A Song of Ministry and Stories

It’s not something you expect to hear when you sign the dotted line on an application to lead a bible study with the on-campus ministry you’ve been attending for the last two years.
The story where a young woman attends your bible study early on in the fall semester, then mostly seems to fall off the face of the earth for the rest of it, and comes back in the spring semester sporadically with bits and pieces of the story.
Abusive dating relationship that quickly turns to abusive marriage, with a breaking point of spousal rape.

That’s not something my co-leaders or I were equipped to handle after our John Hancocks were collected and we were assigned to each other and went through that semi-mandatory leadership training.
We went over teaching plans and team building and had a getting to know each other time.
But nope.
Nothing in the manual about one of your bible study girls going through that.

When the topic of leading bible study comes up, I talk a lot about how God used that time to teach me about not getting caught up in the numbers game.
The number of evening bible studies where it was me, my co-leaders, and one faithfully consistent attender is uncomfortable to think about to this day, but it’s the story that leaves people with good feelings when they walk away.
Don’t worry about the numbers. Just focus on the one(s) in front of you at the moment you’re in – that’s the lesson.
And it’s an important one.

I don’t think I’ve completely learned the complimentary lessons to this story yet.
I say that because her story was one of the first, and the stories haven’t stopped coming in.
I’ve heard them on driveways in the dead of night, from the passenger seat of a moving vehicle as street lights tried to chase it down, through the earpiece of my cell phone as I try to clear the cobwebs of sleep from my brain.
No, I never asked to hear them, but they came for me anyway.

So as I watched the closing scenes of last week’s episode of Game of Thrones (Sansa Stark’s wedding night) with my younger sister, I knew some kind of a discussion was going to come up.

Why do they keep using rape to develop characters? It needs to stop.
Wait- was that rape? She’d been warned about him. She had to know something like it was coming when she agreed to marry him.
They’ve gone too far this time. I’m going to stop watching this. We all need to stop watching it.

And some of what has come up in the conversation afterwards has been beautifully written.
Unfortunately, there’s also been a lot of ugly in the comment sections.
I’m not here today to start or continue any of the fighting, just to share my perspective, based on my experience.

I agree with the concerns about rape being the fallback for character development for a woman (which might sound strange when one series of novels I’m writing deals with the fallout after one of my main characters leaves an abusive relationship, and another with a young woman exiting the sex industry…).
It absolutely shouldn’t be a default – if there is another way for a female character to achieve that growth that is in character for her… find it.

However, I also think those who call for writers to never, ever write about it are taking things too far.
Rape is an ugly thing, and I’ve cried too many tears for the people I love who’ve been through it, but is sticking our collective fingers in our ears and pretending like it never happens a real solution?
Every time I try to solve a problem that way, things go from bad to worse.
The best way I know how to help is to write it out – the stories like theirs – in a way that shows what it is without glorifying what was done to them or turning them into victims again.
Their stories need to be told as much as anyone else’s.