Monday, December 4, 2017

Sharing Story and Bearing Witness: A Writer's Moment

Newspapers and television networks, corporations and small businesses frown on bringing anything into the conversation that “smacks of religion.” We live in a secular world. We’re so religion-phobic, people are numbed.

Take the woman who shared with me this week that her company asked its employees to donate holiday gifts to an organization which made clear “no gifts wrapped in paper with any religious connotation.” So much for the Three Wise Men. My friend felt insulted, but hardly surprised. 

As a Christian, I sometimes feel the need to defend myself and my faith. Allegations from women, some as young as fourteen at the time, against powerful men who deny the allegations as lies pervade the news. As these stories gain more national attention, controversy often centers on the role Christianity plays in society. What do flamboyant radicals professing to be Christians yet defending alleged abusers say about our faith? What does Scripture teach about love and grace, humility and truth?

Are we called to bear witness to evil? Yes. Which brings me to the writer’s life.

Last week on this blog I wrote my own experience with sexual harassment, bullying and assault. I felt support and validation after I wrote that from women who messaged me in private, shared their own stories of wanting to write about abuse, and author Madeline Sharples blogging her story of sexual misconduct at the hands of a former president of the United States!

I also brought up the topic of sexual harassment with my pastor. She quickly agreed this was a topic for women in our parish to discuss. Her concerns, she said, particularly rest with the children who are victimized … much as I was at the age of thirteen and fourteen. The question: How do we bear witness women to women in the church, in the workplace, within our families?
There is so much evil in the world, it's hard to grasp. During this dark period of Advent … “the in-between period”… we wait for "the promise and hope in the midst of suffering."

This reminds me of memoir writing … there is an eager longing, an expectancy … it’s not just words on a page, but an event in a life that resonates with others who may have gone through similar events. The hope that we will eventually be brought out of bondage, which is an Advent theme, is also the writer’s hope. This is not a product to sell, but a moment of grace and humility. “Love moves the universe.”

Whether you practice religion or a religious philosophy or not, our task as writers―writing about war, murder, the parent whose child died at Sandy Hook but who can’t get anyone to listen about gun control―is to “combat evil.” To bring the darkness into the light.

This summer I taught a workshop, Voice Lessons about the personal essay and the idea that writing can change the world. It was based on the wonderful book by Mary Pipher Writing to Change the World.

As I wrote then: The alchemy of creativity hums in a collaborative community of writers. It fosters confidence and clarity that voice is unique to the writer. In a rapidly changing world of turmoil, a writer’s authentic voice becomes ever more invaluable.

We can share our voices through op-ed pieces sent to news outlets; by writing memoirs; organizing forums and other events where we openly discuss evils plaguing our society and the world. That’s my hope this Advent season …. We share our stories and bear witness.

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