Monday, September 15, 2014

Exodus from Domestic Abuse

Exodus 14:19-31, Lectionary 24 A, Sept. 14, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Last Monday, TMZ Sports released a video of NFL player Ray Rice hitting his fiancé Janay Palmer in an elevator. She hits her head against the handrail and is knocked unconscious. Previously, the nation had only seen the video of Ray Rice dragging Janay out of the elevator. Although this incident happened in February, seeing the video makes it more real, more horrible.

Since this last video was released, the media has not stopped talking about domestic abuse in the NFL. A few other players have been charged and removed from play. What has inspired me most this week is not the NFL’s response but the internet’s. All over Twitter and other social media, ordinary women are telling their stories of domestic abuse. Using the hashtags #whyistayed and #whyileft, women are using few but powerful words to express what they experienced while they were being abused. For example, 

Nicole Dills writes, “#WhyIStayed I had very little confidence in myself, I felt I deserved it, because the good times were really good.”
Chickee writes, “I thought that he was my best friend.”
Kirin Rosemary writes, “He told me ‘no one will ever love you like I do.’”

Reading these brief powerful stories of women afraid to leave their abusers, I can’t help but wonder what God has to say about all this. God must be disheartened by all of these tales of woe, worry, and worthlessness. These stories are not modern phenomenon. Domestic abuse has happened throughout the centuries. Even the Israelites were oppressed by the Egyptians yet unwilling to leave. The Exodus story is not one of domestic violence but one of societal abuse.

Just as the Pharaoh did not know Joseph, neither did the Israelites. All of the stories of Genesis were just that - stories. The Israelites at the time of the Exodus did not know what they were missing. They knew that they were being mistreated, yet they wondered what the other side looked like. Time and time again, even after the plagues, the Israelites complained to Moses and to the Lord that they would rather live as slaves in Egypt than die in the wilderness. If they had Twitter back then, their tweets may have sounded like this: 

#whyistayed I didn’t know the Promised Land really existed.
#whyistayed At least I knew what to expect in Egypt.
#whyistayed Despite the hard labor, life wasn’t too bad in Egypt.

In our first lesson, we hear that despite their complaining, the Lord had the Israelites’ best interest in mind. No matter how unsure they were about life after Egypt, the Lord guided the Israelites to the Red Sea. Even though the Egyptian army pursued, the Lord separated the waters. The Israelites passed to safety on dry ground. When the Egyptians entered the sea, the Lord returned the waters so that all the chariots were destroyed and the army was killed. This was a brutal way for the Lord to bring the Israelites to safety.

Because of this, the Israelites feared the Lord. They saw the mighty power that the Lord had. They respected the Lord after that - at least for a little while. Certainly, they did not refrain from complaining while they wandered in the wilderness. Their tweets might have sounded like this:

Certainly the Israelites remained bitter about the Exodus for a while. Yet, when Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, they finally knew that the Lord’s plan was worthwhile.

Sometimes we don’t understand how bad life was until we look back. No matter what their abuse was like, those tweeting knew that they took the right steps for freedom. For example:

Recently, I listened to a TED Talk where the speaker described her domestic abuse. Leslie Morgan Steiner is a well-educated woman. She never expected to be in an abusive relationship, yet she remained in one for about three years. In many ways, Leslie represents the average woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship. She was young and in love; her boyfriend was so charming that she didn’t see the signs. 

In her TED Talk, Leslie said, “Connor did not come home one day and announce, ‘Hey, all this Romeo and Juliet stuff has been great, but I need to move into the next phase where I isolate and abuse you.”

Connor and Leslie moved out of the city, far from her network of support. Once she was isolated, Leslie had nowhere to turn. Connor put guns in almost every room of their home. Often, he would hold the gun to her head and threaten to shoot.

Then, just days before their wedding, Connor grabbed Leslie’s throat so hard that she could not breathe. He knocked her head against the wall. Then he apologized so profusely that Leslie was certain this was a one-time incident. Once her special day came, her bruises had faded, and she married Connor.

Then, for the next two and a half years, he abused her at least once a week. Why did Leslie stay for so long? She didn’t think of herself as a victim. She didn’t realize she was in an abusive relationship. She thought she could help him.

After a particularly horrible beating, Leslie finally escaped her doubt and denial. She told her friends, her family, and everyone she met that she was in an abusive relationship. They helped her get out. She divorced Connor and never looked back. Now Leslie is married to a wonderful, kind man. They have three beautiful children, a dog, and a minivan. Leslie Morgan Steiner now has the life that she always dreamed of.

In our first lesson today, we see a God who can deliver an entire people from the abusive grasp of Pharaoh. Certainly our God can do the same for abuse victims everywhere. 

Our God can do anything to help the woeful, the worried, and the worthless God may even work through us. So, if you are in an abusive relationship, tell someone. If you know someone who might be abused, seek help. Be God’s hands guiding him or her out of the shadow of his or her abuser. Just as God split the Red Sea to bring the Israelites to safety, God can work through us to split victims from their abusers. Amen.

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