Homily on Family Violence – You are seen. You are heard.

This is my final project, a five minute homily, for the weeklong intensive class at Lancaster Theological Seminary: Family Violence and the Theological and Sociological Response, with Dr. Elizabeth Soto.  After hearing about family violence, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, psychological, financial, spiritual and emotional abuse as well as visiting a Domestic Violence shelter, I decided to speak to the anonymity that  church communities often give abusers and their victims.  

Anonymity or normalizing violence is not helpful and goes against our Christian mandate to take care of all in the family.  It goes against the sacred acts of setting the oppressed free, releasing captives,  helping the blinded to see, bringing words of hope to the poor and declaring a year of the Lord’s favor.  I taught my classmates the opening lines of a simple song by Karen Drucker, “I Am Loved”, from her CD, Songs of the Spirit III. I think the song can sing hope into the hearts of all of us who have doubts about our own value and role, but particularly to the woman or man (men too can be victims of abuse), child or elder who is in the dark and lonesome hole of abuse or neglect.

Here are my thoughts titled You Are Seen. You Are Heard.

I’d like to teach you a new song today, a few lines from a song that you can teach to others. You know the power of music, the power to inspire, the power to plumb the depths of human emotions. You know the power of music to help in memorizing Bible stories, like “Father Abraham had Seven Sons”.  We know the power of song to teach and reinforce theological statements, that takes theology from our head to our heart like, “Jesus Loves Me”.
The opening lines of the song by Karen Drucker goes like this:
You are seen. You are heard. You are loved for who you are.

You are enough. You are complete.  You are loved.

There was a pop song in the 70s called, “We are Family” (I got all my sisters with me.) by Sisters Sledge. It gives us a great image of a family unit.

Living life is fun and we’ve just begun
To get our share of the world’s delights
High hopes we have for the future
And our goal’s in sight

They convince us that families like to have fun together; they share in the world’s wonder as well as having shared family goals. But in some families the high hopes of the future are clouded with worry, frustration, abandonment, fear and violence. Someone who is crying can’t sing.

Often the church looks off to the side when they suspect there might be violence or abuse in a family.  They say, “Oh, Let the police take care of it.” or “I have my own family to look out for.” or “I don’t want to get involved with that”.

But a church that reads the Gospels can’t do that without looking hypocritical.  We can find a narrative in Matthew where Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his mom and brothers showed up looking for him. In chapter 12:46-50 (NRSV), Jesus gives us a new and enlarged image of family by saying, as he pointed to those around him: “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

You know that Jesus proclaimed that his ministry was to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blinded, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor. Anyone who desires to follow him in ministry, whether clergy or layperson, is responsible for the same.

So, when we see an adult, a child or an elder whom we think may be living in a violent situation, we are required to speak to that, to ask after them. But Rev. Marie Fortune, in Family Violence and Religion, cautions us to judge the violent behavior, not the person. In this regard, Matthew 12 verses 36-37 are helpful. “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Likewise, we will be judged by our words which can cause further harm victims of intimate violence, if we aren’t educated in how to respond to family violence.

Perhaps a simple song, sung in church at the closing of a prayer time can open a door for them and replace the lies they’ve heard about themselves. Lies such as “You’re invisible, no one cares about you. No one will listen to you or believe you. No one could love such a wretched, ugly, person like you.”  Or, the abuser might be saying “Only I can love truly love you. Everyone else is just pretending to like you”. “They don’t love you; I do.”

We can use the power of this simple song and teach it to others so that they know that they are seen and heard and loved. They are enough just as God made them. They are complete with all their faults and foibles. They are loved by God.

Let’s sing it until the victims of family violence are able to sing it and believe it for themselves.
You are seen. You are heard. You are loved for who you are.

You are enough. You are complete.  You are loved.   

 

Ashe, Amen.