Jephthah’s Daughters, a reflection on femicide in Canada

This morning (Jan. 30) CBC released an article highlighting the startling statistics from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability. The report states that in 2018 148 women and girls were killed in 133 incidents. That means a woman or girl was killed every 2.5 days last year.

An estimated 12 women and girls have been killed this first month of 2019.

How can I respond to that?

As a woman, a pregnant woman, who is bringing a daughter into the world, how can I respond to that?

As a citizen of a country that prides itself on its peace and prosperity, how can I respond to that?

As a minister-in-training who is preparing to care for a community that will likely be touched by the issue of femicide, how can I respond to that?

As a university student living in Montreal, 30-years after the Polytechnique Massacre, how can I respond to that?

The only thought that comes to mind is the well-known line from the prayer of confession: Lord have mercy, our sins are as scarlet.

And, it makes me desire a church that is willing to speak about the violence experienced by women and girls in our communities today. It makes me desire a church that preaches the uncomfortable story of Jephthah’s daughter–the nameless woman slain by her father because of a desperate promise made to God.

Is our church naming and preaching the reality of femicide, both from our scriptures and our own communities?

Can we afford to ignore the legacy of violence that our churches have wrongly justified?

Are we ready to name our part as both perpetrator and agents of change?

Are we ready to call the men in our homes and churches to task?

Of all the cases looked at CBC notes that “More than 90 per cent of those accused were men.” The report’s lead writer, Myrna Dawson from the University of Guelph expands this by explaining that, “Women are still most at risk of men that they are intimate with or who they should be able to trust.”

What kind of a church, of a community, are we creating for our children? Not just for our daughters but our sons, that this legacy has continued?

How are we uplifting the women and girls disproportionately affected by this violence? Women and girls of colour. Indigenous women and girls (this report does not include those missing women and girls). Women and girls in rural areas.

“Dawson said there are some demographics disproportionately represented in the statistics. For instance, the report indicates Indigenous women represent only about five per cent of the population, but made up 36 per cent of the women and girls killed by violence. Thirty-four per cent of the women and girls were killed in rural areas, where only 16 per cent of the population lives, the report said.”

How prepared are we to utter the names of Jephthah’s daughters, the nameless women and girls whose lives are lost pointlessly at the hands of men? Men who betray the intimacy of their relationships with these women and girls.

We call this story Jephthah’s tragedy, his foolish mistake (Judges 11:29-40). But, are we prepared to retell this story as the daughter’s injustice?

Judette A. Gallares from the Phillippines has written a wonderful rereading of the story that speaks to the women and girls sold to the sex trade by poor families in her community. Do we have Gallares’ courage to do the same in our own communities?

With hope, I pray.

Advertisements

A “Wild God” and the disruptive presence of the Spirit

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine.

When the wild god arrives at the door,
You will probably fear him.
He reminds you of something dark
That you might have dreamt,
Or the secret you do not wish to be shared.

– Excerpt from Sometimes A Wild God by Tom Hirons

This particular poem reminds me so much of Rumi’s The Guest House, which I love.

When trying to describe the disruptive nature of the Holy Spirit, I think Hirons has caught a particular intensity that we don’t often see. The Spirit is still small voice but it is also the thing driving Jesus into the desert to encounter depths of himself he hadn’t yet explored (Mark 1:12).

screenshot2019-01-3111.04.02

So, too, the Spirit invites us to delve into ourselves to do the hard work of healing, encountering the bitter and tasting parts of ourselves. We, too, are wild things, created by a wild God who imparted that sacred image to us. Hiron honours the unpleasant, creepy crawly parts of the world in his work, but also shows God as the unkept wild thing. It is less a poem about overcoming the ugly parts of ourselves and more about the maturing act of encountering that part of ourselves. It is a call to cast off denial and avoidance, and instead to sit at table with a God who is not shy around the messy parts of ourselves.

A Peninsula Divided

A theology student from Montreal visits the Korean DMZ with students from the Asian Pacific region to call for peace.

This blog post was first published on the United Church of Canada’s Website by People in Partnership on November 14, 2018.

In 2009, at the age of 19, my mother passed away from breast cancer.

I think, when we’re faced with profound injustice that we can’t comprehend fully, we are often brought back to experiences of our own where the piercing sensation of unfairness has touched us. That’s what I was thinking as I stood in Imjingak, Paju, Korea looking at the remembrance wall where South Korean families bring messages for their loved ones on the other side of the DMZ, the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

The boundary that separates my mom from me is not some manufactured liminal space. It is concrete. It cannot be crossed or reversed. Standing there and looking at the messages left by families, and the messages of peace and reunification, I couldn’t help but think of the legacy of sadness this place represented. I had met numerous people that week, in Seoul, who told me about family (immediate and extended) who they couldn’t see, or know, because of the 1945 division of the Korean Peninsula by Russia and the United States. I kept thinking how much my heart would ache if I knew my mom was just there—out of reach.

A group of students hold a banner calling for peace at the Korean DMZ.
Delegates from the conference outside the Mariest Education Center, Seoul, Korea.

I was in South Korea this past August as a member of a delegation with the World Student Christian Federation for the “The Prophetic Calling for Peace: Ecumenical Students and Youth for Sustainable Peace in Korean Peninsula” peace conference. I was the only North American among members from Asia Pacific. We were invited to come to the peninsula to learn about peacemaking from Korean students, theologians, church leaders, and the profoundly inspiring women’s movement. The Korean Student Christian Federation hosted us for a week, teaching us about the history and possibilities for the future of the peninsula. Part of this included our trip to the DMZ in Paju.

For that week I learned about how the U.S. military industrial complex still maintains incredible power in the peninsula, contravening the Korean Armistice Agreement signed in 1953. I learned how soldiers of not just Japan, but the U.S., used and abused the “comfort women” of South Korea, and these “grandmothers’” continued struggle for recognition and a formal apology. I learned how the South Korean military, controlled by a U.S. army general, shapes the formative years of every able-bodied young man through mandatory conscription. I learned that denuclearization of the North makes little sense when no peace treaty has been signed, and other global powers use their own nuclear weapons as a constant threat—whole world denuclearization is the only reasonable option.

During a visit to the Korean DMZ, students gathered before a large colourful sign made up of the letters, "DMZ".
Delegates at the DMZ’s “fourth tunnel”, Paju, Korea.

I was also deeply inspired by the other young people I met, from across Korea and Asia Pacific, who cared fiercely about justice and peace issues. Together, we formed a circle of global prophetic voices calling for peace everywhere, not just on the Korean Peninsula. In our communiqué for WSCF Global we wrote that peacemaking “calls on the life-giving power of truth, love, and unity in diversity. It resists the destructive powers of anxiety, fear, control and greed. Peacebuilding comes from a place of ‘inner peace’, which for us, as Christians and ecumenical partners, is derived from a life of faith and the inspiring story of the radical Jesus Christ.” Noting that we each were taking a seed of peace, gifted to us by our Korean siblings, we returned back to our own homes emboldened to work together for peace.

Selina Mullin is a student at the United Theological College and participated as a Pilgrim in Mission in A Prophetic Calling for Peace: Ecumenical Students and Youth for Sustainable Peace in Korean Peninsula, hosted by Mission & Service partner the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) in August 2018.