From the Dean
This week has been an extraordinarily difficult and painful week in American history. There is a special kind of naivete about our American spirit that allows us to focus on the best in who we are as a people and as individuals. While we all know that evil exists in our world, there's a way in which I think we often hope that if we don't give evil undue attention, we won't fan its flames. If we focus on the good in one another and in ourselves, won't that make us better people in the end?
Most of the time that serves us well as a nation, allowing us to dream big dreams and envision a world beyond the limitations that could so easily thwart our progress. But every now and again, we have a week like this week. A week that forces the entire country to take stock and stare down the demons that inhabit our world. This week we were all confronted with the truth of violence against women. What it looks like, what it feels like, and how deeply contrary to decency that kind of violence really is. This week we were confronted with the pervasiveness of this experience in the lives of women in this country. Not some far off unenlightened land, but our land, our land with freedom and justice for all. This week we heard the story of one girl's moment of terror and the ramifications that has had for the entirety of her life. An entire country sat glued to their televisions and their radios to hear the story of a woman whose dignity, freedom, and right to self-determination had been violated by boys who chose to objectify her, dehumanize her, and exploit her. Boys who somehow had been taught to believe that brute strength gave them power over, the power to demean, degrade, and even destroy.
The violence we heard described in Dr. Ford's testimony was not new. The only thing new about her story is that it was being told, and it was being heard by an entire nation. She was speaking aloud something so very many in this country had experienced! But this time the story was being told on a national stage for all to hear and take in. I listened to the end of Dr. Ford's testimony in my car returning from a meeting. As I was pumping gas the black gentleman who was pumping gas next to me who I'd never met before in my life said, "What did you think about that? Did you hear her?" "I did, I said, and it seems to me she was totally believable. It will be hard to ignore her." He nodded and waved, and we went our separate ways.
I've thought since then about that brief encounter. About that man's need to talk to someone about what he had heard. To acknowledge the moment and its power. It was a moment of solidarity, a holy moment I would say. Two people who have spent much of their lives being unheard and unbelieved, a white woman and a black man, could share a moment when the silence had been broken, when the evils that had been done demanded acknowledgement. When our dignity could be affirmed just as Dr. Ford's dignity rang out so clearly and forcefully throughout our land. This, no matter what came after, was a holy moment. We could be whole, even despite life's wounds. We could be heard. For a moment our pain stopped being invisible and hidden underneath the veil of American naivete.
I began my adult life as a social worker working with pregnant teenagers in the deep south. In the early years of my priesthood, I was bi-vocational and ran a family planning clinic in a small rural town in Montana. Throughout these years and my years in parish ministry I was the recipient over and over again of the stories of women's abuse, exploitation, and debasement. Stories of rape, incest, and domestic violence. Stories of shame, self hatred, and also unexplainable courage. Stories of dignity found in the most undignified of settings, of hope scratched out from despair, of love learned somehow miraculously after all the sacred vehicles of love a person could know had been defiled. There is nothing rare about these stories. They are an everyday part of our society, a part we mostly choose not to see and not to hear about
This week Americans across this country had the opportunity to take a searching and fearless moral inventory. Our AA brothers and sisters know that doing this work, no matter how difficult or how painful, is the only way we ever come to a better place in our lives. If we do this work courageously, we can find a way to make amends, to fix what is broken, to put away those things from our past that have the capacity to destroy our future. May we make of this week, a holy time; a time when truth could be spoken and truth could be heard. When the voices of those who have been told to remain silent could finally ring out, asking of us only that we listen and learn.