Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship, if you would like to receive an email each week with a link to the week's worship outline, please subscribe at the bottom of this post. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
(Content Warning: Addressing Issues of Sexual Violence)
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Scripture: Some time passed. David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; and David’s son Amnon fell in love with her. Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah; and Jonadab was a very crafty man. He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed, and pretend to be ill; and when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me something to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, so that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’” So Amnon lay down, and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, so that I may eat from her hand.”
Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.” So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. She took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. Then she took the pan and set them out before him, but he refused to eat. Amnon said, “Send out everyone from me.” So everyone went out from him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, so that I may eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the cakes she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” She answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile! As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her.
Then Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her. Amnon said to her, “Get out!” But she said to him, “No, my brother; for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence, and bolt the door after her.” (Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for this is how the virgin daughters of the king were clothed in earlier times.) So his servant put her out, and bolted the door after her. But Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went.
Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad; for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had raped his sister Tamar.
— 2 Samuel 13:1-22, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Scripture: In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. Then her husband set out after her, to speak tenderly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. When he reached her father’s house, the girl’s father saw him and came with joy to meet him. His father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay, and he remained with him three days; so they ate and drank, and he stayed there. On the fourth day they got up early in the morning, and he prepared to go; but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, “Fortify yourself with a bit of food, and after that you may go.” So the two men sat and ate and drank together; and the girl’s father said to the man, “Why not spend the night and enjoy yourself?” When the man got up to go, his father-in-law kept urging him until he spent the night there again. On the fifth day he got up early in the morning to leave; and the girl’s father said, “Fortify yourself.” So they lingered until the day declined, and the two of them ate and drank. When the man with his concubine and his servant got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him, “Look, the day has worn on until it is almost evening. Spend the night. See, the day has drawn to a close. Spend the night here and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early in the morning for your journey, and go home.”
But the man would not spend the night; he got up and departed, and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him. When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it.” But his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will continue on to Gibeah.” Then he said to his servant, “Come, let us try to reach one of these places, and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.” So they passed on and went their way; and the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin. They turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city, but no one took them in to spend the night.
Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.) When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, “Where are you going and where do you come from?” He answered him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going to my home. Nobody has offered to take me in. We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more.” The old man said, “Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square.” So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank.
While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.” And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.
In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. “Get up,” he said to her, “we are going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, “Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.’”
— Judges 19, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Over last weekend social media filled up with posts using the hashtag #MeToo. Stories about women, men and genderqueer people experiencing sexual violence dominated my Facebook feed. So many posts. It seemed like almost all the women I know, many friends who identify as genderqueer, and a few men posted. The magnitude was impactful. Which, of course, is part of the point.
The generic post was: “#MeToo If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote "Me too." as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” As Michael Levenson and Cristela Guerra wrote in their Boston Globe article Millions of women say ‘Me too’ about sexual harassment:
Their voices represented a rallying cry, borne of anger and frustration, and a statement of solidarity after accusations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, and President Trump, to name just a few. And their voices quickly dominated social media. More than 550,000 #MeToo tweets were sent Monday, and some 4.7 million people commented or engaged in other ways on Facebook.
Many of those 4.7 million people added their own stories, but others remained silenced. There are a lot of reasons people who had experienced sexual violence or harassment didn’t post #MeToo. Those reasons include fear, embarrassment, exhaustion, professional and personal danger, not wanting to jump on a Facebook train, and not wanting to share such a personal experience publicly. And the list goes on. Indeed, for some survivors the reason is that they do not trust their own memories, or they do not think what they have experienced is “bad enough”, or when they have shared their experiences in the past, they were not believed, which makes them question their own sense of reality.
Veronica Ruckh wrote about this in her Total Sorority Move article Literally, Why Can’t I Say #MeToo? after describing several problematic encounters:
I found that I couldn’t say [#MeToo]. And at the time of this writing, I still struggle to say it. Not because it’s not true. And not even because I find these things hard to talk about. I’ll talk to anyone about any experience. I’m an open book. I just…somehow…feel like my experiences weren’t “bad enough” to say #MeToo. I’ve mostly recovered from all of this. I don’t think about any of it too often or feel too deeply affected by any of it long-term. I don’t feel like a victim. And because I don’t feel like a victim, I struggle to call my experiences what they really are: indecent exposure to a child, assault, rape, abuse.
I feel guilty using those words. I feel like I’m being dramatic. Or desperate to be part of a conversation for attention. I feel like I’m exaggerating. And I truly, in my heart, can’t figure out if I am. I can’t and don’t trust my own judgment with the severity of less-than-pleasant occurrences that have happened in my life. It’s never been a matter of me thinking people wouldn’t “believe me.” It’s been an issue that I barely “believe” myself. And I don’t know what that says about me.
What does it say about us if we don’t believe each other? If we stop believing ourselves? What does it say about our culture when 4.7 million people post or respond to #MeToo posts? When millions of stories of sexual harassment and sexual violence are publicly shared? I didn’t learn a lot about sexual aggression or sexual violence as a child or teenager, even though I experienced them. It wasn’t until college when I learned the vocabulary needed to process my experiences and found a community with role models and peers from whom I could learn. Freshman year I attended a women’s retreat where I heard, for what felt like the first time, women’s experiences of sexual aggression and violence. I walked each year in the Take Back the Night actions and saw my friends go through trainings to become peer advocates for survivors of sexual violence. I didn’t go through those trainings myself because I hadn’t processed my own experiences and some of the peer advocates were close friends with people I had experienced as perpetrators. It took me years to heal from my own experiences, years more to talk with others, and years more after that to process how my experiences affect my life as a wife, a mother, a minister, and a woman. I’m still learning how I react to others’ stories and I’m learning step-by-step how to raise a child who is aware of the possibility of both victimization and perpetration of sexual violence.
Part of my journey led me to take classes and do research in feminist, womanist, and mujerista theology. In seminary, I was fortunate enough to have professors that integrated these theologies—as well as queer theology and liberation theology—into our curricula. Some of the books that we read that I recommend for those interested in learning more about the intersection of theology and sexual violence include:
- Townes, Emilie Maureen. Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
- Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. London: SCM Press, 2002.
- Doehring, Carrie. Taking Care: Monitoring Power Dynamics and Relational Boundaries in Pastoral Care and Counseling. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.
- Moessner, Jeanne Stevenson. Through The Eyes of Women: Insights for Pastoral Care. Minneapolis, IL: Fortress Press, 1996.
These are only a few, and many more have been written more recently. These are some of the ones though that grace my bookshelf and that I’ve carried around with me through several moves. One in particular—Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives—comes into my mind and heart when thinking about sexual violence and theology. It is this book that informed the intense Biblical stories I choose for this week's worship, intense stories of sexual violence towards women. Trible writes, “In this book my task is to tell sad stories as I hear them. Indeed, they are tales of terror with women as victims. Belonging to sacred scriptures of synagogue and church, these narratives yield four portraits of suffering in ancient Israel: Hagar, the slave used, abused, and rejected; Tamar, the princess raped and discard; an unnamed woman, the concubine raped, murdered and dismembered; and the daughter of Jephthah, a virgin slain and sacrificed.” (Trible, p1)
These stories and the other stories of sexual violence in the Bible are part of our religious imagination. By skipping over them, ignoring them, and choosing other passages to read, we continue to silence the experiences throughout time of sexual aggression and sexual violence. Trible writes about Tamar and the unnamed concubine, the two stories included in this worship, and I include some of her analysis below.
Trible expertly examines the story of Tamar and her experience of rape. There are layers upon layers of meaning in this story, from the crude specific actions of Tamar’s brothers to the consideration of issues of power, gender, wisdom, and consent. For me the issue of consent jumps out as I read this story. Unlike many women whose voices are silenced when confronted by sexual violence, Tamar raises her voice in protest. She explicitly does not give consent to her brother’s actions: “‘No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile! As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.’ But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her.” (2 Samuel 13:12-13) Trible analyzes this act of violation of consent even further: “Precisely now, when Tamar speaks for the first time, the narrator hints at her powerlessness by avoiding her name. Repeatedly, the introductions to direct speeches of male characters use their proper names: Jonadab said, Amnon said, David said, and Absalom said. Such a pattern occurs even where the pronoun he would suffice (e.g., 13:6c, 10, 15c). By contrast, the name Tamar never prefaces her speeches, here or later (13:16a); only the pronoun she obtains. This subtle difference suggests the plight of the female. Without her name, she lacks power. Nonetheless, she speaks reason and wisdom.” (Trible, p46)
The second scriptural story this week is about an unnamed concubine: a woman who lacks a name all together. Trible writes about her: “The betrayal, rape, torture, murder and dismemberment of an unnamed woman is a story we want to forget but are commanded to speak. It depicts the horrors of male power, brutality, and triumphalism; of female helplessness, abuse, and annihilation. To hear this story is to inhabit a world of unrelenting terror that refuses to let us pass by on the other side.” (Trible, p65) This is a story that reminds me of so many modern day horrors: of partner violence, people running away from their abusive partners, only to be found and brought back home; objectification and commodification of people, of bodies, of souls; mutilation, dismemberment, and brutal violence of members of the queer community. In this story there is silence, so much silence. The woman is unnamed, powerless, and treated by property by both her father and her partner. She has no voice, no answer, no place in the decision of things. As it was then, it is time to break that silence. So that the voiceless have voice, the commands have answers, and all have a place with power. It is past time to end this violence and past time for this brutality to stop.
So then, recognizing that these stories, both biblical and contemporary, demonstrate the need for change and for action, what then are we to do? Unsurprisingly, there is quite the controversy developing right now about what to do to respond to these millions of stories and reports on social media of sexual harassment and violence. Some people are calling for a list of perpetrators. Other people are asking for forgiveness. Some posts are telling perpetrators that what they did is okay and are granting perpetrators praise for being public about their actions. Other posts are condemning specific groups of people, like all men, or all straight people. There is a lot out there that is really great, and a lot out there that is really unhelpful. In this moment, we can find ourselves divided as a people further, or we can find ourselves working together.
One particularly constructive post spoke to me. It said: “Men, when you see ‘me too’ don’t say ‘I would never do that’ but ask ‘what can I do better?’ Don’t say, ‘but all men aren’t like that’ but ask ‘how can I help you to feel safer?’ Don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ but declare ‘I believe you!’” I think this applies to us all, regardless of gender. What can I do better? How can I help you feel safer? I believe you! These are things we can all do, as we collectively raise awareness of the social epidemic that is sexual violence. We can do better now and we can also raise the next generation to understand consent, to advocate for themselves and others, and to put an end to sexual aggression. We can change the present and we can change the future without forgetting or silencing the past. Let us hear the stories of our history, of our religion, of our friends, of our family, and of ourselves and start making some change. #MeToo
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready, end by praying out loud, either a prayer of your own creation or the following: “O Holy One, help us to lift up and hear the voices speaking the truth of their experiences. Help us be better, do better, and resist the tide of sexual violence and aggression. Help us find ways to make this world safer for everyone. Remind us to believe our history, our religion, our friends, our family, and ourselves. Empower us to start making change. Lord, teach us the ways of right relationship so that we may teach our children. Have mercy on us O God and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We will not forget but we will heal. Amen.”