Couldn’t You Tell?

Amnesty International DV Prevention Campaign

Amnesty International DV Prevention Campaign

Early in my ministry, I didn’t know that a third of all dating teens experience violence in their relationships.  When a young couple from my church came for premarital counseling, I asked only about this couple’s arguments and how they settled disagreements. I didn’t probe beyond their simple answers and neglected to speak to either of the individuals separately.  Months after officiating at their fabulous wedding, the bride had to leave the marriage to escape the violence.  Her fury at me broke through my denial, and still haunts me today: “Couldn’t you tell?  How could you let us get married?!?”  Lacking the proper training in prevention of relationship violence, I had missed the verbal and body-language cues that would have alerted me that something was amiss with the couple.

The statistics cited at our domestic violence training in April were dumbfounding: Most women who are killed die at the hands of someone they know, most likely with a gun.  Those whose partners have tried to strangle them in the past are seven times more likely to eventually be killed by that partner. In more than 75% of completed or attempted domestic violence homicides, offenders stalk their victims in the year before murdering them.  Forty-five percent of victims are killed while trying to leave the relationship.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these numbers.  Instead, we can and should listen and observe more acutely in our conversations.  If we get a sense of an unspoken concern or subtle hint that someone wants more than a caring nod from us, we can gently follow up or ask questions in private: Are you afraid? Do you feel you’re being followed or watched?  Has your partner ever threatened you or put his or her hands on your neck?  Are there guns in the home?  Do you know about the resources in this county that exist to help someone in your situation?

For those who want to learn more in order to ensure they don’t overlook or underplay the subtle signs of violence in their own or someone else’s relationship, please send an email to with that request.


Ink Cartridge Sunday?

With all the heartbreaking stories coming out of Boston, the title of Peninsula MCC’s email announcement last week puzzled me.  “Ink Cartridge Sunday,” it proclaimed.  Was this an analogy?  (Sometimes I feel like a depleted ink cartridge that needs re-filling.)  Or would the sermon be about not being wasteful of our lives, which are so temporal—or not being wasteful in our lives of abundance?  None of those.  Instead, Pastor Terri Echelbarger preached on focus.

Terri explained that Psalm 104:1-13 “served as the conversation companion to the news and events of the (last) week… and with my own struggle with angst and fear… calling my attention to something bigger than the events of each day…” Many of us were transfixed by the horror in the news broadcasts—not at the spirit of God moving all around us, but at the exceptions.  What if we became ‘more in tune’ with the universe instead, Terri suggested.

At times when we are thrown off balance, Terri reminds us of the Psalms’ promise that God is “ever present to us, even as the earth trembles…”  How can we find the courage to open our hearts to His presence?  In the book of Job (12:7-8) lies a clue: “ask the animals, they will teach you, the birds of the air, and they will tell you, ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you …”

As Joseph Campbell wrote, 
The divine lives within you.
The separateness apparent in the world is secondary.
Beyond the world of opposites is an unseen,
   but experienced, unity and identity in us all…
Today the planet is the only proper ‘in group.’

Recycling an ink cartridge may seem like a token effort towards the health of the planet, but it is symbolic of the small things we can each do. On Earth Sunday, as congregation members at Peninsula MCC filled a box with old cartridges, they were more than recycling.  Their thoughts were focused on a vision and consciousness of something beyond the crises in the news: They were declaring their identity with the only proper ‘in group.’


Changes in CA Reporting Law

Calling manNew changes in the child abuse reporting mandates for   
California (Criminal Code 11164) mandate additional individuals
who must report.  For years clergy and youth leaders have been mandated reporters of abuse they observe, suspect, or even hear about second-hand.  If your congregation hosts a school, your teachers and principals have also been mandated reporters.

 Among those added to the California law as mandated reporters are an “athletic coach, athletic administrator, or athletic director employed by any public or private school that provides any combination of instruction for kindergarten, or grades 1 to 12, inclusive.” [11165.7(a)(42)]

Volunteers are still not mandated to report suspected abuse, “but are encouraged to obtain training in the identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect and are further encouraged to report known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to” their supervisor or directly to law enforcement. [11165.7(b)]

The law strongly encourages employers to provide their employees with training in child abuse and neglect identification and reporting. “The absence of training shall not excuse a mandated reporter” from his or her reporting duties.  Also, the employers need to provide their employees who are mandated reporters with a written statement notifying them of their obligation; a sample form is on the Kyros website, . [11165.7(c-e)]

The California child protective code begins with the explanation:

The intent and purpose of this article is to protect children from abuse and neglect. In any investigation of suspected child abuse or neglect, all persons participating in the investigation of the case shall consider the needs of the child victim and shall do whatever is necessary to prevent psychological harm to the child victim. (Note that a child is anyone under 18.)

Though the law certainly isn’t biblical, all of our various faiths also urge the protection of the vulnerable in our midst.   Like those who investigate the worst treatment of our children, we too should consider the needs of children and do whatever is necessary to prevent harm to them.


One Plus One Plus One

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all that needs fixing in the world?  Or wake up under a blanket of shame about all that you aren’t trying to fix?  Cain’s ancient question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” still haunts us—because we know the answer is yes! But the hugeness of that yes can be paralyzing.

One day at a time, AA suggests.  One child at a time, a global non-profit recommends.  Just one person harmed or helped affects an entire generation, say Jewish sages.  What does it take to break through our emotional barriers or considerations of practicality to take a single step?

At first Margaret was delighted when her elderly neighbor’s son moved back home to care for his mother. But her delight soon changed to concern as the son seemed unable to handle the increasing responsibility.  Margaret noticed her neighbor rarely left the house now, and when she did she seemed very disoriented and skittish.  At first Margaret thought the bruises she noticed were just bumps on sensitive skin, until the day she looked out her window and saw the son push his mother out the door for a doctor’s appointment.  When the older woman stumbled down stairs, her son grabbed her hair to pull her to her feet.  Margaret couldn’t stand being the “nice” neighbor any more so she called Adult Protective Services for help.  Ultimately the social worker assigned to the case arranged for a full-time caregiver, relieving the son of responsibility and allowing the neighbor to remain safe in her own home.

One call doesn’t change the whole world, but all the ones add up.  Today, what one action to improve the world do I have courage to do?  What one thing will you do?

 For the hotline in your area, check


Palm Sunday Christian?

My part in the Seder service should have been simple.  All I had to do was read my lines to those gathered around the table to celebrate the story of Moses leading his people across the Red Sea to liberation.  But no words came out of my mouth.  That night 25 years ago, the story was too personal; I faced a Red Sea of my own:  I could stay in an impossible marriage . . . or face an ugly divorce and an unknown future, wandering in an unfamiliar wilderness.  I tried to speak, and nearly choked on the Seder promises of freedom; I wanted to cling to my delusion that things weren’t so bad—at least as a family we looked good on the outside.

A Christian’s journey through the week from Palm Sunday to Easter echoes the Hebrews’ journey across the sea, into the desert, and on to the Promised Land and their freedom.  The first Palm Sunday was a celebration based on the delusion that, as king, Jesus would overthrow the Romans.  Neither crowds nor the disciples understood what their true liberation would require—releasing their delusions and moving through the deep pain that truth often entails—before resurrection was possible.  Many individuals prefer to remain Palm Sunday Christians, avoiding the grief, secrets, and brokenness in our lives and staying with our delusions about how life should be.

In the same way, many churches maintain a façade that everything is rosy, when internally the life force of the church may have lost its Spirit and integrity.  Façades eventually crumble.  One large Protestant church with an impressively manicured campus cracked apart when secrets about years of abuse could no longer be repressed.  The leadership struggled to protect the church’s image, in spite of numerous newspaper stories and the revelation of more and more secrets of other abuses.  No spiritual duct tape could repair the façade.  When it became impossible to shine as Palm Sunday Christians, leaders chose to push through all the betrayal, heartbreak and denial and face their own agonizing Good Friday.  They started telling the truth and healing the pain the abuse and secrets had caused.  Some days, hope of recovery seemed impossible; many days it was tempting to return to a Palm Sunday façade.  Finally resurrection came. No mystical, magical moment.  Instead, a campaign of hard truth-telling, problem solving and deep listening opened the congregation to receive the Good News fully, authentically and courageously.

Are you ready to leave Palm Sunday this year, explore the depths of unknowing and painful truth, and open yourself to a personal, spiritual resurrection?