Into the mess He comes

I am taking a deep breath tonight. In a few hours about 30 kids, a full orchestra, and a choir singing Part I of Handel’s Messiah will lead our congregation in worship. I’ve been sick – the “I can’t get out of bed” sick – for three days. My Tuesday prep didn’t happen because I had the holy honor of burying a long-term, beloved church member. I also have three children, two of whom are also sick, not to mention about a hundred other Christmas-is-almost-here things that need to get done.

Since I don’t like chaos, and since I like to be in control, this is a tough moment for me. At this late hour not all the sheep for our “Living Gospel” have legs. I’m not sure if we have the Styrofoam needed for our little ones to put up their stars. And I haven’t enlarged the font so the angel Gabriel can read her long lines.

So instead of worrying I’m going to follow the God of swaddling cloths. Swaddling cloths, the kind from the Gospel of Luke – “you’ll find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth.” It seems like such an odd detail for the angels to tell the shepherds in order for them to identify baby Jesus. Then Luke mentions this detail again – “she wrapped him in swaddling cloth.” Why does it matter?

Recently a friend of mine who studies early Christianity told me that those swaddling cloths were Mary’s undergarments. These were her undergarments, soaked in blood and birthing fluid, probably the only thing she had. My friend Kate was sharing with me this image of the God of the universe, wrapped in strips of cloth, covered in Mary’s blood.

Maybe that was God’s way of saying to the shepherds, “Look! My son is really, really poor. He’s one of you.” Or maybe it was God wanting to show that there is no limit to the ways Jesus is going to enter into humanity, that no human experience is out of bounds. Whatever the reason, it reminds me that from the very beginning, literally the first moments of life, God jumped into the mess. And God stayed there.

I think tomorrow is going to be good. It’s going to be messy, and fun, and probably a little more chaotic than I like it. But I also know God shows up wrapped in bloody underwear, that God shows up as a person, and that God still show up as persons.

So tomorrow the Gospel will be preached through singing and children and legless paper sheep. It will happen with or without me. Swaddling cloths. Lord, make me ready to receive you.

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Empowering children: A review of books addressing sexual abuse

I know that as one of the two staff members who works to implement our sexual abuse prevention policy (Safe Sanctuaries) that I have an enormous and difficult task. We have a good policy. We train, screen, and keep in regular contact with teachers. I also know that one additional way to protect children is by empowering them and their families.

A few weeks ago I purchased several books that are available for parents to check out. These are books that help children to learn boundaries, appreciate the sacredness and goodness of their bodies, and to open up a safe space for dialogue with caregivers. My hope is that these books will be an additional defense as we protect children against the sexual abuse.

Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Maude Spelman.
We’ve owned this book for a long time and it’s what we use to begin laying a foundation for later conversations. It’s a great book for all ages, but particularly accessible for toddlers and preschoolers. There is nothing explicitly stated about sexual abuse in this book. It is a helpful guide for beginning a conversation about appropriate and wanted touch, and “bathing suit areas.”

Do You Have A Secret by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos
Moore-Mallinos is a social worker for children and her book covers a wide range of “secrets,” including bullying. Do You Have A Secret is less explicit about sexual abuse than some others, using the language of “if someone touched you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable and yucky inside.” This made me think that this is a good book for younger children. It’s interactive and provides a lot of material for conversation. The primary lesson is distinguishing between good secrets and bad secrets.

I Said No! by Zack and Kimberly King
Kimberly is the mother of Zack and they co-wrote this book after Zack had an experience of being inappropriately touched at a sleepover. While Kimberly had talked with her son about boundaries she realized in retrospect that conversation had not been forthright and specific enough. So she wrote this book. It is great for mid to older elementary. It’s much wordier and complex and incredibly helpful for children ready to think in more nuanced ways. She uses the language of red and green flags as aids for making distinctions, and this can be a helpful tool for caregivers. She cover bribes vs. rewards, caregiver/doctor care vs stranger touching, keeping a good secret vs. keeping a bad secret.

Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept by Jayneen Sanders
I found this book very helpful because it’s written as a narrative. It’s accessible and interesting to read. There is also helpful guidance for parents in terms of how to read the book. It’s probably not one you want children to pick up on their own. It needs to be processed and discussed with trusted caregivers. The story is to the point and explicitly names the experience of a child being touched in the privates by an adult. I also loved that this book helped equip me. I could see the author pointing me towards warning signs of abuse and how to respond if I started to see those signs in one of my children.

It can be scary and hard to think about sexual abuse. We like to think that there is no way this could happen to us. As a pastor to children I want to partner with caregivers to ensure that we are each doing all we can to create a safe environment for our children’s faith to flourish.

Caregivers can also look at the following sites for additional ways to protect children:
https://rainn.org/protect-your-children
http://www.d2l.org/site/c.4dICIJOkGcISE/b.6292241/k.8331/Healthy_Sexual_Development.htm