Sunday, November 22, 2015

a franciscan blessing

As some of you may know, today is my 24th birthday! This means that I am no longer the youngest person in the office because Thandeka tells me she stopped having birthdays after 23 - mysterious.

But I share this day with another very special lady:  a dear friend who inspired me to apply for YASC and who continues to inspire me, Sara Lowery. Before I left, she gave me a handwritten copy of this Franciscan Blessing, and I wanted to share it with all of you now.

Sara, I hope your day is filled with as much love as you have for others. I hope that God continues to bless both of us with these things in the coming year.

xo - Lacey

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

on being a woman

I love to dance. It is a spiritual act for me, this awareness of my body as I occupy it fully. I am not a good dancer. If someone were to record my dancing and play it back to me, I would likely stop dancing. That is, until the next time bass vibrated through my body, beckoning me to move it wildly, gratitude and worship filling my bones.

Recently I went out dancing with two new friends. We found venues with good vibes and great music, and we all had a lot of fun. I was also subject to harassment - both verbal and physical - countless times and in multiple locations - walking down the street, in clubs, at a McDonald’s.

We live in a world that teaches women in myriad ways that our bodies do not belong to us, are not the precious gifts from God that I know them to be. We live in a world in which we regularly have our autonomy denied, our rights violated, and our protests ignored or mocked.

This is what it means to navigate this world as a woman: to endure all of this and return home at the end of the night, alive and breathless, and say “I had so much fun!” - and mean it. Because if I allowed harassment to become the focus of my experiences, I would suffer from anxiety even about trips to the grocery store, outside of which strange men have stood and catcalled me - not only here but also in my small hometown.

The fact is that I cannot prevent these unwanted experiences. I could do my best to limit them, but I would in turn be limiting myself. That does not mean that I have to resign myself to them, that I am complacent or accepting of the way things are.

I will continue to go out, to seek music and fun and, upon finding it, to move my body in ways that make me feel alive and free. I will continue to be subject to harassment, and I will continue to fight, to push men off myself and my friends, to call them out, to yell on the streets with all of the energy of the bass pumping through my veins. I will return home to write and speak about it.

I will do this because, to borrow a favorite quote from the brilliant Audre Lorde, “your silence does not protect you.” I will speak out because violence exists on a spectrum, and the same attitudes that allow men to believe that my body is theirs to touch and comment on freely also allow them to perpetuate more serious forms of violence against women. Because I cannot encourage other women to do so unless I am willing to do it myself. Because there is no end in sight until women are acknowledged as fully autonomous beings, as fully human.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

gender-based violence

Since I've been here for almost two months, it's probably time I shared a bit about the work I'm doing. You can learn more about HOPE Africa, the organization I'm placed with, by following the link here or at the top of this page.

I'm working on HOPE Africa's Gender-Based Violence Programme, the newest of its efforts launched in 2014 with the vote to establish a gender desk in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and beginning with a We Will Speak Out (WWSO) international campaign. The ultimate aim of the program is prevention through a survivor-led movement.

So what exactly is gender-based violence? Currently, HOPE Africa focuses most of its efforts on violence against women, specifically domestic violence and sexual assault as those are most common in the Western Cape. But gender-based violence (GBV) is a broader term than violence against women. Aside from domestic and sexual violence, GBV can include virginity testing, honor killings, infanticide, child marriage (ukhutwala), female genital mutilation/cutting, ritual male circumcision, "corrective rape" or other violence on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, violence against transgender individuals, sexual harassment, and human trafficking.

Some of the ways we are working to create change are by conducting research and compiling reports, creating support groups to empower survivors, hosting training opportunities for faith leaders, organizing campaigns and events, providing a platform for survivors to share their stories, and partnering with government entities and NGOs. I am based in the office and am responsible for administrative tasks here, but I also co-facilitate support groups in the field with social workers. I'll be posting more about survivors I've been working with soon and throughout the year.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

young adults in the church

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, life, love, faith, and purity.” - 1 Timothy 4:12

My evangelical upbringing in early childhood certainly came with some collateral damage, but the best thing it gave me was a Biblical literacy that most cradle Episcopalians lack. Knowing Scripture by heart was a requirement, and often verses were set to music to aide our memorization. These are the ones I still remember almost two decades later, lodged deep in my memory along with the lyrics to most early 2000s pop music. I often wonder what I would have the capacity to learn if so much space were not occupied by Britney Spears songs, but I digress. One such Bible verse is the one you see above from the first of the Pastoral Epistles to Timothy. I’ve had it stuck in my head all week long, pondering the significance of those words.

This week I am attending a pastoral counselling training hosted by HOPE Africa to equip clergy and lay leaders with skills to counsel victims of gender-based violence. My role is to assist Pumla Mncayi, the consultant we hired to facilitate; collect pre and post evaluations from participants; and to observe and write a report. I’m learning a lot about the culture and attitudes from the participants themselves, who are lively and engaged. Pumla keeps referring to them as gevaarlik, literally “dangerous” in Afrikaans but in this case used as slang referring to their tendency to embrace controversy with their questions and comments.

On the first day of training, I sat a table of faith leaders during lunch and listened to the conversation that unfolded around me. They were discussing groups who are often marginalized within the church and what can and should be done differently, and many of them began to cite young people’s influence in helping them to see these issues in a new way. Aside from one 30 year old youth pastor, most participants are much older - late forties to sixties. Here are some of the sentiments I heard concerning young adults in the church:

“I’ve gained a lot from the young people I work with. They ask hard questions. They challenge me and force me to consider things in new ways. They'll really push you. My faith is stronger because of that.”

“I hate when people say that young people are the future of the church. They are not the future. They are the present.”

“If all of the members are older, the church is dead. The Anglican Church is losing younger members to the [contemporary non-denominational churches] because we do not value them; we don’t give them leadership opportunities.”

We have to stop equating wisdom with age. Hopefully you are wiser now than you were last year. Hopefully we never allow ourselves to stagnate. But we have to understand that we can learn from everyone, that even those younger than us have things to teach us. We have to acknowledge that none of us has all the wisdom.

When a young person sees something differently, take it as a challenge and consider their perspective. For Christ's sake (and I mean that literally), please don’t dismiss them with a laugh and a “Talk to me when you’re older.”

Young people of faith - if you are being ignored, speak louder. Don’t let them look down on you. You have the potential to influence real change. Your experiences and insights are valid, not something to be discounted until you are older. When others are blindly stuck in their ways, set an example. Dare to be gevaarlik. Jesus certainly was, and aren't we all trying to be like him anyway?