Return…

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

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Put a label on it

The label is our constant security blanket.  We constantly label people, places and things. Pronouncing a hundred or a thousand judgments a day with our words.   When we say, “she looks like a prostitute.”  We are saying something about ourselves.  We are saying she is outcast, other, and not valuable. We are sawing we are better. We sadly make assumptions about the personhood and value of the woman based on the clothes she is wearing.  

When we call women prostitutes, we are creating an, them, and us scenario.  We are stealing dignity from a woman, maybe a mother, and someone’s daughter who may at this point in her journey find herself in a situation where she is either prostituting herself or being prostituted by another.  She is woman, a person, a created being who is prostituted. She is the noun—personal pronoun, and the verb or action is to be prostituted.  She is not the entire sum of her actions.  Her actions are apart of what she does but not who she is in entirety. 

Even in the world of Advocacy against Sex trafficking and prostitution we do not know how to use language well. We talk draw the differentiation between the prostitutes (women 18 and older) and girls who are trafficked (sold, underage, did not make this choice).  We easily draw a line between those we perceive as vulnerable and those we perceive as choosing something for themselves.

A woman involved in prostitution may be there for many reasons.  The women in majority world may find themselves vulnerable to trafficking or forced to make a hard choice because of poverty.  The women in the western contexts may prostitute themselves because of addiction, poverty or mental illness or supposed choice.  What is true about all women who are prostituted or who prostitute is that they are vulnerable people.  Their circumstances have created a lack of options that make them targets and easily exploitable.

Many advocacy organizations, advocate poorly, rather than educating and reframing the language, labels are used to differentiate. The historical, multicultural and international conversation is narrowed to two words: victim and prostitute. We want to help the victim and assume the prostitute chose this dark path. Who really chooses this path? Who dreams of being raped bloody she is 19 years old? Or being murdered by a customer when she 30?  We have forgotten the women who may not have been rescued, who moved beyond the age of rescue 10 years ago when no one cared about trafficking. Now having moved beyond being “underage” it has somehow become their choice, an identity marker that no longer deserves our advocacy or compassion.  From victim (one who is victimized) to one whom we call prostitute (one who is prostituted) is not a very long journey.

When we call things by their right names and use language that honors the dignity of personhood, humanness, we reveal a spotlight on something that has been in darkness.  We recognize the value of human life no matter what it’s condition and honor the divine imprint on humanity.

We are broken.  We will not fix this by choosing a side and labeling them. God helps us if we are labeled as the sum of our worst actions and behaviors.  Liar, thief, narcissist, porn addict, manipulator, adulterer, slut…

Can we choose to heal, reconcile, redeem and restore?  Can we do that using dignifying language? Can we do it through partnership and incarnation?  Can we do it without choosing to use a label?

The way I walk…

I walk the same way to work everyday. Out my door, take a left and then a right winding my way past my friend who makes Chai tea.  This woman who graces me with her smiles coming and going and has offered to kick a little butt when I am being followed.  Down the alley a bit, to the sweet old man who always say’s”good morning” and “goodnight” but never at the right time of day.  Past the man who sells fish and sometimes curiously and shyly inquires why I am coming or going.  Into the red light area, where sometimes on some days, I pass some hero’s on their way to Freeset (a freedom Business), who greet me with smiles and an occasional accusation as to why I am not yet married.  I go farther along, past some jewelry and sundries shops, past an idol, past groups of men sitting in chairs idylling the morning or evening away. As I enter the main lane, busy with men, always busy with men, I meet the eyes of every girl I know, chat a little, and try to meet the eyes of those I do not know with a smile.  Sometimes I get a smile back and it feels like it might be a good day.  Sometimes the girls who are working farther down the line call after me and scold me for not stopping if I happen to be in a hurry and there is no hurrying past.  Some of them know my name and some of them just call me by the name of whatever friend they can remember, Puja or Moussumi.  If I do not come by or have been out of town, they all notice and ask where I have been and even if it has only been a few days, they ask if I went to my country.  I turn left walking past the some of the youngest, freshest faces working the line, toward Sari Bari.  Still a ways to go, passing another idol, maybe a caudron of something cooking in a vat for some puja I do not know about. Men line the lane.  Shopkeepers nod.  Children zig and zag in slow motion across my path competing with the street dogs for dominance.  To the left a circle of women gather water, filling their jugs for the day, chatting, gossips, observing everything and a little ways over men bathing on the road nearby. This lane is so dirty, always muddy.  Walking past some madams nodding, smiling, past the open cesspool of urine and trash on the corner winding my way, holding my breath. Deeper in now, I chat with more women I know, begging some of the scary madam to smile back at me, willing it.  Looking for an invitation to speak.  Sometimes, women from Sari Bari who live in this lane, pull me in to their rooms for tea and breakfast.  Sometimes, it’s a race to see who will get to the door of the office first or out the door first depending on the time of day.  Walking past another trash dump, greeting more women already waiting for customers in the morning at 10am and going home in the evening more women out than before, weariness from the day already drawing down their faces.  And then up the stairs into Sari Bari, past the potted plants, where the guys are cutting bags, and the air rings with greetings.  The floor is full of stuff, beautiful stuff, blankets in the making and the scraps of every type of sari and color imaginable.  This is the tale of my daily comings and goings. It is the way that I walk from home to home and back again.  And I say that someday this walk through these lanes into the beautiful space of Sari Bari will bear much fruit.  At least that is what I dream.

Remembering Pornima: April 7, 2010

Our Friend and sister Pornima passed away two years ago this month.  Tonight She came to my mind.  Below are some of my reflections from those days.

What violence has beset us this day

What violence has beset us this day
Of all days, this day was most unexpected
Most vile, violent and cruel
Because it is the day after hope still lingered in one woman heart
Yet is lingers no longer with her end
Today is everyday and the today no one wanted
Today is for weeping over violence
Weeping for freedom lost
Where no freedom can found
Powerless, fearful silent
Offenders protected
Shame for such injustice is heavy on us all.
Three months of freedom tossed like her body
Aside.
What violence has beset us this day.
We all are her. She was us.
Part of us left with her.
The violence committed, indignity
Against her, against us all. 
She flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone
This sister gone.
Her fight for freedom was violently wrenched from her grasp, 
We will fight on remembering.

For Pornima. Completed three months of training at Sari Bari.
Died: Today  

 
To read more about Pornima:
 

Saturday

God is dead. Saturday space is where I have spent more than a little time in the last years.  A potentially liminal space, of not knowing, doubting, feeling lost, like I have lost my way, has been a majority space.  Mostly full of darkness, lament and feeling like I do not understand where God has gone.  This is hard space.

Today is hard space.  The day after God died.  The one who we thought would save us from our oppressor’s and rule with the certainty of presence and power seems to have abandoned himself and us to death.  We are, uncertain of the future and doubt the reality of what we have seen and heard.  The words, those promises, fall empty on hopeless ground.

The restoration of hope remains unknown, unseen, and unthought-of of in the midst of this dark space.  The focus is on what has been lost.  We do not even comprehend the loss to larger humanity, only to ourselves.  This is a deep chasm of space where we can only feel sorry that we have personally lost something, someone.  A few around us have held to hope, we think they are foolish and naïve.  The darkness and the losses so profound, why don’t they see it?  Faith in such circumstance seems childish, something like the denial of reality.  Maybe sometimes, on some days, it feels easier to live here on Saturday.  We are not even waiting, because we expect nothing and feel at angry with those who do.

From that night to this, there is only darkness.  Saturday.  A day for losses being felt and doubt being born within us.  Where is God?  Can God not see our brokenness, our fear, and our pain?  Can God not hear the cries of those around us?  Rescue was promised.  Where has our rescuer gone? To death.

This space can transform us.  It has transformed me.  The liminal space between here and there. Between the darkest of night and the deepest of losses, there waits the unknown future.   On many days, I have lain in the rut of Saturday.  This grave with the sides kicked out.  Hopeless, devastated, unbelieving.  Who would not doubt on a day like this?  Everything is lost.  We are lost.  A yet a tug comes.  A remembrance, like a whisper tickles my brain and then my heart and I want to hold on.

And then dawn.  Still full of doubt, anger and tears.  A glimmer of something forces me to open my swollen eyes.  Still unable to see clearly or comprehend I reach out.  And I am surrounded by a host of witnesses.  Women in Sari’s, revealing Jesus in Flesh, revealing resurrection to my Saturday stuck heart.  This is not what I expected, it is better than I could have hoped, more than I could have imagined.  The impossible has become possible.

And Saturday will come again.   Maybe next time I will be one of the crazy foolish ones who can hold tight to hope.  May it be so.