Tomorrow is the Sunday of Advent in which we invite and celebrate joy and a good Sunday for a baptism. I will attend a baptism for a baby I know tomorrow. He and eight other little ones will be blessed and welcomed into the church. I assisted at the wedding of his parents a couple of years ago. It will be a joyful time for many reasons.
Yet, it is not a joyful time for all children.
Last week versions of the following facebook message went viral: “Change your FB profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood. The goal??? To not see a human face on FB until Monday, December 6. Join the fight against child abuse and copy & paste this to your status to invite friends to do the same.”
One of my fb friends and seminary student, Tim Snyder, posted this in response to the spreading message “this whole change your FB profile pic to a cartoon does little to re-humanize the children who are victims of abuse. The purpose may be to reclaim memory; but the outcome seems to fall short.”
Tim made several other good points: 1) “it’s gone viral because it’s fun” rather than helpful; 2) it sets “the threshold of awareness/advocacy so low that actually it is hurtful because people think they’re doing something significant but it’s trivial;” 3) it avoids actual relationship building which is required for lasting change; 4) “It is also quite unfortunate that the idea is actually to not see a human face.”
One of the respondents to his post shared publically that she is a survivor of abuse and that she finds the gesture to add cartoons to fb in solidarity with survivors to be beautiful.
This is where I chimed in. As much as I agree with Tim’s arguments about the problematic character of such campaigns, I also have to make a case at the same time for honoring the experience of survivors themselves, who may indeed find encouragement in such gestures. Often symbols (like putting a carton on fb) have a way of functioning beyond our ability to contain them. They are indeed frustrating, harmful, commodifying and limiting on one hand. And they are beautiful, liberating, and challenging at the same time. We never know for sure what small gesture may inspire some great good or lead to lasting, relational change.
Child abuse is another of those “wicked problems” that can’t be solved easily or quickly. It is complex beyond our ability to comprehend or solve. Yet we must try. Especially if we are committed to practicing following Jesus. He made it clear that following on the Way puts the least of these among our greatest concerns.
Often – but not always for sure – children who are abused or neglected continue to find themselves in situations of harm and hurt. They continue to suffer long past childhood. The legacy of abuse reaches far beyond the moment when it is inflicted.
About domestic violence, pastoral counselor and theologian, Christie Neuger says “Despite the prevalence of this crime, many women feel that they are the only ones who are experiencing this abuse. Further, they often feel they either deserve this violence or that they should somehow figure out how to prevent it. This sense of isolation and self-blame contributes to the difficulty women have in trying to get out of these violent situations. Battering is a demoralizing, humiliating, dangerous experience that is perpetrated by one with whom there has generally been an intimate and loving relationship. It frequently embodies a deep betrayal of trust along with the sense of isolation” (Counseling Women, 22).
Tomorrow is joy Sunday, yet many children and adults have little cause for joy and little sense of blessing on which to hang their hope. Other survivors have profound joy for the healing and hope they are coming to after long painful seasons of recovery. Solutions are underway even while the seeds of next problems also reside in the solutions.
Tomorrow as I look into the human faces gathered in worship around the baptismal font, I will be praying for wisdom and grace. I will pray for the children and their families, those who are joyful, and those who are living without much joy in their lives. I will pray for victims, survivors, perpetrators and all those touched by violence and violation, which is all of us. Lord, have mercy.