Wednesday, 3 August 2016
Writer Jon Owen
Last week we shared Mother’s Day at our small local church. I sat next to a brave young woman who has more courage than most people I have ever met. As a warm up exercise we were asked to think of all the phrases our mums used that we now find slipping out of our mouths. We laughed as we shared one liners like, “You’ll thank me one day” and, “In my day…”. I glanced over at her and asked her quietly if she had one, she blushed and half whispered, “Don’t set him off…”
Our media often over-simplifies portrayals of domestic violence as extremely clear cut, showing scenes where we can see it occurring through open windows or witness it spill out onto the street. It then usually will provide us with a straight forward road map for action. Sadly, reality is never as clear cut.
The muffled sounds of domestic violence coming from behind closed doors are not only sickening, they also possess the ability to make us feel powerless.
I was very fortunate to grow up in a household where there was no fear of violence, which I somehow took for granted. I had friends who, while their family also attended church, were not so fortunate. On a few occasions, I was over playing at their house when their father would come home and summon one of them into a room and begin beating them for a minor infraction. At seven years old I remember feeling so helpless and asking the adults what we should do. Unfortunately, the best advice seemed to be ‘ignore it and pray about it’.
I am so glad we live in a word where it is no longer acceptable to hold the view that this behaviour is somehow okay. Domestic violence is a sin and is never acceptable. Under any circumstance. Full. Stop.
God has a dream for this world (that’s Desmond Tutu’s beautiful phrase for what we call ‘the Kingdom of God’), where there is no discrimination on the basis of gender or nationality, and we are all one in Christ (Gal 3:28). One of the roots of violence is when we cease to encounter others as humans and reduce them to objects that we can manipulate and dominate.
What Kind Of World Does God Want?
Our God is a God who establishes this dream on a foundation of “righteousness and justice” in a place where “mercy and truth go before [him].” (Psalm 89:14 NIV) We who pray the Lord ’s Prayer ask for the provision and strength to work with God to make that dream come “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matt 6:10)
This is not the world we currently live in. There is much to do.
How do we remain faithful to that dream in a world that cries out for justice but often demands it in ways that show no mercy and even manufactures truth to suit its own ends?
Demands for justice far too easily turn into revenge and we too easily end up enmeshed in a Karpman Drama Triangle where we seek to rescue the victim by making a victim of the perpetrator and turn from rescuers into perpetrators ourselves. The dream doesn’t happen if in getting there we make it someone else’s nightmare.
So, what are some ways we can we respond as those committed to loving God and neighbour (Mark 12:30-31)?
To this we find that the amazingly simple and terrible complex answer to the problems of a world lost in misdirection, lies, and death is the person of Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life”. (John 14:6)
Following him isn’t primarily about securing our immigration status in the world to come. It’s also about catching a glimpse of the world as God intends it to be and working our guts out make our little patch resemble that glimpse we have been given. It is about taking what we profess with our mouths as we say the Lord’s Prayer—“May your Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven”—and transforming that into action today.
What does the God’s Dream look like?
There are many things that will remain a mystery this side of eternity, but not everything. The Bible does not hide it all from us. My favourite passage, which I regularly read, comes from Isaiah 65:17-25 it paints a vivid picture of what the world to come will look like.
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
What a powerful image for anyone wanting to get involved in the front lines of helping the “Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven”.
There is room for so much for us to do; to work for fair wages, adequate housing, health care. This is a picture of dignity and safety, or joy and celebration.
But how? Let me tell you some stories of the journey we have been on.
Stories That Shape Us…
Upon beginning in ministry one of the most powerful stories I heard came from Jim Wallis, the founder of the Sojourners community. He recounted a conversation he had with an inmate of the notorious Sing Sing Prison in New York. The young man was studying theology and was training to become a youth worker when he was released. He told Jim, “the guys from here all come from only about five neighbourhoods. It is like there is an unstoppable train that stops to pick up kids from these neighbourhoods to drop them off here for life.” Jim asked the young man what he was going to do about it. “When I get out, I am going to stand on those train tracks and push as hard as I can to stop that train from going anywhere.”
I loved this story and set my life to joining people like him on the train track. I didn't know which track just yet, but when I found one I would get on it and push.
About a decade ago my wife Lisa and I felt God calling us to share our lives and the love of Jesus within a community whose postcode regularly comes top 3 in domestic violence statistics for New South Wales.
We weren’t aware of this at the time. However, it wasn't long before we began to notice a few things. We moved there with our two little daughters into a little townhouse rental in the heart of one of Australia’s largest public housing estates. It soon became Little Girl Central. There were many imaginary tea parties, mud pie baking sales, and dance concerts. I am eternally grateful this was a good decade before Frozen collided with our world. Still, there are only so many princess parties a person can take.
Amidst all of the joy and squeals we began to notice a deep suspicion of my presence around the house and an uneasy tension anytime I entered the room. I worked hard to make all our guests feel comfortable, but they were reacting to something far beyond who I was. It was my very presence as a male that made them feel unsafe.
I soon found a role working with men who were in and out of jail and were in recovery from alcohol and drug abuse. I would often sit and hear their stories of childhood, growing up in abusive households. One man, on his fiftieth birthday, told me of how he spent most evenings as a child hiding under his bed or the couch if his dad came home drunk. He told me how helpless he felt as he listened to his mother being beaten up and the deep shame he experienced at not being able to protect her.
He grew up hating his father, and tragically, he also grew up to become an abusive father.
One day I came home fairly excited and walked right into the middle of another dance drama theatre. I saw Lisa across the room and yelled out to her. She didn't hear me so I raised my voice to be heard. This immediately changed the room. Two girls ran out and another one dived under the couch. My own kids kept on doing what they were doing, they had no reason to do anything else. However, we realised that for the other young girls present that their experiences had trained them to expect something very different than our little ones did. It took a few minutes to find them all and re-gather them in. We spent the next few years that they were in our house showing them that another way is possible, that there are men who are strong in love and compassion and do not see women as objects.
Jean Vanier once remarked that those who gather to love and follow Jesus are not there as a “solution to the problems of a hurting world, but rather are a sign that love is possible”.
We can all make our households into what the Celtic tradition called ‘thin places’—places where the connection between God and us isn’t so strongly veiled as it usually is. It begins with me and you. For many it begins in a transformed attitude towards our parents and siblings. The last verse of the Old Testament has a beautiful guide for when the Lord comes; “he will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.” (Malachi 4:6) So many people I meet want to change the world for Jesus but are still rude to their loving parents, and they don’t see the disconnect there.
If we want to address domestic violence, we need transformed family relationships. Many look at followers of Jesus and want to know if that makes any difference, particularly in how we relate to each other. Let us make our love for one another the hallmark of our faith (John 13:34-35) and not our ability to recite ‘truths’.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” said Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
The people in the flat next door to us soon became like family. Sadly, there was violence in their household. One day while Lisa was heavily pregnant with our firstborn, she saw that the violence had spilled out onto the street. She ran out and stood her pregnant belly in between two of them, held her arms out wide and yelled, “Stop. I love you both, so if you want to keep hitting her you’ll have to hit me first.” This high risk move worked, even though I would never recommend this story as normative or as something that should be blindly replicated. This wasn’t a random intervention. Lisa had invested energy into building relationships with husband, wife, and children over a few years and hence knew them very well.
I like the image, though, of a vulnerable woman standing with her hands outstretched, risking it all to bring peace. It reminds me of Jesus on the cross with his arms stretched out wide bleeding for all of us.
Lisa and I spent a lot of time with the family, and sadly the violence didn't stop. The only thing holding the wife back was fear of her sons growing up without a man in their lives. So we reassured her that if she kicked him out we would take care of her sons as if they were ours. This gave her the courage to kick him out.
Over the next few years we made good on the promise. These two young men are beautiful and strong and would never hit a woman because they have been raised among strong woman and men who are one in Christ. We can make a difference, if we work together just imagine what we could do!?
Mother Theresa, over 3 decades ago, observed that it is fashionable to talk about the poor but that it was still unfashionable to talk with them. The same still applies today. A local Indigenous woman once told me, “You are who with whom you eat with love.” A hallmark of Jesus’ ministry was who he broke bread with. We will not make poverty history until we make it personal.
Sadly violence happens in all suburbs across this nation, with up to 2 women killed a week. The Bible never commands us to seek out issues, but it does asks us to ‘Love God and love neighbour’ (Matthew 22:36-40). If we are doing that well, then we will find ourselves on the front lines.
So, who are you sharing your meals with? Be careful though: it just might end up changing your life.
 It is very important to note that statistically, most men who grow up with an abusive parent do not go on to replicate the violence in their adult lives. www.childwitnesstoviolence.org
 ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2006
Originally published in YVQ12: MESSY.
Jon Owen has been a part of UNOH since 1997. Since then he has been under surveillance by Federal Police, nearly been cut up with samurai swords, beaten up, strangled, and sent to an immigration detention centre. Jon, his wife Lisa, and their three girls Kshama, Kiera, and Jazmin have shared their lives with people in need and now lives in a housing commission suburb where he gets to see immense beauty, engage with it, and call it for what it is.
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