Good news sometimes is the oldest news we know. We don’t have to overcomplicate it. We just have to take out the trash when the trashcan is full and keep doing the daily work.
Give me that old time religion is the refrain from the gospel tune of the late 19th century. It’s a sweet mantra to hum while communities of faith explore how to respond to the universal issues of sexual violence, trafficking, and prostitution. The old wounds humanity carries from these issues demand that we respond with love, the oldest and deepest truth of religion.
Our culture is just beginning to see the scope of the problem, the connection of child sexual trauma and addiction and the pathway this traumatic history lays out to prison. The women who join the community of Thistle Farms and Magdalene, a national bath and body care company with residential homes for survivors, are, on average, first raped between the ages of 7 and 11, and hit the streets in their teenage years. The national conversations in churches, the media and in conferences are changing as people now speak out about how before women were criminalized, they had been victimized for years. Its inspiring to feel the current change and feel that we are being carried down river a bit towards more just shores.
Yet in my conversations in hundreds of churches over the past 15 years, it feels like many still turn a blind eye to the connection between child abuse, runaways, and trafficking. Faith communities are still reluctant to speak out boldly against people being bought and sold as commodities and downloaded in two dimensions, giving no thought as to the individual being used. There is still a sense that one can buy and sell images and use people without there being any harm to that person.
So we need some good old-fashioned religion to infuse our communities and use the most powerful force for social change in the world—LOVE. We need to become a living and breathing movement capable of embracing the backside of anger, the shadow side of our world, the underside of bridges, the short side of justice, and the inside of prisons. This movement about women’s freedom, grounded in the belief that love heals, is rooted in radical hospitality that is offered without judgment and that is cast wide enough to reach the hell of the streets and entrenched prisons.
There was a moment about a year ago when I felt the shift as Thistle Farms became more than a sanctuary and social enterprise. It became part of a movement as churches from around the country began to invite us to share the vision about how we can all get involved to help women navigate unworkable systems, shortsighted politics, and violence to find their way home to sanctuary. It is beginning, but it will take many more communities that want to offer free long-term housing, begin radical social enterprises, and support work going on in communities such as Thistle Farms in Nashville, Eden house in New Orleans, and Magdalene St. Louis. To realize a movement requires that we are all willing to be idealists. We have to dream of a world where children are safe and rape victims expect justice.
Idealism doesn’t mean being pollyannaish about the world. We know it’s harsh and we have heard the war stories from Kigali, Houston, Lawala, Guayaquil, Omaha, Kampala, and every other city where we have traveled, stories of people who bear the common pain of sexual trauma on their individual backs. In each of these places named above we have been invited to partner with their local groups to create an emerging network of sister organizations. We have just been invited to Lexington, KY where a group from a local church has launched a new residential program called “The Well”. We are committed to helping each other with best practices and expanding our market share to support our individual social enterprises. There are now 20 to 30 new emerging communities that share the work, a witness to the truth that women in loving and compassionate communities do recover and find restitution and freedom.
It takes a great deal of humility to face universal issues by loving individual women in small groups. By working humbly as a community, we can do more to prevent women from relapsing back to the streets and dying from the violence and drugs that thrive there. We can do more to meet the economic, physical, psychological, educational and spiritual needs of women who have survived by embracing this ideal of a movement.
I long for faith-communities to go beyond being “mission-minded” into being so idealistic, humble, and close that, like the old time religion, the spirit moves freely to release the captives, preach good news to the poor, and give sight to all of us who are still blind. Good news sometimes is the oldest news we know. We don’t have to overcomplicate it. We just have to take out the trash when the trashcan is full and keep doing the daily work.
Last summer a group of women in Pensacola, Florida invited us to help them to think about how to begin planting seeds for the movement there. One of the graduates of Thistle Farms who went with me was Dorris Walker. When Dorris was a child she witnessed the murder of her father and was abused as a very young teen. As a young woman she ended up walking a ten-block radius on the streets of Nashville for 26 years. In all that she had witnessed and endured, no one had ever shown her the beach. It was on the trip to Florida that her feet first touched the sugar sands and she saw the sunrise from the coast. When she stepped into the ocean and felt the tide for the first time in her life, she threw her arms up and asked, “Has this been doing this my whole life?” As long as the moon has been spinning around the earth, the tide has been coming in. Like love it is old and true. Sometimes it just takes a community to help us get to the shore to feel its power and remember the source.
As we grow this movement to address the issues of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution, let us confirm that this work is sustainable for the long haul. With more faith communities investing in long-term housing and social enterprise, there will be less recidivism, women reclaiming families, a decrease in court restitution costs, an increase in gainful employment with decreasing disability payments, and by the sale of innovative products and services by the new business of social enterprises, we will save our communities millions of dollars. We can help protect the next generation, and we can live more deeply into the truths we long to believe. It can infuse our lives with new spirit and be a means to revive the vitality of our common worship.
Love is both lavish and economical. It’s beyond seeing what our values are in the marketplace and looking at how we can change the marketplace through increased economic and political leverage for others. Last October Thistle Farms held its first national conference and launched a new shared-trade initiative. People from more than 30 states joined our commitment to use economic and political resources to help our collective work thrive. Love heals, inspires, and changes us for its own sake.
You can join this movement by becoming a Thistle Farmer, sharing your truth in love, and coming to the next national conference on October 12-14 in Nashville, TN. You can bring Thistle Farms products to your community, and host a flash tea and justice party this summer (news coming soon1). For more information about how to get involved, please contact us through facebook, twitter, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peace and love, Becca
Photo Credit: S Braswell