griever’s tears. In this case, few tears are equated to healthy mourning while a bucket load of tears is an indicator of unhealthy mourning. As Alan Wolfelt notes about Western culture and tears, if grievers appear strong and in control, they are seen as doing well with their grief.[1] This is regrettable as the public expression of our grief (which is mourning) is how we heal from a loss. Perhaps this indicates why we facilitators educate participants in grief support groups about the appropriateness of tears. It is an effort to deconstruct common cultural misconceptions about tears of grief and mourning in order to help grievers move towards healing.

Unfortunately, the public expression of tears after a death seems to be discouraged in the West and maybe increasingly so.

Consider a shift that I have witnessed in my lifetime. A public death ritual has shifted from being called a funeral to being referred to as a celebration of life. The very name “celebration of life” underscores happiness, connoting this is not a time for sorrow. Some celebrations of life may even be quite explicit by stating that stories and memories are permitted at a person’s celebration of life but not tears.[2] Wolfelt speaks of this cultural change from rituals that provide a space for people to publicly grieve (e.g., wearing black for a year; having several days to view the body; planning a funeral; and participating in a funeral procession) to progressively deterring public grieving by calling them celebrations or parties or foregoing any ritual at all.[3]

This tendency to suppress the public expression of tears of grief is regrettable in light of the fact that research demonstrates that tears of grief contain a helpful, healing element.

Studies show that there are three types of tears:

  1. basal tears assist in keeping the cornea lubricated;
  2. reflex tears emerge from the result of an irritating substance like dust; and
  3. emotional or psychic tears are exemplified by tears of joy or grief.

The latter contains “a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress.”[4] When we cry, biochemist Dr. William Frey found that emotional tears discharge stress hormones “and other toxins which accumulate during stress.”[5] This puts an additional spin on Wolfelt’s saying, “You must feel it to heal it.”

That is, tears of grief are good—they promote healing.

As a Christ-follower who is also a pentecostal, I uphold a theology of healing, particularly divine healing. However, I frequently hear phrases spoken by would-be helpers to grievers after a death which implicitly curtail their healing by squelching a public expression of tears:

  • “At least he is not suffering anymore.”
  • “She is now rejoicing in the presence of God and with her spouse.” 
  • “At least they are in a better place.”

Such phrases may be genuine beliefs of the griever, and would-be helpers may have said them with the best of intentions, but these phrases also may hinder the griever’s healing by impeding the public expression of grief as they imply that death is now our friend, not our enemy.

But this is not the way of Jesus Christ.

Consider these two words “Jesus wept” in John 11:35. It is identified as the shortest verse in the Bible, but despite its brevity, I believe this verse has substantial implications for our public responses to loss and grief.

The context of this verse is that his dear friend Lazarus has died, and Jesus is standing, weeping at the tomb. Scholars are divided as to the reason for Jesus’ tears. Some believe he is weeping about the unbelief or misconceptions of those around him. Or perhaps he is weeping due to the power of sin and death in the world. As such, scholars will argue that Jesus is not weeping because Lazarus is deceased since Jesus is about to raise him from the dead.

Unfortunately, this proposal seems to fall short in highlighting Jesus’ humanity, and that could lead us down an unhealthy path as to what it means to be a human as a Christian. To understand what I mean, it is important to keep in mind that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. As such, Jesus Christ reveals to us what it means to be human while also revealing to us who God is. Thus, if Jesus Christ, who reveals genuine humanity to us, does not weep because Lazarus is dead since he is about to raise up Lazarus, then what would stop us from saying that we, too, are not to weep when our loved ones are dead since they, like Lazarus, will be resurrected? Such a response seems to deny: our very humanness; death as an enemy; and the entirety of the scriptures (e.g., Matt 5:4; 1 Thess 4:13; 1 Cor 15:26).

Hence, I propose that we consider Jesus’ revelation to us on how to be fully alive as human beings. In this light, Jesus Christ’s weeping over the death of Lazarus communicates the normalcy of humans to weep over the death of their loved ones. As New Testament scholar Marriane Meye Thompson comments:

“That Jesus will soon raise Lazarus to life, and so manifest God’s glory, does not mute the genuine sorrow that he experiences and expresses. Jesus’ weeping at the tomb of Lazarus demonstrates that grief over death is not an inappropriate response.”[6]

Thus, to fully embrace our humanity means we will publicly weep—we will mourn.

Furthermore, such tears may also be a protest against death. It may be said that the entirety of Jesus’ atonement (life, death, resurrection, and ascension) is a protest against death. Jesus’ incarnation involved dying so that death may be defeated through his resurrection. It is here, then, that I agree with scholars that a reason for Christ’s tears (but not the only one) includes his sorrow over sin and death. Weeping, then, becomes a way for us to participate in Jesus Christ’s objection to death.

Thus, to fully embrace our humanity means we will publicly weep, joining Jesus in his protest against humanity’s enemy, death.

At the same time, let us remember that Jesus Christ is also fully divine. This means that his whole being, his person, is an act of ministry as the divine ministers to humanity within the person of Jesus. That is, the fully divine nature ministers healing to the fully human nature in Jesus’ being. Therefore, taken what we know of the healing quality of tears of grief, Jesus Christ’s weeping is an additional way for the divine to heal Jesus’ human sorrow and that of all of humanity. In other words, since Jesus is humanity’s healer and tears are healing, his tears may also be seen as a divine healing balm for humanity.

Thus, to fully embrace our humanity means we will publicly weep, thereby participating in Christ’s ministry of healing.

In light of this discussion, perhaps doing well with a loss is expressing the good tears of grief. As Jesus indicates, tears are welcomed in his kingdom:  

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

May we also welcome them.


[1] Alan Wolfelt, Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart (Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press, 2003), 90.

[2] Wolfelt, Understanding Your Grief, 27.

[3] Alan Wolfelt, “A Wake-Up Call: Are you a Party Planner or a Creator of Meaningful Funeral Experiences,” Johnson Consulting Group website, December 5, 2011, https://www.johnsonconsulting.com/a-wake-up-call-are-you-a-party-planner-or-a-creator-of-meaningful-funeral-experiences-alan-d-wolfelt-ph-d/?xanax-for-sale, (accessed February 26, 2021).

[4] Joseph Stromberg, “The Microscopic Structures of Dried Human Tears,” smithsonianmag.com,
November 19, 2013, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-microscopic-structures-of-dried-human-tears-180947766/ (accessed February 22, 2021).

[5] Judith Orloff, “The Healing Power of Tears,” drjudithorloff.com, https://drjudithorloff.com/the-healing-power-of-tears/, (accessed September 3, 2020).

[6] Marriane Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 248-249.

Worship & nonViolence

I don’t remember how she found us. We were living in a large city. She was a complete stranger to us, but there she was at our door. She was bright, articulate, had a great job, and knew more than one language . . .

And her husband was physically and emotionally abusing her.

I remember feeling helpless as she described her situation. It was as if she had been trapped, literally, by her husband. I doubt that she married him with the belief that “Hey, I’m going to marry this guy even though he is going to abuse me.” In other words, domestic violence is not planned. As those who experience domestic abuse may tell you, it does not simply occur with those who are poor or of a certain race. It is no respecter of persons. No matter one’s education, occupation, social status, race, ethnicity, income, religion, and not even being of a certain gender eliminates the possibility of experiencing domestic violence. None of these characteristics is an inoculation preventing domestic violence . . . not even being a follower of Jesus Christ or being in full-time Christian ministry.

To be honest, I have no idea what happened to that woman. I regret that on that day, I simply heard this woman’s story prior to her drifting away into the throngs of people, but on this day, as a Christ-follower, a Pentecostal, and a minister, I want to address this difficult but real subject.

You see, she was not the only woman I have met who has experienced domestic violence, be it emotional and/or physical. Except for this aforementioned woman (of whom I do not know well enough to say), all of them have been Christ-followers. In one of our places of ministry, we followed a minister whose wife had called the police due to domestic violence but later dropped the charges. In other locations, a couple of women indicated that they did not realize they were experiencing domestic violence until they had stumbled upon stories or research in which they saw their own reflection.

Concerning the latter, these women’s experiences, from what I have read, were not the exception. I actually think it is common for many humans to believe, “Bad stuff just won’t happen to me,” which is argued in Ronnie Janoff-Bulman’s theory on shattered assumptions. When “stuff” begins to happen, we may tell ourselves a particular story to protect ourselves and/or avoid a contrasting, albeit more painful, reality. Then one day, the story, in which we worked so hard to find shelter, is shattered. Somehow . . . some way… we come in contact with an alternate story that forces us to see our lives through another lens, and . . . well . . . the story fits. While we may initially be shocked, saying, “No, it cannot be,” we find ourselves strangely drawn to this other view. The more we study it, the more we clearly see, “This describes me.”

Such an experience may occur in little or large ways in our lives. For instance, if you are a minister, your story about domestic violence may be, “Domestic violence does not transpire in my church,” or “It’s her own fault for not leaving.” The first story is similar to, “Bad stuff won’t happen to me,” which is an assumption about one’s own world that says, “It does not happen in my world”— that is, the church world. The second story is residual of a just world theory, which was proposed by Melvin Lerner. It holds that “When people do bad, bad stuff happens; when people do good, good stuff happens.” One version of this philosophy is how we criticize victims (be it sexual assault, domestic violence, loss, various traumas, etc). We think (implicitly or explicitly) that it was something the other person did that contributed to the assault, violence, loss, trauma, etc. Christ-followers, we are guilty of this when we say, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Translation: it’s her own fault for staying. Or when women hear, “You are sinning against your husband. If you would be kind to him and submit to him . . .” And . . . Yes . . . ministers still say these things . . . Just talk to a domestic abuse survivor in the church.

The situations of domestic violence are incredibly complicated.

In some cases, the woman has no money—she must leave with only the clothes on her back. How many of us would have the courage to do that? Others may have a little bit, but it is not enough on which they can live. Who will take them into their home? Fortunately, I have known some women who have said, “My friends have offered to help me.” Still others fear the stigma of divorce that exists in the church, which may generate for the woman shame and guilt for even thinking of such an option (see Domestic Abuse in the Church a ‘Silent Epidemic’).

Unfortunately, domestic violence may end . . . tragically. Leslie Morgan Steiner in her TED Talk says that the final act of violence for many women is death (see Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave). We do not like to think about that, do we? We prefer to believe that law enforcement or will programs protect the victims—another story we may tell ourselves to keep our world safe; the reality is: only so much can be done by these agencies.

If you are a minister, how often do your congregants hear about domestic violence?

Would you believe a congregant who told you, “I am experiencing domestic abuse”? In a study conducted by LifeWay in 2014 a survey of 1000 ministers, 42% rarely or never spoke through sermons or large group messages about domestic violence (see “Pastors Seldom Preach about Domestic Violence”). LifeWay published results of another study in February of 2017, which was conducted in 2016 of a survey of 1000 ministers. (see “Good Intentions, Lack of Plans, Mark Church Response to Domestic Violence”). The article notes the following: 47% of the ministers stated that they are not aware of domestic violence in their church, and 15% say there is no one who is a victim of domestic violence in their congregation while 37% say that one of their congregants has been a victim of domestic violence. As a Pentecostal, I was particularly interested in the following statement in the article:

“Lutheran (70 percent), Methodist (63 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (62 percent) are most likely to believe domestic violence took place if a church member files for divorce and cites domestic violence as a cause. Baptist (49 percent) and Pentecostal (40 percent) pastors are less likely.”

At the same time, 87% of all the ministers surveyed strongly agreed with the statement, “a person experiencing domestic violence would find our church to be a safe haven.” The contrasting messages become apparent when one survivor is quoted in the article telling of how her church had to investigate to see if her report of domestic abuse was true. The issue is: the victim often does not have time to be investigated—the person needs help now. Besides, as the article stated, investigations place the survivor at more risk.

It saddens me that ministers of my tradition are more than likely to not believe the survivor. What does such disbelief communicate to the victim? My voice is not respected? My voice is not equal to the other? Does it point to our preferred assumption about the world, “Bad stuff does not happen in my world—my church”? For me, this communicates our theology. If we do not believe the survivor, are we communicating something about God? In the same way that God’s act of ministry of sending the Son conveyed God’s love, we need to ask, “What are we teaching about God through our own acts of ministry?”

As I ponder this, I turn to a biblical story of an act of ministry that defied the culture of the day, and in so doing, it says something powerfully about God to us as well as our own acts of ministry.

The account of which I am referring is in John 4 where Jesus is having a conversation with a Samaritan. This conversation is enlightening, particularly when one considers where John chooses to place it in his Gospel and when one understands, as Thomas Torrance asserts in Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, that both chapters 2 and 4 reveal Jesus Christ as the Temple. In chapter 2, we read of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple. This cleansing occurs after the writer informs us, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (1:14) and after John the Baptist announces, “Look, the Lamb of God” (1:36). As Melissa Archer notes in a paper presented at the Society for Pentecostal Studies in 2017, just as God’s glory was in the tabernacle, so it is now in Jesus—he is the Temple. He also is the spotless Lamb so that unlike this Temple, he does not need to be cleansed. Since he is the Temple, no one will be hindered from worshiping God—no matter one’s race, ethnicity, or gender— an issue that John seems to continue to press in this conversation at a well in Samaria in the middle of the day.

We are first confronted with Jesus’ challenging of the culture in verse 4 with the phrase, “But he had to pass through Samaria,” indicating the unlikelihood of a Jew passing through Samaria. As scholars note, Jews often chose to travel around Samaria, up through the Transjordan in order to avoid contact with Samaritans.[1] The Samaritans descended from a remnant of Israelites who remained after the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C., who thereby married foreigners who had been brought to the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrian rulers; hence, there was an antagonistic relationship between the Jews and the “half-breeds,” the Samaritans. It seems that the phrasing “had to pass through,” then, implies that God is calling Jesus to go through this undesirable region.

Pentecostal Rodolfo Galvan Estrada, III helps contemporary readers grasp the undesirableness of this region in his paper presented at Society for Pentecostal Studies in 2017, “John 4:23–24: The Spirit and Ethnoracial Tension in Worship.” Estrada writes of the history of violence between these two groups. This violence particularly surfaces in verse 20:

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.

For Estrada, the words of the Samaritan woman portray “a memory of violence” and point to the trauma “that Jesus’ Jewish ancestors had inflicted upon her community” in 128 BC when a Jewish priest burned the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim in retaliation for the Samaritans supporting the Syrians in the war against the Jews in the 2nd century BC.[2] Estrada writes of this conversation:

“Jesus is urging Jewish and Samaritan communities to understand that worship in the Spirit is primarily characterized by the rejection of violence and anti–social behavior that their mountains have symbolized and ethnic relations fostered.”

In other words, true worship, worship in the Spirit, rejects any kind of violence.

While not all victims of domestic violence are women (1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner; see National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), domestic violence, or violence of any kind, points towards asserting power over the other. This is unlike Jesus who does not exert power over humanity but demonstrates that the divine is with humanity, as seen in the hypostatic union in the person of Jesus; thus, by the divine becoming human, humanity is lifted up into the divine life.

Not only is this evidenced in the hypostatic union, we see this through Jesus’ own act of ministry to the Samaritan woman as mutuality is displayed. It is apparent in this chapter that both Samaritans and women have experienced others exercising power over them. Pentecostal Craig Keener notes that Jesus not only breaks a moral boundary but he also crosses gender and socioeconomic boundaries.[3] This is indicated in verse 9 by the woman’s words after Jesus asks her for a drink:

How can you—a Jew–ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?”

It is also seen in verse 27:

“Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman.”

A woman!?!?!

Keener explains, “Jewish men were to avoid unnecessary conversation with women,” and such behavior was “unbecoming for a scholar.”[4]

And . . . she is not just any woman but a Samaritan!?!?!

It has been suggested that Samaritan women were identified by the Jews to be “menstruants from their cradle” in Niddah 4.1.[5]  As J. Ramsey Michaels notes, this implies that they were always perceived to be unclean.[6] However, uncleanliness is not a concern for the divine-human one. As the divine Temple, there is no need to be concerned about being defiled by the unclean (such as were other priests or religious leaders; see 4:9;18:28) because Jesus cleanses others as the Lamb of God and is the Temple that does not need to be cleansed. He is the presence of God. The Fourth Gospel emphasizes in this chapter that in Jesus—the Tabernacle—the boundaries that are in play concerning who and where people may worship God are absent. The exertion of power over is not present in God’s presence. In essence, there is no violence in true worship that is done in spirit and in truth . . . worship that is done with our whole being  . . . in all we say and do, not just on Sunday morning with other congregants. Can this be said among our congregants? In our sacred spaces of our relationships?

Today, may I be one to participate in Christ’s ministry of mutuality, of respect, of dignity, of protection, of safety, of kindness . . . saying “No” to domestic violence and sexual violence no matter what history has practiced, be it in the culture or in the church. May I worship in spirit and truth with my whole being, living out the coming of your kingdom, . . . right here  . . . on the earth . . . as it is in heaven.

 

[1] See W. Hall, Harris III, “John,” in NET Bible®, First Edition Notes, edited by W. Hall Harris, III, et al. Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies, 1996–2005. CD-ROM, John 4:4, n 7; Gary Burge, The NIV Application Commentary: John, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 140. Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel According to John, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans, 1997), 153, 72.

[2] W. Hall Harris III, “John,” in NET Bible®, First Edition Notes, edited by W. Hall Harris III et al. (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies, 1996–2005), CD-ROM, fn8.

[3] Keener, Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003, 585.

[4] Ibid., 596.

[5] Niddah,” Come and Hear, http://www.come-and-hear.com/niddah/niddah_31.html#31b_45 (accessed April 26, 2013).

[6] J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, edited by Gordon Fee (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans, 2010), 239-40, n. 35.

The photo is provided by Pixabay

 

#metoo #apentecostalresponse

On March 2, Nicky Reagan-Boyle, a twenty-something character on Blue Bloods on CBS, entered the workforce as an intern where she experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. We then see the empowerment of validation being visibly displayed on the television screen as Nicky immediately walks away from her job and is joined by other women, who, too, had experienced similar violations.

Herein lies a demonstration of the embodiment and empowerment of #metoo.

In recent weeks and months we have heard and read of similar scenarios being displayed in real life situations with real people across our nation. For instance, we became astonished and outraged to learn of the Olympic female gymnasts who were sexually abused by a team doctor, Larry Nassar. A demonstration of validation was shown several months after Rachael Denhollander reported how she was sexually molested at age fifteen by Nassar as other survivors of the women’s Olympic gymnastic team joined Denhollander by publically telling their stories.

Herein lies a demonstration of the embodiment and empowerment of #metoo.

This is only one example of the power of the Me Too movement, a movement that has widespread meaning as it seeks to assist survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. While Blue Bloods and the headlines currently highlight sexual harassment in the workplace, the Me Too movement envelops the sexual violation of children and teens at school as well as sexual abuse in their own families.

As I consider this significant movement, I ask myself, “How am I, as a Pentecostal, to respond to those in the midst of my tradition who would type the words #metoo? Is there anything within my own tradition that may speak to, and support, Pentecostal survivors of sexual abuse?”

I think so.

As Classical Pentecostals (i.e., our roots are found in the Azusa Street Revival), we adhere to a theology of healing in the atonement; thus, it seems appropriate during this Lenten season to reflect upon our understanding of this particular tenet of our faith. While this belief originally embraced only physical healing, many contemporary Classical Pentecostals include emotional healing in their understanding. On the one hand, this understanding is in itself a message of hope: through Christ being at-one-with-us, we have hope for spiritual, physical, relational, and emotional healing. On the other hand, I know of stories of Pentecostals being informed, “Your healing from sexual abuse or assault is complete, and the devil can no longer use it against you.” While I will not deny that such healing is not impossible with God, such blanket statements may overlook how Christ is ministering to an individual, thereby avoiding an opportunity to genuinely participate in Christ’s ministry of healing in that person. Such declarations may be ignoring the experiences of many survivors and in some cases may be in danger of stressing an overrealized eschatology that believes the not-yet is now. As a result, this understanding can play into the shame (I am bad; I am not good enough) and blame (as referenced in my previous blog) that is often already present in many Me Too survivors. In such cases, instead of hope for healing, there may be an increase of shame and self-blame when the survivors find themselves unexpectedly triggered and reliving the sexual assault instead of “walking in victory and healing.”

Instead of a carte blanche proclamation of instantaneous healing for all Me Too survivors, I suggest naming the shame and underscoring the at-one-ment that is in Christ. I believe the commonness of shame in the lives of Me Too survivors provides a place of connection with the atonement of Jesus Christ, who is the embodiment of God’s empathy that leads to empowerment and hope for ongoing healing.

In order to grasp the concept of shame, it may be helpful to remind us the main difference between guilt and shame. Guilt focuses on an action that one has committed while shame sees one’s being as flawed, such as “I am bad. I am not good enough.” Brad Binau notes that guilt is afraid of being punished while shame is afraid of being abandoned (see “When Shame is the Question, How does the Atonement Answer?” in Journal of Pastoral Theology, 2002). John Bradshaw believes there in a healthy and an unhealthy shame. A healthy shame is a human feeling that reminds one of her finitude; in essence, it allows her to be human, permitting her to make mistakes and admit that she needs help (see Healing the Shame that Binds You, preface); however, unhealthy shame is “the all pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being . . . the self becomes an object of its own contempt, an object that can’t be trusted” (Bradshaw, 10).

As we turn toward a brief examination of the atonement of Jesus Christ as seen in both his life and death, we see how Jesus identifies, becomes at-one-with-humanity’s shame, while healing it. For instance, during his life we see how he is called “Mary’s son,” in Mark’s Gospel, suggesting he is an illegitimate child. We also read how the religious leaders question his association with the sinners, drunkards, and tax collectors. As C. Norman Kraus writes, “[Jesus] identified with the socially excluded and despised and shared the stigma of their inferiority” (Jesus Christ Our Lord, 217). Therefore, while he did not live a life of cultural honor, he defied the cultural systems of honor and shame, seeking to bring honor to those who were dishonored. In other words, he embodied God’s empathy concerning humanity’s shame which then produced the healing and empowerment for others to be the human beings who God had intended.

Not only do we recognize his at-one-ment with our shame in his life but also in his death. The cross is said to be such a shameful form of execution that Roman citizens were not to be crucified. Unlike the tame images that depict Jesus on the cross with garments covering him, in a Roman crucifixion, the person is completely naked. Kraus points out that Jesus would be unable to control his body’s excretions or swat the flies that hover or land on his bloody, sweaty body. The cross was also a place of ridicule as people walked by and hurled hurtful words of scorn, and in Jesus’ case they sneered, “He can save others but he cannot save himself.” Kraus notes that such words dishonored Jesus by portraying him as weak, ineffective, and a failure (216). The identification with us is further seen as Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” These words illustrate that not only has Jesus identified with a Me Too survivor’s shame, but he also has identified with the fear that the survivor’s shame produces—abandonment.

It is here, in Jesus Christ’s embodied identification with our shame, that we are healed and empowered.

As Christ validates our shame and makes a connection with us, healing comes. Empathy does that. As Brené Brown has demonstrated, the healing of shame occurs through empathy. Jesus Christ’s identification with humanity’s shame, his at-one-ment, is a path towards healing for us. Jesus Christ embodies the empathy of God when he identifies with and validates humanity’s shame in his life and death, making a connection with humanity, and more specifically, the shame that is experienced by Me Too survivors.

But Jesus Christ’s at-one-ment with humanity goes one step farther as seen in the resurrection. The atonement of Jesus Christ is not only in his life and death but in his resurrection as well. Thus, Jesus Christ provides a way towards healing and a hope for complete healing as well as empowerment through his resurrection. God has made a connection with us through Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ, God’s connection with humanity, there is healing. Thus, in the atonement (life, death, resurrection), or in Christ’s at-one-ment with us, there is healing and a pull towards a future of complete healing as signified by the resurrection.

Christ is then the embodiment of identification, of connection, and of empathy, which leads to empowerment.

As I write, I also type #metoo. Thus, I, too, say that Jesus Christ is my own hope of complete healing in the atonement as a Pentecostal. I currently grieve the losses that I have experienced as I perceive Jesus Christ’s embodiment of an identification with my shame. This is in tension with the pull toward a future of my own complete healing, my own resurrection because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

Lord Jesus, may I see how you are ministering both to the other and to me and participate in that ministry through your Spirit as together we walk in the hope that you provide for complete healing.