#MeToo, #ChurchToo and the hope in breaking the silence

The courage and resilience of survivors of sexual assault choosing to share their stories gives me hope.

Annemarie Barrett’s original watercolor painting “My Rage, My Voice”

The wave of very public accounts of sexual assault and misconduct sweeping the United States, for many, has made what once seemed safe and certain seem suddenly dangerous and frightening.

For those recently opening their eyes to the harrowing realities of male privilege and power, the stories of sexual assault survivors may feel like a threat. Many may feel tempted to distrust what is being revealed about our society and opt for outright denial or compulsively blame victims for the violence they endured.

Many more may be overwhelmed by doubt and confusion, unsure of who to trust as powerful people and institutions expose their failure to protect us.

There are also many of us who have been treading in the dangerous and frightening uncertainty of living as survivors of sexual assault for some time.

But now, even if you never have before, is the time to listen to survivors.

It is the time to reflect on the powerful narratives that have taught us to marginalize the wounded among us, and it is time to invest in believing the experiences of survivors.

The Gospel is fundamentally about listening to the needs of the most marginalized and the personal (and societal) transformation necessary for us to stand with those on the margins, demanding justice from the powers that be.

The challenge is learning to apply that call to our daily lives today.

When we exist within a patriarchal society and an even more patriarchal Church, it is tempting to position Jesus as the patriarchal center in our spiritual lives.

Too often we lose sight of the ways Jesus practiced dissent and favored decentralization; the ways he spoke truth to men in positions of power and listened to and supported women who were experiencing marginalization.

Thankfully, the survivors of sexual assault who are choosing to break the silence are modeling that dissent and decentralization for us today, so that we too can learn from their example and practice breaking the silence in our own lives.

woman-in-Annemarie-Barrett-painting-My-Rage-My Voice
Individual images in “My Rage, My Voice” depict the voices of many, coming together.

As Heather McGhee, president of Demos, so powerfully explains, “This is a moment of reckoning. It is a moment of collective power for women who have felt that they individually could not speak up because men hold so many of the cards in workplaces, in industries. They hold so much of the political power in this country and the economic power. But women are discovering that there is strength in numbers and that they may just be believed. That’s a wonderful thing.” (“DemocracyNow!”)

It is indeed.

Just a few months ago, another friend of mine reached out to me to share her recent experience of sexual assault. Her experience not only traumatized her, but her whole family. And though I was filled with grief and rage as I listened to her story, I knew there were few options available for her to pursue justice. Disproportionately, legal action from the justice system and services such as therapy are much harder to access for women of color who have been sexually assaulted.

That was not the first time a friend of mine has been sexually assaulted without justice or professional support and, tragically, I doubt it will be the last.

As I reflected on the impotence I felt for my inability to offer anything more than accompaniment to this friend, I started thinking about all of the women I know (and don’t know) who have been sexually assaulted and the experiences of trauma that interconnect us.

And I started to paint.

Annemarie puts the finishing touches on “My Rage, My Voice”

“My Rage, My Voice” is the watercolor piece which I created while reflecting on the experiences of sexual assault that connect women from all different backgrounds and identities. The piece is about the grief and rage that connect us and the empowering experience of raising our voices to make our truth and our stories known.

Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too movement, uses the phrase “empowerment through empathy” to describe the process of survivors sharing their stories with one another. And since hearing that term I have wondered to myself, is there a more succinct and accurate way of describing Gospel living than “empowerment through empathy”?

It is natural to feel uncertainty and fear in response to the harsh realities of injustice, especially when opening our eyes to those realities for the first time. But the Gospel calls us to choose empathy even when afraid and full of doubt, a call much easier preached than practiced.

Fortunately, the courage and resilience of those participating in #MeToo, #ChurchToo and other similar efforts to connect and amplify experiences of survivors of sexual assault are modeling for us how to speak truth to power.

By learning from their example, we too can learn how to transform silence and complicity into accountability and justice. That gives me hope.


Annemarie Barrett

Annemarie-BarrettAnnemarie (who also served as a blogger for Franciscan Mission Service) grew up in the Midwest and now lives in Bolivia, South America. Her spiritual journey has been greatly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement and the Franciscan charism of humble availability and deep solidarity. She has also been influenced and transformed by the unique experience of spending most of her life in Western, capitalist culture and now living for years in Andean culture that is much more communal and rooted in the wisdom of indigenous communities. Today, she lives and farms with her partner and also creates and sells her original art under the name AEB Art.

Made by many

I have exciting news! This week’s issue of America  magazine contains an essay written by me!

The essay is called “Changed, not ended: A view of religious life from a young sister” and it also includes a great illustration, which I love:

Illustration by Dan Salamida. http://americamagazine.org/issue/changed-not-ended


Writing this essay and going through the process of getting it published has been an adventure many years in the making.

As one who had childhood dreams of becoming a writer — but had at one point given up on my dreams — I am totally thrilled. I am in awe. And, I am very, very thankful.

This accomplishment is not my own, it is not success because of my own doing.  Rather, this an achievement of an entire community.

In last week’s blog post I said I was going to share a bit about the adventures in writing I’ve had within the past year.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

One of the major gifts of 2013 was the fruit that came from living a life in union with the Word of God. Specifically, I found that I still gain a lot of energy and joy as I try to be a writer. First of all, my sporadic habit of blogging on continues here at Messy Jesus Business.

In the past year, Invitations to write for other publications starting coming too, including one by the Franciscan Spirituality Center Blog for which I once wrote about “Christmas Every Day.” I was really excited to learn that I had earned a scholarship to a writers workshop that I was blessed to attend the last week of July and first few days of August.

Plus, my community invited me to try something really creative: be a Poetry Catcher at our assembly in June. I had the task of mirroring back my observations to the 300 or so sisters and affiliates there through poetry. At one point I was asked to write a poem WHILE I listened and then immediately perform the poem for the crowd. I was in awe right with everyone else by what came out of me.

That’s often how I feel about the creative work of writing: amazed by the gift God gives. The gifts related to the work of writing have been abundant this year. At the writers workshop I was incredibly enriched by new relationships and encouragement from other Christian artists, insights about how to grow as a poet and writer, and lessons on poetry and the creative life in general. In addition to the essay in America magazine this week, I also had a poem published in an online literary journal within the past month.

Like I said, my accomplishments and success are not my own. Certainly none of this exciting success would have come without the encouragement, help and support of great editors, my Franciscan sisters, and many other friends— all of who are deserving of a big shout-out and THANKS!

But, most importantly, I am very certain I would have never become a writer and a poet without my relationships with my Franciscan sisters.

Even though I dreamed of being a writer and a teacher when I was a child, I quickly gave up on my dream of becoming a writer because I did not have much confidence.  In school, I was pretty much an average student — especially in English class, where I came to realize I had a lower vocabulary than most and grammar rules confused me.  Although I had excellent English teachers, none of them ever gave me any extra encouragement so I gave up on my dream of being a writer before I even started college.

God is a God of surprises and abundant blessings. And, many of those blessings come through community.

Within a couple of years of entering my community, several of the sisters I was growing close to were getting to know that I enjoyed writing poetry and prose. So then, when an opportunity to write for a blog came my way, sisters encouraged me to take it.

Then, over 3 years ago a Sister encouraged me to start a whole other blog. I prayed a lot about it, and that’s how Messy Jesus Business was born.  This is a risk I would have never taken without the help and support of community.  Likewise, the blog wouldn’t continue to have a vibrant life without the readership and follower-ship from all of you. Thank you!!

Similarly, sisters encouraged me in my poetry too. I was stunned when I started to hear from some of them that I had talent. As invitations to share my poetry started coming from sisters, I grew more overwhelmed by the praise I would receive, especially when I felt so clueless about the craft.

Only within the past year have I gained an acceptance of the gift, due to the blessings coming from my community. Because of my sisters, I am willing to say I am a poet and a writer now. And, I feel like many of my other dreams related to writing are possible. Maybe I’ll actually get to write books one day!

I shed tears when I think of it: I am who I am today because of how I have been made by many.  My community has empowered me and enlivened me and helped me be a steward to the gifts God has given. I am officially a published writer now, by the blessing of my community.  God is so good, and I am thankful!