Sometimes, life moves at an accelerating pace that leaves us with little wiggle room to process and reflect.
As an introvert, reflection is part of my being – I need to write, walk, paint, talk with friends about even the smallest of incidents that feel like revelations. It feeds me to sit still and actually listen to the thoughts rolling around in my head – the stories that put me on a spinning wheel until I step off onto solid ground.
This semester, my reflections have been more difficult to process and write. Mainly, I have been thinking about issues of sexual violence, substance abuse, and violence against women in our society. These are not by any means easy or simple subjects to write about. I have found it daunting to try and articulate my feelings about them, and to bear my soul in a way that necessitates risk and vulnerability.
Tonight, I participated in a discussion my college president’s living room and we discussed issues of drinking culture on our campus. At Davidson, there is a silent “study-too-much, drink-too-much” ethos (also known as “work hard, party hard”) that makes an unspoken acceptance of unhealthy amounts of drinking. Ambulance sirens are all-too-common sounds on weekends, especially for a small campus that creates a rhetoric of accountability among community members. What do when we are stressed, we have too much work to do, and our reasoning abilities are clouded by an ambiance of an intense party culture? We drink until we, quite literally, step outside of our minds.
Our actions have consequences, intended and unintended, of psychological damage to ourselves and others. Alcohol and sexual violence are highly correlated because it places people – not always, but most often women – in vulnerable situations. We live in a society where women are portrayed as physical objects in the song lyrics and commercial advertisements that pervade our culture’s media space, As part of our culture, sexual violence is a manifestation of a deeper, underlying, unsettling reality that exposes power dynamics among genders. Our institutions of higher education are places of trauma for young women, with one in four reporting incidents of sexual violence.
I have spent the semester asking why this happens – and several lessons have come to me. One: this is not just a problem in the United States, but a global phenomenon of violence against women. Globally, fifty percent of sexual assaults happen to girls under the age of fifteen. The threat of violence is enough to make it dangerous for girls to attend school past a certain age in many cultural contexts, which perpetuates a cycle of patriarchy and lack of access to education for women.
At the heart of the matter, however, is an issue of power. Why do perpetrators of violence feel a need to subjugate others, particularly when 90% of cases of sexual assault occur between people who know each other? What drives someone to the act of rape? It has been proven that the vast majority of incidents of rape are serial incidents. The good news is that this means the vast majority of men are not perpetrators of these acts. The shaking element of this truth is that the same people get away with acts of violence continually, without being held accountable for heinous acts.
This week, I attended a Latin American church service where the pastor spoke about the topic of procrastination. In Latin American culture, procrastination is part of cultural rhythm – to be on time is to be a half hour late, for instance, and the pace of life is generally slower. But as the pastor spoke about, procrastination can be a form of sin when we let the world silence us from what we need to speak. Procrastination of service to others, speaking against violence, or ending habits that are destructive distance us from God’s will. As his sermon reminded me, we each are given our lives as a precious gift to give to others. When we procrastinate, we are denying the God-given power within us to stand with the marginalized and denounce injustice. Procrastination silences us and makes us complicit in a system of violence.
Here’s to ending procrastination: this is the first of many, hopefully, posts about issues affecting our society. What does it look like to take a stand in a moment when we see someone at risk of harming themselves or another person? Where do discourses of power and intimacy become subverted in our society, and how can we reclaim the power of authentic connection? How do we create and support relationships that support the dignity and gifts of both persons?
No matter what matter of faith is stirring within you, I hope that you may find time to reflect upon it this week. When God places an issue upon our heart, we have no choice but to voice it and to act. If we believe that our God is one of boundless mercy and justice, then we have to take a visible stance against the forces that crucified Christ – the forces that today, I see manifesting in violence against women and men alike. Love is an active stance – a commitment – to Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom, a society where the marginalized are given back their fullest dignity, the powerful are humbled, and agape makes all people equals. Love like this, and the coming of the Kingdom, has no room for procrastination – for it is expressed in the giving of our hearts, our time, and our voices to say, moment to moment, day by day, “let thy Kingdom come.” Amen.