On my grandmother’s dressing table was a beautiful bottle of perfume. It was a crystal bottle with an old-fashioned atomizer filled with lavender-colored perfume. How could a little girl resist the temptation to touch it, to squeeze that little rubber ball until a mist of the perfume sprayed out? But I wasn’t supposed to touch it. It was more temptation than I could resist at the age of four or five. Since my little hands could barely reach it, I knocked over something else on the table and my grandmother came into the room. She was angry and told me that such pretty things were not for the likes of me and that I must never touch her things again. After all, what if I had broken her beautiful, expensive bottle?
How many times must a story play out before we learn from it? The Gospel story of the woman who anointed Jesus could make headlines today. “Jesus Followers Blame Prostitute for Wasting Money” or “Prostitute Rebuked for Disrupting a Meeting of the Privileged with Low-class Foolishness.” Are these headlines so different from what is happening with the Brock Turner case? I don’t think so. We focus on the jar to the extent that we fail to see the truth.
Brock Turner is a convicted rapist. He was convicted by a jury. Somehow, though, the judge and Brock’s father fail to see rape as a crime. They see it as an indiscretion, or some kind of youthful frolic with no real harm done. In this case the jar they focused on is white privilege and pristine education. They failed to see a young woman, a human being, broken open right in front of them. Rape permanently changes a person. It isn’t that healing from this trauma is impossible because healing is possible. However, nothing is ever the same after one has been violated in such an intimate way. A rape victim loses her sense of power and control over her self, not just her body. It takes years to return to a place of trust if it happens at all.
I was a junior in college when I was raped. There was no alcohol involved. I went to spend spring break with a young man I’d thought of as a friend. He thought I was visiting for a different purpose. It was 10 years before I told anyone what really happened on that break. For 10 years I thought it was my fault that I was raped more than once during that spring break. I told myself that I must have wanted to have sex with him because I didn’t fight very hard and I didn’t make enough noise for his housemates to hear. I was filled with shame. When I finally told my therapist about it I said, “He didn’t really hurt me. He just pinned my arms back and took what he wanted.” Her response to me was, “Do you hear yourself? Even now you think it is your fault.”
In that moment what had been broken in me, poured out. I have seldom cried tears from the depth of my being. That young man took more from me than he ever knew and more than I would know for years to come. Date rape was a joke in the 80’s when this happened to me. No one really believed that a woman could truly be raped by someone she knew. Rape of any kind was always, somehow, the woman’s fault. I believed this myth for a long time. I worked so hard on blocking out the incident that I don’t remember the young man’s last name. As I’ve learned to forgive myself and put the blame on him, I’ve forgiven him. But I’ve prayed for all the other women he would encounter, especially the vulnerable ones and I’ve prayed that he learned something different. I met his family and I know he was not raised to take what he wanted without permission. Yet, that’s what he did. And to this day, I think he would say that I was a willing participant. Why else had I gone to visit him?
Now with this case all over the news, I remember my own experience like it was yesterday. How much has not changed in 30 years! Here we have a rape victim who is being blamed and a rapist who is getting away with it and planning a future as a motivational speaker. The misdirect on the alcohol consumption is startling and disturbing. This is the focus on the jar if ever there was one! Blame the victim for her poor choices and excuse the boy who was just doing what boys do.
Please, let’s stop. We know Brock Turner’s name. His will be remembered. But will his victim be remembered for her ability to speak up for herself? No. Her courage will be overshadowed by the boy’s wealthy father and the abusive judge who condones rape as normative when it’s wealthy white boys doing it.
Centuries ago, a woman poured expensive oil on Jesus’ feet and the disciples saw only waste. Today, a woman poured courage and strength all over a courtroom floor and the judge saw only waste. When will we stop focusing on the jar and start focusing on human beings broken open in our midst while waiting to be seen, heard, and valued?
I wish my grandmother had taken that little bottle that I was so enamored with and shared it’s content with me, telling me that I was worthy of its beauty and its extravagance. Maybe then I wouldn’t have been so willing to blame myself for what a young man took from me. Maybe I would have spoken up sooner or trusted myself enough to leave before spring break was over. I also wish we who embody Christ would look beyond the jar to see the beauty and extravagance of the young, beautiful women who are broken open far too often.
RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 12, 2016
1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a with Psalm 5:1-8 or
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15 with Psalm 32
For a poetic interpretation of this passage, go here.