Becoming an Offering for Our Sisters
Each morning during the circus of shame known as the Kavanaugh hearings—really, ever since the first sparks of #MeToo—I faced the same dilemma.
I am eager to offer words of genuine consolation—to exist in faithful presence—to the women coming forward with tales of abuse, harassment, and everyday indignity. Nearly every time I try, my hands hover over my keyboard then return to my side. What have I to give?
As a lay pastor and a friend, my counsel on any number of matters too often represent an exercise in projection. Someone shares a deep struggle or thumbs the pages of a particularly dark chapter. I riffle through my own baggage for a similar experience.
Solidarity is no small thing. Yet counsel which pretends my background fits perfectly over someone else’s life centers me and lacks an independent sort of empathy.
In the stories of my sisters, I hear true points of resonance with my own—and serious degrees of difference.
I too endured a childhood incident of sexual abuse. That moment matters, as nearly thirty years of aftershocks prove. Anxiety born of trauma affects the ways I navigate physical space. But I don’t walk into rooms asking myself which, if any, men are safe.
Shame, at its strongest, lingers long after other thoughts say “goodnight” and go home. But as a man, the world doesn’t bank on my shame, cornering me into reliving shame so it can stay on its warped axis.
Sometimes small men—usually driving big trucks—holler out their windows, trying to rattle me as I run through the streets of my Midwestern neighborhood. Yet I never fear they will make the block and return for my body.
As I draw close to my sisters on unsteady feet, towing a few memories and epiphanies, I feel like the boy approaching the Christ-child in Christina Rossetti’s carol. What shall I bring them, poor—or, in this case, privileged—as I am?
My ability to love my sisters lies not in rooting through my life for an identical experience or succeeding in singing unison with them. Rather my lot is to take in their chorus of voices, listening for lush harmonies and tragic strains. When sin sounds a clanging chord, I will listen and pray for resolution. Where grace weaves its countermelodies, I will hum along.
A true acquaintance with sin and superior grace allows us to love one another across situation. Knowing what devastates and what heals gives the single person confidence to counsel the married, the childless a hearing with parents, and a man who knows heartbreak the ability to stand with and for hurting women.
To be a brother to sisters means imitating their brother Jesus. He took on our skin and stories to identify with our suffering. The Bible says he tasted all of life’s bitter and sweet. As member of a just Godhead, Jesus bears witness to every trauma and, knowing history beginning to end, has already scheduled its day of reckoning.
While in human form, he listened to women and railed against systems which judged and commodified them. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is a powerful shot across the bow at a particular form of patriarchy—and, from the cross, placed a deposit on a day in which unity and peace reign.
Jesus, the offering for all, holds power to make me an offering for some. Not as God’s gift to women—this train of thought runs itself and others off the track. Instead, I pray to become a biblical offering, the kind given by scripture’s wearied and widowed. This sort of offering defines itself not by my worthiness to give—or the number of zeroes before the decimal point—but the spirit in which I give and the ones I give myself to.
Imitating Jesus in spirit and truth means making myself available to do as much or little as woman ask—to speak up, shut up and listen, to stand in the path of toxic expressions of manhood, to step aside and acknowledge their inborn, invaluable strengths. If we call the evidence of things unseen by its proper name, men need not experience the exact same pain as our sisters—or bear witness to specific incidents. We must simply face a fundamental question: Do we have faith in our sisters?
Instead of feeling pressure to deliver the perfect answer or anecdote, start with a simple offering of words: This sucks. I hear you. I believe you. God sees you.