• Rev. Izzy Harbin

2 Samuel 13:16, 20b

“No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”


(b) And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.


Quotes: Tarana Burke

'Me Too' became the way to succinctly, and powerfully, connect with other people and give people permission to start their journey to heal. ~Tarana Burke

The work is more than just about the amplification of survivors and quantifying their numbers. The work is really about survivors talking to each other and saying, 'I see you. I support you. I get it.' ~Tarana Burke


Two simple words, “Me Too,” that started an international uprising that has shined a much-needed light on sexual violence and assault. When I was choosing the women for this series, I knew immediately that I wanted to do something around Tamar and Tarana Burke. This is a topic that we whisper about, but rarely discuss in church settings. It feels as though everyone is super uncomfortable talking about sexual violence and assault, and rightly so. Everything associated with sexual crimes has been shrouded in silence for so long that we don’t know how to respond.


In truth, sexual violence and assault happens more frequently than we want to admit; it just isn’t something that we talk about, especially in church. Although, the trend is changing. Many historically black churches have started groups called, “The Friends of Tamar” which clearly identifies the group as a survivor’s group—those who have survived sexual violence or assault. The “MeToo” movement has helped these types of groups take shape as more and more individuals come forward and tell their stories.


As a trauma therapist who worked primarily in the substance use field, I encountered a lot of women who had experienced sexual violence and/or assault. Many were reliving that trauma daily whenever they would use their bodies as a way to support their habit, an added layer of trauma on top of the initial trauma. It was heartbreaking to see how so much violence had shaped their lives.


At the heart of this kind of trauma is shame, followed closely by fear and silence. In working with women through their trauma, what I discovered is that our stories have value, and that by telling our stories, we are able to release the shame, fear, and silence that binds us.

In the story of Tamar, she was raped by her ½ brother Amnon. In the ancient world, rape was frowned upon, BUT the definition of rape was not nearly as robust as it is today. Age of consent didn’t really exist. The way a man “married” a woman was by having sexual intercourse with her. In the ancient Hebrew world, they really didn’t have “wedding ceremonies” like we do today. Marriages could be arranged by families, but it was more of a promise from one family to another.


An odd fact, the biblical text talks about sexual violence more than it talks about homosexuality, but not as much as it talks about divorce. What we are willing to talk about in the church, though, is limited by our level of comfort. We think of church as the place we go to feel good about ourselves. But I don’t think that was Jesus’ original plan for churches, to only feel good about themselves. The early churches were tackling some of the most difficult social problems of the day. Jesus wanted the church to be at the forefront of standing up for the most marginalized in their society, which included women and the misuse of power and authority by the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day.


What we discover in the story of Tamar is that the more offensive act was that Amnon dismisses her after he rapes her. It was not uncommon for “family” members to “marry” one another. In the Hebrew world, at the time of Tamar, polygamy was still practiced, and the various children produced by the many wives were not restricted from marrying within the family. What was uncommon, though, was for a man to have intercourse with a woman and then not see that union as binding. If a man dismissed a woman, it reduced her to prostitute status and left her with no options for future marriage. For a woman, this was tragic because this also meant there was no one to take care of her, and there would be no children, who often defined a woman’s status.


In our present day, women who have been raped often describe the sensation of having their very soul ripped from their body. It can be difficult for women to ever trust again, to be able to engage in healthy relationships, and to function in everyday society without mental health challenges. This is what Tarana Burke discovered working with young women in a youth development program in Alabama. She started the #metoo movement as a way for girls/women to finally acknowledge the hurt and the pain of being violated, and to recognize that they were not alone in their suffering. What no one expected was in one year, the hashtag “metoo” would be used 19 million times on Twitter alone. This movement shocked the world with its brutal honesty and paved the way for high profile abusers to finally be exposed and convicted of their long-time misuse of power.


Today Tarana Burke continues her work with women as the Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equality in Brooklyn, NY. Just like Tamar, Tarana found a way to be known to the world, and to stand up for what is right and just in a society that has for too long devalued women’s bodies and overlooked their minds.


As we continue our study of women, we stand with those who have experienced sexual violence and assault, and where possible, we join in the chorus of the #metoo movement, once again shining a light into dark spaces so that we rip the cover off of shame, fear, and silence. We stand ready to listen to the stories of those who have been impacted by violence, and we become allies of the highest order—those who can listen without judgment, and who can offer love and support without shame.


#metoo

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  • Rev. Izzy Harbin

“Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued—when they can give and receive without judgment.” Brené Brown.


When I was a child, I wanted so desperately to be seen, heard, and valued by the adults in my life, by my peers, and even by strangers. I was looking for a way to fit into a world that didn’t make sense to me. I knew I was different, but I didn’t have the language to articulate how I was different. And I could sense that these differences were keeping me from feeling connected, but again, I didn’t know how to be what I wasn’t, nor how to fix what I could not name.


Brené Brown tells us that we are “hardwired for connection.” Unfortunately, most of us are taught that connection is either too risky because we might get hurt, or that we must connect with everyone regardless of boundaries. I was taught both. I tried to hold these in tension, but this only created more confusion. A lack of boundaries makes for unhealthy relationship, and when we are too afraid to risk getting hurt, we also keep ourselves from knowing true belonging.


As we continue our series on women from the bible and their modern-day counterparts, we see this theme play out in the lives of Jochebed and Sara Cunningham. In Jochebed’s case, she was willing to risk everything for the sake of her child. She willingly gave him up in hopes of saving his life. In the end, she was called upon to nurse the child, which not only gave her a connection to her own child, but also to the Pharoah’s daughter. By taking a risk, she created expansion in her life. At the same time, she also created some clear boundaries for herself. She was willing to nurse her own son, but she was not willing to sell her soul to Pharoah or his daughter.


Sara Cunningham brings the need for connection into the present day, in the most tangible of ways, by providing hugs to those who have lost connection. When Sara’s son came out as gay, it was a huge adjustment for Sara. She valued the connection with her son so much, though, that she was willing to risk her own comfort in order to remain connected with her child. What she found on the other side of this equation were a whole group of people who are often ostracized by their families and friends and who have few people in their lives who show genuine care and love for them.


Through the Free Mom Hugs program, she provided a safe and effective way for folks to have their need for connection to be met without violating boundaries. Sara provides the perfect vehicle with which to see, hear, and value those who are often dismissed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The importance of creating safe space for people was more important than her own comfort, and worth the risk. Thousands of LGBT individuals have been embraced by individuals who genuinely care about the lives and welfare of those in the LGBT community.


What can we do in our own lives to show others that we are not risk adverse and that we want to make healthy connections?


As a church community, we are often seen as the last place that LGBT folks would look for care and comfort, which means that we have to be intentional with our gestures of welcome. When we call ourselves open and affirming, it places the burden of proof on us to show that we are both open AND affirming. To open the door to create genuine connection while at the same time withdrawing support would only damage our message of inclusion. Intentionally creating safe spaces for those who are maligned and marginalized by society should be an integral part of our identity.


Jesus made a point of inviting the last, the lost, and the least. He didn’t hesitate to dine with tax collectors or to touch lepers so that they may be healed. He talked with women and encouraged them to be more than what society projected for them. If we follow Jesus’ example, he made the effort to see others for who they really were, to hear the pain and cries of the brokenhearted, and to value their contributions to God’s kingdom, regardless of what they had to offer, but especially when what they offered was themselves.


May we all be fortunate enough to see God’s kingdom through the eyes of Jesus, to know what it means to love with our whole hearts, and to reach beyond our comfort zones to see, hear, and value those around us.


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  • Rev. Izzy Harbin

Some of you are aware that I have been taking a class for Continuing Education Units, those professional development hours that a lot of us have to take in order to remain in the good graces of those who authorize us to do what do. Our focus for the class is Atonement Theories and Salvation. Yes, I planned my series knowing that I would be studying this at the same time. What I did not plan for, however, was how challenging the work would be from class—not intellectually challenging, but emotionally challenging.


For those that know me well, deep diving into theological topics like Atonement and Salvation are not only right up my alley, but topics that I could spend hours talking about. There are a couple of things that I have discovered in the last week, though, that may underpin my desire to keep going around in circles looking for an answer: First – NO theologian has written the definitive, accepted, or adopted answer to Atonement and Salvation. As I have shown throughout the series, there are multiple perspectives to this difficult topic, and all of them are scriptural. Second – Paul’s use of all the theories in his letters to the churches drives me nuts. It feels manipulative in the way “used car salespersons” often get blamed for being creepy. And Third – As stated by my instructor, “Preaching is persuasion. It is claiming a position that we expect others to hear and follow.”


And my instructor is right.


A different hard truth that I have had to face this week is that ALL of these conversations begin and end with how we view the Biblical Text.


I don’t want to take away anything from anybody, especially something that you have come to rely upon as being right and true in your life. I pray everyday that what I offer to the world is faithful to the process of learning and growing and being transformed along side others who are trying to do the same thing.


I talk a lot about our lived experience, and I must admit that my lived experience plays a huge role in how I see the life and work of Jesus in the world. I dipped my toe in the world of Unitarian Universalism for a time because I wanted the freedom to explore other religious traditions and to glean from those traditions the truths that reflect more honestly what I see in my own life, but I could not stay there because the life of Jesus is equally important to me.


I read a great article about the Dali Lama once in a Time magazine where he said, “If you were born Christian, learn to be the best Christian you can be. You do not need to become a Buddhist.” My take-away from the article is that all religions are fundamentally the same, only the names and histories of their development have changed.


I get why religion is so difficult for people. Over my lifetime I have observed the changes that have occurred in religious circles from being comfortable with the mystery of God to having to know for certain who God is and what God is all about. This level of certainty tends to squash our ability to grow with God and to imagine the possibilities for a more abundant life in God. Certainty stops the conversations, because once you know, what’s the point of going deeper or wider with your exploration.


What Atonement Theory is asking us to do is to understand the necessity of Jesus’ death on the cross, and perhaps even to attach some measure of salvation to that death. Because we have made this such an all-important topic in the life of the church, one would assume that Jesus talked about it all the time. Not so. The word Salvation is only mentioned six times throughout the gospels. The word is mentioned 84 times in the Old Testament, and always in the context of God’s willingness to ‘rescue,’ ‘spare,’ or save the people from complete destruction or annihilation.


In Luke 18:8-10, Jesus is visiting Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector at Jericho, and provides the same context for salvation as the Old Testament: “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”


So often when we see the word salvation and lost, we immediately think of our current day understanding of these terms—someone needs to make a profession of faith because they don’t know God, and without this profession of faith, they are going to die in sin and be relegated to hell forever. But the Hebrew understanding of salvation was slightly different than our current understanding. When Jesus says that Zacchaeus is lost, he means he has lost his way, has strayed away from the law that specifically prohibits cheating or swindling people out of their money.


Jewish tax collectors were in a particularly difficult position. They were told exactly how much they must give to the Roman Empire for taxes, but they were not prohibited from collecting more in order to line their own pockets. For Zacchaeus to give up his lucrative operation, he had to have a change of heart. He returned to the law given by Moses and agreed with Jesus that this was no way to live. This is a salvation moment. Will Zacchaeus stumble and fall again? We don’t know. It would be nice to believe that this encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ heart forever and that he never cheated people again. But we don’t know because the text doesn’t tell us.


It may sound like I’m all over the map at this point, but I assure you there is a method to my madness. When we take what Jesus freely offers to individuals like Zacchaeus and assign it to the work of the cross, we are missing something in the message of Jesus’ encounters with folks while he was still alive.


In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus has an encounter with Peter just after he has told the disciples that Peter is the rock upon which the church will be built. The text reads, “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”


Jesus is clearly predicting that he must suffer and die, and he even names the religious/political leaders of his day as the cause of his death, but he also asserts in this moment that he will be raised from death to new life. This conversation comes on the heels of his conversation with the disciples about his true identity as the Messiah and his explicit instruction not to tell anyone. He wants his disciples to know something extraordinary about him, but is not ready to share this with the wider community. His identity as the Messiah has the potential to change the conversation for many, but he doesn’t use this title to coerce or manipulate folks into believing or behaving any differently. Even Peter who tries to protect Jesus from his impending death gets a lecture from Jesus about focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things.


What becomes clear to me is that throughout Jesus’ ministry he is reorienting people toward a kingdom view of the world. Jesus keeps pointing back to God the father, our creator. He keeps telling stories about how we are to behave with one another, how we are to live in covenant with one another without violating each other’s personhood. Jesus makes it clear that none of us is made perfect, but we have the capacity to live in line with God’s will for us here on earth. He tells his disciples, “You’ll do greater things than these,” which illuminates our capacity for living our lives in alignment with God's idea of covenant and community.


So, when it comes to Jesus’ death, it seems to me that what Jesus accomplishes on the cross is our recognition of how we treat one another; with spite, malice, and lack of forethought. Jesus reveals how self-centered we are at our cores, but he is also telling us to remember that it doesn’t have to be this way. When Jesus eats Passover with his disciples, he tells them in that critical moment to remember him. Jesus doesn’t want his life to be in vain; his teachings to fall by the wayside, instead, he wants the disciples to be bold enough to teach the same concepts Jesus taught, but to a wider audience.


The cross, often held up as the moment where Jesus takes on the sins of the world, is more aptly described as the moment where we recognize we are misusing our will. I don’t want Jesus to take on my sins, but I do want Jesus to show me how I am sinning and how to make right what I make wrong. He demonstrates this when he is hanging on the cross and says, “God forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The same way that Jesus forgives is how we need to forgive and be forgiven. I must clean up my side of the sidewalk, and keep it clean, so that my life becomes a reflection of the life of Christ.


When I look at the cross, I see an instrument of torture. I see one of the cruelest ways anyone could die. I see Jesus on the cross and how he is able to forgive, he is able to hold space for the thief hanging on the cross next to him, he is able to remember the whole of Israel, he is able to cause a shift in those who have incredibly closed minds and is able to spark conversations that never would have happened without this seminal event. Jesus is able to show us, even in his final moments, what he expects from us every day of our lives.


The resurrection is the outcome of this shift in the way we think and act. As we grow and change, we, too, are transformed. We go from death to life, even in the here and now. We are able to see our full potential as followers of Christ. God shines a light into the dark places of our lives, and we can no longer hide the ugly. If we are bold enough with our lives, it can feel as though we are literally reborn. There is no waiting on heaven; it isn’t about the afterlife; it is about the present life.


For those of you who are wondering about folks we categorize as the worst of the worst; folks like Hitler or serial killers, I have come to a place in my life where I believe that even these folks will be reconciled to God whether they choose it or not. I use the word reconciled in the sense that even though it appears they have zero connection with their creator, God draws them back to God because they are part of creation, and creation is good. God is able to love even that which appears to us to be completely unlovable. I do not get to determine for God who is worthy enough to be loved by God. That is clearly above my paygrade. What I do get to do, though, is choose every day how I am going to live in this wondrous life I have been given.


This may seem like a lot of heady stuff, but the more we question how we think about God, question how we love God, and question how we behave as a result of our relationship with God, the more we realize that this stuff matters. It is in our wrestling that we find the most peace. We discover that God is with us in the mess helping us to organize the chaos just as God continues to order the chaos of creation. We call this a journey because we learn along the way. We aren’t born with all the answers, but what we discover as we live gives us strength for all our adventures with God.


It is also clear to me that I don't want to be like Paul, the creepy car sales person, so I offer this in the spirit in which I offer all things: take what you need, and leave the rest.

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