“What Does it Mean to be a People of Courage?” Susan Ryder

Luke 18:1-5
Then Jesustold them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

Galatians 6:9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford:“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”

Author N.D. Wilson“Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.”

Brene Brown“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’

Like many of you, I was riveted last Thursday watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify in front of the Senate Judicial Committee. As providence or timely HBO programming would have it, a few days earlier I re-watched the movie, “Confirmation” about the Anita Hill / Clarence Thomas hearings, so Anita Hill was heavy on my mind as Dr. Ford began her remarks saying, “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified.” My heart went out to her, my throat tightened up, and tears welled in my eyes. As she read her statement and then responded to questions alternatively from the woman prosecutor hired by the Republicans and the Democratic Senators on the committee, my admiration for her rose, as did my sympathy. Her reply to Senator Feinstein in regard her decision to come forward was gut wrenching, as she shared her concern about “whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated.” The entire thing was emotional to witness, live and on TV. People wept inside the small hearing room as she spoke, and it was reported that outside the room, groups of women gathered together to stream the hearing on their phones, crying as they watched.

Dr. Ford, like Professor Hill before her, was the epitome of what it means to be a people of courage. With nothing to gain and everything to lose, she stepped out on to the world stage and spoke her truth to the mostly old white male Senate Judiciary Committee. It was fortuitous, I thought, that a week later we’d be beginning this series on courage, as I knew in that moment I would use her as an example of courageously stepping up and speaking out. Of course at the time I believed her heroism would lead either to Kavanaugh’s nomination being withdrawn or voted down by the Senate. But then yesterday at 3:53pm Eastern Time his nomination was approved by a vote of 50-48. And my heart broke once again for all the women who speak out about their abuse and are not believed or worse, are believed but are dismissed because advancing one’s political agenda matters more than anything else.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I recognize that any discussion of the ways our patriarchal, misogynist society degrades and dehumanizes women may be difficult for some people to hear yet again this morning. So if you find this reflection brings up painful, triggering things for you, I hope you will, if you haven’t already, reach out to others for support.  Bob and I are available to listen, or perhaps you can turn to a close friend or a member of your family or a counselor.  If your feelings are too large to hold, please don’t try to hold them alone. I hope you will let someone hold them with you.

As disheartened as I was, and still am by yesterday’s vote, none of that takes away from Dr. Ford’s courage. Nor does it take away from the courage of hundreds of thousands of other women and men who have come forward in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which ironically began a year ago to the day of the cloture vote to move Kavanaugh’s nomination forward, as well as the #WhyIDidn’tReport movement of the past week+. As Dr. Ford detailed the haunting, 36-year-old memories of being assaulted, women around the country recognized themselves in her story — both her recollections and the years of silence that followed. And they began telling their own. A76-year-old woman named Brenda was one of the women called into C-SPAN during committee breaks to share her story with anchor Steve Scully. The next day Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher confronted Jeff Flake in an elevator after he indicated he would vote YES on sending the confirmation onto the Senate floor. They shouted their stories of assault and demanded he look them in the eye and listen to them. Other women showed up in the offices of their Senators to tell their stories, and the WhyIDidn’tReport hashtag trended on Twitter with thousands and thousands of abuse victims sharing their stories, some for the very first time. It was brave, it was courageous, it was sad, it was inspiring. And yesterday, thousands demonstrated around the country, many getting arrested at the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings, protesting against the confirmation.

During the hearing on September 27 Senator Blumenthal said to Dr. Ford, “You have given America an amazing teaching moment. You have inspired and enlightened America, you have inspired and given courage to women to come forward as they have done to every one of our offices, and many other public places. You have inspired and enlightened men in America to listen respectfully to women survivors and men who have survived sexual attack. And that is a profound public service, regardless of what happens with this nomination.” In the aftermath of yesterday’s confirmation, Dr. Ford’s question of “why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” will in one way be proven true: Ford offered herself up and the result of the confirmation vote was the same as if she’d maintained her privacy and anonymity and the life she’d built for herself. But change moves side to side as well as back and forth — and in another way, the coming forward of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford changed everything, as did the coming forward of Professor Anita Hill. It convinced many who had been silent about their own experiences to share them out loud. It insisted that the sharing should not and would not be a matter of shame. And as we listened to the anguished, guttural voices of grief crying out in the Senate chamber as the votes were cast, I thought of the story of the persistent widow, and tried, as best I could, not to lose heart, as Jesus suggested when he shared the parable.

There are many in our country who call this a Christian Nation – while I don’t agree, we are certainly impacted by the patriarchy and misogyny of our Judeo Christian heritage. Is it any wonder women are not believed when our religious tradition has subjugated women throughout its entire history? Our religious texts are filled with stories of woman, most of them unnamed, receiving unspeakable treatment from men, including rape and murder. Even one of our creation stories says we came from the rib of Adam, almost an afterthought by God after the animals didn’t prove to be suitable companions for the man. There are not enough hours to recount all of the brutality women received at the hands of men in our holy scripture – treatment which resulted in women being considered less than men for most of history, up to and including 2018. Think about it – we’ve only been able to vote for 98 years!

And in the midst of all of those horrible tales from Scripture about how women are less than men and deserve whatever they get, Jesus came along, and like he did with so many things, he turned the tables on that perception. He ate with women, he spoke with women, he touched a bleeding woman, and healed another on the Sabbath – all things that were prohibited. When he spoke of not losing heart, he used an example of a widow, a woman – all alone in the world without her husband, with no rights and very little voice – who badgered a judge so relentlessly to give her the justice she deserved that he finally gave in just to get her to go away. And while that is not necessarily a flattering image of the woman, her tenacity is meant to be inspiring. She was the first of the “nevertheless, she persisted” movement.

Howard Zinn wrote in 2005, after the appointment of Justice Roberts, “It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice. Let us not be disconsolate over the increasing control of the court system by the right wing. The courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people.” And so we will continue to push – to stand up for justice, to listen to and believe the voices of those the powerful would silence, and to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. And we will not lose heart.

Self-care along the way is imperative. We are in this for the long haul – always have been, always will be. But in this era of endless news cycles and social media at our fingertips, it’s even more important. Here are a few suggestions from Huffington Post –

Practice deep breathing – Liz Arch, creator of Primal Yoga, says, “When we’re anxious, stressed, or panicky, our breath becomes shallow and rapid and shifts into our upper chest. Learning to breathe into our belly ― known as diaphragmatic breathing ― in particular taps into our parasympathetic nervous system and stimulates the vagus nerve, which has a calming effect on body and mind.”

Recognize your emotions and allow yourself to feel them. Take breaks from the news and social media. “The group-think will be strong and can add to self-righteousness or toxic indignation in the immediate aftermath,” says Nancy Irwin, a trauma specialist. Take a walk, have coffee with a friend, go pet kittens or walk dogs at the Humane Society. Come clean my house … oops, meant to delete that one. Listen to music, read a book.

Empower yourself through action – instead of spending hours scrolling through Twitter or Facebook or watching MSNBC all day, get out and support a candidate, write letters, make phone calls. Most importantly – VOTE!

Recognize the potential for positive change. The country is extremely divided now, but that also means that people are talking about these polarizing issues and are becoming inspired to take action in the face of political despair.

Reach out for help if you need it – see a counselor, or your pastor, or call a trusted friend.

In closing let’s center ourselves and take a few of those deep diaphragmatic breaths I mentioned earlier as we listen to Paul Simon’s American Tune.