Two years ago I started a new job, it was working with children whose parents, specifically mums, suffer from substance addiction. I’ve worked in early years for a really long time, I love it; I specialise in children with additional needs and attachment difficulties. One of the things I love most about my job is working with parents, every parent amazes me in a different way. No parent and child bond the same, but all following with connection and love. I hadn't given parents much thought when I started this job, but I was meeting all these women, all varied and all devoted to their kids and recovery. It didn’t take long for me to notice links between these women, all were trauma survivors, and pretty much all of them were trauma survivors at the hands of violent men. Their substance misuse was a symptom of their trauma, not the cause.
When I was 27 I gave birth to a little girl, this changed me on so many levels. I remember sitting looking at her little face feeling so sad knowing all that she would experience as a woman. As I started to feel more conflicted I looked deeper; that's the wonderful fruit of being conflicted. I also gave more thought to my own upbringing and even my own actions throughout church life. The bible talks about bearing good fruit, and that fruit is a marker of God's work. On more than a few occasions it has been said to me that I let my left wing socialist views influence my theology too much. This statement made me quiet but given time and reflection I do not want theology without people’s lived experience alongside. It is neither one nor the other but a solid BOTH. You cannot call out injustice in the name of Jesus without knowing the impact and systemic problems rearing their heads in front of you. It is my belief that not holding both leaves your theology open to cause harm.
As I started to feel more conflicted I looked deeper; that's the wonderful fruit of being conflicted.
There are various areas common in church life that now we have the lived experience we know the fruit of which are bad; to name a few; Purity Culture, Conversion Therapy, and The Prosperity Gospel; these are extreme examples, but it can be much subtler; like teaching female submission in marriage; the fruit of which is putting women in a situation where they are vulnerable to harm. As my little girl grew older, the more I looked at Christianity offered the more concern I felt, the more systematic theology was not enough and the more I felt progressing potential for harm. I felt like the fruit I wanted to see in my daughter's life did not match the one size fits all appearance of what I was seeing around me.
I felt like the fruit I wanted to see in my daughter's life did not match the one size fits all appearance of what I was seeing around me.
It was not just the women I met professionally who were traumatised. More than a ⅓ of women will experience violence at some point in their lives, sadly it is common for traumatised women in church to come across doctrine and attitudes that would re-traumatise them and cause them further harm. There is trauma in every church and it is important to note trauma is varied and also affects men. It seems like an obvious thing to say but everyone has lived experience that has significantly shaped them as a person. It is not heresy to allow these experiences to inform our theology. I believe it to be essential. We must not take our doctrines for granted and we must be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to show us where we are wrong, harmful and/or closing the door of the faith community to people we at the same time wholly believe the Divine has created and adores.
It seems like an obvious thing to say but everyone has lived experience that has significantly shaped them as a person. It is not heresy to allow these experiences to inform our theology.
A few months ago I discovered Feminist Trauma Theology, everything began to piece together for me, I felt less misunderstood and found a framework that makes sense to me, in many ways it’s given me a better hope for church communities. Feminist Trauma Theology allows us to bring the bible into our lives as “living and breathing” we don’t rush to healing and wholeness it gives up a deeper understanding of the God we are not too much for. It gives us a framework to access our own certainties and helps us move away from spiritually damaging practices and doctrines. Trauma Theology helps us to reconstruct in a way that enables greater access to the church, it acknowledges that our lived experience has an influence on our ability to create narrative and understand the world around us. When people experience trauma they lose their autonomy, a Trauma Theology framework allows people to experience the bible, faith, and community in a form that returns their autonomy. Through my professional life, I was able to develop a method of practice that was trauma informed, I took courses, I studied, but I also listened to women's stories. I realised when I worked with them and their children I needed to be willing to not work in a systematic way, I needed to be able to adapt my own practice. An understanding of what hurts and what helps is essential in any trauma work. Doing so enables accessibility to everyone to move forward and write a new narrative to their lives.
Feminist Trauma Theology allows us to bring the bible into our lives as “living and breathing” we don’t rush to healing and wholeness it gives up a deeper understanding of the God we are not too much for.
Trauma theology helps people gain a true experience of peace in the now. As we use our experiences as our starting ground, the true acceptance that many of us are broken and wounded, theology without regard for lived experiences leaves key concepts such as Love, Peace, and Justice, as abstracts, it brings very little to the table of someone in their trauma narrative. Bringing our lived experiences to the theology table in many ways is unattractive, you have to do the work, create the narrative, reside in the brokenness. However it develops us deeper into understanding and peace in the midst of the brokenness, it is not abstract but it is a process, and a process that cannot be systematically prescribed. It helps us gain meaning to the question “what does it mean to know the Divine in our brokenness? I have not given up on church, I believe in the body. When a community gathers around someone experiencing trauma, not rushing to answer, not brushing away their hurt; being mindfully prayerful, listening, being the voice when someone cannot (the first part of the brain that shuts down when in a trauma response is the communication part), bringing meals, encouraging embodiment, grounding, helping finance specialist help, allowing the process without prescribing a destination. I truly believe that is “on earth as it is in heaven”; the peace of God that surpasses understanding. The ability of a person to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and to still engage with Jesus, to still meet Him, is that not itself a mighty work of God? I believe it is.
The ability of a person to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and to still engage with Jesus, to still meet Him, is that not itself a mighty work of God? I believe it is.
The second part of Benjamin's twin poems.
Benjamin shares part one of two poems.